View Full Version : Satin, Matte, Gloss

01-01-2019, 03:36 PM
Gamvar is now in three surface qualities.: Matte, Satin, Gloss.
I think there are also spray varnishes in all three Qualities in other brands.

Lately, I have a problem with gloss. Just too glitzy? I guess.

I've had better luck with a nice satin or mixing a bit of satin with gloss to tone down the reflections.

I used to work in Pastels and loved that flat, but intense color. Gouache and Casein also have this surface. I also like the silky soft sheen of en-caustic.

Gamblin describes their matte Gamvar as bringing out the color and unifying the surface. Have any of you tried it?
I'll probably give it a go.

My New Year's resolution.......EXPERIMENT more :lol:


01-01-2019, 05:27 PM
I have all three. The Matte creates a very appealing surface for some stuff but it often reduces color saturation and contrast too much for me. The satin works on more pieces than matte, but nothing looks as good as gloss when it comes to looking the way the painting did when I first painted it. When I run out of Satin I will probably make my own satin by adding some matte to the gloss. The Satin and Matte are significantly more difficult to get an even coat with for me.

Though I like it better than the other two by quite a bit, with gloss, particularly on Alla Prima / Impasto work, the lighting has to be perfect. I like a single, parabolic gallery grade focused bulb from high above and 30 to 35 degrees off vertical. I also will often use a fan brush to soften the really prominent reflections once the paint has started to set up, using vertical strokes. I do like some reflections from the high points of brush strokes. A painting doesn't look right to me without them but too many can be distracting.

I have seen some beautiful paintings done with matte sheen oils / alkyds and plan to pursue that more in the future for more subtle subjects. I want the entire process to be matte, not adding it at the end with varnish.

Richard P
01-02-2019, 07:21 AM
This might be slightly off-topic but the only dark black matte colour that is darker than a glossy black I've found is using Aniline Black PBk1. However it's lightfastness is questionable. Bruce at Handprint says:

"Aniline black PBk1 is an impermanent azine pigment, available from about 6 pigment manufacturers worldwide. Holbein peach black, the only commercial source, contains the pigment in mixture with carbon black, which must be the dominant ingredient as the paint is quite lightfast; it produces subtle and active textural effects wet in wet, and has the darkest masstone value of any black paint. Because of the azine pigment, this paint should perhaps not be used in tints or diluted."

Golden said when I questioned if they had looked into this:

"We have not investigated this pigment and you generally do not find it in oils or acrylics or watercolors. I think Holbein blends it with Carbon Black in their Peach Black. You do find it used in some gouache and the only place you find it in ASTM is under Gouache. This is the only paint type that ASTM has tested it in. Perhaps it performs well in opaque paint formulations but not as well otherwise. We have not tested it. I have compiled some information for you about this pigment and some of it is conflicting, so it seems there may be more to learn. We have found some places where it is generally thought of as “impermanent” or lightfast lll, but it is hard to find actual test data to back that up. My guess is that the rapid decrease in lightfastness in tints with Titanium Dioxide was a good enough reason for shying away from using it in oils and acrylics, and the translucent nature of watercolor might yield a much poorer lightfastness rating. All this is conjecture at this point .

Also curious that apparently it has a much weaker tinting strength as compared to Carbon Blacks.

Here is some information I found:

Industrial Organic Pigments, Third Edition.Willy Herbst, Klaus Hunger

Copyright © 2004 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

ISBN: 3-527-30576-9

page 577-578

Pigment Black 1, 50440

P.Bl.1, referred to as Aniline Black, is an indazine derivative:

4.2 Pigments with Known Chemical Structure

A technique of developing Aniline Black directly on the fiber was found by

Lightfoot in the period between 1860 and 1863. In accordance with this process,

the fiber is soaked with aniline, aniline hydrochloride, and sodium chlorate in the

presence of an oxidation catalyst (e.g., ammonium vanadate, potassium hexacyanoferrate(II)). The compound is “developed” at 60 to 100°C and then oxidized

further with sodium chromate. It should be noted, however, that Perkin had already synthesized a black compound which he called Aniline Black as early as

1856. He oxidized aniline (containing toluidine) with potassium dichromate and

separated Aniline Violet from the resulting black mixture (Aniline Black).

Modern methods of manufacturing this probably oldest representative among

synthetic organic pigments involve dissolving aniline in strong sulfuric acid. Oxidation is achieved with sodium dichromate in the presence of a copper salt or one

of the above-mentioned oxidation catalysts. Oxidation with sodium chlorate initially affords an indamine polymer (pernigraniline):

This intermediate must be oxidized further to afford the azine pigment (Green,

Willstätter, 1907 to 1909).

Aniline Black provides a deep, neutral shade of black. Extensive absorption

and little scattering make for good hiding power. The commercial grades cover a

comparatively wide range of particle size distributions. The types with fine particle

sizes in particular provide characteristically dull, velvety effects in finishes and

prints. Even types with fine particle sizes show only a very slight tendency to agglomerate, which makes them easy to disperse. The pigment is not an electrical


P.Bl.1 is used in a variety of media. Incorporated in paints, full shades show excellent lightfastness and weatherfastness, qualities which deteriorate rapidly as

more TiO2is added. The pigment is tinctorially weaker than carbon blacks. Some

types are not entirely fast to overcoating, a property which extends to acid and alkali, oxidants and reducing agents. The paint and printing ink industries utilize

P.Bl.1 particularly where carbon blacks present processing problems or where a

matt and velvety quality is required in a paint or print. P.Bl.1 is of interest in wood

stains made from unsaturated polyester. In plastics, P.Bl.1 is used to advantage

wherever carbon black cannot be used as a result of its inability to tolerate heat


More on Aniline Black:



Aniline Black is the only black (or dark valued paint) I've ever found that actually gets lighter in value with a gloss varnish. As such with a gloss varnish it's lighter than a carbon black with a gloss varnish. But in it's matte state it's actually slightly darker than a glossy carbon black.

Probably not of use in a painting (except maybe in masstone for a matte varnish?). However what it is useful for is when making a shadow box as it's darker than carbon blacks and very matte. :)

Hope that is interesting..

01-02-2019, 08:14 AM
Thanks Richard. Off topic? Oh yeah.

Richard P
01-02-2019, 08:19 AM
Well, we were talking about Matte varnish making dark values lighter compared to Gloss varnish.

01-02-2019, 10:13 AM
I’ve tried all three of the Gamvars and prefer satin. Gloss is too shiny and makes it difficult to photograph paintings without any glare, however, it does look best on some paintings. Matte seems to dull the intensity of colors. Satin evens the surface nicely but doesn’t seem to affect intensity.

01-02-2019, 11:09 AM
Thanks much Contu and Tom.

01-02-2019, 11:20 AM
You are welcome.

One more thing to add - I found it difficult to do more than one coat. The 2nd coat dissolved the first one and created uneven brush marks that didn't go away. I always try to get it right with one coat, working from one edge to the other and never going back into already applied areas. I work as fast as I can so it won't start to tack up where I am brushing.

As far as photographing paintings with gloss varnish, a polarizing filter on the camera will fix that. For total control of reflections add polarizers to the lights as well.

There is something almost gem like when a finished piece has been varnished with gloss Gamvar. Nothing looks better to me than that when a painting has a wide range of hues and contrast. More subtle pieces can sometimes improve to my eye with a satin or matte varnish, making them even more subtle if you will.

01-02-2019, 11:28 AM
This subject fascinates me. Why some paintings look better in glossy varnish,and some don't. Is it high chroma? Or More darker values that spring to life?. I'd like to know other peoples thoughts on this.

01-02-2019, 11:48 AM
Well, we were talking about Matte varnish making dark values lighter compared to Gloss varnish.

That is interesting how that pigment seems to buck the trend. Thanks for sharing that.

Pat Ryan
01-02-2019, 04:13 PM
As far as photographing paintings with gloss varnish, a polarizing filter on the camera will fix that. For total control of reflections add polarizers to the lights as well.

Thanks for the tip about polarizers, Contumacious. I tried satin Gamvar on several paintings after having used gloss exclusively. I prefer the look of gloss, but it does make photographing the paintings difficult. But I found that the satin significantly dulled the colors, so much so that I removed it from all the paintings and replaced it with gloss. I'll try a polarizing lens. :crossfingers:

01-02-2019, 07:59 PM
This subject fascinates me. Why some paintings look better in glossy varnish,and some don't. Is it high chroma? Or More darker values that spring to life?. I'd like to know other peoples thoughts on this.

I’ve wondered the same thing. However, I mostly paint landscapes and the satin varnish seems to agree more with the natural colors and sheen of rocks, trees, other vegetation, soils, etc. The few paintings that I’ve done that look better with gloss varnish were flowers and still lifes, which had shinier appearances in reality. Gloss might be better for portraits as well, but I haven’t painted a portrait in years. My main reason for preferring satin was that I can photograph my paintings with fewer distracting reflections, which gloss varnish really accentuates.

01-03-2019, 03:26 AM
Old Dutch Masters look better with gloss. Yet impressionists don't. Could it be something to do with the colour Brown? Ie. Earth tones which can be very dead?

01-03-2019, 08:55 AM
Raff: good point about the impressionists. I hadn't noticed that. Can you imagine glossy Monets? Yuck!

01-08-2019, 01:36 PM
I think in general that gloss varnish looks best on the darker colored paintings and not on pastel ot lighter colors. Walter