Varnishes are used as a finishing layer to protect artwork from discoloration, moisture, dirt, and UV rays. Which varnish you choose will affect the finished look. A glossy finish will make colors appear more vibrant, matte will reduce glare and soften colors, and a satin varnish will provide a finish somewhere between glossy and matte. Spray varnishes work well for fragile surfaces that could be disrupted by a brush or for paintings with a rough or impasto texture where brushes could cause foam or bubbles to form. Make sure work is thoroughly dry before applying, and allow time for the varnish to dry completely after each application. Please note that most of these products are extremely flammable and must be used with adequate ventilation. Our picks below will help you find the best spray varnish for your project.
1. Winsor & Newton Artists’ Aerosols Gloss Varnish
We love how easy it is to get perfectly even coverage with Winsor & Newton’s varnish, which works well on various mediums from charcoal to oil paints to colored pencils. It dries perfectly clear while adding a subtle, sophisticated sheen, so colors appear true, unsmudged, and alive. Once sprayed, your art even remains workable, so you can protect and stabilize layers as you work. This spray also guards against harmful UV rays.
2. Krylon UV-Resistant Clear Acrylic Coating
Krylon’s varnish goes on clear and dries in minutes without altering the original color. The formula is a great option for sealing surfaces like wood, metal, papier-maché, glass, and ceramics, but it isn’t our top pick for pastels or charcoal, which are quite delicate and can streak if you use this option. This spray’s strength is in its UV resistance—it does a superb job protecting colors from fading due to prolonged exposure to direct sunlight.
3. Grumbacher Damar Retouch Varnish Gloss
Formulated specifically for oil paint, Grumbacher’s quick-drying formula gives an even shine to paints in between coats. It not only helps to bring out and deepen colors but also creates better adhesion for your next layer of pigment. A relatively thin varnish, it is best used as a retouching tool, but you can also use it as a final varnish to shield works from dust, dirt, and moisture.
4. Mod Podge Spray Acrylic Sealer
This is an excellent economical option to finish off crafts and kids’ projects. You can use it to seal finicky material like glitter, chalk, and charcoal or use it with liquids like markers, watercolors, and acrylics. The formula dispenses easily and evenly from the nozzle, and it also dries clear and superfast. Still, be aware that is the least archival out of all our picks and is prone to yellowing over time.
5. Golden Archival Varnish
Formulated with solvent-based, reversible acrylic copolymer resin, Golden’s Archival varnish spray provides a durable, protective surface that can be removed for conservation purposes. It is suitable for use with acrylics, oils, pastels, watercolors, temperas, and inkjet prints. This archival spray in a 10-ounce can gives a satin surface finish and excellent protection against dirt, dust, and moisture, and also contains ultraviolet light filters and stabilizers to inhibit light damage. Its adjustable fan spray tip enables precise application and reduced overspray.