Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: varnish from Philip's Encyclopedia

Solution of a resin or a plastic that dries to form a hard, transparent, protective and often decorative coating. Varnishes may have a matt or glossy finish. Pigments are often added to colour the varnish.

Summary Article: varnish
From The Columbia Encyclopedia

homogeneous solution of gum or of natural or synthetic resins in oil (oil varnish) or in a volatile solvent (spirit varnish), which dries on exposure to air, forming a thin, hard, usually glossy film. It is used for the protection or decoration of surfaces and may be transparent, translucent, or tinted. For oil varnishes a hard gum or resin, often a fossilized plant exudation such as kauri or copal, is dissolved in oil (commonly linseed oil or tung oil) and is diluted with a volatile solvent such as turpentine. Spirit varnishes are commonly made of soft resins or gums, such as shellac, dammer, mastic, or sandarac, dissolved in a volatile solvent, e.g., alcohol, benzene, acetone, or turpentine. Enamel is varnish with added pigments. Lacquer may be a cellulose derivative dissolved in a volatile solvent, or it may be a natural varnish made in the East from the sap of trees. Among the varnishes named either for their constituents or for the proposed use are japanner's gold size, cabinet, carriage, bookbinder's, patent-leather, insulating, photographic, shellac, and copal picture varnish. Varnish has been known from antiquity; the Egyptians coated mummy cases with a pastelike form made of soft resins dissolved in oil and applied when warm. Another early use was for coating oil paintings. Stradivarius and other violinmakers used a slow-drying linseed oil varnish on their instruments.

  • See Oil & Colour Chemists' Assoc., Paint Technology Manual (2 vol., 1961, 1962);.
  • Martens, C. R. , Technology of Paints, Varnishes, and Lacquers (1968).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

Related Articles

Full text Article varnish
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

A resinous solution in oil or a solvent that dries to form a hard transparent coating on wood, metal, etc. The resins may be natural,...

Full text Article varnish
The Bloomsbury Guide to Art

A solution, usually resin in oil or a synthetic equivalent (although there are also albumen, spirit and wax varnishes), which has been used...

Full text Article varnish
Word Origins

[14 century] Varnish may come ultimately from Berenice (Greek Berenīkē ), the name of a city in Cyrenaica, Libya, which was credited...

See more from Credo