10 Best Damar Varnishes In 2023: Protect & Retouch Your Oil Paintings
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Oil paintings are some of the most demanding works of art, mainly because of the long drying process. And once dried, you need to apply the best damar varnish to protect it.
Remember, not all varnishes are suitable for paintings, so it is best to do your research before buying one. Here are the best damar varnishes that bring out the desired qualities in your paintings.
Our Top Picks
Best Overall - Winsor & Newton 1L High Gloss Damar Varnish
• Best for large artworks
Best for Final Finishes: Grumbacher Final Gloss Damar Varnish Spray
• Does not cloud
Best for Temporary Finish - Grumbacher Retouch Gloss Damar Varnish Spray
Protect your artwork from dust, moisture, scratches, and other damages from the elements. Unlike a glossy finish, the Grumbacher Damar matte varnish spray gives your painting a muted effect. It can also remove the sheen on an overly shiny painting.
The matte varnish spray is the best Damar varnish for abstract or impressionist style paintings. It also works well with paintings that want a somber effect by reducing glare and softening the colors.
Before applying, make sure that your oil painting is thoroughly dried. Warming it with a blow dryer is an excellent call to remove all moisture on the surface. Wipe off all dust and other foreign materials present in your painting with a dry, lint-free cloth.
Apply an even spray on the canvas, keeping a distance of at least 40 centimeters. Be sure to shake the spray can well to remove any blockage on the nozzle.
The Winsor & Newton High Gloss Varnish is the best Damar varnish for vibrant and lively oil paintings. In contrast with the matte finish, the high-gloss finish highlights surfaces that need sheen to achieve their desired effect.
This varnish works best on realist styles of paintings, and some painters apply up to 20 coats of varnish to reach their preferred sheen.
You can correct an overly glossy painting by mixing Gamvar with cold wax to give it a satin finish. If that doesn’t solve the issue, you may want to strip off the varnish with turpentine and lint-free cloth. Just be sure to gently rub on the surface to avoid scuffing or removing the colors.
If you want to correct or fix your dull painting, Grumbacher is the best Damar varnish to do the job. Besides restoring the sheen on your paintings, you also protect it from damage caused by moisture and other elements of nature.
When applying Damar varnish using a brush, choose a high-quality paintbrush that doesn’t shed to keep your painting free from foreign materials. In any case that your oil painting becomes too glossy or you simply want to strip off the Damar varnish, we recommend using distilled turpentine. Since Damar is a strong varnish, you also need a powerful solvent.
Grumbacher Damar Matte Varnish Spray is perfect for protecting your oil paintings from dirt, excessive moisture, and accidental scratches. This transparent, quick-drying spray evens out the gloss of unfinished works, revives sunken in or dry areas, and guards your painting before the final varnish.
While this varnish helps protect your painting from excessive dust, it is still recommended not to apply too much varnish as it blooms or clouds, thus damaging the painting. Test the thickness of the spray output before applying it on the painting, then turn the painting to 90 degrees to apply another layer.
Let the varnish dry completely for at least 6 months before applying the final coat. If you feel the need to remove it, you can do so by applying Pure Gum Spirits of Turpentine.
If you think that 6 months before applying varnish is too long, think again. The Grumbacher final varnish can only be applied after 18-24 months, depending on your oil painting’s thickness or the medium you used.
Though you can still remove it with distilled turpentine, you should treat this as a permanent varnish. Removing the varnish is way too risky, so before applying it, be sure to make all the retouching and corrections.
You’ll need months before you can apply varnish to your oil paintings. But what if you need to put it up for an exhibit? Or what if it’s a commissioned art that your client already needs? The Grumbacher Retouch Spray is the best Damar varnish you can use to provide temporary protection to your oil paintings.
Aside from that, this product can resurface some of the “sunken” paint—just add a few spritzes of the Grumbacher retouch gloss varnish. You can observe sunken paint as a portion that does not match the rest of the painting, like a matte portion on a glossy image.
Remember to be gentle when applying retouch varnish, or any varnish for that matter, as it can mobilize the paint. Apply it at least after 4 weeks.
Working with a 1m x 2.5m painting needs many coastings of varnish. This 1-liter Winsor & Newton varnish is the best Damar varnish for professional painters working with several large artworks.
When using this varnish, decant it in small bottles to not contaminate the whole lot. Do not reuse any leftover varnish in the bottle since it is no longer viable.
Note that this should not be used as a medium but as a varnish for an arid painting. Damar varnish as a medium tends to dry fast, which might leave a brittle and yellow finish after a few years.
The Chelsea Classical Studio varnish is lavender-scented, making it the best Damar varnish to use indoors.
Damar varnish is a misnomer since it functions both as an ingredient to oil paints and varnish. As a medium, damar varnish increases the oil colors’ brilliance without being too glossy and shortens the drying time. As a varnish, it protects the finished artwork from damage and gives the painting a new depth.
The third use of this varnish is retouching. By adding Lavender Spike Oil Essence, you can use this to resurface “sunken” paint or add a temporary layer of varnish for your oil paintings that are not yet ready for varnishing.
Here is another Damar varnish that you can use as a medium and as a varnish. Michael Harding's Damar Varnish is slightly thick, so you’ll need to add a bit more turpentine to make it more runny and consistent.
Unlike other Damar varnishes, this one has a subtle gloss finish, so you can use it for paintings that need a satiny finish. The 100ml bottle comes with a reasonable price and excellent quality that professional painters love.
When working with varnishes, experts recommend using it outdoors. But with dust and other elements to consider, it may not be the best environment to apply your varnish. A well-ventilated studio with wide spaces is the next best thing, but what if you have a small work area?
You’ll love the Chelsea Classic Studio Damar varnish sampler set! Professional artists use it because of its pleasing scent and good quality. On the other hand, the retouch varnish gives a temporary finish and brings out the colors in your paintings.
Both are lavender-scented, so it’s the best Damar varnish sampler set you can get to protect and retouch your projects. Plus, using it as a medium shortens the oil paint’s drying time.
Best Damar Varnish Buying Guide.
Your varnish should remain transparent and colorless at all times to avoid damaging your oil paintings. Damar varnish tends to oxidize and turn yellowish with time which affects the overall quality of your artwork. If you must use it, the best Damar varnish is refined and less susceptible to discoloration.
Oil paintings tend to move after being on display for months or years. That is why the best Damar varnish should have enough elasticity to allow that movement after application. Out of all the types of Damar varnish, the matte finish is the most elastic. Unfortunately, it doesn’t give excellent protection to your oil paintings.
Damar Retouch varnish is ideal for new paintings requiring temporary protection. And for paintings 6 months and older that haven’t received any varnish yet, regular Damar varnish helps give more lasting protection until they’re ready for the final varnish.
When your painting is ready for finishing, apply Damar or a synthetic varnish as the final protective layer after 18 months or more.
There are three finishes that you’ll want to achieve for your oil painting - matte, satin, and glossy. Each finish has its merits, so don’t interchange it and expect the same results.
Damar Varnish FAQ
1. Can you use Damar varnish as a medium?
Yes, you can use Damar varnish as a medium to improve the gloss of your oil color. To make a glaze medium, mix 1 part of stand oil, distilled gum turpentine, and Damar varnish. Be sure to read the product information to check the compatibility of your Damar varnish and turpentine.
An alternative method to use Damar varnish as a medium is to mix 2 parts of linseed oil and turpentine and 1 part of Damar. It can be painted over, but professional painters discourage this as Damar leaves a brittle and discolored finish.
Another issue with using Damar varnish as a medium is the risk of mobilizing the oil paint and destroying your painting. As a temporary varnish, though, it is removable with turpentine without issues.
2. Can you use Damar varnish on acrylic paintings?
Yes, but professional painters do not recommend it because of the discoloration issue of Damar varnish. Also, if you decide to restore your acrylic paintings later, you’ll need a professional since removing Damar varnish needs powerful solvents. Stick with varnish for acrylic paintings, instead.
3. How long does it take for Damar varnish to dry?
Depending on the brand, Damar varnish takes at least 2 hours before it is dry enough to apply an additional coat. After the last application, wait for at least 24 hours for it to be fully dry.
4. Does Damar varnish yellow?
Evaporation of the solvents like turpentine in natural varnishes such as Damar results in a resin film finish on the painting. This resin film tends to yellow with time. Although it is not harmful to the painting, it affects its visual quality. It is removable, though, so a professional can restore the artwork to its previous glory.
5. What is the best way to apply varnish?
Depending on the purpose of Damar varnish, you can apply it with a brush or using a spray can.
For retouching, it is best to use a brush. This will give you more control over smaller portions that need retouching. Prepare the painting by removing all dust and any foreign particles that may affect the varnishing quality. Also, do not attempt to retouch before the required 4 weeks to dry.
You can use both the brush and spray method for temporary protection since you’ll be covering the whole area. Before application, be sure to retouch your painting. It is best to prevent further retouching after using temporary varnish to avoid mobilizing the paint. Allow the oil painting to dry for at least six months before applying the temporary varnish. Always clean the surface before any varnish application.
For the final varnish, wait until 18 months to dry the oil paint completely. Sometimes, it can take as long as 24 months, depending on the medium used, the thickness of the paint, and the environmental conditions. You can use both the brush and spray can method.
Before applying the final varnish, retouch all flaws on the painting and remove all forms of materials that may damage the finish of your artwork. Let it dry for at least 24 hours to remove all the moisture.
Apply thinly with a brush, spreading the varnish evenly. If using a spray can, hold it at least 40cm away from the painting, then spray evenly.
Damar is a natural resin varnish that most artists prefer if they are on a budget. We made this list to help you choose the best Damar varnish for your needs.
Our best overall vote goes to Winsor & Newton 1L High Gloss Damar Varnish. Professional artists highly recommend this product because it is more economical when working with larger artworks or collections.
The runner-up for best Damar varnish for final finishing is Grumbacher Final Gloss Damar Varnish Spray. It is removable with turpentine, easy to apply, and does not result in cloudy finishes.
Another recommendation is Grumbacher Retouch Gloss Damar Varnish Spray. This is the best Damar varnish for temporary finishes as it is quick-drying, restores sunken paint, and protects paintings for display before they are dry enough to finish.
Which of these Damar varnishes have you used or plan on using? Leave us a comment and share your experience with a particular brand.