Here are my favorite types of varnish for acrylic paint and how I use them. This is a topic I’m often asked about and thought I’d share. Actually I had forgot, then I made a random TikTok of me using a brush-on varnish and so many people were intrigued, I thought I’d explain here!
When it comes to varnishes, you need to know what kind of end result you want. For me, every project is so different. I think of the use of it – will it be lightly work or hung on the wall? Do I want an artful look or just a means of protective coating before I add resin?
Let’s just get into, I’ll explain as I go. Keep in mind, these are how I use these products, I’m sure other artists and creatives use them in other ways!
Brush-on water based varnishes
Water-based varnishes are nice because they are a quick way to add shine. Non-toxic, low odor. Yes, there are matte finishes, but I’m a high-gloss kinda chica. There are thicker versions and thinner types.
How to apply: Any of these – you want to add them one coat at a time and let dry in between. Just like nail polish!
Clear nail polish
This is for when I’m REALLY in a pinch, maybe I’m away from my studio and need a quick touch of of shine on a jewelry piece or a small item. Everyone has clear polish on them, right?
This is a watery varnish that adds a quick, thin shine and dries super fast. I use it for small crafts, the backs of magnets, the bottom of boxes, and touch-ups. It washes easy out of brushes. I used this varnish in the above picture.
The video below shows Triple Thick by DecoArt.
This is a very thick varnish that lives up to its name. It looks like three coats, it’s kinda gooey and if you don’t add Vaseline around the inner lid, it is sure to get stuck over time…
I use this on small pieces that are too light to use a spray glaze – things like small wood pieces, lightweight magnets, paper items. Check out this varnish on the above earrings.
To me, it’s the shiniest brush-on water-based varnish, the most glossy end result finish.
Because some projects NEED sparkle! Whether if it is the focal point on a painting or on your art piece, this varnish dries clear and glossy with iridescent sparkles. I often use it, and then add a coat of clear heavy varnish on top.
I mostly use this as a sealer before I add resin to anything. It creates a barrier to smooth out any surface. Make sure to let it dry clear before topping with resin. I use this for collage art, journaling, mixed media. You can add color to it like I did here to color the inside of jars.
So many uses! This one is also an easy clean. I also use this for my students for varnishing our crafts in workshops.
Alright, let’s move on to spray varnishes.
These are a little tricky because you have to prep a bit.
First of all, always use spray varnishes in a well-ventilated area. Wear gloves and a mask.
Use a large box to spray your item so the spray glaze does get on other items in the way.
Test spray before you apply it to your project. Sometimes the nozzle is clogged funny and this makes the glaze come out in a stream rather than a mist.
Let dry between coats.
I’ve tried SO MANY spray varnishes. I need my gloss, my shine. It’s been so difficult to find a good spray varnish that gives a nice hi-shine effect. This is it! I used to use Folk Art Clearcote Hi-Shine Glaze, but I think it is now under this Mod Podge label.
Resin is a whole other post – there are so many different versions. But for smaller projects, I use Ice Resin by Ranger. I used it to coat the above pins. This is for jewelry projects, filling bezels, coating picture charms. For covering a table top or layered mixed media art, I’ll use something like Teexpert brand.
If you are adding resin to ANY uncoated paper project, make sure to seal it first in Mod Podge, let dry, then add the resin. Otherwise the resin will seep through the image, which is a whole other effect!
I hope this helps you with all your types of varnish for acrylic paint questions – if you have more, leave them in the comments and I’ll answer!