How to Protect Watercolor Paintings

To me, watercolor is one of the most fascinating mediums of paint that is available in the market. If you are someone who loves watercolors but doesn’t know how to keep them safe, you are at the right place. 

Sealing any watercolor painting is a very important step as it often becomes vulnerable to environmental damage.

Now, don’t start worrying about how to protect watercolor painting on your own as there are many conventional methods. You can use varnish, mod pudge, or fixatives to get a glossy finish. If you are however looking for a matte finish, using a wax medium would be more adequate.  

In this article, I’ll be discussing everything that you need to know about protecting your artwork. So, follow through carefully to gather the knowledge that you need.

How to Protect Watercolor Paintings

Can You Seal Watercolor Paintings?

Sealing watercolor paintings with a protectant is very important. It will help you to preserve watercolor paintings from dust and moisture damage, excessive heat, and other external damages. This way you can maintain the original look of your finished work and keep it fresh for a long time.

Watercolor paintings can be sealed by either a Fixative or a Varnish. Both have excellent performance so choose the one you feel is most suitable. These will provide a water-resisting coating above the painting and keep it safe. 

Wait for the paint to dry completely, then spray the protective varnish over it. If you spray the sealant too early, the colors may bleed together and ruin the painting altogether. 

Use small strokes to cover every inch of the painting properly. Let it sit for a while and then proceed to the next layer. 2-3 coats would be enough to give the necessary protection to your watercolor painting. 

If you don’t have any varnish or fixative at hand, you can try to cover the paint with hair spray. This is a cheap but efficient way to shield any painting against dust or direct sunlight.

What You’ll Need to Seal Watercolor Paint

Need to Seal Watercolor Paint

The things you’ll need to seal your finished painting are- 

  1. Any type of watercolor varnish
  2. Watercolor fixatives
  3. Wax medium
  4. Paintbrush &
  5. Surgical gloves (To guard your hand against all these chemicals)

How to Protect Unframed Watercolor Paintings?

Watercolor paintings can be very delicate and get ruined easily. Especially if the painting is unframed, it is even more crucial to guard it against any type of external damage. You wouldn’t want your beloved painting to start fading after investing so many hours behind it. 

In this segment, I’ll be discussing the steps that you can follow to preserve your watercolor painting. Whether you are an artist or an art collector, these protective measures will help you keep any artwork fresh for a long time.

1: Acid-Free Materials

Using acid-free materials proves to be more efficient in protecting watercolor. Place your watercolor paintings on an acid-free mat board and it will ensure long-lasting color vibrancy. These mat boards are best to be used for projects with a life expectancy of 5-25 years

The primary ingredient used to make this is wood pulp. The sheets of the board create a protective envelope around the painting. It protects the paint from external contamination by preventing any alteration to the paper’s chemical composition. 

Even while packaging artwork, you should use acid-free packaging materials to keep the pigments of the paint safe. Materials that contain acid within them can alter the chemical properties of the painting and thus ruin it altogether.

2: Distance from Sunlight

Direct sunlight is extremely bad for any paint medium let alone watercolor. It can harm the color pigments and burn out the entire artwork. As watercolor is very vulnerable, the risk of getting affected is even higher. 

Framing artwork with plexiglass or other UV-filtering glass is the best way to keep them safe from UV rays. But if due to any compelling reasons you must keep the paintings unframed, keep them away from open windows or doors where sunlight can reach regularly. 

However, be careful not to store the painting in any wet or poorly ventilated place. Otherwise, it can get affected by mold contamination. 

If your painting is directly exposed to sunlight for a long time, the green pigment can start to turn brown. Sometimes blue watercolors also start to turn greyish. Even bright colors like red or orange start to fade over time if comes in contact with direct sunlight.

3: Avoid Extremes of Humidity or Temperature

As I mentioned before, extreme temperatures, humidity, or wet places are also not suitable for storing your valuable art pieces. Normal room temperature is the most suitable temperature for storing watercolor paintings. 

The ideal humidity should be 40-50% with a temperature between 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit (21-24 degrees Celsius). If you visit art galleries, you’ll notice that the temperature in there is much low. They usually maintain a temperature under 20 degrees Celsius. [source]

Watercolor paper is also sensitive to temperature and humidity just like the pigments. Extreme high temperature causes the paper to deteriorate and makes it more brittle. 

Frequent fluctuation of temperature can be as harmful as exposure to sunlight. On the other hand, a very low temperature can also affect the quality of the paintings. 

So, carefully choose a cold, dry, and dark place to store unframed watercolor paintings to keep them in a pristine condition for a long time.

4: Maintaining Cleanliness

Unframed paintings are very much exposed to dust particles and other contamination. But keep in mind, the rule of watercolor is to dust, not clean. 

You should never use anything that is even slightly wet near watercolor as the colors will start to bleed as soon as they come in contact with water. For example, take a dry piece of cloth or any feather brushes and gently dust the surface of the art piece. 

Don’t apply too much pressure. This will prevent any dust or mold layer from forming above the painting.

How to Protect Watercolor Painting on Paper?

1: Don’t Roll Up

A very important thing to remember is that you should never roll watercolor paper while storing it. Over time the paper will start getting more and more brittle and just a little change in its condition can cause it to snap. 

If you try to unroll a century old rolled up watercolor painting, the paper will break and fall into pieces.

2: Use Acid-Free Sleeves

Never use plastic sleeves made from PVC to store watercolor paintings. It will not give any protection but ruin the paint surface entirely. Instead, you can use acid-free archival sleeves. 

These are chemically stable and close to PH-neutral. So they won’t affect the quality of your painted artworks and will add an extra layer of protection.

3: Use Proper Packaging Materials

Using acid-free packaging materials plays a huge role in storing watercolors. Watercolor paintings are most safe to store inside sealable plastic bags so that moisture can’t reach them. 

Place a cardboard backing of the same size behind the piece to secure it. Then insert the painting above the backing and gently place it inside the plastic bag. Seal it properly and make it airtight. 

You can store unframed watercolor paintings in this process for a long time to keep them safe from any external damage. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Can I Varnish a Watercolor Painting?

It is completely safe to varnish a watercolor artwork in order to keep it protected from any damage. Applying a water-resistant coating over the paint will provide protection from humidity as well as dust particles. 

This way the watercolor pigments won’t get smeared easily and stay intact for a long time. Once you apply the varnish all over the painting, it adds a shine to it and makes it look much more lively. 

So, not only varnish makes the piece less vulnerable, but it also makes it more appealing to the eye.

Q: Should Watercolor Paintings be Framed with Glass?

It is important to frame your precious art piece if you want it to stay intact for a long time. Framing valuable paintings with a filtered glass shields them from harmful UV rays. 

It locks away humidity and dust and keeps the chemical property of watercolors intact. Framing also protects the corner and edges of the watercolor papers and prevent them from structural warping. 

So, framing the art with a glass front would be a wise decision if you plan to preserve it for a long time.

Q: How Long do Watercolor Paintings Last?

Watercolors can last up to centuries if maintained professionally. In museums, there are hundreds of years old paintings stored. But to maintain the quality, high-quality professional-grade pigments with good lightfastness ratings should be used. 

It should also be stored at the optimum temperature and humidity. On the other hand, to prevent color fading, the artwork must be done on acid-free paper and kept far away from any environmental damage. 

By following these steps, it is possible to make a painting last for centuries.

Q: How to Protect Watercolor from Fading?

As light is a major catalyst to watercolors, paintings of this medium should be displayed away from direct sunlight. Framing is another important thing to consider if you want your precious piece intact. 

Framed watercolors stay much more vibrant than unframed paintings in the long run. Applying a sheet of filtered glass or acrylic will not only preserve it from dust and humidity but also keep the pigments from fading.


If you are planning to be a professional artist, your artwork can be your income source in the future. So, it’s always better to hold on to your amazing pieces for as long as you can. By maintaining proper safety measures, you will be able to store your paintings for a long time. 

But let me tell you my golden rules for storing my works- don’t keep your paintings exposed to the environment, use acid-free materials, and keep a 2mm gap between the painting and the glass while framing. If you follow these through, you should be good to go.

Loard Eva

Hi there! I’m Eva, artist, designer, photographer and mom of three little gentlemen altogether. When I’m not playing with my kids, you’ll find me researching and writing for ChooseMarker.

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