Testors Dullcote is one of the best matte varnishes for painting miniatures. I’ve used Dullcote for years as a commission miniature painter and modeling hobbyist. As a spray-on aerosol varnish, Testors Dullcote produces amazing results, creating a beautiful matte finish that enhances color vibrancy and improves surface contrast. Of course, there are a few tips and traps to avoid when using Dullcote.
In this article, I review Testors Dullcote, one of the best matte varnishes for clear coating miniatures, scale models, and other hobby painting projects.
Testors Dullcote is an aerosol based matte varnish and can be applied to many different types of surfaces, including plastic, wood, metal, and more. I’ll explain how it works and share some tips for using it so you can get the best results from your projects.
- Testors Dullcote is an enamel-based varnish applied through an aerosol spray can.
- As a matte varnish, Testors Dullcote creates an even, non-reflective clear coat surface that improves surface contrast, enhances color vibrancy, and protects the painted surface underneath.
- Make sure to shake the Testors Dullcote spray can well before use for best results.
- Only apply Testors Dullcote in proper ambient temperature and humidity (~22℃ or 72℉ around 50-55% relative humidity) to avoid complications, e.g., frosting, cloudy finishes, and cracking or peeling.
- Use proper ventilation or filtration when spray Testors Dullcote as the fumes can be hazardous.
Testors Dullcote Varnish
Read on below for review of Testors Dullcote and a guide for how best to use it in your miniature painting projects.
Why I Highly Recommend a Matte Varnish for Painting Miniatures
Every miniature paint job looks better when the surface is sealed with an even layer of varnish. Of course, there’s more to a clear coat than simply protecting your painted models. Here are three main reasons why I consider a matte varnish an essential step in any miniature painting process
1. Protects Underlying Paint Layers
Painting a model takes a lot of work. A clear coat with a matte varnish creates an invisible “shield” over your painted miniature, protecting it from exposure and direct contact with the air.
If you’re using your miniatures in a tabletop game, e.g., Warhammer 40k or DnD, a durable varnish will also improve the durability of your paint job. I always clear coat my models. A single layer of Testors Dullcote does wonders; two layers is even better.
2. Smooths Out Paint Brush Strokes
A matte varnish does something quite magical when it comes to improving the appearance of acrylic hobby paints. When you spray a varnish over a painted model, the clear coat tends to fill in uneven bumps and textures in your paint layer.
With a high quality matte varnish, the sealer “stretches” into the paint layer as it dries; pulling itself taught like plastic wrap over your miniature’s surface. Within a matte varnish are microscopic particles that get deposited as the solvent base evaporates. These particles “fill-in” gaps on the surface of your painted models. This has the effect, if done correctly with thin layers of varnish, will make those stray brush strokes disappear.
3. Creates an Even, Non-Reflective Surface
Why would you want a non-reflective surface on your painted miniature? A matte finish makes your painted miniature appear more professional. A miniature that has some glossy parts and some matte surfaces will look unfinished and sloppy.
1-2 coats of a matte varnish will even out the reflective-ness of your painted models, creating a visibly clean appearance. As above, imperfections in the painted surface, e.g., brushstrokes, as well as color blended areas that may have some flaws will diminish with a matte sealer.
4. Improves Miniature Photography
A matte finish on a miniature makes photography much easier. With a highly reflective surface, i.e., gloss, ambient lighting will create hotspots or areas of specular highlights that throw off a camera’s settings. Reflective surfaces tend to confuse autofocus systems, create areas of over-saturation in an image, e.g., distorting contrast, and all sorts of mayhem when it comes to color accuracy.
There’s a reason that TV anchors wear cosmetic powder prior to going on air. Make up powder reduces the glossy sheen of their skin. Without a matte powdering, bright studio lights would create unseemly reflections on their faces during filming.
In general, a matte varnish helps minimize all these issues, making a painted miniature appear more uniform in a photography setting. You can see how a matte varnish helped me photograph my miniatures in the gallery.
5. Enhances Color
The application of a matte varnish over painted miniatures can greatly enhance the overall look and color of the piece. A matte varnish helps to protect the paint from discoloring or fading due to dust and moisture in the air. Furthermore, especially with Testors Dullcote, a matte sealer has a unique ability to bring out the vibrancy of colors, making any muted colors appear a tad brighter and more vibrant. More about this below.
Testors Dullcote Review: Best Matte Varnish for Painted Miniatures?
Testors Dullcote Varnish has long been a staple in the toolkit of miniature painting enthusiasts and professionals alike. I’ve used it for years and found it be reliable when you use it in the proper conditions. The following is my experience and review of Testors Dullcote.
Ease of Application
One of Dullcote’s key strengths lies in its ease of application. The product is available in a spray can, ensuring an even coat without the need for specialized tools or brushes, which can be particularly beneficial for those new to the miniature painting scene.
For best results, spray Testors Dullcote from 6-12″ away from your painted miniature. Spray in spurts, creating a fine mist so that you create a light application. Make sure to avoid pooling of the varnish, which can lead to clouding or foggy effects. Thin layered applications will achieve a uniformly matte finish without obscuring the finer details of your miniature.
Quick Drying Time and Consistency
Dullcote dries relatively quickly, usually within 5 to 10 minutes to the touch and fully cures within 24 hours. This is particularly beneficial for painters who want to keep working quickly. As a commissioned miniature painter, I have often had tight timelines.
A trick to speed up the process is to use a hair dryer set to the lowest heat setting. Using the heated, dry air over the miniature before spraying with Testors Dullcote will improve the overall finish and make for a more reliable experience with the varnish. The consistency of the varnish is also noteworthy; it generally leaves no brush strokes or pooling, provided it is applied correctly.
Durability and Protection
Testors Dullcote forms a robust protective layer, guarding against both physical damage and UV degradation. In my hands, I’ve used it for painted models that I took to gaming conventions. Although the models traveled in foam miniature carrying cases, there were times when things jostled around quite a bit.
While it certainly wasn’t a scientific test, I’m quite sure that the hardened enamel clear coat protected my miniatures throughout their travels. For peace mind, of course, I tend to re-spray Dullcote over my more prized painted models.
For those of you who may store your painted miniatures in display cases, as opposed to gaming with them frequently, Testors Dullcote does protect against color fade. While most high quality hobby acrylic paints are color-fast, a clear coat sealer goes a long tway to protecting against any fading that may occur over time.
Compatibility Across Painted Material Surfaces
While Dullcote is lauded for its compatibility with a wide range of acrylic paints, you can also use Testors Dullcote as a varnish over oil painted miniatures. I’ve painted quite a few miniatures using oil paints exclusively, and use Dullcote as a protective clear coat after the oil paint has cured.
Of course, the matte finish continues to work well, even over the glossy surfaces of oil painted models. The fact that Testors Dullcote works with all kinds of painted miniature media gives it an unmatched flexibility that water-soluble matte varnishes don’t have.
While there’s a place of brush-on, water soluble varnishes like AK Interactive Ultra Matte varnish, the spray on enamel-based lacquer of Testors Dullcote is much more useful overall. Add to this the benefits of using a spray-on varnish, including the ease of application, speed, and quick-dry time, I think Testors Dullcote is a clear winner.
The only downside of using a spray-on lacquer varnish is the need to use it in a well ventilated area due to the fumes produced from spraying.
Produces a Reliable Matte Finish
If used properly, Testors Dullcote always produces a matte finish that looks the same model-to-model. To ensure consistency in the matte varnish appearance, shake the can well (at least a full minute) before and during spraying. Spray from a distance (as mentioned above) in short spurts to avoid pooling.
For those wondering, a matte varnish achieves its non-reflective finish primarily through the dispersion of microscopic particles within its solvent base. These particles have a rough, irregular surface at the micro scale, which scatters light in multiple directions upon contact, thereby reducing shine and glare.
For these dissolved varnish particles to settle and disperse properly on your painted miniature, you’ll want to spray Testors Dullcote in the proper ambient conditions. Thus to achieve best results, only spray Testors Dullcote at room temperature (22℃ or 72℉) and close to an ambient relative humidity of around 50-55%. Outside of these ranges, you may risk creating a foggy, cloudy finish on your painted model. While this can be repaired, it is an annoying result of using a matte varnish in sub-optimal conditions.
Price and Value
In terms of pricing, Testors Dullcote falls in the mid-range category ($8-15/can). I buy them in bulk orders of 3-4 cans at a time. Each spray can will last quite a long time, depending on how often you use them. While not the cheapest option available, its consistent performance and durability make it a cost-effective choice for both hobbyists and professionals.
Review Summary: Testors Dullcote
Testors Dullcote is one of the best matte varnishes you can use to protect your painted miniatures. The varnish will improve your finished painted appearance, and ensure that your painted models will look as good as it did when you complete them. Miniatures that I painted years ago still look as vibrant and clear as they did when they left my hobby painting table. Even those models that saw wargame tabletop time are still display quality (with a few touch ups for nicks earned during conference travel).
Testors Dullcote dries quickly with its volatile solvent. The microscopic particles settle nicely on a painted model’s dried surface. The final appearance is a smooth, matte look. With Testors Dullcote you can achieve an even more realistic, professional paint job on miniatures, models, and figures. While it may be pricier than some other options, its performance justifies the cost, making it an investment worth considering for any miniature painting project.
Other Recommended Matte Varnishes for Painting Miniatures (Overview)
- Reliability and Legacy: Tamiya is a brand with a long history, and its Clear Flat Spray has been a dependable choice for miniature painters for years. It’s often recommended for those who prefer a tried-and-true option.
- Application: This varnish comes in a spray can, making application straightforward and even. It’s particularly useful for covering large areas or multiple miniatures simultaneously.
- Drying Time: Comparable to other spray varnishes, it dries within 20 to 30 minutes to the touch and cures fully in about 24 hours.
- Finish: Tamiya’s Clear Flat Spray provides a uniformly matte finish that works well with acrylics and reduces glare effectively.
- Price Point: Generally similar to Testors Dullcote and is a reasonable alternative. Tamiya Flat Spray provides a good balance between cost and quality.
- Application Flexibility: Unique in offering both brush-on and airbrush application options, this varnish provides greater control for those who prefer a more hands-on approach. This is water-soluble, so you can thin this with water (tip: don’t use too much).
- Drying Time: Depending on the application method and environmental conditions, drying times may vary, but it’s generally quick-drying, fully curing in under 24 hours.
- Ultra Matte Finish: As the name suggests, this varnish provides an ultra-matte finish, which is excellent for minimizing reflections and enhancing the details of the miniature.
- Durability: Known for its robust protective qualities, it stands up well to handling and UV light, making it a durable choice for miniatures that will see a lot of use.
- Compatibility: While primarily formulated for acrylics, a patch test is always recommended if you’re using other types of paints.
Testors Dullcote is one of the best matte varnishes you can use on your painted models. I’ve used this varnish for years in my own miniature collection, as well as for clients in commissioned projects.
If you’re looking for a reliable, consistent matte varnish that will protect your painted miniatures and enhance their appearance, Testors Dullcote is definitely worth considering. Its ease of application, quick drying time, and durable finish make it a top choice for both hobbyists and professionals alike.
And while there are alternative options available on the market, such as Tamiya Clear Flat Spray or AK Interactive Ultra Matte Varnish, Testors Dullcote remains a tried-and-true favorite among miniature painters. Ultimately, the decision of which matte varnish to use for your miniatures will depend on your personal preferences and needs.
So whether you’re a beginner or an experienced miniature painter, don’t let the fear of “foggy” varnish stop you from using a matte varnish on your painted models. With Testors Dullcote, you can achieve professional results and protect your hard work for years to come. So go ahead and give it a try – I’m confident you won’t be disappointed!
Did you find this article helpful? What is your experience with matte varnishes? I’d love to know what you think! Leave a comment below.
Until next time, happy painting! 🎨