How to Make Oil Painting Look Glossy | All You Need to Know

You just painted a masterpiece with oil paint and are now waiting for it to dry out completely. But, you see that as it dries out, the paint starts to lose its glossy finish and fresh feel. So, how do you tackle this? How can you make your oil painting look glossy and fresh with colors popping up with a rich hue?

Artists who juggle in the oil painting domain experiment with mediums and methods to make their paintings stand out without losing the sheen and beauty. Given that oil paints dry out duller compared to acrylic paints, beginner artists can be seen asking for options that can make their paintings look glossy.

Thankfully, there are several options to help make your painting glossy without having to put in a lot of effort or money. So let us check them out and help you achieve your desired results!

How to Make Oil Painting Look Glossy

Depends on Medium Type Used

Most artists have in their mind whether the medium they use affects the resulting texture and look of their painting.

Yes, the medium you use can surely dictate the outcome. There are several oil panting mediums available in the market to help tweak your paint’s performance. While some can help add sheen to the paint once it has dried out, others can help with faster drying as oil paint takes longer to dry out completely than acrylic paint.

Now, you don’t necessarily have to add any medium to your oil paint, as the modern-day variants come with a good amount of linseed oil added to the formula.

However, it is your personal choice, and you can surely add a medium if you feel it’s necessary. In comparison, using varnish works better and offers a glossy look with real color spectrum improvement. Here are some mediums you can use for oil painting:

Acrylic Gesso

The acrylic gesso medium is used to prime the surface, allowing the paint to cling onto the same. It also helps ensure there is no patchy effect or dull spots after the paint has dried out.


Turpentine is a medium that helps dilute the paint and is ideal for creating outlines or underpainting. It is more of a solvent or diluent as opposed to a medium. However, most artists use it in the form of a medium.

White Spirit/Thinners (Low Odor)

Thinners and white spirit help with the quick-drying of your oil paintings post the painting process. It is somewhat similar to turpentine in its features but doesn’t pack in the same odor. This alkyd medium alternative is gentler with a pleasant smell.

Linseed Oil

Linseed oil is one of the best mediums used for oil painting. You can choose from different options: stand oil, purified oil, thickened oil, drying oil, cold-pressed oil, and more.

Today, most oil paints do have some form of linseed oil present in the same. So, you might not need to buy a medium separately.

Safflower or Poppy Oil

Poppy and safflower oil is ideal for artists who need a gloss medium that doesn’t give in to yellowing issues, as is seen with linseed oil. However, they dry in a long time which might not be something of an advantage.

So, now that you know all about the oil paint mediums, let us look at why your oil paint can go dull post-application on a surface.

Why Do Oil Paintings Look Dull?

The formulation for oil paint has changed a lot over time. While the old-school paints were surely vibrant and bright, the present-day variants might not be as glossy and vibrant. This is due to the changes introduced by manufacturers to ensure that product isn’t toxic in any way.

Traditionally, oil paintings were made in combination with an ample amount of earthy colors. So, in crafting the classic oil paintings, one might mix in many neutrals and brows that might induce dulling of the colors.

Here are some more reasons that lead to oil paintings looking dull:

  • Darkening the bright colors with a black color to achieve an earthy hue. For example, artists might add black to the green color in order to achieve real-looking foliage. One might also add black to the flesh tint to shade some areas of the portraits. However, combining black with any color might often lead to dull results.
  • Tempering the vivid oil paints with the neutrals thinking that they are generally bright might be causing your colors to dry out dull.
  • Painting in subsequent layers without allowing the previous layers to dry out could result in dull oil paintings lacking depth in sheen and colors.
  • Over-mixing the oil pigments might also cause the resulting colors to dull out with time. The result might not be immediate but surely affects the painting after some time.
  • Mixing in multiple colors could also lead to dulling out of the painting (true for 3 or more mixed colors)

Apart from this, an unsuitable painting frame might also make the painting look amateurish and cheap. Instead, you can use a thin black or gold frame that can help add some vibrancy to the painting.

You can also use a rustic wood-based frame to compliment a portrait or landscape painting.

Ways to Make Oil Painting Look Glossy

Now that you know the reasons that make your oil painting dull let us check out how you can add some gloss and freshness.

Step 1: Select the Paint Carefully

The first thing you need to do to have a glossy painting as the final result is to select your paint carefully. Most artist-grade oil paints are bright and vibrant with better color pigmentation than student-grade oil paints.

Make sure you check the pigment strength and coverage of the paint to ensure you get to pick the best option. Some oil paints might have fillers in them, which could eventually dull out the final painting.

However, the artist’s oil colors might be a bit on the expensive side. Therefore, student paints might pack in more filler as compared to artist-grade paints. However, this doesn’t always have to be a bad thing.

For example, the fillers could be ideal for impasto brushwork, while the artist-grade options are ideal for paintings that have highly blended colors.

Step 2: Apply Thick Layer of Paint

If your oil painting seems dull and lost with time, it is generally due to an issue termed as “sinking.” This happens when the oil in the top paint layer is lost due to reasons that include:

  • Using a lot of medium/solvent
  • Painting in a surface that absorbs a lot of oil from the paint
  • Not using the right type of or enough medium

Sinking can be prevented by applying a thicker layer of paint on the painting surface. We use the impasto technique to enhance the light quality in the paintings. For areas that need darker shades, you can use thinner oil paints, and for the areas that require brighter colors, you can paint thick layers.

The impasto technique for thicker painting helps highlight the areas you want your viewers to focus on.

Step 3: Follow Fat over Lean Principle

Another great way to achieve gloss and brightness for your oil painting is to follow the fat over lean principle. In this painting principle, you need to apply paint in layers with lower oil-color pigment ratio options below the paint with a higher oil-color pigment ratio.

This ensures that the painting is more flexible when drying and that it doesn’t crackdown as the paint ages and dries up. You can add oils such as linseed, safflower, or poppy oil to make your color fat. This makes the painting glossier, stickier, and with a better sheen.

On the other hand, painting with lean colors means mixing in a solvent to the color, including Turpentine or Spike oil. This helps dilute the colors and makes it leaner when painting on a surface. As a result, it will have less sheen with a matte and satin appearance.

Step 4: Paint on Less Absorbent Surface

Using a less absorbent canvas or surface helps ensure that the oil paint doesn’t become flat and looks just as glossy and fresh even after years.

When painting with oil paint, the key is to prep the surface with clear or white acrylic gesso. This helps create a non-absorbent barrier between the canvas and the oil paint while giving it a scope to latch on to the prepped surface.

If you do not want to pitch in extra effort for prepping up the surface, you can purchase pre-prepped painting canvas in case they fit in your budget.

Step 5: Use Oiling Out Technique

The oiling out technique helps restore the finish and color of the painting before varnishing. Opting for this method gives you access to a unified painting surface where the whole painted on canvas seems to have a soft and attractive luster. Once you see that the painting has completely dried up, check for areas that seem dull and less vibrant.

Soak a lint-free piece of cloth in some oil. Now, rub this cloth on the areas with dull color. Make sure you keep another dry piece aside to rub away any excess oil during the oiling out process.

Now, leave this painting to dry out for a minimum of 4 days.

Lightly touch the painting to check if it has dried out completely. If it hasn’t, leave it dry for a few more hours or days, depending on how wet it is. If you see that the painting isn’t as shiny as you would like it to be, repeat the process to achieve a glossy surface.

Step 6: Varnishing Can be Great

Varnish helps unify the surface quality and helps you achieve an even sheen and gloss for the painting. Additionally, the varnishing process helps protect the painting from dirt and dust that could collect over the painting with time.

When selecting a varnish for your oil painting, the key is to select an option that doesn’t yellow out with time. The varnish must not alter the existing color scheme and needs to be clear as water with no tint whatsoever.

Make sure to read the labels and pick the varnish designed for a high-gloss finish instead of a matte varnish.

Apart from this, you also need to ensure that the varnish can be replaced in the future. This is because the top layers of your paint would ultimately succumb to dirt and dust, and varnish acts as a layer on top of the painting that is non-porous in design. Thus, it helps prevent dirt and dust from entering the porous layers beneath the varnish.

The varnish should be removable to be re-coated with fresh layers whenever the painting has to be cleaned. It is better to make use of contemporary varnishes as compared to traditional varnishes.

This is since traditional variants tend to be darker and become yellow with time. They can also be hard to remove if you need to clean the painting.

In case you want a yellow hue to your painting, the traditional varnishes work well. However, if you plan on maintaining the original colors, the key is to opt for contemporary varnishes that are colorless and do not yellow even after years.

Warnings to Follow

  • Always use separate brushes for oiling out and varnishing the painting
  • Varnish in a gentle yet rapid circular pattern of brush strokes so as not to break the thick paint pockets
  • Ensure that your painting is completely dry before you start painting. Unless you do so, the moisture beneath will try to escape and cause a crack in the surface.
  • Varnishing or oiling out works better when applied in multiple thin layers than a single thick layer.
  • When varnishing a painting, always wear a glove to ensure you don’t leave any fingerprints on the painting during the process.

Some varnishes might release fumes or VOCs during the application process. So, make sure you apply the same in a well-ventilated area.

Read Also: How to Clean Oil-Based Paint Brushes


Q: How long should I wait before varnishing an oil painting?

Generally, artists tend to advise that one should wait a minimum of 6 months or so before varnishing the oil paintings. However, waiting out this drying time might not be possible for professional artists that need to sell their paintings as soon as possible.

So, the general rule of thumb is to wait at least a week and check whether the surface has dried out completely. If the painting is dry to touch, you can start varnishing.

Q: How do you restore faded oil painting?

The simplest way to restore your faded oil painting is to opt for the oiling out technique. Soak a cloth or white cotton in the oil and dab it into the dull and dry surfaces. Apart from this, you can also gently clean the surface with a cotton cloth soaked in soapy water.

Do not rub the surface too hard. Wipe off in one gentle stroke to get off the dirt and dust.

Q: Should I oil out a painting before varnishing?

Yes, it is better to oil out the painting before varnishing. This helps restore the original colors and shine in the painting while preserving it for longer when the varnish is applied on top.

Q: Can I use linseed oil as a varnish for oil painting?

No, linseed oil cannot be used to replace varnish in oil paintings. However, it can serve the same function as varnish by restoring the colors and adding sheen to the painting. Varnish is a non-absorbent surface, but linseed oil isn’t.

So, your painting might be prone to dust and dirt accumulation.

Q: Will Gesso make your oil paint look glossy?

No, you cannot apply Gesso over oil paint to make it look glossy. This is since the material doesn’t stick to the surface and will peel off eventually. Also, oil lasts longer than gesso and is more resilient, so the latter might not be ideal for making your painting glossy.

Final Thoughts

By following the methods mentioned above, you can restore the beauty of your painting in an instant. Always use a brush with soft bristles to layer the varnish on the painting and let it sit out in a room free of dirt and dust, so it doesn’t sit on the wet varnish.

With painting, the key is to experiment and understand what works for you. While the gloss might work for some, others would be happier with a duller and earthy hue. So, find what fits you best and start painting right away!

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Maria Tanish

Hello World! Tanish here, a student of Fine Arts. Drawing was my passion from an early age but I also love to do some DIY projects to spend my leisure. Even I work as a writer, to share my knowledge about the ins and outs of drawing and the art industry itself. As an artist, I always wanna share my experiences with you all.

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