There are many different kinds of varnish that are suitable for pysanky. They range from inexpensive everyday varnishes to high end specialty varnishes. In choosing one for your pysanky, you should consider the type of finish you would like (satin versus glossy), how many eggs you will need to varnish, and how much you have to spend.

Traditional Ukrainian pysanky were not varnished–to make them shiny, the pysanka-maker might rub a bit of goose or pork fat over the completed shell. While this may look fine in the short term, in the long term dust and grime accumulate and mar the finish.

The insides of a pysanka dry up over time–the gases that build up inside pass through the permeable egg shell. If a full egg is varnished, the gases may build up and cause cracking, leaking and explosions (and quite smelly ones at that). If you plan to varnish your pysanky, you should empty them at some point in the process: before beginning the waxing and dyeing process, or either just before or shortly after varnishing.

Most importantly, make sure that any varnish you use is OIL-BASED, not water-based. (Ask at the store if you are not certain; many companies sell both water and oil based varnishes under the same brand name.) Using a water-based varnish will wash the dyes off of the shell of the egg, ruining your pysanka.


Varnish is a transparent, hard, protective finish or film primarily used in wood finishing but also for other materials. Varnish is traditionally a combination of a drying oil, a resin, and a thinner or solvent. Varnish finishes are usually glossy but may be designed to produce satin or semi-gloss sheens by the addition of "flatting" agents. Varnish has little or no color, is transparent, and has no added pigment.

After being applied, the film-forming substances in varnishes either harden directly, as soon as the solvent has fully evaporated, or harden after evaporation of the solvent through certain curing processes, primarily chemical reaction between oils and oxygen from the air (autoxidation) and chemical reactions between components of the varnish. Resin varnishes "dry" by evaporation of the solvent and harden almost immediately upon drying. Acrylic and waterborne varnishes "dry" upon evaporation of the water but experience an extended curing period. Oil, polyurethane, and epoxy varnishes remain liquid even after evaporation of the solvent but quickly begin to cure, undergoing successive stages from liquid or syrupy, to tacky or sticky, to dry gummy, to "dry to the touch", to hard. Environmental factors such as heat and humidity play a very large role in the drying and curing times of varnishes. In classic varnish the cure rate depends on the type of oil used and, to some extent, on the ratio of oil to resin. The drying and curing time of all varnishes may be sped up by exposure to an energy source such as sunlight, ultraviolet light, or heat.

Other than acrylic and waterborne types, all varnishes are highly flammable in their liquid state due to the presence of flammable solvents and oils. All drying oils, certain alkyds, and many single-component polyurethanes produce heat during the curing process. Therefore, oil-soaked rags and paper can smolder or ignite hours after application if they are bunched or piled together, or, for example, placed in a container where the heat cannot dissipate.

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About Varnishes

Lac beetles, source of the varnish shellac