Using wood varnish on acrylic paintings

Reader Question: Can I use an ordinary varnish for my acrylic paintings - the type of varnish that is used on wood? I'm a self-taught painter and I'm doing this as a hobby.

Great question! In general, varnish that is specifically designed to be used with acrylic paint is more desirable than regular wood varnish (like the kind of stuff you might use on furniture or floors). But since you say you paint as a hobby, you could use a wood varnish on your acrylic paintings if you wanted to and if it saved you money... just be aware that over time, the varnish may turn yellow. And who knows, what if your paintings end up in a museum someday? You never know! In that case, it would have been better to use an art varnish that was meant to be applied over acrylic paintings.

If you still want to use a wood varnish, check the label first to make sure that it meets all of the following criteria:

  • UV-resistant
  • water-resistant
  • dries completely clear

Look at the label on the wood varnish to see if it is permanent or removable. If it is permanent, keep in mind that you will never be able to remove it if you decide to change something about the painting later. Bear in mind that most museum-quality paintings are now varnished with a removable varnish, because removable varnish allows art conservators to more easily clean the paintings if need be.

If possible, use a flexible varnish rather than a rigid varnish. Basically, a flexible varnish is best for paintings because they allow the support of your painting (wood, canvas, or paper) to expand and contract (due to changes in humidity or temperature) without cracking. A rigid varnish should only be used if you painted on a wooden support.

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Acrylic varnish can be bought for as little as US$5-6, so if you think you'll be painting a lot in acrylics, than a small bottle of acrylic varnish would be a good investment. A little bottle can go a long way!

Happy Painting!

Learn more about Painting with Acrylics