Painting with acrylic is a lot of fun. There are so many colors that you can choose from and the finished product really jumps from the page. So, is acrylic paint waterproof? Today I’ll tell you about acrylic paint and what you need to know when it comes to exposure to the elements. I’ll let you know it’s limitations, what you can do to surmount them, and give you some instructions so that you can be sure that your art is well-preserved.
Let’s talk about your acrylic paints and their weak spots!
So, is acrylic paint waterproof?
Sadly, no. On its own, acrylic paint is not waterproof. This is because your color pigments are mixed in what is known as an acrylic polymer emulsion… in layman’s terms, it’s a water-based paint. Since acrylic paint is water based, it easily washes off if it gets wet and your work goes down the drain.
Incidentally, this is also the reason that they dry so quickly. The water evaporates and bam, your painting is quickly dry. Now, while acrylics will wash away easily on their own, there is something that you can do to preserve your work against the elements and we’ll go into that shortly.
First we should address the subject of outdoor acrylics so that there are no misconceptions about these types of paints.
What about outdoor acrylics?
You may have heard that outdoor acrylics are waterproof, so let’s get this out of the way. Outdoor acrylics are NOT waterproof. Period. They are ‘water resistant’ and that’s a whole different animal. It’s a term that you hear a lot with things like watches, which claim to be ‘water resistant’ and what that ultimately boils down to is ‘they can take SOME water’.
Outdoor acrylics will eventually succumb to water, the real advantage with those is that they are highly UV resistant, so they aren’t going to fade as quickly when subjected to lots of sunlight. This is a great thing, just be sure to understand that outdoor acrylics will still need some special treatments if you want to truly waterproof them.
Sealing acrylic paint to protect it from the elements
Sealing your acrylic is not hard at all and is typically going to be done with a varnish. A varnish is simply a combination or resin, solvent, and drying oils that you can apply to your work and with a little chemical magic, your work is protected.
What happens is that the solvent portion of the varnish evaporates and then you are left with a protective film that is hard, glossy (or matte, more on this later), and waterproof. You can also use UV resistant varnish and protect your work from sunlight in the process. Pretty neat, huh?
Will varnish damage my paintbrushes?
Nope. Varnish is absolutely fine to use with your paintbrushes, just be sure to wash them well later. You might also consider a foam poly brush for applying it. I recommend this because the foam lets you apply the varnish much more evenly to your work. With a brush it’s much easier to forget and brush one or more areas too much and this will show in your varnish (you also need to be careful not to touch the varnish, as it will take impressions of your fingerprints!).
If you do decide to just use a brush, it might be a good idea to designate a specific ‘varnish brush’. While it washes off easily with water while it’s still wet, using a specific brush for varnish can help if you occasionally forget to clean your brush in a timely manner. You wouldn’t want to accidentally apply a mix of varnish in paint on a new work, so it’s just a good way to ensure that doesn’t happen.
You can even skip the brushes altogether and use a spray varnish. You might find that you prefer them, as spray varnishes come in a can like spray-paint and go on quickly, though you’ll need to practice a time or two to get used to applying the varnish evenly on your canvas.
Everything you need to know about your choices of varnish
Selecting your varnish is largely a matter of taste. Personally, I like the shine of gloss and even though it’s a little stinky, acrylic resin makes for the toughest, shiniest gloss to keep your hard work on the
“Acrylic resin makes for the toughest, shiniest gloss”
canvas where it belongs. Your tastes will might be different, though, so I’ll explain the types in more detail to help you in your decision:
- Gloss – Gloss makes your work shiny and really brings out even the dullest colors on your canvas. Think of it as a strong, clear, and shiny barrier between your paint and the elements.
- Matte – Matte is the opposite, tending to tone-down your colors. It doesn’t reflect light like gloss does and it will even lighten your darker colors on the canvas. This can look interesting, so you should try it sometime to see if you like it.
- Satin – If you are on the fence about shiny or not-so-shiny, you can try Satin. Satin is a little bit of both Gloss and Matte, and you don’t have to purchase it separately if you don’t want, as you can simply mix a Gloss with a Matte to achieve the same effect. Try this too, sometime, because the finished look might just be perfect for what you envision. You never know until you try!
Varnish also comes in two different types that you can use:
- Acrylic polymer – If you are concerned about your chemical footprint, you might like acrylic polymer. Acrylic polymer is non-toxic and you can dilute it with water. It’s easy to clean up and you don’t need any special chemicals to do it. It’s not as strong as resin, however.
- Acrylic resin – This is the strongest of the pair. Acrylic resin is stronger and shinier – but it also creates some fumes, so you want to use it in a well-ventilated area. Cleanup is accomplished with mineral spirits, if that gives you any idea how much this stuff sticks!
Isolation coats and removable varnish
A final type of varnish that some people like to use is removable varnish. Removable varnish exists because over the years, you can accumulate dust that gets stuck in your varnish coat. With removable varnish you can remove that old coat and replace it with a shiny new one.
The reason that this doesn’t affect your painting is because you’ve put in a protective barrier between the paint and varnish called an ‘isolation coat’. The isolation coat usually consists of a gel or acrylic medium that has been diluted with water and painted on before applying the varnish or you can purchase ready-made isolation mediums as well.
How do I seal with a varnish to protect acrylic paint?
Applying your varnish is easy as pie! Let you acrylic paint dry fully and then you simply spray or brush on your varnish evenly to the canvas. Let it dry completely based on the instructions on your varnish of choice and voila… your hard work now means the answer to your initial questions ‘is acrylic paint waterproof’ is now ‘Yes’!
Hooray and good job!
Some final words on waterproofing acrylic
Today we’ve taken a deep-dive together into the world of acrylics. I’ve given you the basics about the types that are available and urge you to experiment. Finding your ‘signature look’ is important and with a little experimentation you’ll find the preservative method that shows your selected colors to your satisfaction.
Just do a little experimentation and before you know it, you’ll have a good stock of your preferred varnish at the ready to preserve your work to stand the tests of time!