Beginner’s guide to sealers for painted rocks

what happens if you use Modge Podge on painted rocks

Modge Podge alone is NOT a sealer

The graphic for this blog post might be alarming to see, but that's exactly the reason we made it the featured image.

Some rock painters were asking why their painted rocks weren't drying clear, or why they felt sticky to the touch even days after sealing them. We started to ask questions about how they were sealing their rocks. The common theme: Modge Podge.

The purpose of this post is in no way to tell you to stop using Modge Podge. Modge Podge is a wonderful product that works well for so many craft projects, except when it comes time to seal your painted rocks. It's essentially a glue, which means once your rock is set outdoors and the sun shines its rays of light on it or it gets rained on, it'll look like the photo above. ☹️

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So, what should I use to seal my painted rocks?

There are many products from sprays to brush-on sealers that can be used to protect your painted rocks from outdoor elements (sun, rain/snow) and general "wear & tear" (many of these rocks really travel, like this one!)

We tried three common types of sealers for painted rocks ⁠— clear acrylic spray, resin and a brush-on varnish. Here's what we experienced.

sealer for painted rocks

* This guide does come with some caveats:

  • Technically, resin can be used indoors, but should be done using precaution and in a well-ventilated area. We had an opportunity to use resin and while the final product was way cool, it was a lot of work and quite messy. For everyday use and beginners with this rock painting hobby, we do not recommend.
  • We tried a few paint pens and experimented using the spray sealer and brush-on sealer. We experienced some smearing when using a spray sealer and gel pens (like Gelly Roll medium point pens), Sharpie fine point markers and Posca paint pens. We were able to minimize the smearing when applying a thin layer of Modge Podge, then spraying our rocks. But, it was an extra step and required more time waiting for the rocks to dry.

We did not experience smearing when we used a combination of Posca paint pens and DecoArt DuraClear acrylic varnish.*

*Humidity levels may impact the results you have using these products. We're reporting on our experience.

Check out this video to see how we use the brush-on sealer and how it doesn't smear the paint pens.

Many times, we hand-write instructions on the back of our rocks (along with an ID from GoRock.com), so having a sealer that doesn't smear the paint pen is important to us.

How to label your painted rock

Printable labels for your painted rocks

This is an instance when Modge Podge works well if using a paper label for your painted rocks.

To apply a paper label, brush the back of your rock with a layer of Modge Podge. You want enough coverage for the label to stick to the rock, so be somewhat generous when brushing on. Use any excess Modge Podge and brush over top of the label. It's important to create a smooth seal on the rock. Otherwise, water can get underneath the label and pull it off (which makes that label become litter, and that's no fun).

❗Important: Once the label is adhered to your rock and fully dry, you'll still need to apply a final sealer to the rock to make the rock waterproof.

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A sealer that looks great months later!

We painted this rock and sealed it using the DecoArt DuraClear gloss varnish. We hid it and it's been posted as found five times. Several of the people who found it checked in and included a photo of the rock. Months later, the rock is looking as colorful as the day we placed it!

What about clear acrylic spray?

When we first started painting rocks, we used clear acrylic spray, like Rustoleum Semi-Gloss Clear Spray. It worked okay, but we weren't crazy about the fumes. Plus, we live in the Midwest United States where winter months keep us cooped up indoors and other times of the year we might be dodging rain. We wanted the flexibility of not having to rely on the weather when it came time to seal our rocks.

PLUS, we noticed something different once we switched from the spray. Like many rock painters, we keep some rocks in our car for when we want to drop rocks around town. In the hot summer months, some of our rocks would get stuck together when we were sealing them with a spray. Once we switched over to this brush-on DuraClear varnish, they don't stick together! This was a huge relief as it was so disappointing to see the paint chipping and peeling away when they got stuck together. 😢

More about resin for painted rocks

If you've seen those painted rocks on Pinterest that have a glassy finish, that's accomplished using resin.

Resin will produce incredible results, but as you can see from the chart, there's a bit more work involved to seal your rocks (and, it's more expensive than a brush-on acrylic varnish). If you do want to give resin a try, we recommend trying EnvrioTex high gloss resin. But, please handle the product will care. Wear gloves, breathe fresh air and follow all safety precautions from the manufacturer.

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GoRock isn't your ordinary rock painting group

GoRock.com is a global rock painting community where:

  • see on a map where your painted rocks travel and spread kindness
  • be notified when your painted rocks are found
  • read stories from those who have found your painted rocks
  • it's easy for rock finders to post they've found a rock (no social media required)
  • your painted rocks lead to donations to charity. Learn more about our Rock It Forward program where we're paying it forward, one painted rock at a time.

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Note: GoRock is a member of the Amazon Associates Program, which means we make it easy for you to discover the wonderful painting supplies we’re featuring in our posts and videos. We may include links in our posts that can be defined as “affiliate links”, which help keep our site running. This means that GoRock may receive a small commission (at no cost to you) if you purchase a product through the links provided to you. You will not pay more for a product by clicking on one of these links. And, GoRock only includes links for products that we have personally tried and recommend.

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