Befreiungskriege 1813-14

Painting and modelling 28mm Napoleonic wargaming miniatures

The proverbial can of…

Posted by Martin on May 4, 2011

Revell enamel matt varnish.

Revell enamel matt varnish.

Nope, not worms.

There is an unwritten law that states that when ever two or more figure painters gather together, at some point in the proceedings the conversation must turn to the frustrating topic of matt varnish. And so it has been for me on two such occasions recently. Why? Well, I’ve had a nagging feeling for quite a while that the matt varnish I’ve been using isn’t matt enough. And for me, “enough” means seriously dead flat matt.

The offending item is Winsor and Newton’s Galeria acrylic matt varnish. I used to love it. It was matt enough, it was easy to use, it was easy to clean the brush afterwards, it dried quite quickly and it didn’t smell too bad. But then something happened. My head was turned by seeing just how truly, deeply matt some other painters’ figures were. And the doubts set in. And they gnawed away at me. And they kept gnawing until I just had to do something about it. And I had to do that something to the Westphalian Landwehr casualties that I’d painted as a commission. Now these no longer looked matt enough and my pride wouldn’t let me post them to their new home until I’d put things right.

So who were the wicked people who sowed these seeds of doubt? Well, one was David Imrie at Salute when we were chatting about his ECW demo game; the other was Peter F. on a visit to Calpe Towers last Bank Holiday Monday (more about that visit in another posting soon). The outcome of the conversation with David was that he’d tried all sorts of different matt varnishes over the years and never found the perfect one. At present he’s also using Winsor and Newton’s Galeria but he seems to get much better results than me – grrrr! So no solution there. Peter F. informed me that he’s always used Humbrol enamel varnish (Code No. 49). At this point I should interject that, like me, both David and Peter F. gloss varnish first and then apply a coat of matt varnish to finish and both use brush on rather than spray varnishes. Peter F. says it’s always worked for him but that you do need to keep stirring the tin thoroughly at regular intervals during a varnishing session to avoid the dreaded white patches and streaks.

I came away from Calpe Towers inspired to try the Humbrol enamel matt varnish (after all, the gloss equivalent has long been a standard part of my process, so how hard can it be?). On Tuesday, I used my lunchbreak to visit the local model shop. Curses, there was no Humbrol matt enamel varnish in stock! I was about to slope out of the shop in a fit of despair when I noticed a display rack of Revell enamel paint tins. A closer inspection revealed that the rack was marked up with Humbol colour code equivalencies. Lo and behold, the Revell enamel matt varnish (Code No. 2) was marked as equivalent to the Humbrol enamel matt varnish. So I decided to chance it.

Last night, I carried out my evil experiment in the painting laboratory (mwhahaha!). I was very cautious and shook the tin thoroughly for about five minutes and then I opened it and gave it another five minutes of stirring with a cocktail stick. Only after that, did I feel brave enough to dip my brush. After coating the three casualty figures carefully and evenly, I placed them under and upturned tub to keep the dust (and the cats) out while they dried overnight. Then I gave the brush a deep clean – I use liquid poly for cleaning varnish off brushes and it works a treat.

The outcome? Total success! This morning I was greeted by three terrifically matt figures. Conclusions? Yes, these sorts of enamel varnish do smell heavily of sovlents so make sure you work in a well ventilated area. In passing, I should mention that the smell reminded me of happy boyhood days painting Airfix tank kits with enamels. But I digress…

The other big conclusion is that things will go fine if you follow the instructions on the tin to the letter. And then do them some more for good measure. I especially mean anything to do with shaking and stirring because that’s the only way to be sure that you’ve mixed in the matting agent thoroughly to avoid white patches and streaks. Lastly, I want to note that the fact I used Revell enamel matt varnish rather than the Humbrol variety doesn’t seem to matter a jot.

So I suppose that means I’ll need to update my Kitbag page now…

7 Responses to “The proverbial can of…”

  1. The Revell Emanels are great. Used them for all my painting until about 15 years ago (has it really been that long already?). What I noticed back then is that their matt is really matt.

    For the past few years I have been using an industiral matt spray varnish from a company called Dupli Color. I have really ben pleased with it. Very strong coat (I do not even gloss varnish beforehand anymore), completely dry within 30 minuntes when placed in the the sunlight and perfect matt finish.

    Well that is no always that case… near the end of a can it can at times turn a satin gloss. Tried to solve that problem by giving them a second coat from a new can and it never worked. But I do not mind it anymore… I found evn those satin gloss minis turn a perfect matt within two to three years. Guess I am a patient man! 😉



  2. Paul said

    Hi Martin,
    I have been using the Revell matt enamel for a couple of years and it works well (no white patches or streaks yet), I tried Humbrol matt a few times over the years and did end up with the dreaded white patches no matter how much I mixed the tin. This maybe because I don’t gloss varnish my figures 1st? The kit building memories seem to part of the experience with enamels 😉

  3. Blancard said

    Hi Martin,

    I am no specialist as I’ve only been using “Winsor and Newton’s Galeria”, following advice found on blogs. However, I shall repeat that it is extremely important to give a really good shake to the bottle before applying the varnish! Especially if the bottle hasn’t been used for a while. I remember leaving the bottle aside for a year and then varnish a full battalion… disaster: it went shiny!! :-/

    So I can’t compare different makes, but I can only insist on the importance of shaking the pot/bottle before use!


  4. Martin said

    I’ve come across this lengthy thread about varnish on Steve Dean’s forum. It’s well worth reading in its entirety because there are a lot of ideas and experiences from a range of good painters. What it indicates is that good technique is as important as the brand of varnish you use. And a method/varnish that works for one painter is not guaranteed to work for another.

  5. arteis said

    I had problem after problem after problem with Humbrol matt varnish. It never, ever came out true matt.

    After much trial and error with other manufacturers, I have now settled on Vallejo matt varnish, and am very pleased indeed with the results. It is water soluble, and looks frighteningly like watered-down PVA when you put it on. But it has given me fantastic results (so long as I keep the coats thin).

  6. John M, said

    I still use the galeria Martin, though Ive removed some of the thin stuff and turn the bottle upside down and when I go to use it I use a nice soft brush and use the stuff which collects in the neck and the lid, and brush it on neat and spread it till theres nothing visible and I have to dip the brush again, the only other thing I do when using galeria is I dont do my mettalics till the varnish has dried, then paint on the metals, (if this helps,)

    john m.

  7. Gary Amos said

    Took up the recommendation for the Revell matt varnish and I’ve got to say it’s the best I’ve ever used, bar none. BUT, I stir the tin with an old brush handle and take off several ‘drops’ at a time to be able to replace the lid. This stuff goes off really quickly, and I mean really quickly. Any way round that without losing the matt finish?

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