Ask the Corps: Varnish

We're changing up the format a bit this time around folks. Instead of just getting advice from the panel here on TPC, we're going to open it up to the floor and see what the community has for advice.

Shelexie of Wannabepainter writes,

I was looking through your site (which I love) for an article on varnish and I haven't found one. Would you guys be interested in doing one? I am a beginner/intermediate painter who likes to keep tweeking their models and therefore never wants to say they are finished with a coat of varnish. Well, I do now. I started really playing them and I don't want to keep repainting tips of things. Do you prefer spray on or paint on? What is your favorite brand or will any of them work? What about the craft ones at the local wally world? Is it more about technique, like the spray primer, or is there a real difference? I also read about a technique using gloss varnish in certain places, like the mouth of a Carnasuar for effect. Do you know any other neat tricks to do with varnish? I don't know if any one else would be interested in the article but I would be. Thanks for all your work. Again, I love your site!

Sounds like a completely open topic on any and all Varnish thoughts and experiences! So let's hear it!


  1. Personally, I use Testors Dullcote. This matte varnish is great as it removes the shine some paints and inks have when dried but it still leaves the sheen of metals (dulls it a bit). Also, it dries to the touch in about 30 minutes so I will sometimes use it to seal a layer of blending or after I do some free hand that I do not want to be messed up later accidentally.

    I will also put down a coat before applying decals (as I use Decal Solve and Set) which will melt paint if applied directly, and then put another one on after the decals dry.

  2. I use Krylon Matte finish when I'm done. I have a small bottle of generic brush on high-gloss varnish for things like gems and such that i use after I spray.

  3. @ Ron-
    Have you used Testors Dullcote? if so how does it compare to the Krylon matte finish?

    with the Krylon is here any dulling of metals?


    These steps of varnishing a mini after certain steps (eg. 1st highlights) is new for me.

    Just how many people do it?

  4. I have a small can of it but don't do anything with it.

    I've never had any problems yet with Krylon affecting any of my colors.

  5. I never trust the canned spray varnish any more after having a couple of models destroyed by it "frosting" - Now i just use humbrol brush on varnish. Seems to work much better than the canned stuff...

  6. the Krylon 1311 is going to give you the same results as Dullcote, and you're getting a lot more for the same price.

    for gaming models, I prefer 2 light spray coats with a gloss sealer, then 2 coats of matte. if I start to see shiny spots, I know I've worn through the sealer from handling. much better that seeing bare metal or plastic when you wear through the sealer and paint. That shine means it's time for another light coat or two of matte. The krylon glass sealer is what I use for the gloss, and dullcote or 1311 for the matte. for gems, wet things, or anywhere else I need that super smooth shine, I use a brush on gloss after the above sealing.

  7. A couple of thoughts.
    First; I do prefer a matte finish but all matte finishes are thin and have a little tooth to their surface. This means they wear off, and after they do the paint starts to wear. What I highly recommend is sealing with a high gloss varnish (they are much harder smoother and longer wearing) and then kill the shine with a matte varnish.

    Secondly; I recommend getting archival grade varnishes (the label will specifically state archival). They can usually be found at art and framing stores and some good hobby stores. The reason for this is they have no harsh reactive chemicals that will deteriorate your paint-job, they will not yellow over time in reaction to light (at least it take a lot longer to) and they usually have UV protectants that will preserve the vibrancy of your colors.

    I almost always spray my varnishes on but, if I have an element that is particularly pointy or sticks out from the mini, I will hand coat this and let it dry before I do the spray. Hand coats go on thicker and therefor provide more protection but tend to fill detail and become cloudy, so use them sparringly.

  8. Wow! Keep the tips coming! I really appreciate the help!

  9. Has anyone had any luck with the GW Purity Seal product? I saw it in the store and was wondering if anyone had tried it.

  10. @ Christian

    Dont use purity seal.

    The best word to sum it up is.. crap.

    It has an issue with Frosting the mini that your spraying.

    Use the Testors or Krylon.

  11. Will do. Now to find somewhere here in Indianapolis that sells it.

  12. Was about to use the GW one myself but after reading this...
    Do hope i can find an alternative in the Netherlands.

    Could you guys explain me what this Frosting effect is by the way?
    Does the GW one matten the figure or something?

  13. I like to get Windsor & Newton Galeria Brush-on Matt Varnish. I get it from my local Hobby Lobby and it gives me more control than a spray and really dulls the shine.

  14. I wouldn't be so quick to discount Purity Seal just yet.

    Remember, a lot of folks had issues with different primers as well, but as Jim has shown, it's more about technique and testing for a lot of sprays.

  15. Hey all.

    I discovered a great CURE FOR FROSTING back in January that a number of folks have told me really helped them - it certainly did me!

    I don't know how to put hyperlinks in, but it's post 075 on my blog:


    Hope this helps some of you!

    - Drax.

  16. [sorry - forgot to sign-up for emails]

  17. Dunno what you wan't from Purity Seal. It's easy to get, leaves nice semi-matt/semi-glossy finish which is perfect for most infantry and 2 thin layers do the trick of protecting your hours of hard work just fine.

    I got lucky and was able to buy a can for sth like 4 euro in some old hobby store, where the lady didn't even new what the thing was for :D