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.

****Update**** 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.

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