How To Paint Over A Varnished Painting!

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Although there are a number of popular sealants or final coats that painters will use to add that additional layer of protection to their artwork once their painting is complete, varnish based products are definitely the most popular option. The vast majority of the popular sealants on the market at least have some varnish in them with some of them being totally varnish based.

As you can probably imagine, over time, some artists decide that their work can use a little tweak to be perfect or they may just want to add an additional few layers to revitalise their art. This often leads people to ask questions similar to if you can paint over a varnished painting or not.

Due to seeing so many people constantly reaching out and asking about painting over a painting that has been varnished, we have decided to publish this dedicated article going over exactly how you would go about it. Please note that there are a few variables that you do have to consider when it comes to painting over a varnished painting so be sure to go over all of our key points in the article below to ensure that you get the best possible end result.

Can You Paint Over A Varnished Painting?

You can paint over a varnished painting if needed but acrylic paints on a water based, acrylic varnish will usually offer the best result. Other combinations such as oil paint on an acrylic varnish or acrylic paints on a solvent based varnish will usually not work and can ruin your painting.

These specific combinations are whey we try to recommend that our readers always ensure that they are using the correct type of sealant for their paint type. As most of our readers tend to be acrylic paint users, this would be a high-quality, water based acrylic paint.

Although these water based varnishes do offer excellent protection to your art work and seal it just as well as the other products on the market, it performs much better if you do need to paint over the varnish. As most people in the arts and crafts space quickly work out, you should avoid trying to mix water based products with oil or solvent based products as the results tend to be poor but water based products can often mix with each other with minimal problems.

What Happens If You Paint Over A Varnished Painting?

Provided you used a water based varnish with a water based paint, you should be able to easily add a top layer of paint above the varnish and then re-seal the new top layer if required. If you mix mediums such as water based with oil based or solvent based then there is a high chance of the mediums clashing and spoiling the painting.

There are some tips and tricks that you can use to your advantage if you have used a different type of varnish to the paint that you are wanting to use to paint over it but their results can be hit and miss. The most common thing that we see people do is apply a varnish product over the existing varnish that matching the paint type that they will use and then paint over the new coat of varnish once it has dried.

The problem with this is that the new coat of varnish may cause problems with the old coat of varnish due to them being based around a different medium. Although this can work and can have a pretty high success rate, there is still a chance that the process will fail and then your artwork will be ruined, especially if you apply too much of the new varnish.

How Do You Paint Over A Varnished Painting?

In some cases, you can paint over a varnished painting as if the varnish is just another layer of paint that you want to build upon. For this to work well, you do have to ensure that the varnish medium matches the medium of your paint, for example both are water based as well as that the varnish is dry.

A very common beginner mistake that we see people often make that is very easy to avoid is that they will try to paint over a varnished painting before the varnish is actually dry. Even if the medium of the varnish matches the medium of your paint, there is a high chance that this will end up causing you problems that could have been avoided if you just let the varnish dry.

Although we have seen some people say that they like to use a primer over the varnish layer, we don’t see any benefit to doing this, especially if the varnish if of the same medium type. Provided the varnish is dry, you can usually apply your paints but be sure that there is not too much water in the paints else it may re-hydrate some of the varnish products on the market and cause problems with your painting.

Can You Paint Over Varnish Without Sanding?

There is no need to sand the varnish off your painting and the misconception comes from sanding varnish off a surface such as your decking prior to painting it. As our readers will be wanting to paint over a sealant layer of varnish on a painting rather than varnish on decking, there is no need to try and sand it off.

We can’t stress this enough and although we can see where this misconception comes from, we often see people on social media or online forums going into how you have to sand the varnish off prior to painting over it and this is simply not try. For arts and crafts, as long as the varnish is dry and uses the same medium of as your paint, there is no need to use any sanding.

There is actually a high chance that trying to sand the varnish layer of your paint will totally ruin it and end up pulling your paints off the canvas or paper too. Even if you try to do it as gently as possible, it is very easy to accidentally lift your paints off too and totally spoil everything.


That brings our article going over if you can paint over a varnished painting or not to an end. In many cases you should easily be able to paint over the varnish layer on your painting provided that you follow the instructions covered above in our article. The majority of the nightmare stories that you see online about people ruining their artwork come from people mixing mediums between the varnish and their paint or trying to paint over wet varnish. That said though, there is always a risk that trying to point over varnish will ruin your painting and you have to accept this risk if you do want to move forward.