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Made from the resin of Dipterocarpaceae, a family of tropical rain forest trees, damar is a varnish that, when mixed with oil paint mediums, thins the paint, increases its transparency, and speeds drying time. Used alone as a top coat, it seals paintings and adds a glossy finish. The easiest way to use it is in ready-to-use liquid form, but artists can also purchase crystals to make their own resin. No matter your choice of product, be sure that your painting is thoroughly dry before applying it as a final varnish. Here is our selection of the best damar mediums to suit your oil-painting needs.
Grumbacher Damar Varnish
Grumbacher’s damar varnish is ideal for using as a protective top coat for oil paintings. Made of high-quality damar that is clean and consistent in body, it deepens pigment colors and lends a totally transparent but high-gloss finish to final compositions. Apply a layer to shield works from dust, dirt, smoke, scuffing, and moisture. Note that this top product isn’t for rush jobs: You have to wait at least six months after painting has thoroughly dried before applying this as a final varnish.
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R&F Damar Resin
Mixing your own damar varnish can save you lots of money, and the process isn’t that difficult either. All you need to do is wrap damar crystals in cheesecloth, dissolve the resin in turpentine for a day or two, then strain the mixture to remove impurities. R&F sells one- and five-pound bags of the stuff at a good price. You’ll note that this resin is specially formulated for encaustic painting, but it performs well for varnish, too. The results help paint to flow effortlessly and imparts a translucent sheen.
Richeson Shiva Damar Varnish
This ready-to-use damar varnish is easier on the wallet than Grumbacher’s varnish and also comes in sizes up to a quart. For these reasons, we especially recommend it for classrooms, workshops, and other group settings. While it doesn’t quite showcase the brilliance and purity of our top pick, Richeson’s varnish still adds a good amount of shine to color, resulting in surfaces that carry a moderately high gloss.
Utrecht Damar Varnish
Utrecht also offers an option that is less pricey than top dog Grumbacher. This varnish is harvested from Singapore white damar gum and yields a pretty high-gloss finish that also shields your creations from scuffs. It’s a particularly good option for artists who are using damar varnish for the first time, as the formula is available not only in bottle form but also can form, allowing you to spray it on. This method makes it easier to achieve an even layer and lowers the risk of disturbing pigments.
Williamsburg Damar Crystals
Sourced from Indonesia, these chunks of damar are among the highest quality of crystals you can find. You’ll pay nearly twice the price of those sold by R&F, but these 100 percent natural crystals are cleaner: Once dissolved, there will be less residue in the resin. The only downside is you can purchase them in one 16-ounce size only.