Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Hobby Basics IV: Varnish

Hey all,

varnishing your models or not, seems to be a question wargamers often ask themselves. If you do varnish, you can protect your precious paintjob from the wear and tear of your grueling gaming regime. On the other hand, if you botch the varnishing process, you could ruin your mini afer all the hard work you put into it.

To varnish or not to varnish...
A typical gaming session can be quite hard on your minis: Lugging them around in a case, unpacking them, playing with them, maybe dropping one or two, packing them back up when you're done - all this can ruin a mini, when not properly protected by varnish.

But what varnish to use? Basically, there are three different types of varnish - gloss, satin and matte. They all have different uses, advantages and disadvantages.

A rule of thumb is, that the glossier a varnish, the better it protects your model because of the hardness of the coat. But glossy models can be quite unattractive, because all the details seem to get lost in the shimmer. Because of that many wargamers, myself included, first use a coat of gloss varnish to protect the mini properly, and when that's dry, apply a coat of matte varnish over the gloss. This tones the shimmer down and you have a matte and very well protected miniature. You can even add some gloss varnish to parts of the mini you want to draw a focus too, like lenses or metal parts.

Satin varnish is more a of a hybrid. It doesn't have the shimmering tendencies of the gloss, but protects the mini better than the matte varnish. Some painters even add a drop of satin varnish when they are painting, to give the model a sheen you wouldn't get any other way.

But that's not to say that there are no drawbacks to varnishing your figures. Most people use varnish from spray cans - GW Purity Seal seems to be one of the most used, because this is what most people see for the first time. But spray cans are notoriously fickle. If it's too hot, too humid, too cold, spray varnishes can be disastrous. The varnish settles wrong on the miniature and the whole figure can seem like it was frosted - killing most of the detail on your paintjob. This can be salvaged, but boy is it annoying, when it's happening for the first time.

Another drawback from varnishing is, that it can distort the colors on your mini slightly. This may not be noticeable for most wargamers because it is miniscule, but for some competition painters even the smallest change would be unacceptable.

A product I found a few weeks back was the new line of Vallejos Acrylic Polyurethane Varnishes. I got them in gloss and matte and they are really awesome. I can apply them with an airbrush straight from the bottle and even use a regular brush. They go on nice and even and the finish on the matte varnish is one of the flattest I've ever seen - beautiful. You can check out my finished minis in the from zero to hero section - all of them were first glosses and then matted with the Vallejo varnishes.

I hope, that I could help you with this info!

As always, enjoy and have fun,



  1. What effect if any do these varnishes have on the Vallejo Liquid Gold. I have some 40k figures I painted with the Liquid Gold, I too love it, but have not varnished them yet. Do they even need it, in your opinion?

  2. I´d say so. If you play and handle them, you should varnish them.

    Check out the rim on the base of my Lancer: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-t0zlPyT-Md0/Ts0YYGZRtFI/AAAAAAAANX4/eDxlIAEXrM0/s1600/DSC03665.JPG

    It is painted with Liquid Gold Rich Gold and then varnished with Vallejo Polyurethane Matte Varnish. It dulled down some of the shine, but it still looks more realistic than acrylic based metals.



  3. Hi there

    Hope you still follow this posts. So Ive been experiencing gery dust problems and I found this site and I ordered the 2 bottles you have on the picture. Only I didnt notice that the Matte varnish they sent me was actually coded 26.651 instead of 26.527

    Do you have any experience with the 26.651 bottle?

  4. They are both Polyurethane Varnishes, so I do believe they should handle the same. As for specifics, I don't have any experience with the 26.651 bottle. Be sure to leave me a comment, if yours handles any differently.