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How to Varnish Prints and Get Better Results


The FAQ’s and trouble shooting scenarios to ensure a perfect coating for your prints.

Last month we started a new series on the top 5 printmaking tips, tricks, and techniques.  This month, we turn our focus towards varnishing — the frequently asked questions and trouble shooting scenarios to ensure a perfect coating for your prints.

1. Mix Varnish More Thoroughly Than You Might Have Thought

We all know that you need to stir your container of varnish before you coat. But how long does this process actually take? Our general rule is 2-3 minutes. In looking at our Timeless Satin or Timeless Matte varnish, this is very important for several reasons. Since Timeless is a different formulation from our traditional Glamour 2, it requires a little extra attention in the mixing process. This is because Satin and Matte have matting agents that need to be mixed properly. Over time, the varnish formula can separate when sitting on a shelf. The matting agents typically drift to the bottom, so when mixing be sure to reach the all the way down to the very bottom. You don’t necessarily need to “scrape” the bottom of the container, but pay close attention to it. Be sure to lift your mixing spoon from time to time to bring up any matting agents that haven’t fully mixed. If you want to use something more economical than a spoon, you can use a wire whisk or even an electric mixing device (a blender might be a bit overboard and could create undesirable air bubbles). After a few minutes you will see an even consistency, indicating that it is time to coat. In some cases, if you have left your Timeless sitting for a while you may notice dried “chunks” or “flakes” near the top of the container. No need to worry, read on to the next tip.

2. Flakes or Chunks in Your Varnish?  Here’s How to Remove Them without Having to Throw Away the Container.

If you have any flakes or chunks of varnish in your container, the easiest way to remove them is through a strainer. Just fill your measuring cup with the amount needed, and pour through a strainer into another cup (or container). The strainer will catch everything solid and you can just throw it out. Don’t have a strainer? No problem. A great inside tip is to use a coffee filter. Just grab a large cup or container and tape a coffee filter to the rim. Then, slowly pour your varnish into the filter. A coffee filter takes time for liquid to pass through it, so pour a little at a time. This is a good trick because it will pick up anything that isn’t pure liquid, and the end result is a perfect mix of varnish. These tips also work well if you have old gallons that have not been used in a long time. Remember, if you see any chunks of varnish on your print they will dry that way. So if you’ve ever encountered this problem grab a strainer and you’re good to go.

3. You offer 2 different Varnishes, Timeless and Glamour 2….Which is best for me?

This is a great question and gets brought up time and time again. Glamour 2 is our original varnish that comes in Gloss and Matte. It’s been successfully used in the industry for over 20 years. It does require dilution to work properly. This is due to the leveling agents present in the varnish. Each Glamour 2 finish can be mixed together to achieve a Satin, Luster, Semigloss, Semimatte, or a custom finish of your own. Since you are adding water to your varnish mix, this means your prints will take some time to dry.

Timeless is our answer to users that don’t want to dilute or wait a long time to dry. Timeless is also available in a Satin finish, thus eliminating the need to mix Gloss and Matte together. Since Timeless does not need to be diluted, it dries much quicker and essentially needs to be applied in a similar manner. Since Timeless does not have leveling agents, you need to apply it with pressure to fully penetrate the inkjet canvas. When applied properly, Timeless prints can be varnished in less than a minute and can dry in as little as 30 minutes.

Still not sure which one to use? Consider a few important factors: Local temperature, humidity, size of prints, and space. In other words, if you coat in a hot area with low humidity, Timeless will dry very quickly and may make an even coat on larger prints more difficult to achieve with a roller. Ideally, you should be varnishing in a temperature controlled environment (60-75 degrees, 30-60% humidity). On the flip side, if you don’t have a lot of space Glamour 2 may make space even more limited due to drying. In this case, Timeless would be the better choice as you can move and stack prints that are already dry. If you can find drying racks similar to what screen printers use, you can maximize your drying space if needed. Hanging prints on a clothes line is another creative option for saving space while waiting for your prints to dry. Since Timeless produces an incredibly high gloss, has excellent UV protection, is easy to use, and is certified archival for 100 years (when used with our Lyve Canvas and Chromata White Canvas), it seems to be the smart choice for professionals everywhere.

4. How long do I need to wait before varnishing a print? What about stretching?

Almost every aqueous printer on the market seems to have prints dry as soon as the print is complete. But are they really dry? In looking at inkjet canvas, you have certainly noticed a texture and weave, but did you notice the peaks and valleys? Canvas absorbs a little more ink then a standard photo paper (where ink dries on top of the inkjet receptive varnish, thus requiring less ink). Many people have heard the term “outgas” used when referring to canvas dry time. This is referring to water evaporating from the ink during the drying process. This is why it is also important not to stack prints until they are completely dry. Our general rule is to wait 24 hours before varnishing a print, to allow outgassing to complete. In some cases, printing in the afternoon and varnishing the following morning is fine, but giving yourself more time in between is always best.

Now that your canvas is varnished, how long do you wait before stretching? Well, with our Timeless varnish you could be stretching in about 1 hour. You are looking for 2 important factors before stretching: 1. The varnish is completely dry to the touch and has covered all areas of the canvas (especially the corners/outside edges). 2. Ensuring enough varnish has been applied so that the canvas does not crack. A quick and easy way to determine you have enough varnish is to do a fold test. Start by varnishing a sample/scrap piece of printed canvas. When the varnish has dried, fold one corner of the canvas in half, keeping the print side out. If you have sufficiently varnished the print, the canvas will not crack. If you are not sure, take a look at our Lyve product video and you can see a close up of a fold test. Once you have accomplished this, you are ready to stretch.

5. Ink is coming up on my roller. What do I do?

If you have experienced excessive ink coming off the print and onto your roller, there are a few simple ways to fix this. First, be sure that you have used the correct print settings/profile for your printer and canvas. Sometimes, if the wrong media type is used you will print with too much ink. Our profiles can be downloaded on our website and you can also see a detailed video for the correct print settings. Remember, all the different media types you can choose in your print driver have different set ink loads (maximum amount of ink that is fired onto media), so some media types will output too much ink, particularly on canvas. If there is excess ink this will only dry on the surface and when varnishing with a foam roller, the excess ink will be agitated and come out on the roller (and your print). Watercolor paper settings on various printers produce the most even results in terms of ink load, gamut and saturation.

If you have ensured the proper print settings were used, make sure you allowed enough time for the print to dry (as explained in the tip above). In a pinch, you can use a hair dryer (or heated fan) to skim over the print and this will dry it much faster. Still see ink on your foam roller? Ensure that you are rolling in straight lines. This may sound strange, but consider this: When driving a car, if you suddenly change directions you can leave tire marks on the road. Compare this to a foam roller on a canvas print. Ink can come up when the roller has changed directions since it’s essentially an abrasive move, which causes more friction. With Timeless, this is especially important since it requires pressure to apply. While this sounds contrary to what we’ve just discussed, applying pressure in straight lines will not damage the print at all. Remember, when the foam roller changes direction the edges of the roller become firm with more pressure and can cause this to happen.

After working with hundreds of customers across the country, these tried-and-true methods have helped many printmakers achieve the highest quality canvas prints. Have anything to add or something I missed? Have any questions, comments, issues, support needs, or just plain need help? Please leave them in the comments and I will be happy to help.

About Breathing Color
Breathing Color® is a leading designer and supplier of award-winning inkjet canvas, inkjet fine art paper, photo paper and print varnish. Breathing Color is focused on the fine art and photographic markets with products for Epson®, Canon®, HP® and Roland® Printers that lead the industry in color and longevity. Breathing Color’s customers benefit from the highest quality at competitive prices by buying direct.


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