There are many different types of sealers that you can use to finish your miniatures and models. Miniature sealers come in both lacquer-based varnishes as well as water-based sealers, which have a lot of advantages over their solvent-based counterparts. There are also different finishes for the miniature sealer–matte, satin, or gloss.
In this article I will show you the different kinds and types of sealers you can use on your painted miniatures, and tips and tricks on how to best apply a sealer. Finally, I give you an overview of my favorite sealer and varnish brands!
What is a Miniature Sealer or Varnish?
So what is a Miniature Sealer? Miniature sealers are paint layers that create a protective layer over the paint below it. Miniature sealers bond to the paint and make them more durable. When you’re handling your models, you are only touching the miniature sealer. It acts as armor, so you won’t mess up the paint with use.
So why should you use a miniature sealer?
If you don’t seal your figures, then the paint will wear off over time because of all the handling you have to do. With a sealer being applied on top of the paint, when something falls on it or otherwise messes it up, it will chip or scratch instead of messing up the paint underneath. Miniature sealers also help prevent the paint from fading in the light, but it won’t completely prevent it.
If you’re looking for ways to protect your Citadel paint job, for example, then I recommend using a sealer to improve the durability the model’s color. Miniature sealers will help protect your paints from fading in the light, it’ll make them more durable so you can use them for games without destroying the paint job underneath.
Sealers and varnishes will keep paint from coming off your models, and a great investment in anyone’s miniature and modeling hobby.
Why shouldn’t you use a sealer?
For one thing, a sealer is a finish, not a paint. A poor quality sealer can change the color of your model by reducing its reflectiveness or changing the tone of it (such as making blues more blue).
Painting models for competitions is a delicate balancing act. For every shiny finish, there’s the risk of getting disqualified which can be devastating to any artist who has worked tirelessly on their masterpiece. The key to winning in this game is learning how not make your model too reflective and thus put yourself at risk before you even enter the painting competition arena!
Many artists choose flat or matte-looking sealers because they’ll have less chance of being rejected from competitive events like these than if they were using gloss finishes. When it comes time for an event with reflections are prohibited though, many turn back towards shiny paints so that people get see all their hard work come together nicely without worrying about putting themselves at undue risks by entering such an intense contest.
If you’re painting for display, then there are some advantages to using a more glossy-looking sealer and that’s because it will enrich coloration while also being able to highlight details with an increased shine without distracting away from the colors like dull sealers might.
How to avoid foggy or frosting spray sealers on painted miniatures?
The issue of frosting or fogging sealer is related to aerosol spray sealers and varnishes. These include those that use volatile solvents in their formulae.
All spray sealers should be shaken before use and periodically during use to ensure that it’s mixed well with no sediment settling at the bottom of the can. This will help produce a nice clear finish on your models without any cloudiness in sight!
Specifically make sure to shake the can every few minutes while using it to continue to mix up any sediment (don’t let your hand get lazy!). I’ve found that doing this makes a huge difference when it comes to the final, glossy look of whatever you’re sealing.
There are occasions when a spray sealer won’t go on right and creates a cloudy finish. I’ve had this happen once to me and it about destroyed me.
The reason for the cloudy finish, in most instances, is either that the can was not shaken enough or there’s an issue with the sealer itself, or the conditions weren’t right (see below).
A tip if this happens to you (cloudy finish), do another layer of sealer over the cloudy one. Give that first cloudy layer a good 24 hours to dry and seal over it, ideally with a more reliable sealer. The second layer of sealer will penetrate the first and reduce the cloudiness of it.
How to Use Miniature Sealer
Not all miniature sealers are created equal. Some are spray on sealers, while others require a regular brush, for example. Make sure to read the whole label before applying the paint! Miniature models come in many different materials, and some manufacturers recommend a specific product for coatings. It’s important to take your time when reading the labels.
Make sure to test your sealer or varnish on another surface before applying it to your model. If you’re using an aerosol sealer, make sure you’re spraying in the right ambient conditions, e.g., not too cold or hot, and lower humidity. This will prevent cloudy or uneven finishes.
For best results it is always good to test your sealer on a different surface before applying it to your model.
When you spray or brush on your sealer, it is also recommended that you work in thin layers instead of one giant coat. Let each thin layer dry before applying another on top. This prevents pooling, and gives you time to assess the quality of each sealer coat before moving on.
If you’re using a brush on sealer, e.g., Testors dullcote, do not overwork the drying sealer. Work thin coats on the model. As a sealer dries, a thin film starts to form (the area exposed to air). This film should not be disturbed until the entire layer coat is dry through and through. Otherwise, disrupting this film will lead to tears, bumps and a generally poor quality finish.
Here are a Few Pro Tips for Sealing Miniatures with a Great Finish!
Spray from at least 6-12″ away – Hold the spray can around 12″ away from your mini and mist it with a light coating of sealer, without going overboard. You’ll want to do at least two thin coats for good coverage.
Avoid pooling the sealer – Don’t focus your spray on a single area of the painted model. Instead, move the mist over the whole miniature in one direction. Then, sweep back and spray the mist in the other direction to go back to where you started. Try not to stop in any one area while spraying. Using a constant sweeping motion is key for an even, thin coat of sealer on your models.
Use a pulsing action with the spray can – Instead of continuously holding the nozzle down, pulse the trigger. This will allow you to get avoid pooling the sealer, but it will also give you moments to make sure the sealer coats every surface evenly.
Take your time on delicate models – If your miniatures are particularly delicate with lots of small pieces like small DnD miniatures, be careful not to overdo the spraying! This can cause a frosted look and clear coat could wear off more easily, as it doesn’t have a chance to cure or dry properly.
Allow the sealer to completely dry – I often leave a sealed miniature to dry for at least 12-24 hours before moving it around. Handling a recently sealed miniature can disturb the curing or drying process of most sealers. Or worse, you may leave fingerprints in the clearcoat!
Use isopropyl alcohol or acetone to clean up sealer overspray – Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) or acetone (nail polish remover) are solvents that can help you clean up any oversprayed sealer that gets on other surfaces. Don’t use these solvents on your models, as they will also remove your underlying paint. Of course, if you’re trying to strip your models down to bare plastic, metal, or resin, alcohol or acetone are great for this purpose.
Why You Should Use a Water-Based Model Paint Sealer Over a Solvent-Based One (and Vice Versa)
Which kind of sealer should you use to finish your miniature or model project? Water-based or solvent-based? What’s the difference and which one is better? You may be surprised to know that there are some key differences between these two types of sealers that will impact your choice for which one to use.
Let’s take a closer look at how and why they work differently:
Water-based sealer: Water-based sealers contain a water soluble binder with other particulates (depending on whether it is a gloss, satin, or matte finish sealer). They are generally applied with an airbrush or paint brush. The sealer is not dependent on any solvent to dry–it will harden when water evaporates and leaves behind the clear polymer layer.
Solvent-based sealer: Solvent-based sealers are made with a solvent and contain no water. This type of sealer is applied by brush, airbrush or spray can. These are usually much faster drying because the solvents are volatile, e.g., change state from liquid to gas at room temperature.
Which kind of sealer should you use?
It really depends on the type of miniatures you are working with. If your models require a hard and shiny finish, then solvent-based is probably your best option because it dries fast and leaves behind an ultra smooth surface that is resistant to dust and dirt accumulation. You can find matte lacquer (solvent-based) sealers, as well, which are also very durable as compared with water-based sealers.
On the other hand, if you are working with models that have detailed surfaces and require a softer finish, then water-based sealers are more appropriate. These are non-toxic sealers that don’t release harsh or harmful fumes, as solvent-based sealers do. Note that you also won’t find water-based sealers in aerosol cans.
The major downside to water-based type of miniature sealers is it takes a tad longer to dry without any risk of smudging. Water-based sealers are also a bit less durable than a lacquer clear coat (a solvent-based sealer).
The good news is that water-based sealers are both widely available and affordable. Whether you’re just finishing up a model or looking for the perfect item to add to your miniature collection, remember to consider which type of paint sealer will be most appropriate for what you want in the end!
What is the Difference Between Matte, Satin, and Gloss Finish on Your Miniature Sealer or Lacquer Based Sealer?
Miniature sealers are designed for specific purposes, so it’s important that you know what type of finish your model is before deciding on the best sealer for you. There are matte, satin, and gloss finishes on models. Satin and gloss finishes give a more elegant appearance than matte on your models. The difference is very subtle if you’ve never seen an example before, but in general a satin finish has a bit of sheen and a glossy finish is shinier.
The key to remember is that matte sealers are generally better for tabletop wargaming minis. Matte finishes on your models will help the details pop out, avoid harsh reflections in under more lighting conditions, and give a lot more contrast in comparison with miniatures finished with gloss sealer or satin finish.
The only drawback from matte sealers is that they are often associated with more scratching and chipping than gloss or satin. Though, you could also argue that’s because you’re handling the miniatures during gameplay.
Matte paint sealer: This will give a flat, dull sheen look with minimal shine.
Satin paint sealer: This will give a sheen with some shine and protection.
Gloss miniature sealers: Gloss varnishes and sealers are the most durable when it comes to scratches, but they’re not as good for tabletop wargaming minis because of reflections in lighting conditions that can make details hard to see.
Recommended Miniature Sealers for Painted Miniatures and Models
You know the feeling. Your miniature painting is complete, but you want it to have that final touch of protection. The kind of thing that would make your mom proud and keep everyone from poking fun at you for failing arts & crafts class in elementary school?
Liquitex Matte Varnish is like a shield from all the dust and dirt (no one will notice those mistakes) so you can call your masterpiece completed without being disappointed. You can also find Liquitex gloss varnish, too, if you’re looking for the shiny look on your painted miniatures.
How to Use Liquitex Matte Varnish
After you have allowed your mini painting to dry (up to an hour or so), it is ready for the final coat of sealer. It’s important that everything including the environment be clean and free from dust before application because any dirt or grime will stick in place after being sealed with varnish.
You can apply this final layer using either a brush or spray, e.g., thinned for airbrushing. If sprayed on, the sealer will tend to be less uneven between coats and produce smoother results. Using this as a brush on sealer is better suited towards smaller surfaces and detail hard-to-reach coverage, such as the base of a model.
- Protects your miniature from dust and dirt
- Helps protect the paint against smudging
- Water-soluble and durable
- Apply with brush or airbrush
The Testors Spray Lacquer Sealer is a gem when it comes to miniature sealing convenience. You can easily apply the lacquer on any surface, and that includes metal and plastic. Testors clear coat sealer has superb flow and coverage which preserves details and color on painted miniatures. Check out this article for my full review of Testors Spray Sealer (Dullcote) for protecting painted miniatures. Note that this is an aerosol spray sealer and will have foul vapors, so spray in a well ventilated environment.
How to Use Testors Clear Coat (Sealer)
Avoid foggy miniatures by following these steps carefully. Shake the can for a good 30-60 seconds before spraying and avoid spray painting in humid or cold environments. Learn more about proper spray matte sealer technique to reduce the risk for cloudying your matte spray sealer. The key to avoiding pooling, which many people seem to struggle with when spraying their models, is making sure you apply an even coat over every surface of your model (never stop in one place).
- Clear coat sealant protects from scratches
- Can be applied on any surface, including metal and plastic
- Saves time with superb flow, coverage, and quick drying
- Protects painted miniatures
Krylon ColorMaster Acrylic Crystal Clear is a quick drying acrylic matte topcoat designed to protect and seal your painted surfaces, including models and tabletop miniatures. The sealer has been specially created for protecting plastic, metal, wood, paper and more making this a versatile shield against the environment.
How to Use Krylon ColorMaster Flat Sealer
Make sure to shake the can thoroughly before spraying and avoid painting in cold or humid environments. It’s also important continuously sweep the nozzle over your painted models for an even coat. Make sure to allow each coating to dry before applying another. 2-3 coats of Krylon sealer should be sufficient to protect your models, while retaining good color and contrast.
This nice thing about Krylon is that it’s a tad more affordable than Testors Dullcote (shown above), and seems to smell less. In either case, use the same technique to apply Krylon sealer as other aerosolized solvent-based spray sealers and varnishes.
- Quick drying, crystal clear topcoat
- Won’t yellow or crack over time
- Protects against fingerprints and smudges
- Enhances colors in your work
Vallejo Matte Model Color Varnish is a water-based sealer. This means it is non-toxic, and readily soluble in water for easy thinning, e.g., for airbrushes or brush on applications. Ultimately, Vallejo Matt Model Varnish is perfect for protecting your painted models from dust and scratches, dirt and humidity. In my experience, though a bit pricey, Vallejo matte varnish works well on any type of model or miniature kit from aircraft to armor.
The matte finish will smoothes out minor imperfections in the model or paint work, evening out reflections. In some cases, I’ve noticed that it can hide seams where parts are joined together, and help with smoothing out paint blending transition areas.
How to Use Vallejo Matt Model Color Varnish
Vallejo varnish is a water-based sealant that can be applied by brush for small models, or with an airbrush to cover larger surfaces. When using the latter method, Vallejo recommends you use either their airbrush thinner (for better spray atomization). I end up just using clean water to thin water-based sealers, and it works great.
- Easy to use
- Non-toxic and water soluble
- Matt finish for reducing reflections
|Liquitex Matte Varnish||Check Price|
|Testors Clear Coat (Sealer)||Check Price|
|Krylon ColorMaster Acrylic Crystal Clear (Flat Sealer)||Check Price|
|Vallejo Matt Model Color Varnish||Check Price|
Miniature sealers are a must-have for any miniature painter or model builder. The best miniature sealer is one that protects your work from the elements, including display in any environment, e.g., sunlight, UV exposure, and prevents damage over time, e.g, gameplay handling. Miniature sealers come in many shapes, forms, and different types of reflective finishes.
We hope this article helped you find learn more about miniature varnishes and sealers, and helps you find the best miniature paint sealer!
Are you protecting your painted miniatures with anything? What is your favorite? Leave a comment below!