My review of finishes and sealers – what to use to finish your paintings

by | Jul 28, 2023 | Tools and Supplies | 0 comments

For any artist who seals their work, the sealant is very important. You want it to be even and have the finish you want (glossy, matte, whatever). Some pieces lend themselves to a light glossy finish, and others, like wood, beg for a thick (meaning many, many layers) of glossy finish.

And then you take into account the quality and types of paints. If I use a metallic paint, the glossier the finish, the more the metallics sparkle.

Finally, the main point for finishing a piece is protection. You don’t want the piece to yellow, fade, chip, or crack.

My favorite finisher, especially for wood and vases, is Minwax high gloss polyurethane. This was pretty much my go-to for the first couple of years I was exploring painting seriously and regularly. I brush it on with a foam brush, no more than one coat a day. The piece itself dictates how many coats. I usually do two to three coats on vases. For some canvases, I might use more, especially if I used silicone in the process. (The oil in the silicone takes on the finish a little differently, so you have to do more coats to create a more even look and finish.)

However, Minwax changed the formula, and I noticed that even with four coats, it yellowed over time. Not good, especially for a painting that has white in it. For paintings that don’t have bright white or a lot of white, I still use this as I’m never disappointed in the coverage or finish.

I do still use it for vases, even if there is some white, because I can’t get that glassy, glossy look with anything else. Hence, why I only use two coats, and generally that doesn’t yellow, even over time.

Now, for larger paintings that did not lend themselves to have the finish brushed on (imagine brushing a 3′ x 4′ painting!), I used a spray varnish. My absolute favorite was Grumbacher high gloss varnish. I was only able to order from Amazon or Blick as it was not available in any local arts or home improvement store. Unfortunately, back in 2022 they either stopped making it or got so behind in production that my back order finally expired after 3 months.

Since then, I’ve tried several other finishes. I’ve done research to see what other artists use, and I’ve ordered most options and tried them out.

Here is my informal review:

  • Tri-Art Liquid Glass: This is actually an awesome product, but since you pour it on, you have to get the layer perfect, or else it will pool and you can see that pooling in certain lights and angles. Plus, it’s expensive to use that way, so if you want a resin-like finish for a small piece, AND you have perfected your technique of laying it on, use this.
  • Liquitex High Gloss Varnish: One reason I like this is that you can mix with a little bit of water to thin it out (so that it doesn’t clump or pool up). Plus, that extends the product a bit. However, to get that glossy shine, it takes a LOT of coats. This is another somewhat expensive product, so not very economical if you have to use so much of it to seal a piece.
  • Rustoleum Clear Enamel, High Gloss: I had high hopes for this one, as it’s economical (about half the price of Grumbacher) and easy to find. I was using it for a while, and then I had a piece with gorgeous colors and metallics that begged to have a resin-like high gloss to shine in all its glory. I probably sprayed 12-15 coats and NEVER got the look I was going for. Done!
  • Winsor & Newton: In full disclosure, I’ve only just started using this. I prayed 🙂 and sprayed it on the Chakra dot painting I did, which, as you can see in the picture, there are pure white dots. I was thrilled at the coverage with four coats, which is what I would usually do with the Grumbacher. It’s glossy, which you can sort of see by looking at the bottom of the painting and the reflection.

So, in summary, I continue to use the faithful Minwax Polyurethane high gloss to brush on art pieces, and I think my go-to spray varnish is the Winsor & Newton.

(Side note: Some artists use resin, and I will absolutely admit that I’m terrified to try it.  It requires you wear glove because it’s toxic, and it’s expensive.  I have a piece I did over three years ago that can only be finished with resin, and obviously I haven’t even attempted it.  Some day…. maybe.)

I’d love to hear what you think or your experience with sealers and finishers… post in the comments below!

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