Varnishes

Traditional wisdom says that painted models should be sealed with a protective clear coat. In addition, recently there have been some Turbo Dork social media posts showing figures that have different finishes on select parts of a figure (matte versus gloss). However, there is always a concern that a particular varnish may not play well with the paint used. Indeed, there have been one or two reports of specific varnishes causing the painted surface to wrinkle or cloud over. Therefore, the intent of this post is to examine potential interactions between different varnish brands and Turbo Dork paints.

Turbo Dork paints have a reputation of being tough when dry and sometimes require a huge effort to scrape them off of things. However, before you think that a varnish layer over a Turbo Dork painted model may be unnecessary, I did two mini-experiments to test out that "toughness" in which I compared a flat surface primed and painted with a Citadel metallic paint with one painted with a Turbo Dork metallic.

These are my results:

  • Soaking both the Citadel and the Turbo Dork painted surfaces in straight Simple Green for 12 hours totally removed all traces of the paint, confirming the recommendation to use Simple Green to strip Turbo Dork paints off of things.

  • A Turbo Dork painted surface faired better than the Citadel surface when it came to an attack with a paint scraper (take my word that I used the same pressure and number of passages for both). However, the Turbo Dork surface had its share of scrapes. Therefore, protecting Turbo Dork painted miniatures intended for play or travel makes sense.

HYPOTHESIS:

I did an internet search on why varnishes crinkle and fog. Crinkling appears to be due to either too thick a layer of varnish or applying the varnish over a cold surface. Fogging is attributed to moisture, i.e., wet surfaces or very humid conditions, or over-agitation of the varnish in the bottle.

Therefore, I am hypothesizing that most varnish brands applied in thin coats over a dry Turbo Dork painted surface at room temperature should provide a clear protective coat without issues.

 

EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN:

I purchased several different brands of varnish (see details below) with different finishes. I bought both sprays and liquid varnishes. However, unlike my previous posts, I abandoned the use of the square glass cabochons for the example photos. I needed a break from them. So after doing some initial testing, I shifted to actual small models — D&D wyrmlings.

The wyrmlings were primed with matte black paint, painted with two coats of a Turbo Dork metallic and treated with a thin coat of Nuln Oil to bring out the definition in the model. The models were sealed with two thin coats of varnish (lightly shaken, not stirred). I left ample time for drying between coats of paint and coats of varnish. However, given that this was done in the middle of summer in the high desert, I was not too worried about introducing artifacts that might cause wrinkling or fogging. 

I stuck to the Turbo Dork metallics versus the turboshifts as I thought the metallics would make the final finish easier to photograph, i.e., less distracting without moving colors. As far as the models go, I used the same model for all the different finishes within a single varnish company’s offerings. In retrospect, I probably should have used the same model for all of the examples, as it turned out some of the models showed off the differences in final finish better than others. Live and learn.

Below is a list of the varnish brands that I tested.  I have seen all of these brands recommended for use on miniatures in general, and in several cases by folks using Turbo Dork paints.

Games Workshop Citadel Technical Acrylic Varnish --- Stormshield and ‘Ardcoat (liquid)

    • Testors Spray Lacquer --- Dullcote and Glosscote
    • Model Master Lacquer --- Overcoat (spray can)
    • Krylon Acrylic --- Matte Finish and Crystal Clear (spray can)
    • Army Painter Acrylic --- Effects Anti-Shine Matte and Gloss (liquid)
    • Army Painter Acrylic --- “Aegis Suit” Satin, and Gloss (spray can)
    • Vallejo Acrylic — Matte, Satin, and Gloss (liquid)
    • Liquitex Acrylic --- Matte, Satin, and Gloss (liquid)

 

 

DISCLAIMER:

In general, these figures were hard to photograph for the amateur photographer, i.e., me . I used some make-shift diffuser filters to try to tone down the shine on the “gloss” examples. However, in some cases, the differences are easy to see; in others, not quite so much.

 

RESULTS:

    Basically, all of the varnishes I tried behaved as anticipated. I saw no wrinkling/crinkling/fogging/clouding.I also did not see any yellowing, but I admit that it would be mighty hard to detect over something like Redrum. 

    In general, the matte varnishes dulled the glossy look of the Turbo Dork paints, the gloss varnishes added a protective layer that had a final look which was similar to the original paint finish, and the semi-glosses/satin produced results that were somewhat in-between. It should be noted, though, that some brands produced shinier results than others. Each example photo compares a figure without any varnish to figures done with the different finishes available from a single manufacturer.

     

    Games Workshop Citadel Technical Acrylic 

    The Citadel varnishes (Stormshield = matte and ‘Ardcoat = gloss) are shown below over Gold Rush. They are the only varnishes that I applied with a brush by hand, and are the ones that showed the most distinctive difference to my eye between matte and gloss. In fact, the matte varnish eliminated the shine of the paint to such an extent that it left the surface a bit hazy.

     

     

     

    Testors/Model Master Spray Lacquer

    Spray cans of the Testors/Model Master varnishes for testing (Dullcote and Glosscote labeled as Testors; Semi-gloss labeled as Model Master but produced by Testors). These varnishes were applied over Silver Fox and like the Vallejo varnishes below showed distinctive differences across the three finishes. 

     

     

     

    Krylon Acrylic

    The two rattle can Krylon varnishes (Matte Finish and Crystal Clear Gloss ) were sprayed on over Malum Malus. These two varnishes basically behaved as expected.

     

     

     

    Army Painter Acrylic

    The three Army Painter varnishes were applied via airbrush (Effects Matte and Gloss) or spray can (Aegis Suit Satin) over Emerald Nightmare. The Army Painter varnishes seems to be the one outlier to the general conclusions described above. This semigloss is as shiny in real life as the gloss. 

    To be fair, the comparison shown here could be considered to be a bit of apples versus oranges. Army Painter only makes matte and gloss liquid varnishes but does produce spray can varnishes labeled matte and satin. It is the Army Painter “Aegis Suit” Satin Varnish in the spray can that gives the very glossy finish despite being labeled “satin”.  I did confirm this finding twice, so beware if you are want a semigloss finish.

     

     

     

    Vallejo Acrylic

    All three Vallejo varnishes, applied via airbrush, are shown below over Da Ba Dee. Although it is potentially a bit hard to see in the photo due to the small size of the model wyrmlings, the Vallejo varnishes gave a nice gradient in shine from dull to light sheen to full glossiness. 

     

     

     

    Liquitex Varnish

    The Liquitex varnishes (Matte, Satin, and Gloss) were all applied via airbrush over Redrum. All three Liquitex varnishes were hands down the shiniest of all the varnishes tested. The one labeled “Gloss” looks even shinier in real life.   

     

    CONCLUSIONS:

    As anticipated, all six varnish brands tested did not cause any ill effects with no wrinkling/crinkling/fogging/clouding when applied in thin coats over a dry Turbo Dork painted surface. Therefore, any of these varnishes should provide a good clear protective coat for one’s models.

    Choosing one brand over another comes down to personal preferences of mode of application and type of finish, as described above. That being said, it should be noted that lacquer varnishes like the Testors are more durable than the water-based acrylics. It also should be noted that even though the Games Workshop varnishes are the only ones I tried applying directly by brush, the other liquid varnishes can be brushed on. Reviews online vary as to which brands are better for use in this way.

    Lastly, I want to add a warning about using solvent based varnishes like lacquers. The solvents in these varnishes can eat away at the acrylic paint. There are web references to this unintentionally happening to folks. Testors varnishes, even though lacquer, are fine when sprayed as a light coats but a brushed-on coat using their liquid version can cause problems.

     

    ADDENDUM:

    After my original findings were posted, a member of the Turbo Dorks talked about the Vallejo polyurethane varnishes as being able to better protect a model than the Vallejo acrylic varnishes that I looked at. Therefore, I obtained the matte, semigloss, and gloss versions of the Vallejo polyurethane varnishes.

    The first thing I did was conducted a variation of the mini-experiment with the paint scraper. Only this time I painted both flat surfaces with a Turbo Dork paint and then coated one with the gloss acrylic varnish and one with the gloss polyurethane. As predicted, the sample coated with the polyurethane varnish faired better than one with acrylic varnish.

    Next, I painted four wyrmlings with Two Cents and sprayed them with the different polyurethane varnishes.  The final results are shown below.

     

    Vallejo Polyurethane

     


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