Wednesday 21 January 2015

That little matter of varnishing

My Realm of Battle board has been languishing in the garage for a couple of months now. Although I repaired the damage wrought by the Polyvine varnish I had not finished adding shading and painted the skulls. More alarmingly the garage is where we keep the tumble dryer so it's been regularly exposed to warm, moist, fabric dust! I've covered it up but I'm well aware I'm not doing any favours to its future prospects. So I need to tackly the varnish issue. To that end I prepared this 6" strip of MDF and painted it up.

As you can see it follows my standard Red Planet Basing and I can test out a suitable varnish instead of doing it on the boards and ruining it and having to start again. Although the grain is more pronounced than my boards I'm confident that if I can seal this neatly it'll be more than OK for the smoother RoB board.

Now PeteB, Liam and Ben think I'm overly paranoid about protection*, Liam and Ben haven't varnished their boards but this 'ultra tough' floor varnish seems to be ideal.

However, the milky/creamy consistency was worrying and there is a mention of it leaving a white finish on the tin which brings us back to Polyvine territory.

So I applied the varnish, foolishly to two thirds of the piece instead of half and I think you can see it's not acceptable. Granted this was still wet but the varnish managed to 'rehydrate' [not sure if that's the correct term] the top layer of the craft acrylic and mix with the varnish. This meant the varnish took on a slight orange tint and together with it's thickness has obscured much of the deepest shaded recesses.

I was going to be much happier with a brush on varnish but at this stage I'm contemplating a spray lacquer, of course I now only have a small amount of my test strip to try it out on. The question is which brand do I go for. There are some cheap clear varnish sprays available and I know 'cheap' should have alarm bells ringing but I recently saw some forum posts saying they were very good. I've actually even got some from a purchase at a £1 shop a while back.

I wont' be touching Purity Seal but there is Plastikote and there is even a supply of Rustoleum, which usually is only available in America.

I'll hopefully pick up a Plastikote, test it and my £1 shop version if the results don't stand up I'll have to accept this isn't going to be sealed. Meanwhile I might make another test piece just in case!

* Update, this is the reason I believe I need to varnish the boards:

These are just two of the five or six paint chips I discoverd on my Realm of Battle board which hasn't even been used for gaming! It's been sat in the garage, covered in bubble wrap for a weeks

I may have caught them bringing them into the house but that questions the durability of the paint a great deal. Anyway, I've got a Matt Plastikote Varnish Spray so I'll give it a go, on the test piece first.


  1. I don't varnish most of my models. I am terrified to do it. This will cause me no end of tears one day.

    I'm about to varnish all my walkers before I salt them. Give me strength obi one.

    1. You should be OK, I'd imagine varnishing before a salt process allows you plenty of opportunity to fix if it goes wrong. Usually it's when you've painted Golden Daemon quality and it forsts that you want to curl up and die!

  2. Sealing any work you do is absolutely necessary. I take that back, if you enjoy touching up your models, tables, whatever, every few months then don't seal your stuff. Sealing my models has saved me from so much heartache as newly finished models tumbled to the floor.

    Anyway, I'm not sure what your best method of sealing that will be. You could look at spray on sealers but the problem you'll run into is that in spraying such a large surface you will be misting sealer all over the board and won't really get a good solid cohesive coat on there. If you've ever tried to use a spray paint on a large surface then you know what I mean.

    So, you'll definitely want a brush on sealer. Have you checked art/craft stores? I have a brush on sealer that works great for models, no reason it wouldn't on this table. Of course it's made to go over acrylics, which is key for you and something you're going to struggle with in using flooring sealers.

    1. That's why I wanted to brush it on, you know what you're getting, what amount of paint you've put on. What brush on sealer do you use? If you can point me to the make I'll give it a try.

    2. Windsor and Newton do a brush on acrylic varnish designed for paintings. you can get it in both spray and tin form. I have not used it on plastics before but I am sure it should work ok. it also comes in matt and gloss coats and can be picked up in most art stores in the UK

  3. I've mixed feelings on this guys, I've been sealing my sisters & had been happy with it tbh until today when I looked at the model I'd varnished yesterday.

    I think you can get away without sealing plastic models but for metal it's a must, also for any surfaces you'd be playing on, Dave is it just me mate or did the varnish make the red brighter ?

    1. I wouldn't trust the photography but overall it may be more orange, because it's reduced the shadowed areas it should look brighter. Also I think the varnish was fresh on so it had a brighter 'wet look' finish. It certainly does not look good. Well, it's fine for a 6" piece of nothing, I could live with that, but even one 2'x2' piece would be probably more heartbreaking than the Polyvine debacle!

  4. I've had a varnish disaster too in the relatively recent past (on models in my case!) so if you do find a solution please let me know! I'm willing to give GW's a second chance, but only once the weather warms up considerably and as you've said, I wouldn't use it on something this size.

    1. GW Purity Seal frosting can be mitigated by thinly painting Olive Oil onto the frosting. However, this is not a permanent fix and does leave your models not quite glossy/oily but mildly basted. It's not wholly unpleasant, certainly better than frosted but not the flat matt we would like. Over time the frosting will return as the oil evaporates [?] but it's amazing how it recovers after a quick reapplication.

      Alternatively a more drastic fix is to apply liquid poly cement glue, using an old brush.

      There was an article in White Dwarf explaining the best ways to avoid frosting but it also stated that Purity Seal is a two part varnish, a gloss with a matting agent and if it’s not mixed properly you get the frosting. It was recommended to use a warm hair dryer after spraying to help the two parts mix and dry properly. Obviously not too hot and it’ll melt the plastic models.

      But from what I understand of the colour properties of the frosting is if you apply a small amount of the liquid poly carefully, capillary action should bleed the glue onto the frosting. The solvent base will start to break down the varnish and in so doing when it dries the two parts blend better. Now I’ve done this technique twice, the first time I applied too much glue, it did break down the frosting but created a high gloss finish that was equally unpleasant. The second time I was very sparing and applied just enough so you could see the glue seep through the frost and when it dried it was almost perfect.

      Of course solvents of this kind will break down the acrylic paint completely so you cannot ‘work’your brush over the model or it’ll strip/smudge it . Also of note is that some folk would advocate acetone instead of liquid poly [which I believe is ketone], you could try the same principle but as I had the liquid poly spare it seemed the easiest option.

      You can see some of my experiments here:

  5. I have one question for you.. do you have acess to an airbrush?

    I ask because all my varnishing woes went away when I started airbrushing my sealant. I DO still use testors dullcote, largely for expediency, but airbrushing Klear (its an acrylic floor polish) as a gloss coat or protective, then airbrushing vallejo varnish matte is by far my preferred route these days.

    1. I don't unfortunately. I've thought about Klear, I'm aware of it's mythical status but I believe it's under a different name in the UK and thus far it's never jumped off the shelf and made itself known to me. Even painting the stuff on and then getting a matt varnish to tone it down was a thought, but maybe I need to try a bit harder.

  6. After having the paint off the blade-edge of one of my Grey Knights' NFWs shear off during apparently "safe" storage, I have began experimenting with protective varnishes.

    I took an old CSM that I painted a long ago, and applied Liquitex Matte Varnish to one leg. I wanted it to be a "stress test," so I painted quickly and haphazardly, and did 4 coats in relatively quick succession. I figure that, for the stuff I actually want to protect I will be much more careful, so if it can look good under these conditions I should have nothing to worry about.

    After a week I took a look at the result, and I can honestly say that no one would be able to tell which leg was varnished unless I told them. For my needs, it passed the test admirably.

    I am sure it would be a pain to apply to a 6x4 surface, or an entire army, but varnish is a must in my books.

    I won't touch spray varnish, I am mortally terrified of it.

    A commenter above mentioned Winsor&Newton brand - I did a lot of research and both seemed to be ranked quite high. I can't attest to real world results, but I would expect it to be just as nice (and may be more available on your side of the pond).

    Either way, good luck! As a fellow Tyranid (and red-earth base aficionado) I silently follow your blog, it's one of my favourites.

    1. Thanks for the advice Alladin, it seems I need to apply a little more thought to his, I've so many options now. The annoying thing is these options mean decisions and these decisions are obstacles to progress which means the boards will be stalled yet again. I even went and got some brush on red oxide primer so I can make the edges all tidy - yet another delay!

      Thanks for breaking you silence and 'coming out' as a fan, I really appreciate it with the added bonus I can follow your blog!

    2. Yeah, I have figured out my M.O. When it comes to this hobby:

      For every 1 hour that I spend on painting/modelling, I spend 2 hours deliberating on the task at hand. And for ever hour I spend deliberating, I spend 4 hours on the Internet doing rediculous amounts of "research."

      That being said, I can definitely appreciate your annoyance at trying to figure this stuff out. If it makes you feel better, looking at your impressive body of work, most people would be envious of your dedication to the work itself as well as finding the time to maintain a very active (and inspiring) blog.

      I hope you figure it out soon, so you can stop stressing about protecting your investment and focus on the fun stuff!

      Thanks for following my blog! Hopefully I will have more Tyranid themed posts in the near future, I am really itching to get some painted up. However, I have to be disciplined and paint the GKs I have had since 2012.