Maybe you’re working on an outdoors art project and want to be sure that your acrylic painting doesn’t wash away in the rain. Maybe you’re working on a piece for your bathroom and don’t want the moisture to turn your new piece of art into a dripping mess. Or, maybe you just want to have piece of mind that when your toddler inevitably splashes his water all over the family room that you made a good choice in choosing acrylic paint that will survive the chaos. So, is acrylic paint actually waterproof?
When dry, acrylic paint isn’t fully waterproof. It is water resistant and can stand up pretty well to water, but it can degrade overtime. To preserve your acrylic paint works, it’s best to varnish them so that they withstand the test of time.
Acrylic paint is pretty sturdy as far as art paint goes. Unless you want to make your paintings with weather-resistant house paint, acrylic paint is a good choice for projects that might get a little wear and tear. That said, it isn’t indestructible and there are things you should know if you want your acrylic artworks to be at their best. First, let’s talk about how acrylic paint is made and why it can degrade overtime. Then, we’ll talk about varnishes you can use to protect your acrylic paintings.
What is Acrylic Paint Made Out Of?
Acrylic paint is made out of pigment, acrylic resin, and water.
Pigment – this is what creates the color in acrylic paint. The problem is that pigment is a powder in its natural form, so it needs some help to become a usable paint.
Acrylic resin – this is a binder that helps separate the pigment and keep it in place on the surface of your painting once it dries. It “binds” everything together (source).
Water – this is a vehicle that helps keep the binder and the pigment fluid. It’s a “vehicle” for the pigment and binder.
When the acrylic resin and water are mixed together, they make an acrylic polymer emulsion. After you finish your painting, the water evaporates and the acrylic resin turns into a sort of plastic. At this point, your painting is finished and the paint is set (source).
Acrylic Paint is Water Resistant
There’s actually debate as to whether acrylic paint is water resistant or whether it’s fully waterproof. As for me, I’m landing on the water resistant side of things. Here’s why.
To start things off, we need to understand the difference between water resistant and waterproof.
Water resistant – able to resist penetration by water, but not entirely
Waterproof – can withstand water no matter what, regardless of how much water it is and how much time it spends in the water (source).
Acrylic paint is a polymer. Polymers are often used to create waterproof coatings. So, that’s why acrylic paint is said to be waterproof and, in reality, is incredibly durable when exposed to water. But, personally, I have an issue with the word “waterproof.”
Objects that are waterproof come with a rating, it starts with an “IP” and indicates how waterproof that object is. What’s acrylic paint’s waterproof rating? It doesn’t have one that I can see. So, how are we supposed to know just how waterproof acrylic paint actually is?
I don’t know if I would feel comfortable throwing my acrylic painting to the bottom of the pool and leaving it there for an hour. I also don’t know if I want to put my beautifully painting mailbox out in a rainstorm without protection.
That’s why I’m in the water resistant camp. Yes, your acrylic work will be resistant to water, which means it will hold up pretty well to the elements, but it may not be fully bulletproof to them though. If you’ve worked really hard on something, why take the risk?
Something More Important Than Waterproofing
Alright, so we’ve decided that we want to give your acrylic artwork extra protection from water, but we also want to protect your acrylic artwork from everything else.
If you’ve painted something that’s meant to go outdoors, or painted on an unusual material like metal or wood, you could end up with some peeling, chipping, or cracking if you don’t protect it properly.
It’s really important to think about where your piece of art is going to live. If it’s going to be in your living room, it probably doesn’t matter if it’s waterproof or not. If it’s going to be outdoors, waterproofing is probably the least of your worries. Sure, waterproofing is great, but who cares if it’s waterproof if it chips, peels, or fades.
Yeah, it’s best to protect it. Let’s talk about how to apply varnish, which is the layer of protection you’ll want for your acrylic paintings or pieces of art.
How to Apply Varnish to an Acrylic Painting or Piece of Art
When you get ready to varnish an acrylic painting, make sure it’s completely finished and completely dry. Drying can take up to a week. Yes, you heard that correctly. To make sure that your painting is fully dry and ready for varnishing, make sure that it has been drying for over a week.
Once you’re ready, we’re going to start with an isolation coat.
What’s an Isolation Coat?
An isolation coat serves as a barrier between your painting and the varnish. Basically, it “isolates” them from one another. You may be wondering why your painting needs protection from the varnish in the first place. I mean, isn’t the varnish good for the painting? Yes, if used correctly.
You see, varnish is removable. In fact, it should be removed and reapplied every once in a while to give your acrylic painting new life and shine. The problem is that the same chemical that removes the varnish will also remove your acrylic paint from your artwork.
Even if you don’t plan to remove your varnish in the future, it’s a good idea to have an isolation layer. Just in case something happens to your painting, you’ll want to be assured that you have an extra layer of protection.
Don’t worry, isolation coating isn’t too expensive. Buy one bottle of varnish and one bottle of isolation coating and it will last you a while. Dick Blick Art has a great isolation coat that is inexpensive and will do the job.
Applying Your Isolation Coat and Varnish
Once your acrylic painting is finished and fully dry, apply a layer of isolation coating. Follow the instructions on the bottle to mix your isolation coating with the appropriate amount of water. You only want to apply 1 coat, but make sure that it fully covers your entire painting. This means that if you have a textured piece of artwork with a lot of nooks and crannies, you’ll want to make sure that your isolation coating covers every single peak and valley.
Let your isolation coat dry for at least 24 hours. Yes, this is a time intensive process, but it will totally be worth it once your acrylic painting is protected for many years to come!
Once you’ve waited at least 24 hours, it’ll be time to apply your varnish.
First, you need to choose the type of varnish you want to use. Varnish comes in matte, satin, and glossy finishes.
The finish you choose will completely change how your finished painting looks, so choose carefully.
A matte finish will dull your colors quite a bit, while a glossy finish will make them pop. A satin finish falls in between. Take a look at the video to see the differences.
Be sure to follow the instructions on the bottle to mix your varnish with appropriate amount of water. Apply 2-3 thin layers of varnish, with at least 3 hours in between. Yes, I know, time intensive. But, worth it!
At the end of the day, you want to protect your art as much as possible so that it can last for many years to come. Give your acrylic works the care they deserve by properly varnishing them when you’re done. You’ll be grateful years later and your art will thank you.
Diana has been an artist for over 25 years and has training in drawing, painting, digital drawing and graphic design. Diana’s latest obsession is digitally drawing with Procreate and creating t-shirt designs with Canva. Diana has experience selling her art across a number of platforms and loves helping other artists learn how to make money from their art as well.