My guide for varnishing models

Over time I have tried various techniques for varnish models and continue to do so. I also have commented in various posts about varnishes I use for figures and this is the one area which seems to leave a lot of people (including me) cursing at times. So, I thought I would put a little bit of a blog entry together about what I do as standard in this area, so others may learn and I can also track how my thoughts progress over time.

As I live in the land of the ‘Frozen North’ aka Canada, spraying models with varnish is a hit or miss affair. Too much heat or humidity (yes we do get that) makes the spray on varnish go cloudy. Too cold can have the same effect or worse provide a true white coat. So spraying outdoors can be a challenge to get the right conditions, and I don’t recommend spraying indoors due to the fumes etc. Even indoors the humidity or cold can effect the results. So, personally I don’t spray varnish.I have tried various brands of spray varnish and all can have this problem. Some people say different brands have more or less likelihood of problems, but all have a chance of clouding. Note, if you do and get a cloudy result, you can use olive oil to get rid of that problem and re-do the varnish. See here for more details, and I’m reliably informed it works! … hat-model/ The advantage of spraying is speed of result, but as stated the big negative is the somewhat random results and white mist spoiling your great paint job!

So, with decision not to pray on a varnish, that leaves paint on varnishes, which is what I use these days. I used to use the GW paint on Matt varnish, which was very good, hard wearing and had a nice matte effect. It was reliable as well. However, they stopped producing that a few years ago. 😦

So now I my ‘standard’ varnish is a 2 product method. Although at times I just use a single product if the figures will not get much direct handling.

The first coat/product I use is for hardness and especially if I want durability. This is future floor wax. This gives a hard, but shiny coat. For figures which get a lot of abuse, such as Bloodbowl teams, I use at least one, if not two coats of this. You can get that in most supermarkets such as Loblaws etc. in the cleaning area and looks like this:

It’s an acrylic varnish (which is important) so can be painted straight on to figures. The brush can be washed off with water and the varnish diluted by water. It is clear and quite viscous, so does not need much watering down from my experience in application. You can do that straight from the bottle, although I transfer small amounts from the main bottle to a smaller one for use. However, although a good protective coat needs to be brushed on, ensure not to put it too thickly as it will pool on models if done too thickly. As it runs a little while drying you also need to ensure that the top of the model is well covered. I use a ‘special’ cheap man made brush for the application – it’s a small house painters brush. This is definitely one area where a large brush helps.

You can add a little paint and/or water to the floor wax  on application. This can reduce the shininess of the floor wax (to an extent) and produce a ‘miracle dip’ type effect which provides shading to the figure as well as a varnish. I have used this at times but prefer to shade the figure first and then varnish, as the dip shading can give a darker at the bottom result if you are not careful. The level of control of the shading also has to be controlled as it’s easy to mix too dark a varnish mix.

Some people will like the result, future floor wax gives, but it’s a little too shinny for me. It’s a high satin finish. So, too dull that down and make it matte I have been using the Winsor and Netwon Matte acrylic varnish. I just use that on it’s own when figures will not get much handling themselves – such as with the 6mm’s figs I have been painting. I again apply this on the model with the same brush, ensuring good coverage but again avoiding pooling of the varnish. I have used the varnish with UV protection but more often I have used their Galeria Acrylic brand varnish – which in theory does not have UV protection, but in reality my figs don’t see that much sunlight to really affect them. I use this more because of it’s availability than anything else.

So far I have had no issues with the Winsor and Netwon Matte acrylic varnishes  – other than you have to be careful not to put it on too think. Usually when completely dry any clouding because of too think application disappears but more thinner coats are better and give more protection I am told. The finish is matte but not too plain. For some models and especially if covering the future floor wax, two light coats are required to ensure god coverage. I know some people use the Liquidex matte varnish as well and that has a very similar results. The key is to use a good quality acrylic varnish I believe.

So as a general rule I follow the below items for paint on varnish’s to get the best results:

  • Ensure the paint is completely dry when painting on varnish. Otherwise the varnish will pick up and move the colours. I have only found one cheap paint which ‘bled’ into the a varnish. The paint on varnishes will pick up true inks that are not completely dry though as well and this is more of a common occurrence, so real inks can be a pain, but I have had no issues with the GW washes.
  • Ensure that the water for your brush is clean. I know it sounds silly but dirty water can affect the varnish finish (for better or worse). Metallic paint residue is especially bad for a clean varnish, so avoid that at all cost.
  • When painting on varnish, try to get an even coat without too much pooling of the varnish. If necessary blow on the figures to remove pooling while the varnish is wet.
  • When finished painting and the varnish starts t dry don’t try to touch up a half dry varnish. This will likely only make issues worse. Let it try completely and recoat if necessary, vs. trying to fix the varnish while drying.
  • Make sure you wait 24 hours between applications of painted on varnish. Wait 12 hours minimum. These varnishes can take even longer to ‘cure’, but this is the minimum I recommend from my experiences.
  • Make sure, if basing with flock etc. after varnishing that you wait at least 24 hours after the last varnish before using them. Otherwise the flock may stick to the figures because of the varnish!

I have tried various different other varnishes and the above seems to provide the best overall result so far. I would not recommend normal painters matte varnishes, or the various dead flat varnish paints. They tend to either end a little smokey/less than perfectly clear or somewhat shiny and with a strange tint to them. That’s why I recommend using artist varnishes – they are a little more expensive, but worth it.

So that’s it for now. I hope these tips help those who want to try using paint on varnishes. This is not the fastest varnish method, but avoids the disappointment/annoyance of models damaged by poor varnish results.


About mellis1644

A painter and gamer who has no illusions about being the best painter but likes to play with decently painted toys and have fun gaming
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One Response to My guide for varnishing models

  1. I like your painting! You just gained a new follower!


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