View Full Version : Varnish question

Anne Londez
05-24-2004, 06:44 AM
I have a problem with the varnish on a painting and would like to remove it and re-apply it. Is there a way to do that without hurting the underlying acrylics layer ?

05-24-2004, 07:42 AM
Varnish removal from acrylic paintings can be tricky, if the painting is valuable I would suggest having this done professionally if possible.

If you want or have to do this yourself then the specific type of varnish is important. Acrylic emulsion varnishes (pretty much the same stuff as acrylic medium) are very difficult to remove without damaging the paint underneath in some way. Spirit-soluble varnishes intended for arylics - the type I recommend - are much easier to remove as the solvent necessary for dissolving them doesn't react with dried acrylic paint.

So, what type of varnish did you use and what is the problem with it? If you have the varnish container the label might give instructions on removal.


Anne Londez
05-24-2004, 07:58 AM
I think it's the solvent kind but I am not sure, it doesn't really say anything on the container. The brand is Ferrario, it's called *Final glossy spray*. THe problem is that I sprayed it badly, probably too close, and it's totally uneven, in some places it looks like there is an almost mirror-like layer, in others I have a satin finish...

05-24-2004, 09:03 AM
Ooo, I see what you mean. Since the label doesn't say anything about removability it's possible this is intended as a permanent protective varnish, not suitable for fine-art applications really. Your safest bet would be to contact the manufacturer, ask their advice.

How does it smell when it's applied, is there an obvious spirit odour?

You could try a couple of small tests to determine solubility of the varnish if you want. Take a Q-tip, moisten it in mineral spirits and rub it gently on the surface of a 2-3cm square. If the varnish doesn't soften, get a little tacky and begin to lift off then it's probably not spirit-soluble. You could repeat this with real turps if you have some, it is usually a stronger solvent than mineral spirits.

If you have ammonia you could try the same technique with this but be careful, ammonia can have a solvent effect on acrylic paint. Last thing to try would be something like isopropyl alcohol if you have it, this and similar organic solvents definitely do dissolve acrylic paint so you'll have to be very cautious.

Another option, which I think is probably a last resort, would be to apply more of the varnish to get that glassy finish over the whole painting, which you can then overcoat with a satin varnish to get the finish you want.

Hope it helps,

Anne Londez
05-24-2004, 09:10 AM
It does have a strong solvent smell when applied. I'll try to test if it's slovent soluble or not. Thanks for the help !

Anne Londez
05-24-2004, 09:17 AM
Ooo, I see what you mean. Since the label doesn't say anything about removability it's possible this is intended as a permanent protective varnish, not suitable for fine-art applications really.
Forgot to ask... it is sold by fine art supplies stores here and it's the main brand I can find. Would you recommend something better ? And (as I'm quite new to the field) would you mind explaining the different kinds of varnish and their uses a little ?
Thanks again

05-24-2004, 02:48 PM
Hi again, there are some previous threads on varnishes that you might like to look at.

Choosing the finish:
Some basic varnishing pointers:
Matt varnishing questions:
Some tips on how to varnish:
Some considerations on when varnishing is and isn't suitable:

Anne has already made the decision to varnish but for others there are a couple of points one needs to consider to begin with. The first is whether you want your work to last, if you do then the surface needs to be protected in some way. If you sell your work to ignore this is shortsighted as it's impossible to know just what will happen to something once it is out of your hands and frankly does a disservice to your buyers. The two options for protecting the painting are varnishing and framing behind glass. Even if you don't think the work will ever be scuffed or otherwise physically damaged (and how can you predict this?) dust is a major problem for acrylic paint because of its low glass transition temperature, the point I was trying to get across later on in the first thread above. If you don't like the unifying effect of a varnish layer then frame behind glass, your paintings will thank you for it in years to come :)

If you elect to varnish, then you need to decide whether it should be removable or not. For fine-art work there really shouldn't be any question as if the varnish becomes scuffed, yellows with age, cracks, is damaged by dust, or there are any other unforeseen problem it needs to be removable, otherwise your painting is ruined (which is why polyurethane varnishes aren't suitable for use on paintings but are perfect for craft applications). For acrylic this means that a spirit-soluble varnish is really the only choice, since mineral spirits don't really harm dried acrylic paint their removal won't damage the paint layer; an isolating coat of acrylic medium underneath the final varnish is still a good idea, as some manufacturers now recommend. Older types of acrylic varnishes were much like the paint itself so their removal posed a big problem for the obvious reason - the solvents necessary to dissolve the varnish also worked just as well on the paint itself!

Golden, Liquitex and Winsor & Newton all make spirit-soluble varnishes now and there are others. Even traditional dammar varnish intended for oil paintings could be used on acrylics in a pinch, although in the long term (30 years+) its removal will become increasingly damaging to an acrylic painting.

The second thread above mentions Golden's website and Liquitex's Acrylic Book PDF, both of which are well worth checking for information on varnishing acrylics and many other topics. Golden in particular are dedicated to ongoing research into the long-term care of acrylic works so their site is worth going back to periodically to see if they've posted any new information. In addition to these, W&N's site now has a good overview of the basics of dealing with acrylic, you can view this there with a Flash-enabled browser or download the PDF file here (http://www.winsornewton.com/pdfs/HTT_ACRYLICS.pdf)) to refer it at your leisure. They have a few more as well on a some other aspects of acrylic use that are worth reading.

If you're left with any other questions give me a shout.


05-24-2004, 03:40 PM
Excellent information, thank you. I've rated this thread and hope others do too. :D

Anne Londez
05-24-2004, 03:44 PM
Wow, that's more information than I expected. Thanks very much :clap: :clap: