Elevating your art: a guide to varnishing your acrylic masterpiece

Artist Claire Desjardins pours varnish into a white cup, in her art studio.
I receive SO many questions about varnishing, that's I *had* to write this post on the subject. Hopefully, it will be helpful to you... Let me know in the comments!
As an abstract artist who exclusively works with acrylics, I've found that the varnishing process is a crucial yet often overlooked step in the artistic journey. Having delved into the intricacies of acrylic polymers and various types of acrylic varnish, I'm frequently asked about best practices in this realm. In this personal guide, let's explore the different types of acrylic varnish finishes, the art of application, and essential tips to ensure your abstract acrylic creations receive the finishing touch they deserve.
Red and green abstract painting with a satin varnish, shown from the side. Artwork, Start with a Clear Head, by artist Claire Desjardins.

The finishing touches: gloss, satin, matte

  • Navigating the array of acrylic varnishes allows us, as abstract artists, to tailor the final look of our creations to our unique preferences.


  • Creates a vibrant, high-shine finish, intensifying the colors and bringing abstract details to life.
  • Ideal for artworks with intricate details and a diverse range of colors.


  • Strikes a balance between gloss and matte, offering a subtle sheen without overshadowing the nuanced elements of abstract pieces.
  • Suitable for artworks with a moderate color palette and intricate details.


  • Reduces glare significantly, making it suitable for abstract artworks displayed under bright lights.
  • Perfect for paintings with a subdued color scheme or for those who prefer a non-reflective surface.

Side view of colourful, varnished abstract painting by artist Claire Desjardins.

My varnishing ritual: best practices from the studio

  • Having worked exclusively with acrylics and become intimately familiar with acrylic polymers, here are some best practices to ensure a professional and enduring finish in the abstract art realm.

Patience in preparation

  • Allow your abstract acrylic painting to dry completely—waiting at least 48 hours is recommended—before embarking on the varnishing process.
  • Work in a clean, dust-free environment to preserve the purity of your abstract creation.

Brushing wisdom

  • Select a soft, wide brush for even application, or opt for a spray varnish for a more uniform finish.
  • Apply thin coats to maintain the delicacy of abstract details. Multiple thin coats offer better control and prevent unintended drips.

Timing is everything

  • Adhere to the recommended drying times between coats as per the manufacturer's instructions. Rushing this stage can compromise the integrity of your abstract masterpiece.

The right direction

  • Apply varnish in one consistent direction to minimize the appearance of brushstrokes, ensuring your abstract creation retains its original essence.

Parting words

In the realm of abstract art, where spontaneity and expression reign supreme, varnishing is the final act that preserves and enhances the essence of your creation. Embrace this often-overlooked aspect of your artistic process, for it is the key to ensuring your abstract masterpiece stands the test of time and continues to captivate viewers for years to come.
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1 comment

What Varnish for acrylic to do you recommend?

Jeremy Fry

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