What is the difference between Mod Podge and Acrylic Medium?

Recently I needed to seal a print that I had made. I’d previously used Liquitex Gloss Acrylic Medium and Varnish to great success. Used as a sealer, acrylic medium is a permanent finish, similar to artist’s acrylic paint. In fact, that’s what it’s primarily designed for, to seal artwork. It’s durable, clear when dry, resistant to chemicals, water, abrasion, and UV radiation. The only problem was that the sealer I had on hand was glossy and I wanted a matte coating for this particular piece of art.

Liquitex gloss medium and sealer is used for thinning artist's acrylic paint and sealing paintings.
Liquitex gloss medium is an artist’s quality acrylic medium and sealer.

Being a bit tight on funds at the time, I winced a bit at the price of a bottle of acrylic sealer and started to think of less expensive alternatives. Well, the product that always comes to mind when thinking of sealing paper based art work is Mod Podge. So I looked into it a bit.

I first became aware of Mod Podge when I was a child, doing my first decoupage project for a Girl Scout activity. Of course we called it Modge Podge then. Apparently the ability to read wasn’t my strong suit at age 8. I’ve used it over the years a bit for different crafts and in my memory it seemed to act a lot like acrylic sealer. It’s milky white. You paint it on. It dries clear. Voila.

I did a search to find out what it is made of. Is it acrylic? How durable is it? Everything I read online raved about the stuff like it’s magic or something. It was mentioned many times on craft forums and blog posts as being a fantastic sealer and varnish for paper arts. Scrapbookers seemed to love it. I even saw one post talking about how it’s exactly the same thing as acrylic sealer. Well then. Problem solved. I would go buy some matte Mod Podge.

Mod Podge comes in glossy and matte finishes but it still just cheap glue.
Mod Podge is a craft medium that is basically thinned white glue.

At Hobby Lobby I found, sure enough, that the acrylic sealer was twice the price of Mod Podge. So, confident in my research and happy with my decision, (and feeling a bit proud of myself for being such an informed consumer) I bought the Mod Podge.

I went home, laid out my print on some backing card stock, picked up a big flat paint brush, and opened the jar of Mod Podge. Right away the smell hit me. It’s glue. It’s freaking glue. It’s not acrylic sealer. It’s a $6 bottle of white PVA glue. But you know how when you get started with something you go ahead anyway? Yeah, well, I shouldn’t have. But I did. I covered my print with the Mod Podge. And just like you would expect GLUE to act, it was bubbly, it streaked, and it dried tacky to the touch. My print was ruined. And I got to spend $6 for the privilege. That’ll teach me to be cheap. Sigh. When will I learn?

So in summary, the difference between Mod Podge and Acrylic Sealer is that Mod Podge is thinned white glue. And acrylic sealer is a durable acrylic finish. Don’t fall for their marketing. Buy the artist’s acrylic sealer. It’s in the art section, not the craft section of the store. Lesson learned.

If you’re looking to seal an acrylic painting, then acrylic varnish is the stuff you want to use. But read this article about using an isolation coat first. The comments have some interesting information as well.

And here’s some information on Golden Polymer Varnish. This technical info does give more info about varnish and what it does, including how to remove it.

NOTE: Mod Podge does not make a suitable varnish for polymer clay techniques. It will absorb humidity and become tacky. Also, contact with water causes dried Mod Podge to turn white and soften. If you’re looking for a polymer clay sealer, have a look at my article here. And if you have already used Mod Podge on a polymer clay project and it’s sticky, DO NOT use the Mod Podge brand spray varnish as is recommended by the company for this use on paper. Read more about using spray varnish on polymer clay here.

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Faux Czech glass beads made from polymer clay with the tutorial from The Blue Bottle Tree.
Yes, this is polymer clay! These are Faux Czech glass beads and are one of five projects in the Faux Glass Effects Tutorial.

143 thoughts on “What is the difference between Mod Podge and Acrylic Medium?”

  1. I often use Krylon clear (or matte) non-yellowing to seal my acrylic paintings, as long as you let the acrylic dry for 24 hours (or more) it has been good to me.

  2. It might not have worked for your project and it might not be the right product for every craft (I use other products for decoupage myself) but it is NOT just elmer’s glue.

    Not long ago, there was a bunch of buzz with DIY mod podge recipes and a lot of blogs said to simply use watered down glue because it was the same. It isn’t. In this post, she explains the difference.

    https://modpodgerocksblog.com/2011/11/you-shouldnt-make-mod-podge.html

    She also uses it successfully on all kinds of projects.

    I have used mod podge in the past successfully myself and I have never experienced the tackiness that some people here are commenting on but I wouldn’t be surprised if it just doesn’t work well on some mediums. If someone doesn’t like it, that’s ok, but it should be for accurate reasons.

  3. For decades I have been using Yes! Paste for fine-art paper collage. It is archival and unlike acrylic medium products and white glue, dries flat without curling or wrinkling. This is a huge plus. Here’s a description:

    Yes! Paste is the original, all-purpose stick-flat glue. Yes! paste is water-based, clear when dry, non-toxic, slow to set, recyclable, and acid free for archival work. A favorite among hobby enthusiasts, artists, and crafters everywhere, this adhesive is perfect for use with paper, leather, cloth, tin, wood, glass, metal, primed surfaces and more.

  4. I skimmed so maybe this question has been asked/answered; I didn’t see it. I’m giving a young teen g’daughter a nice wooden desk. For current use, I’ve bought lipped plexiglass counter protectors I’d like to decoupage on the bottom with cute gift wrap. Someone suggested Liqui-tex or Golden, then foam brush on polycrylic when dry. Haven’t done any decoupaging; don’t want to screw up as the protectors were expensive! Agree with this process or…… thx!

    1. It shouldn’t hurt the acrylic at all. But you might want to lay something down between the desk surface and the decoupaged acrylic. My concern is that the decoupage varnish and the varnish of the top of the desk might stick to each other similar to the way that doors of painted cabinets will stick.

  5. Just as a side note: that Liquitex product you named does NOT have UV stabilizers in it. The only Liquitex brand varnishes that have UV stabilizers in them are the smelly solvent based ones, labeled Soluvar. I checked their full catalog to determine this.

    Sigh, tired of Liquitex labeling, the company doesn’t make things clear until you read their catalog.

  6. So, could I use Spar Urethane or Polyurethane? That`s all I have on hand and I`m wanting to modpodge a pic onto a glass container.

    1. You’d have to test it. Most of those are oil-based and would give the paper a yellow tint. Also, they would “wet” the paper, making it transparent. Mod Podge is a great decoupage medium, so I’d probably go with that. Or just plain white glue. I work with polymer clay, not decoupage, however, so you will likely find more complete info on other sites. Good luck!

  7. Pingback: Trial Runs: Transparent Resin Faux Opal Using Magic-Glos UV Resin | KarenAScofield

  8. I know I am four years late to this party, but may I say Mod Podge has several different flavors now, including outdoor and fabric. I agree that Mod Podge has its issue, but strangely enough I used it to decorate my phone case and it never chipped peeled or cracked. I used the gloss. I mixed glitter into the MP and painted it on. HOWEVER…it got dirty and I couldn’t clean it. I put windex on it, and the Mod Podge didn’t soften, but the dirt didn’t come off either. When I made the case I fully expected it to fall apart eventually. My case had a bunch of cracks in it (I drop my phone a lot), that the Mod Podge was holding together.

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