How To Store Watercolor Paintings? 6 Tips to Protect Watercolor Paintings

If you like to paint or just collect watercolor paintings made by renowned artists as a hobby, you’d want to store them to keep the beautiful art protected. It can be a challenging task because of the nature of watercolors that curves the paper and keeps it from sitting flat. Let’s discuss the best ways to protect and store watercolor paintings to make them last longer.

Watercolors are a great painting medium that allows artists to create worth protecting and storing masterpieces. If you like to paint or just collect watercolor paintings made by renowned artists as a hobby, you’d want to store them to keep the beautiful art protected.

It can be a challenging task because of the nature of watercolors that curves the paper and keeps it from sitting flat. Let’s discuss the best ways to protect and store watercolor paintings to make them last longer.



There are multiple ways you can use to preserve your valuable artwork and using varnish is one of the easiest and best ones. It provides the painting with a protective layer to protect it from moisture. You can find different types of varnishes available in the market. However, using non-water-based brush-on varnishes is the best product to use because it keeps the painting from re-wetting again.

How Does Varnish Protect Watercolor Painting?

Varnish is a specially designed material that minimizes the damage caused by scratches, scuffs, ultraviolet radiation, smoke, dirt, dust, and humidity. Ideally, it should be a removable coating to improve the longevity of watercolor paint by enduring environmental abuse. It can also hold and seal the binder and pigments in place to keep the paper with watercolor paint intact.

Both water-based and spirit-based acrylic varnishes are available in the market but you should use the latter one. That’s because these varnishes aren’t suitable for watercolor paintings because of their water-based materials that can compromise the quality of work. On top of that, they’re also less effective when it comes to UV protection.

Varnishes are available in matte, satin, and gloss finishes and all of them offer UV protection. But you must bear in mind that a large number of even light coats can decrease the textural quality of paint and paper.

Varnish Application

You can use three different options to use varnish on watercolor absorbent ground or paper.

Direct Application

It’s the easiest and quickest option but the biggest downside of the direct application is that it’s non-removable. An archival Varnish is a good option because you can easily use it without touching your delicate watercolor painting. Use the following tips for this method.

  1. Use the gloss varnish to apply the first coat so that your painting can retain clarity.

  2. You can use matte, satin, or gloss varnish for the last coat.

  3. Don’t use matte or satin for all the coats because it’ll make your watercolor painting dusty and cloudy because of the high concentration of matting solids.

  4. Don’t apply more than six coats of Archival Varnish.

Note: You should apply only one coat of varnish with a matte finish.

Isolation Coat and Spray Varnish

The second option is to apply a non-removable isolation coat before using the spray equipment. The isolation coat will allow you to apply varnish evenly and it’ll also seal all absorbent areas to protect the artwork. Use a sprayer to apply the initial coat instead of a brush. You can use one part Airbrush Transparent Extender and two parts GAC 500 to make the isolation coat. 

Once you have applied the isolation coat, you can apply the varnish of your choice. Don’t apply more than four coats using your spray equipment.

Isolation Coat and Brushed-Applied Varnish

This option is the combination of the first two options. The first step is the same that’s discussed in option one. Apply one to two coats using gloss Archival Varnish to watercolor painting and paper. If your painting is on the absorbent ground, you can apply one more coat and let the painting dry.

Then you can apply the isolation coat using a brush. The most suitable recipe for this coat involves one part water and two parts gloss Soft Gel.

Important Considerations

Keep in mind that any varnish applied to a watercolor painting surface will become a non-removable addition because watercolor substrates and papers are highly absorbent. It also means that your watercolor painting will never be able to go back to its original condition.

Vanish can also potentially exclude your art from being considered as a watercolor painting and recategorize it as a mixed media piece by some conservators, museums, and societies. It can also alter the feel of the paper and texture and appearance of the painting because it offers a sheen different from the original colors.

Always apply a varnish to your water color painting in a dust-free environment. Consider using a spray varnish whenever possible because it reduces the application time significantly.

You’ll need to leave your watercolor painting for several days to let them dry after applying varnish coats. Don’t place any materials on top of the treated surface of your paintings and never stack them as well.

Benefits of Varnishing a Watercolor Painting

  1. Varnish seals the painting’s surface and provides it with a protective layer to keep it safe from dirt, dust, and moisture.

  2. Over time, pollution, moisture, dirt, and dust will change the appearance of your watercolor painting if you don’t apply varnish.

  3. Varnish ensures UV protection and keeps the painting from damaging ultraviolet light.

  4. Al high-quality varnish layer allows you to display your art without using a frame and glass.

  5. Watercolor paint products come with different pigments and they also dry differently. Some of them appear glossy and others appear satin or matte and a high-quality varnish evens those paint colors out.

  6. Varnishes are available in different finishes to protect your artwork and you can choose the one that suits your needs the best. You can use a varnish with a matte finish to enhance your water colour painting.

  7. Varnish can reduce the risk of possible damage as well as the frequency of cleanings so that it can last for the years to come.



The following are the golden rules to protect your watercolor paintings. Following these tips will help you preserve your artwork for a longer period of time.

1. Start with a Good Foundation

Watercolors come with finely ground pigments suspended in a water-soluble binder. You need to mix these colors with water before painting them on absorbent surfaces. Once the paint dries, pigments stay on the paper surface with the help of a binder solution.

But if you use low-quality watercolor painting materials, the quality of your artworks will deteriorate quickly as pigments won’t be able to stick to the paper properly. Your best bet is to use acid-free paints and paper because the acid can cause degradation and yellowing.

Make sure that you ensure cleanliness while painting. It’s one of the most important parts of preserving your artwork. Food particles, oil, smoke, fingerprints, and dust are some of the things that you must keep away from your painting materials.

2. Store Watercolor Painting on Paper Horizontally

Many artists, especially beginners, roll up their watercolor paintings to store them. It’s never a good practice because it can damage your work by building up humidity. The best way to store your unframed paintings is to use non-plastic and acid-free sleeves between each paper and place them flat on top of each other.

Using plastic sleeves is not recommended because it can lead to an irreversible chemical reaction. So, if you’re planning to store your paintings without frames, store them horizontally in a dry, dark, and cool place.

3. Frame Your Watercolor Painting

The watercolor paper doesn’t come with a water-resistant coating to make the color application easy. That’s why you should apply varnish to your finished pieces to make them water-resistant. However, varnishes are generally non-reversible and that’s why most artists don’t like to use them on their paintings.

But it makes the watercolor painting vulnerable to moisture that can ruin the art by breaking, running, or shifting colors. If you also don’t like to apply varnish to your work, then framing your water color painting is your best bet to protect your beautiful art from dust, dirt, and moisture damage.

4. Use Archival Framing Techniques

Archival framing techniques are all about using safe materials that don’t affect your painting’s quality. It means that you need to use acid-free materials including hinges, backing, and mat. You can go for a mat board that’s made of linen or cotton rags. Not only is it acid-free but it is also known to be of the highest quality.  

When it comes to archival framing techniques, using an adhesive such as glue that contains acid is not recommended. You can use Japanese paper hinges or paper tapes by replacing glue to attach your painting to the mat board as they don’t affect the paper and paint.

The best thing about archival framing is that it’s completely reversible and doesn’t create a physical bond with your water colour painting. You can remove the framing material anytime you want without damaging or affecting the quality of your water color paintings.

5. Store Watercolor Paintings Away from Sunlight

External factors such as humidity and light can deteriorate your water color paintings. You must not hand your frames on the spots that receive direct sunlight. Long-term exposure to UV radiation can lead dried-out watercolor paints to fade and crack.

The pigments in your watercolor paints are sensitive to sunlight and they lose their color intensity if they receive ultraviolet rays. The watercolor paper can also generate an undesired yellow hue, bleach out, turn brittle, or dry out.

You should also remove fluorescent bulbs from the place where you’re planning to hand your watercolor paintings because they also emit UV radiation. Your kitchen is also not a suitable place for your delicate paintings because it’s never free of moisture, odors, oils, and heat that can damage the quality of pigments permanently.

Ideally, you should choose an environment to hang your paintings that have natural diffused light. Choosing a dry and dark storage space is the best option if you plan to store your artwork. Other than UV radiation, humidity and temperature fluctuations are also bad for watercolors and the canvas. So, choose the storage space carefully to improve the longevity of your artwork.

6. Avoid Dramatic Environmental Changes

The ideal temperature and humidity for watercolor paintings, which most art galleries and museums follow, are below 68 degrees Fahrenheit or 20 degrees Celsius and 50 to 60 percent respectively. It’s the best way to protect and preserve your artworks.

Even if you can’t achieve the same numbers because of any reason, make sure that there are no dramatic environmental changes such as high-temperature fluctuations. If you have some valuable art pieces consider installing a dehumidifier and set your home HVAC system accordingly.


What Can I Use to Protect My Watercolor Painting?

You can use varnish to apply a moisture-resistant coating to your watercolors and paper in order to protect them for a long period. If you don’t want an irreversible coating on your painting, consider framing your artwork using archival framing techniques.

How Do You Protect and Store Watercolor Painting?

The best way to protect your watercolour painting is to apply a varnish coating or frame your work and store it in a dark, dry, and cool storage place. If you have unframed paintings, use acid-free sheets such as glassine envelopes between your paintings by placing them on top of one another. Then you can use a plan chest or portfolio to store them horizontally.

Final Words

If you like to collect unique and valuable watercolor paintings or create your own masterpieces, protecting and storing them is critically important. Use the methods and tips mentioned in this guide to protect and store your paintings to keep them in a pristine condition for a long time.

by Greg Conley

September 29th, 2022