Can I Use Acrylic Varnish On Oil Paintings?

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With the popularity of oil painting seeing a spike right now, we have noticed more and more questions being asked from the arts and crafts community on how they can ensure they get the best possible performance from their artwork. We have been working our way through as many of the commonly asked questions as possible over the last few weeks but we have noticed more and more people asking if they can use acrylic varnish on oil paintings.

As there seems to be some confusion around this amongst the community, we have decided to publish this dedicated article on using acrylic varnish with oil paintings in the hope of helping our readers better understand what they can and can’t do. Doing your best to protect your oil-based artwork with a sealing agent makes sense as it can ensure that your oil painting will last for as long as possible but there is a chance you could ruin your oil painting if you use the wrong varnish.

As we are going to be going over a number of similar questions about using varnish with oil paintings, we have added a table of contents below. This should help to ensure that you can quickly skip to sections of the article that you need answers for without having to skim over all of the content. If you are new to oil painting though, at least skimming the whole article will probably be beneficial.

Can You Varnish Oil Paintings With Acrylic Varnish?

When it comes to varnishes for oil paintings, it is all in the specific formula of the actual varnish and although historically using an acrylic based varnish product on an oil painting was a big no-no due to oil-based and water-based products not mixing well, times have changed. There are a number of new varnish sprays that have been released over the last three to five years that are acrylic based and tend to work well on both oil and acrylic paintings.

That said though, the majority of the acrylic varnish products do still tend to under perform and potentially ruin an oil painting so you have to check the label of any potential varnish that you may wish to use with your oil painting to ensure that it will work without issue. In addition to this, checking the actual application method for the varnish is critical as different products require different application processes.

The majority of the spray on varnishes are easy enough and you just hold the suitable varnish product around 30cm away from your oil painting and spray. The brush applied varnishes are a little more complicated and this is where beginners tend to make mistakes as they fail to read the label. This is due to some of the brush applied varnishes on the market requiring water or oil to be mixed with them prior to being applied to your oil painting so always check the instructions on your product.

Varnish Ruined My Oil Painting!

Unfortunately, it is very common for the older acrylic varnishes on the market to totally ruin your oil paintings and this is where the whole argument of never mixing oil-based and water-based arts and crafts products together come from. If you have already used one of these products on your oil painting and it has already ruined it then there is little to nothing that you are able to do other than treat it as a learning experience.

Even if you do choose to use a varnish that works with oil paintings, you have to follow the specific instructions for the varnish for use with oil paint. Failing to do this will still potentially ruin your artwork and this is a common issue with beginners and one of the main reasons that we constantly preach that our readers should be reading the labels of the products that they use in their arts and crafts.

We have also seen a number of reports where the varnish used to seal the artwork has been wrongfully blamed for ruining the artwork. Once the community ask a few more questions, other factors such as using an incorrect primer, painting on an unsuitable surface, and painting on a dirty surface usually end up being factors of the issues too. This is why we always preach that our readers correctly prep the surface that they are about to paint on prior to actually painting on it too as it helps to avoid issues that can easily be avoided.

How Long Before You Can Varnish An Oil Painting?

It is usually recommended that you wait at least six months before you try to varnish your oil painting with any varnishing product. This is due to the oxidisation process that your oil painting needs to go through to actually dry the oil paints used on it fully and be ready for a varnish to be applied to it. Depending on the thickness of the layers of oil paint that you used, this time frame can sometimes be extended for as much as twelve months after you finished your oil painting.

This is another common mistake that we see beginner oil painters make and they tend to apply their varnish way too early for it to actually work correctly with their oil painting. Even a suitable varnish that has a great reputation amongst the community needs the actual oil paint to be fully oxidized and dry prior to being applied else you are setting yourself up for disaster.

Thankfully, there are some steps that you are able to take to help ensure that your oil painting will dry as quickly as possible. We go over them in this article covering six tricks to get your oil paint to dry as fast as possible that you may be able to put to use to help your oil paints dry ready for varnishing as fast as possible. Please note though, even if you do follow those tricks, you are still probably looking at a few months before the oxidization process has completed for your oil paints and they are ready to be varnished.

What Is The Best Varnish For Oil Paintings?

Thankfully, there are a number of suitable varnish products on the market that you are able to use with your oil paints and get excellent results these days. Although your own personal opinion and budget will come into play, we feel that the Liquitex range of varnishes are your best bet and usually offer outstanding performance for the lowest possible price.

The Liquitex range has managed to rightfully earn itself and outstanding reputation amongst the arts and crafts community over the years that just keeps on getting better with time. This is due to the versatility of their products and just how much you can actually do with them allowing you to seal various paint types in a number of situations with the exact same varnish sealant.

Please keep in mind though, there are some varnish products in the Liquitex range that are not suitable for use with oil paintings so you have to factor that in too. This is why we always tell our readers to read the label or check the product is suitable for use with oil paintings prior to purchasing it as it helps to prevent issues later in the process as well as prevent you from potentially ruining your artwork.


That brings our article going over if you can use acrylic varnish on oil paintings to a close. There are a number of variables that you have to factor in to ensure that the conditions are optimal for you to use a varnish with your oil paints but there are a number of products on the market these days that do work well. These allow you to varnish over an oil painting that has been left a sufficient amount of time to dry prior to being varnished over.

If you have an old acrylic varnish product in your collection and are unable to read the label due to the varnish leaking over it during use or due to paint covering the label, we would not recommend that you use it. Always be sure to research the specific varnish product that you are going to be using with your oil painting prior to applying it to ensure that it will not ruin your artwork.