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Spray Varnishes: Which is the best?

Once you’ve painted a miniature, you want to spray it with a varnish to protect the paint job. Varnish is sometimes called sealer or overcoat. There are also varnishes you can paint on with a brush, but most miniature painters use sprays. There’s a lot of discussion about which varnish is the best for painted miniatures, especially when you plan on playing with the miniature. Gloss varnishes are considered better than matte ones because the gloss finish is more durable. But many gamers dislike shiny miniatures and prefer a matte finish. Professional miniature painters always try to avoid shiny finishes so that their paint job isn’t obscured. Matte varnishes are also the most common.

Here’s a review of the major matte varnishes used for gaming miniatures. I painted six GW Bretonnian archers exactly the same and varnished each with a different product. The first archer hasn’t been sprayed at all. The other five were heavily sprayed twice each with: Krylon Matte Varnish, Citadel Colour Matte Varnish, Armory Matte Sealer, Testors Model Master Lusterless Flat Lacquer Overcoat, and a gloss varnish that I think is Testors Gloss Lacquer. The reason why I sprayed one with gloss is just to show how it compares to the rest. Testors produces a wide variety of varnishes, including Dullcote, which is popular among professional painters.

Analysis

  1. The first archer is unvarnished.
  2. Krylon – I normally use this. It produces a fairly dull finish with only one coat, but when I did two thick coats, it became quite shiny. Krylon had the least offensive fumes.
  3. Citadel Colour Matte Varnish – This warns not to apply it too thickly because it can become shiny, but it was very dull after two heavy coats. About the only thing I could criticize about the Citadel product is the price.
  4. Armory’s Matte Sealer – This is about as shiny as Krylon, for a much higher price. It also had the most obnoxious fumes, even a couple minutes after spraying.
  5. Testors Lusterless – This is a remarkably dull coat, without affecting the colors. It’s even a little duller than the original unvarnished one all the way to the left!
  6. Testors Gloss – This is extremely shiny, to the point that the miniature looks wet. Of course it’s supposed to do that.

Price is a major consideration. You’ll notice Testors varnish costs almost 12 times the cost of the Krylon can, which you can buy at any hardware store.

  1. Krylon – $.14 per ounce
  2. Citadel Colour Matte Varnish – $.73 per ounce
  3. Armory’s Matte Sealer – $.50 per ounce
  4. Testors Lusterless – $1.63 per ounce
  5. Testors Gloss – $1.63 per ounce

The Winner: Testors Model Master Lusterless Lacquer Overcoat. This is the flattest finish you can imagine. And if you want a professional finish that’s going to last, coat the miniature with several coats of gloss varnish, then coat it once with Testors Lusterless varnish. This ends up being a little pricey for rank-and-file miniatures, but for display pieces or important characters, it’s what professionals do.

The Runner-up: Krylon Matte Varnish. In my opinion, if you want a reliable, matte finish for rank-and-file troops, nothing is as inexpensive as one coat of Krylon Matte Varnish. If you must have the flattest finish possible though, Testors is the way to go.

What To Avoid: Armory’s Matte Sealer. This product is expensive, produces horrible fumes and the finish is shiny.