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  • Writer's pictureJules

Which acrylic varnish is best? Brush-on or Spray?

For many years now, I've been using brush-on varnish. Not because I'd tried a spray varnish before, but because I figured it would get the best coverage and be less of a hassle to apply.

However, those of you who've been following me for some time, will have seen that I've tried lots of different brush-on varnishes, with varying success. So, what I'll do, in the interest of brevity, I will list out those varnishes below and let you know what I thought of them.

And, I will also say, that I've recently started using a spray varnish (albeit on small paintings) and have found it to be excellent, and dare I say better, than the brush-on ones.

Brush-on varnishes:

Golden UVLS Polymer removable varnish

+ This was available in Gloss, Satin and Matte, and was great because you could mix and match them together to get the sheen you wanted.

- Unfortunately, during Covid they were no longer able to keep making this one, and so has been discontinued and replaced with Golden Waterborne Varnish. I haven't tried that one as it's only available in America at the moment (as of 2023).

- Another negative was that it was really hard to not have brush strokes that you could see from certain angles, and required multiple coats. Too many coats of Matte, and it started to look a bit cloudy.

- This varnish also LOVED dust. I would have to shut all the windows and make sure no one moved around it too much, lest bits of dust and fibre deposit all over the painting.

Winsor & Newton Professional Acrylic Varnish

+ This applied really nicely with the brush, and dried without visible brush marks.

- It did produce a few bubble here and there that eventually popped as it dried

- The biggest downside to this varnish was that although it is removable, the varnish is not available to buy anywhere in Australia (they only seem to sell the Artisan one)

- And when it came to removing the varnish (because of bubblewrap marks from packaging) I had to get some remover shipped in from New Zealand.

- And, it didn't seem that effective at removing it. There didn't seem to be an obvious change to the sheen level.

+ It's a great varnish if you don't see a need to remove it and you live in Australia.


+ Brush marks level out easily with this varnish, so that's a positive.

- You have to be careful with how thinly you apply it. There's a special Gamvar brush that I bought for it, which weirdly enough you don't need to wash/rinse afterwards. The varnish reactivates with new varnish, so if you dip the brush in the varnish for a bit, it softens up again.

- The gamvar's ability to reactivate when new varnish, might be good for the brush, but not so good if you need to apply a second coat because you missed a spot on the first coat. You can't just rectify that one spot, you have to go over the entire painting again, making sure you do it as thinly as you can. It can sometimes feel like it might take up the layer underneath, but seems to settle down.

- Not many places stock the Matte version, so had to make them all Satin sheen, which is probably a bit too glossy for my liking.

+ Removing the varnish is pretty easy, with Gamsol and rags. Although I wasn't sure how well the painting would take new acrylic paint after doing so.

- Can be a bit nerve-wracking as to whether it dries properly

Liquitex Permanent Varnish (UV) (RECOMMEND)

+ This is one of the easiest varnishes I've used in terms of levelling, minimal brush marks and the ability to recoat within a couple of hours.

- However, you have to wait a minimum of 3 DAYS between the isolation coat and doing the first coat of varnish. Which frankly, isn't great.

- It also seems to gunk up the brush with flaking bits of varnish, despite lots of rinsing and washing with brush soap.

+ Great if you don't need to remove it

So, finally, we get to the spray varnish.

The one I used was:

Winsor & Newton Professional UV Spray varnish (Matte) (RECOMMEND)

+ Sprays on easily, and seems quite forgiving with bits of overrun

+ Seems to not clog up the nozzle if you spray upside down after using it

- Not sure how it will go with larger canvases

- Is tricky on windy days - because it's quite stinky, you have to spray this outside, and if it's windy the spray will go everywhere.

- Spraying outside means you're susceptible to dust and other contaminants landing on the painting

a hand holding a spray can
Winsor & Newton Matt Varnish Spray (UV)

Close up of a painting of a house with tropical plants
Close up of the surface with the W&N spray varnish on it

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