I varnish all of my figures not only for protection and appearance, but also as an essential part of the painting process. My painting would look very different without varnishing as it enhances the appearance of blending, tones down highlights and deepens and enriches shadows. Indeed, I don’t actually regard varnishing as something done “after painting” but as an integral part of the painting process.
I apply a gloss polyurethane varnish for protection, and a spirit-based matt varnish for appearance. When starting a new batch of varnish, I always apply to a test figure first. I use dedicated brushes and take good care of them.
I leave painted figures at least 24 hours before varnishing. I use brush-on varnishes, not sprays.
Before varnishing I “dust” the figure with a large soft brush to ensure a completely clean surface.
For the first coat I use Daler Rowney Soluble GLOSS Varnish, or Humbrol Enamel Gloss Varnish #35.
I use a large brush, thin the varnish with a little White Spirit to aid flow. Apply liberally, but carefully. I leave this at least overnight, but usually 24 hours or more.
I check the figure over and if I have missed any part I repeat the gloss varnish stage. Not touching up any missed areas, but applying another coat to the whole figure.
Now for the matt varnish. I use Daler Rowney Soluble Matt Varnish. (Before use I “prepare” this. See notes below.)
Using a good quality flat nylon/synthetic brush I apply very thinly to the figure. Although I find the varnish very “forgiving” I still try to brush in only one direction, from the deepest areas of the figure, brushing out, towards me. Then I leave to dry overnight.
As with the gloss varnish stage, I now check the figure over for any missed areas, though with the matt varnish I always apply a second coat. Two thin coats, applied carefully, provide the totally matt/flat finish I want for my figures.
Humbrol now sell both their Enamel and Acrylic paints and varnishes with the SAME numbering system. The above varnish is from their Enamel range. It is not a water-based acrylic.
Daler Rowney Soluble Matt Varnish – Preparation.
Thoroughly shaken and stirred before each use I find this varnish provides a good matt finish straight from the bottle. However, by removing some of the carrier before first use it is even better. This is what I do.
With a brand new bottle I decant some of the carrier into a clean container and retain.
Stir the remaining carrier and matting agent together, then shake the bottle vigorously. Once thoroughly mixed I apply to a test figure and leave to dry. If there is any “white” spot or streaking, I add back some of the carrier, shake and stir again and repeat the test. Once completely happy I still test before each use – always better to be safe than sorry.
Disclaimer – or varnisher beware!
Hobby forums are littered with varnishing horror stories. What produces "perfect" results for one, will ruin for someone else those figures they have just spent many, many hours painting. The above works for me. If you want to try it, always test and test again on figures you don’t care if they are ruined.
Even once you are happy and confident, remember that many factors can affect varnishes. My bottles can stand unused for weeks. The storage area is subject to large fluctuations in temperature. (I take the varnish to where I am going to use it a couple of hours before so it can reach room temperature.) Manufacturers may change their formula without notice. Different batches may vary.