The Benefits of Clear Coating Your Painted Miniatures

The Benefits of Clear Coating Your Painted Miniatures - should I clear coat miniatures - do I need to clear coat my painted miniatures - do you need to seal painted miniatures - banner

Are you wondering if you need to apply a clear coat to your miniatures? At first glance you may think that paint should be enough to endure gentle handling, even during gameplay. But, a layer of acrylic paint is thin and vulnerable to all sorts of environmental insults, e.g., sunlight, moisture, bumps, and movement during gameplay. A varnish sealant or clear coat provides extra protection for models and addresses all of these issues. A clear coat preserves the appearance of your painted miniatures by protecting them from wear-and-tear over time. Varnishes for protecting your painted miniatures and models can come in all sorts of different varieties that offer unique properties depending on their composition and application method.

In this article, I will highlight the benefits of clear coating your painted miniatures and why a good sealer will allow you to enjoy your painted miniatures for many years into the future.


Summary: The benefits of using a varnish, sealer, or clear coat on your painted miniatures and models

  • Varnish sealers will protect tabletop gaming miniatures against gameplay handling and other model usage.
  • A matte finish, e.g., anti shine, will remove harsh light reflections and improve the contrast and preserve paint color.
  • A clear coat can be applied with a brush, airbrush, or aerosol spray and effectively prolong the quality of your painting.
  • Matte, gloss, or satin varnishes will give your models different levels of shine, but all will work well to keep your models from damage and color fade over time.
  • For those who travel to gaming stores, clubs, or conventions with their miniatures, a clear coat is essential for avoiding paint chips, peels, scratches, or other types of damage. Tip: Use a dedicated miniature/model carrying case or bag.

Continue reading to see why a clear coat is essential for any painted miniature or model.


What is a clear coat?

A clear coat is a transparent layer of enamel or acrylic resin that goes over your painted miniatures in order to protect and preserve their appearance. Painted miniature and models with a clear coat are more durable, resistant to environmental exposure, and have a more consistent aesthetic appearance. The latter is especially true if you use a good matte varnish, such as Testors Dullcote or similar hobby varnish.

READ MORE: MATTE OR GLOSS VARNISH FOR PROTECTING MINIATURES AND MODELS

The Benefits of Clear Coating Your Painted Miniatures - do you need to seal painted miniatures - Testors dull coat
Testors Dullcote is my favorite varnish to complete and protect any miniature painting.
The Benefits of Clear Coating Your Painted Miniatures - do you need to seal painted miniatures - imperial knight warhammer 40k
A good varnish will protect gaming miniatures and give them a professional quality finish. A non-reflective finish wit a matte sealer will also help preserve color, contrast, and details in miniature photography.

A good sealer should provide protection for models from dirt, dust, moisture and scratches. Additionally, a good sealer should also preserve the appearance of your painted model by protecting it from wear-and-tear over time and UV exposure. A varnish may come in all sorts of different varieties that offer unique properties depending on their composition and application method.

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Do I need to clear coat my painted miniatures?

Acrylic paints are fairly durable in the short term. But, for those of us who play tabletop games, such as Warhammer 40k, AoS, or board games, a painted model will require additional protection. A clear coat will protect the fragile layer of acrylic paint. Even a thin coat of varnish will go a long way to protecting miniatures against handling and abuse.

Varnishing miniatures with a matte or gloss coat will also improve the appearance of the finished painting. Certainly, after you spend hours painting miniatures you don’t want to skip the final important step for any paint job. Finish painting your entire model with an even coat of a spray sealer or brush on coat of matte varnish.

The Benefits of Clear Coating Your Painted Miniatures - do you need to seal painted miniatures - age of sigmar slaves to darkness model painted smoke effects
I varnished this Age of Sigmar model with three thin spray coats of Testors Dullcote, a matte varnish. It helped me photograph this model by removing unwanted reflections, and allowed me to use real smoke effects without worrying about damage to the underlying paint job.

A clear coat with a miniature varnish application in the proper conditions should allow you to play with your painted models for years to come without worrying about it. I’ve heard horror stories of people spilling beverages over their unvarnished gaming miniatures at conventions. Because acrylic paint absorbs moisture easily, the paint on these poor models peeled off in many places. A simple matte spray of would have prevented the tragedy.

If you’re traveling with your miniatures and want to protect them, a clear coat is a great way to protect any paint job.


How do I apply a sealant or clear coat on my models?

For best results with applying a varnish on your painted models, try following these tips:

1. Apply your clear coat in multiple thin layers

It is better to apply many thin coats of varnish on your models rather than a single thick coat. This is especially true for matte sealers, which will cloud over if you apply them too quickly. The same holds true with satin varnish and gloss varnish.

The Benefits of Clear Coating Your Painted Miniatures - do you need to seal painted miniatures - apply thin layers tip

Two coats of any sealer is the minimum you’ll want to apply to a model for the best protective qualities of the clear coat. If you’re spraying the varnish, make sure you keep the nozzle distance at least 6-12″ away from your model to avoid the clear coat from pooling.

For water-based varnishes, such as Liquitex matte varnish, use a bit of water to thin the medium and apply it to your model with a soft brush. Allow the varnish to dry completely before applying additional layers. A sealer should not remain sticky when you’re done. To speed up the process, you can use a hair dryer with the lowest heat setting.

2. Use good quality varnishes

Don’t use inferior products on your miniatures. Not all varnishes are meant for scale models or miniatures you’ll display or game with. For example, varnishes from your hardware store may be formulated for flooring or wooden furniture. These varnishes have a chemistry that may have a warm, yellowish hue when they dry. They won’t produce the results you want for your miniatures and models.

The Benefits of Clear Coating Your Painted Miniatures - do you need to seal painted miniatures - use good quality varnishes tip

Even varnishes you buy from a craft store may become problematic as they aren’t very easy to use with a brush and will require some additional technical skill to apply properly on small scale models.

Instead, choose a hobby grade varnish, such as The Army Painter Anti Shine Matt Varnish or Testors Dullcote (the best matte coat sealer imho), which work really well on miniatures. These products have a protective finish that preserve details, color, and contrast.

3. Make sure your varnish works

Even if you have a quality varnish, make sure you test it on a surface other than your model. Sometimes a varnish that sits around too long can go bad, especially if the can or bottle isn’t stored in good conditions. To ensure you’re not clear coating with a bad varnish, test it on a different surface such as a piece of cardboard, a piece of spare plastic sprue from your model’s kit, or even a rock.

The Benefits of Clear Coating Your Painted Miniatures - do you need to seal painted miniatures - avoid bad sealer test your varnish first

Make sure the sealer dries completely clear and without any color hue to it. You want the coating to be transparent. If it’s a gloss varnish, the finished surface should be shiny and appear wet. If the varnish has a matte quality, the surface should have a non-reflective surface without any glossy effect. A dull coat of matte sealer will preserve the natural appearance of a surface without cloudiness or fogginess (more about this below).

4. Apply your varnish in proper ambient conditions

A good way to avoid problems with a bad clear coat application is to make sure the varnish can, bottle, etc., is shaken well so the sealer is mixed with its solvent.

The Benefits of Clear Coating Your Painted Miniatures - do you need to seal painted miniatures - use varnish in proper ambient conditions

This is particularly important for matte varnishes which are prone to uneven finishes or clouding. In the latter, you can prevent the foggy or cloudy finish, or frosting your models, by spraying your matte varnish at proper conditions–close to room temperature around 70-75F or 22-24C and under 55% relative humidity.

RELATED: TOP 10 SPRAY BOOTHS FOR INDOOR MINIATURE PAINTING


What should I use for a sealant or clear coat?

My favorite varnishes for protecting painted miniatures include these products, which I use in my painting commissions and personal hobby projects:

ImageVarnishBest Features
Testors Dullcote Enamel Finishing Coat
  • It dries fast and is easy to apply
  • After it dries, the surface becomes very smooth and shiny
  • This varnish can be used on plastic models, resins or metal miniatures in any scale (it's not intended for use with precious metals)
Krylon Matte Finish Aerosol Spray
  • Easy to use
  • Wide spray pattern covers surfaces, quickly
  • Leaves an even mostly matte, durable non-reflective finish that offers protection for your models
  • Inexpensive
Vallejo Acrylic Gloss Varnish
  • Water soluble for thinning
  • Can be applied with a brush or sprayed directly on with an airbrush
  • Protects against some light scratches and abrasions
  • Good for wet, slime special effects
Vallejo Matt Model Color Varnish
  • Gives nice matte finish to the miniature
  • Is water based, non-aerosol, and so has lower risk of fogging or frosting
  • Works great on all kinds of miniatures, large and small
  • Easy and safe to apply with a regular brush or airbrush (e.g., spraying it is better)
AK Interactive Ultra Matte Varnish
  • Any matte varnish, including AK Interactive's, will achieve a more realistic finish on miniatures or models, if applied appropriately, and recommended for modellers working with dioramas
  • The ultra matte finish is wonderful for taking great photographs of your painted miniatures
  • Super matte finish creates a perceptibly smoother finish to your models
  • Easy to apply in all kinds of environmental conditions
  • Works fine with a brush or airbrush (i.e., you can thin with water)

You can read more in this article about the pros and cons of gloss and matte varnishes for painted miniatures.


Conclusion

Should you clear coat your miniatures? Yes! I can’t emphasize enough how much you should seal your painted miniatures. Your models should be sealed with a quality varnish to protect the paint job from dirt, dust and moisture as well as wear-and-tear over time (e.g., gameplay and handling).

If you found this article helpful, let me know! Leave a comment below.

Thank you for reading and happy miniature painting!

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