To varnish or not to varnish, that’s the question. I would love to have a matting varnish that works in every way, with any medium that doesn’t change the colors. I haven’t found the perfect one but there are some different products that I use together to create the end result that I want. Here I will review a couple of varnishes that I’ve tried out, and their different qualities. All of theese varnishes are of course UV-resistant.

Winsor & Newton Professional Matt Varnish
A lovely varnish for acrylics and acrylic gouache. Probably works great on top of chromacolours too. Not suitable for watercolor, gouache or colored pencil (believe me, I’ve tried it). It comes in a pressurised bottle and needs to be used in a well ventilated area since it’s toxic.

Application: Pretty easy application. I usually spray two layers.

Color shifting: I haven’t noticed any color shifting on acrylics but it might make darks a bit darker, which I actually like because it enhances the contrast in the painting.

Shine: This stuff is absolutely, gorgeously matte without making the painting look dull. Beautifull stuff, really.

Lascaux UV Protect Varnish
I’ve tried this in both Matt and Satin and I just can’t make it work. I’ve only used it on Arches Hotpress 640 gsm and it might work better on other papers. I will leave an update in that case. Comes in pressurised bottle and needs to be used in a well ventilated space.

Application: I find this very hard to apply on my drawings. It goes on very uneven and with large blobs that are impossible to brush out in case you would use a brush application style. On arches it made the drawing look textured, like the colors looked darker in the “valleys” of the tooth.

Color shift: This varnish made all colors a bit lighter, I think.

Shine: The matt varnish is not matt, it leaves an uneven matt to satin shine, even when shaked for a long time before spraying. The satin is a bit more even.

Brush and Pencil Final Fixative
Now we’re talking! This stuff is made for colored pencil and you notice that right away. One really great benefit with this stuff is that it’s workable in case you notice a color change that you don’t like. When the Final Fixative has dried you can go over it with colored pencil to adjust things like that. It’s non-toxic and can be used indoors.

Application: You get a lot of droplets with this stuff. The secret is to spray very lightly in the first layer, let it dry and then spray a heavier layer and brush it out with a brush. You need to work pretty quick and use a super smooth brush so you won’t get any stripes.

Color shift: If I use it lightly, I barely notice any color shifting. However, when used heavily it dulls oranges and pinks.

Shine: It leaves a nice suddle satin finish, which is great for those drawings that are a bit uneven in shine. The more layers of fixative, the more you even out the shine and intensify the satin finish.

Other alternatives
To avoid affecting the colors too much you can spray a layer of Clairfontaine Pastel Revolution Freezer before adding varnish or fixative on top, since it seems to keep the colors true. It’s also easier to apply and therefore perfect for “priming” before using a varnish or fixative on top to avoid unintended movement of the pigments.

If you don’t want to alter the shine of the surface too much, you can use Brush and Pencil Advanced Texture Fixative on top of the Clairfontaine Fixative instead of a varnish or final fixative. It contains UV filters too and is more matte than the B&P Final Fixative (however it becomes a bit more satin when used in many layers).

Both of theese products are non-toxic and can be used indoors. This combination is actually my favourite for watercolor, goache, pastels and colored pencil! Works great with markers too, of course. 🙂

A warning
Do not use Lascaux or W&N varnish together with Clairfontaine Pastel Fixative or the Brush and Pencil products. It can cause a milky white surface on your drawing/painting and ruin your artwork. I’ve found that you can save it somewhat with the Texture fixative on top but you won’t get back to the saturation and contrast that you had before. However the Brush and Pencil products works great along with both Clairfontaine Pastel Freezer and Spectrafix. You can read more about theese fixatives here: Fixatives