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What Type of Varnish Do You Use?

Jan 09, 2020

What type of varnish do you use on your paintings? Gloss or matte or a combination of both? Any advice on the application?

I have a couple of different kinds of varnish that I use. For smaller works, I use the paint-on kind that you’d apply with a brush or a roller or a spray varnish that I use on bigger paintings. A small painting to me is something that's 18x24 or smaller. So if it's in that range, I feel okay about using a brush and paint-on varnish. I use a nice clean brush and I try to do it relatively quickly because if you overwork it, it produces air bubbles and will turn milky which may not clear up when it dries. When I varnish larger canvases, I don't want to take a chance of not being able to cover the canvas quickly, which is why I use the spray varnishes. It's just much easier to do a large surface and get it looking good with a spray varnish.

As far as semi-gloss versus matte, I prefer something in-between. My favorite kind of semi-gloss is a satin finish because it's not overly glossy. For best results with paint-on varnish, sometimes I mix two together. I'll mix a little bit of matte and high gloss and apply that mixture. Spray varnish is available in both semi-gloss or satin, so it's a little easier with the spray varnish to get the sheen that you want. You can also put on something called an isolation coat, which is basically like an extra layer in-between used for archival purposes. I have never done that in my painting practice. If for instance, you want your paintings to be able to be retrieved years down the road, the isolation coat provides a layer between the paint and the outer varnish. The outer varnish can be removed and it won't pick up the paint––it will only strip down to the isolation coat.

These are the products that I like to use:

Liquitex - Gloss Medium and Varnish (brush on)

Winsor and Newton - Gloss Varnish (spray on)

Krylon - UV Archival Varnish Satin (spray on)

Jed Dorsey