Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Choosing the right varnish

Varnishing is a necessary evil as far as I'm concerned. It is definitely the part of creating work that I dislike. For many years I used whatever was handy and I honestly didn't know what types were appropriate for my needs. Last year I decided to develop a consistent approach, read about the products and use them accordingly. Because I already used Liquitex Gloss Medium and Varnish for many things, I decided I would stick with Liquitex varnishes. I did read product information for Golden varnishes for comparison purposes and I have used both over the years.

The Facts

Removable v.s. Non-removable

Many acrylic varnishes are permanent and non-removable. Once applied it is there for good. This becomes an issue with conservators if work needs to be cleaned (not in my lifetime).

Flexible v.s. Rigid
Certain varnishes labelled rigid can only be used on rigid surfaces such as wood, hardboards, etc. whereas, flexible varnishes can be used on any surface including rigid ones.

Liquitex Permanent Flexible varnishes (Non - removable)

Gloss Varnish
Gloss Medium and Varnish
Matt Permanent Varnish

  • 100% acrylic polymer , water soluble
  • dry to non tacky finish which is flexible
  • non-yellowing
  • allows moisture to pass through
  • doesn't crack as surface expands and contracts
  • suitable for every surface (flexible and inflexible)
  • possible to do touch ups over permanent varnish
Liquitex Permanent Rigid Varnishes

High Gloss Permanent (Rigid Surface)
Satin Permanent Varnish (Rigid Surface)

These varnishes will crack on flexible surfaces . They only work on wood, masonite, ceramic plate and other rigid surfaces. Do not use on canvas or paper.

Liquitex Soluvar Removable V arnishes

Soluvar Gloss Final Picture Varnish
Soluvar Matte Final Picture Varnish

  • solvent based
  • can intermix gloss and matt for a satin finish
  • can be used over oil painting also
  • can be thinned with mineral spirits or turpentine
  • self- leveling
  • flexible, won't crack as surface expands or contracts
  • non-yellowing
  • contains UV light inhibitiors that resist colour fading
  • while you may do touch ups over dry Soluvar in both oil and acrylic, if the painting is ever cleaned the additions will come off.
Varnishing Tips


Use a wide , soft haired brush (1-4 inches depending on size of painting). Match the size of brush to the size of painting. It is a good idea to keep separate brushes for varnishing. Rollers and sponges are not recommended because they cause bubbling.


Do not apply varnish until the painting has cured ( 48 - 72 hours) Apply varnishes in 1-3 thin coats rather than 1 thick one which takes longer to dry, may dry cloudy and possibly drip and show brush marks. Most varnishes for acrylics may be thinned slightly with distilled water to enhance penetration and application.

Do not shake varnish or stir it vigorously because it created bubbles.

Apply by slightly overlapping the previous strokes using both a horizonal and vertical motion , so that the entire surface is covered.Do not rework areas missed because you can pick up partially dried varnish and this can cause clouding. Wait until the next coat to solve the problem.

It you are using matt or satin varnish use only 1-2 thin coats to prevent clouding. If you feel you want more than 2 coats start with a gloss varnish and finish with a top coat of satin or matt.

If you have a highly textured surface, apply varnish slowly and try not to let too much varnish settle in grooves or get caught up in grids etc. Microbubbles occur in heavy applications when varnish pools, causes fogging over dark colours.


~Gina Cuff said...

Hi Margaret, thanks for the comments on my journal. And yes, they do seem too precious to use, but they sure are lots of fun to make.

The wrap around folder with the bone clasp you made in the workshop sounds interesting...

And thanks for sharing the info on varnishes. I always find the subject a little confusing. :)

self taught artist said...

i'm a golden girl myself for varnish. I like dick blick paints but on metal, golden seems to work best for me.
good post, nice to get some tips!

Lynda Lehmann said...

Margaret, you've hit on a topic I've long neglected. I found this post so useful and edifying that I'm going to print it for future reference.

I have a few Liquitex varnish products but usually avoid using them because I'm unsure of the effects they'll have on my paintings.

Thanks so much for sharing with us, what you have learned!

Margaret Ryall said...

I also use Golden varnish when I know I am totally finished with a piece . Their varnishes are removable so I have to be sure I will never add another dab of anything. This does not happen very often in my painting process. I like their Satin varnish. I've also researched Golden so maybe that is another post.

About half of my palette is Golden. I can't buy it here so that's why I have so much Liquitex (which works very well for me). I have favourites in four paint brands. Another is Tri Art which is Canadian and also Winsor Newton which i feel is the top of the line when it comes to pigment. (my humble opinion).

Lynda Lehmann said...

Thanks, Margaret.

Yes, that sounds like a good idea for another post!

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Anonymous said...

i collect jordans (the shoes) and i have a shoe that over the years the paint cracks and if i use the liquidex flexible nonremovable varnish will the paint crack?,and if i use nail polish and sand paper will i remove the varnish?

sioux said...

Hi margaret. I have put one coat of Liquitex gloss medium and varnish on my painting. When it dried I can see brush marks. For the second coat I was thinking about diluting with a little water and going in the opposite direction. This is a special painting for me and I'm afraid to mess it up. Suggestions please.
thank you.

Double Glazing Evesham said...

Varnish finishes are usually glossy but may be designed to produce satin or semi-gloss sheens by the addition of "flatting" agents. Varnish has little or no colour, is transparent, and has no added pigment, as opposed to paints or wood stains.

Antoinette von Grone said...

I needed desperately to know if you can paint over Soluvar Liquitex varnish because I need to do some touch-ups on an oil painting. Your post reassured me. Many thanks.

Bula Barua said...

Hi! I need some help. I accidentally put Liquitex Gloss Varnish over my oil painting. Then i read the label, and it reads not to use on Oil Paints. I feel like the colors of my oil painting are separating. Is this my imagination? Did I totally ruin my painting? How can I remedy this?

Margaret Ryall said...

Hi Bula,
I am not an oil painter and haven't any knowledge to apply to your situation. Why don't you try contacting Liquitex with your question? I ,m assuming you didn't use the removable type that can be removed.