Varnish Doesn’t Protect Against Fading

The sun can be quite damaging to our skin, as you know. It can also fade the dyes that color fabrics. Artwork from centuries ago has faded due to exposure to light. As artists, we have to consider what effect light has on our artwork. Polymer clay and many art materials can fade when exposed to sun for long periods (read Phyllis’s tests here). Alcohol ink (read about alcohol ink on polymer here) fades even faster, often showing color change with a single day’s sun exposure. Many varnishes advertise that they have UV protection. Going on from Phyllis’s tests, I wanted to explore this topic further. Does this mean that varnishes will protect our artwork from fading in the sun? Sadly, I found that varnish does not protect against fading from the sun on polymer clay.

And yes, I know. We don’t NEED to seal polymer clay to protect it. But this makes it even more clear that putting a coating on your surface treatments aren’t protecting against color change and fading from the sun.

For the tests below, I checked out the following coatings. Click the links to read more about those products:

Fading Tests

Last summer, I did my first simple alcohol ink fade tests. I wanted to see if heat setting alcohol ink dots and/or coating them with varnish did anything to change the rates at which they faded when exposed to full sun. I put dots of Ranger and Piñata alcohol inks on baked white Premo tiles. Half were baked again to heat set. Half of each of those tiles were coated with various varnishes and even liquid clay. Then the tiles were put outside, in direct full sun (at 37°N latitude), for 10 days. Here’s what I found:

photo of test tiles demonstrating how much alcohol in fades when exposed to direct sun for 10 days.

Varnish Doesn’t Prevent Fading

Note that in each image above, the bright tiles on the left are the same actual tiles as the ones on the right. Not only did the alcohol ink fade and discolor, coating with varnish or liquid clay did little to nothing to slow down or prevent color fading.

Additionally, heat setting didn’t do anything to keep the colors from fading, either.

When I shared this info in my article about Brite Tone Polyurethane Varnish, the manufacturer got in touch with me to say that the UV protectants they add to their varnish is included to prevent UV deterioration of the varnish, itself. It it not intended to work as a sunscreen for your items.

More About Fading Alcohol Inks

Yes, I tested this further. Go here to read about how alcohol inks used on baked polymer clay held up when placed in the sun for 10 days. The results were better than what you see above. Don’t lose hope…you CAN use alcohol inks on polymer clay!

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