Sunday, 11 November 2012

To Varnish or not to Varnish? What do you guys think and do yourselves?

The one thing I have never been totally sure about is whether to varnish my finished miniatures or not. There seems to be a general consensus that varnishing models does a better job of protecting them against hazards than not doing so, which seems logical! But while a big one, this is the only real positive I can see to do it though, so is it enough? There does however from reading a lot of guides seem to be no consensus on the best products and methods. So I wondered what the other hobbyists around do? Do you even bother?

I have come across numerous posts on many sites of spray varnish disasters. This has made spray on varnish a definite no for me. I spend way to long prepping and painting my miniatures to ruin it trying to cut corners at the last stage. So I have been testing out a brush on product and its this:

Vallejo Acrylic Matt Varnish. I had seen it recommended a few times and as I wanted a matt finish I thought I would try out a bottle. A test model (In my finished scheme, loving the way it looks btw!) got a going over with it today. I was going to take before and after photos to show what effect it had on the colours but I forgot and started covering it with varnish! oops, never mind! I can tell you now there is obviously some colour change, but its not massive and actually the very slight shine this varnish gives seems to make the guy pop to me! So its actually a bonus rather than the negative affect on the colours I thought it would be.

I wasn't easy on the guy! I slapped it on, neat and thick and left huge amounts in the recesses. I wanted to purposely see if I could ruin a model with this stuff (Although I understand the cloudy complaints can only happen from spraying?). It doesn't seem to have any adverse effects, I could see no differences in colour or discolouration where I had put it on thick and it was hard to tell how thick the varnish was in different places with the naked eye in normal light, so again all good.

One I'd prepared with varnish a couple of days ago I chucked around a bit and dropped on the desk from height. There definitely seems to be much more resistance to chipping than paint alone which with our metal guys is important. One thing I have found is that the varnish is relatively soft though and not very resistant to scratching. Certainly seems not really any better than without and you have the added problem of, with the varnish on, its now very hard to touch up a scratched model.

Some people have mentioned you need a gloss coat first then a matt coat to get maximum hardness. Can anyone confirm to me this makes a noticeable difference over matt alone?

Weathering powders seem to work ok over the varnish (although I'm a complete novice with them), while obviously you cant brush varnish over the top without ruining your effect.

So here's my big question to you if you answer no other: Am I making a real difference to the life of my miniatures if I use this varnish on them all, or am I lulling myself and actually, when I just inevitably damage them, have I made it almost impossible to repair it without looking crap?

What do others think?

Thanks in advance guys, I ask this advice while the first 5 of my platoon are almost finished on the desk and I can't add basing materials until I decide to varnish or not!


  1. Plastic minis are far more forgiving to a gaming mini (As opposed to a display mini) and so just a layer of matt should do okay. Metal though are a pig and so that's where the layer of gloss followed by matt varnish is needed should you play on a semi-regular basis.

    For me, cloudy effects only came about when I wasn't payign attention and put matt over an existing matt coating. But matt on gloss doesn't produce this.

    I varnish everything. Though usually just one sprayed coat of matt varnish. I currently use Testors Dullcoat which is okay, though prefer Tamiya Flat. Both do change the look of the paintjobs though which is fine by me, though should you give them a go, do test runs first to see if it's an effect you can appreciate.

    Matt varnish also helps un-gloss certain washes and inks that I use. If I want a glossy finish to an area of a model, say gore, drool, water effects, then I have GW Gloss from years ago that comes out occasionally for the job to be applied via brush.

    And that's my take. :)

  2. I don,t varnish my models as a whole unless it is Forge World. When I do varnish I use GW purity seal, I also use purity seal for my weathering powders.

    With a spray varnish you only get the white powder/cloudy effect if you spray to close, or to much. It takes practice like anything else, but once mastered your models look great. If you look at my Forge World models and my metal one's you can't see a huge difference.

  3. Both the points above are spot on about cloudiness. I have an all-metal army and I play semi-regularly; one coat of matt is usually enough for me. I have no issues with colour/clouding - unforgivably I can't remember the exact brand but it's the Matt varnish you buy from Boyes (for any UK readers).

    Another benefit I find is that it equalises 'shinyness' on the model. For my historicals, when I paint them they end up with some areas drybrushed, some washed, and some very heavily inked. These latter areas get a sheen which is got rid of with a spray of varnish. Even gloss just makes the whole thing look even. And of course, for anyone who uses weathering powders a final coat of varnish is a must.

    Oh, and I know it wasn't the point of the post but very much loving the infantryman. Gold bits on the lasguns rock!

  4. I honestly can't conceive of NOT varshing a finished miniature.

    It balances out the uneven finishes of the various paints and techniques as said before but the main benefit is obviously protection.

    Regardless of how gently or delicately you handle a miniature you are still exposing the finished paintwork to oils/acids from your skin and abrasion through ongoing handling, plus dust and grime from the air. If you want to game with your minis this is unavoidable, especially with skirmish style individually based miniatures.

    I personally use a cheapish ($AUD10 per tin) satin artists varnish as a base with a coat of Testors Dullcote on top. If you spray carefully in good weather (not too hot/cold and not wet/humid) then you shouldn't have any issues.

    Most varnishes dry pretty quickly. Why not have a test fig and spray that 30 minutes before spraying the real article?


  5. Suppose I'll chime in too... I vanish mine. I don't think my painting is so unbelievably good that a coat of varnish will detract from it. Plus my models do get treated pretty rough despite how careful I am!

    I use a gloss varnish, then apply any weathering powderer (if I am going to use any) then give them a quick coat of Testors Dullcoat.
    I have only ever had the slightest amount of cloudiness if I have rushed and not allowed the previous coat to dry or if I have tried to spray in humid or wet weather.
    I just realised that I have repeated what Millsy and others have said! It must be the way to go :)

  6. Guys thanks very much for the advice. Having read some more and thought about it a bit I bought some 'ard coat yesterday afternoon and tested it out. I have decided I will brush on 'ard coat and leave 24 hours, then follow up with the matt vallejo varnish to dull the coat down. I had a go and this seems to work nicely.

  7. Buffer: I think your idea ought to be absolutely spot-on, mate.

    If that's any help!