Gamvar Picture Varnish is hands down the best varnish I have ever used on acrylic paintings. I have used several types of varnish from several other manufacturers, and nothing comes close. The ease of application, and how good it looks, blow all of the others away.
Pro’s and Con’s of Gamblin Gamvar Picture Varnish
One of the best parts of Gamvar Varnish is how easy it is to apply. It is a available pre-mixed with Gamsol, so it can be used right out of the bottle. As soon as you open it, you will notice how watery it is (not sticky, like some other varnishes) You need very, very little of it. Less then you think at first. You dip a stiff brush in it, and then apply it to your entire canvas using a scrubbing motion. See the video below, to see how easy and forgiving it is to apply, and notice how he uses a scrubbing motion.
Another great thing about Gamvar is the mild solvent that is uses. Gamblin formulated the Gamsol solvent to be especially safe compared to many other common painting solvents like turpentine and mineral spirits. Precautions should still be taken, and it should be used in a well ventilated room. It makes the application, removal, and clean up of this varnish much safer then conventional removable varnishes. Brushes can be cleaned using Gamsol as well.
One thing I always notice when I varnish paintings, is that there is often some kind of stray hair or piece of lint that seems to embed itself into the varnish. Whether it me from me, my cat, or my wife, they often somehow end up there. With Gamvar, I am able to remove the hair, and then go back in with a very small brush and “touch-up” the area. I usually do this using the same scrubbing motion as I did for the application, but just on a very small area, with a TINY amount of the varnish. Once it dries, the touch-up usually blends in seamlessly with the rest of the coating. Sometimes it doesn’t work perfectly, and then I just add another coat to the entire painting, which is also quite easy.
Because Gamvar is so thin, removal using Gamsol is very easy. This means that after several years if the surface of the painting is starting to look a little dirty, the entire varnish layer can be removed. Not only will the varnish be removed, but all of the dirt and grime that has embedded itself to it over the years. A fresh coat can be applied, and your painting will look like new.
Another incredible benefit of this product is that you are able to use it on oil paint without having to wait the customary 6-12 months for your painting to dry. That is because Gamvar is designed to allow the oil paint to continue curing underneath the varnish layer. This is honestly a game changer for many artists who work with oil paint. With traditional varnishes you either had to wait several months before you could varnish the piece, and send it to your customer. The other alternative, was to give it to them unvarnished, and then varnish it at a later date. This becomes a major problem if they live in another city.
Gamvar comes in three different levels of sheen: Gloss, Satin, and Matte. Depending on the style of artwork that you are creating, there is a gloss level for everyone. It can also be further adjusted by how long you continue the “scrubbing” process while you apply it. If it is too glossy, more scrubbing can tone down the sheen a bit.
Gamvar Picture Varnish gives you a fairly long working time, which means you don’t run the risk of messing up the areas you have already applied varnish to. It stays wet for quite a while before it starts getting tacky. This means that you can work over the entire canvas and return to the areas you started on and not have to worry about your brush wrecking the application.
Finally, because it is so watery thin, you barely have to use any varnish. In fact when I first started using it, it was much less then I thought it would be. This means that you save money, because a bottle will cover a lot of paintings.
One downside about this product is that it takes quite a while to dry compared to some other varnishes. This means that there is an increased chance that dust, lint, and hair could embed itself in the varnish. A good preventative measure is to lean the painting against a wall while it dries. The surface of the painting should face the wall, so that it is slightly angled downwards. This means that any dust or lint that is in the air shouldn’t fall on the wet varnish. Another good idea is to limit the amount of airflow that is blowing across the painting while it dries. While the increased airflow can help speed up the drying, it can also blow unwanted contaminants onto the surface of the painting. While this is in the negative category, in some ways it can be considered a benefit because of the longer working time.
I usually wait 24 hours before handling the painting, or making any touch ups. If I am going to ship the painting and it is going to have some kind of material touching the surface, I usually wait 48 hours. Either another canvas if it is being shipped rolled, or glassine paper it is shipped stretched.
Other Varnishes I have used
Some of the other varnishes that are available include Golden MSA Varnish and Liquitex Gloss Varnish. I have used both of these products on dozens of paintings, and must say that Gamvar is far superior for all of the reasons listed above. Golden MSA varnish does come is a spray bottle, which is an added convenience, but it is still not as user friendly as Gamvar. It can also be difficult to make touch ups (Like removing a hair) with adding an entirely new coat of varnish. The problem with this is that it can build up and get to be incredibly glossy. Also, the solvent that is used with the Golden product is Mineral Spirits, which is very powerful. You need to take extra precautions with this product to ensure that there is adequate ventilation. The brush on version of MSA varnish comes in two parts, which ads another degree of difficulty. Liquitex Gloss and High Gloss varnishes are water based and not removable. So if you make a mistake, there is very little you can do to remove the layer of varnish you have applied. It dries incredibly fast so it needs to applied very quickly, if using a brush, otherwise you may be left with brush marks, especially if it is used on a smooth surface like a panel.
After trying MANY other brands of Varnish on over 100 paintings in several years, Gamvar is the hands down winner.
Gamvar picture varnish is available on Amazon. Click here to purchase it for your next painting.