The search for the perfect matt varnish can be like the search for the holy grail. Protecting your miniatures is a must, but too many models have been ruined thanks to a bad can of varnish. Many matt varnishes also tend to have a slight satin sheen even though the product says matt finish. Finding the best matt varnishes for painting miniatures is difficult, but not impossible. I’m here to help.
Why you should varnish your miniatures
So why should you seal your models at all? Well, not only will your paint job be protected from abrasion during handling, but the varnish will also protect against discolouration from UV rays. Perhaps most importantly for painters, it will bring all colours to a uniform finish.
But what makes a decent matt varnish so hard to find? First, of course, the varnish must be easy to apply and not accidentally ruin your miniatures by drying out cloudy or causing the dreaded frosting effect. It should be water-based (acrylic), as polyutherane-based varnishes might dissolve thin layers of paint. It must not yellow or change the colours of your paint job. Most importantly, there‘s the finish – many painters prefer a result as matt as possible.
Stahly’s favourite matt varnishes
First, let me say this: There is nothing wrong with using Games Workshop products. You can usually expect a high level of quality, and they’re readily available. However, if you look closer, there are often cheaper and/or better options. I’ve put together this guide to help you branch out and upgrade your hobby experience.
Without further ado, here are my personal best matt varnishes for painting miniatures:
The best budget matt varnishes for miniature painting
AK Interactive AK1013 Matt Varnish Spray
The matt finish is nice and very similar to The Army Painter, it kills the shine without making the colours too flat. However, I have noticed that sometimes the varnish can sometimes leave a slightly rough texture. I have not yet been able to find out exactly what this is due to, perhaps spraying too much or too far away? Still, similar to Tamiya Flat Clear, it’s not really noticeable at an arms-length.
Where to buy: Again, you might not find AK Interactive at your local hobby stores, so check Amazon and ebay:
The Army Painter Anti-Shine Matt Varnish
Anti-Shine Matt Varnish has a pleasant level of mattness that kills the shine of glossier colours without dulling your paint job too much. It’s similar if not a bit more matte than Munitorum Varnish, but still a bit more satin than the Mr Hobby and Tamiya varnishes. The application is user-friendly and it‘s hard to mess up your miniatures. Best of all, it comes in affordable 400ml cans. The only downside is that sometimes you get a can that is a bit glossier than others.
Where to get: The Army Painter is widely available at hobby stores such as our partner stores Wayland and Element Games, and, of course, Amazon and ebay:
There is also a brush-on version of Anti-Shine Matt Varnish that is part of The Army Painter’s Warpaints range and comes in 18 ml dropper bottles. I love this varnish to seal finished areas while I’m painting my models, as it’s not yellowing and rather affordable. It also goes well through an airbrush, and The Army Painter also has a 100ml bottle of matt varnish in their Air range. You can get it at hobby stores like at hobby stores like Wayland and Element Games, and Amazon and ebay.
The most matt matt varnishes
If you really want the mattest of matt finishes, there is no way around airbrushing. Airbrushes can produce a finer spray mist than aerosol cans, and Ultra Matt Varnishes have an extremely high proportion of matting agents, which need to be evenly applied to a model to avoid a patchy finish.
Ultra Matt Lucky Varnish from Ammo by MIG
I tried several super matt varnishes, and even though AK Interactive’s Ultra Matt Varnish was often recommended to me, I had problems achieving an even finish with it. Personally, I had better, more even results with Ultra Matt Lucky Varnish from MIG. This varnish sprays very nicely through an airbrush without much if any additional thinning needed, and creates a beautiful ultra matt finish.
Where to buy: Ammo by MIG caters more towards the scale modelling crowd, but you can find their products on Amazon and ebay:
Green Stuff World also has an ultra matt varnish valled Maxx Matt Varnish, which also worked very nicely for me. Check it out here.
Tamiya TS-80 Flat Clear Spray
If you don’t have an airbrush, there is still a way to achieve a super matt finish. The answer is TS-80 Flat Clear Spray from Tamiya. It’s the most matt varnish spray you can find and will remove the sheen from any paint job. Be aware that it does make metallic colours and black rather dull, and it leaves a slight texture on your model (only noticeable under really close inspection or macro photography, check out the comparison picture and video above). For this reason, I use this varnish for terrain pieces only.
Where to buy: As Tamiya is a scale modelling brand, you’ll hardly find their products at hobby stores, so it’s your best bet to check Amazon and ebay:
Highest quality, but expensive
Mr Topcoat Flat & Premium Top Coat Flat
This is my current go-to varnish: Premium Top Coat Flat from Mr Hobby, yet another Japanese scale modelling slash Gunpla company. Very expensive, as these tiny cans hold only 88 ml of varnish and are about 8 Euros/pounds/dollars, but also very consistent and smooth. One of the best matt varnishes for painting miniatures. Applies easily, and even if you accidentally apply too much, the varnish dries out clear. The degree of mattness is very pleasant, it removes the shine without making metallic colours too flat. There is a non-premium version of this varnish, which is a nuance less matt (but still on the same level as say AK Interactive and Anti-Shine by The Army Painter), which costs 2 Euros less per can. I like to use it on models with a lot of metallic details, like my Silver Skulls with their bare steel power armour.
PS: Mr Hobby also has a product called Mr Super Clear. It contains solvents and is not suitable for miniature paints that are usually acrylic-based, so avoid it.
Where to buy: Mr Hobby is a Japanese scale modelling brand and therefore a bit harder to find. I usually get mine on ebay, but you can also check Amazon:
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Last but not least, a word about Citadel Munitorum Varnish spray from Games Workshop. I reviewed the product a while ago, and while I initially liked the finish and handling, it’s the only matt varnish spray that has ever frosted on me, so I can’t recommend it. Find out more here.
I have compiled this list to share my experience from over 20 years of painting and hobbying. On Tale of Painters, I have reviewed a plethora of hobby products from minor to major brands. Only those products that I actually use myself regularly have made it to this list and received my Seal of Hobby Excellence.
You can find more of my hobby reviews in our review section. A more in-depth guide to matt varnishes with over 8 products tested can also be found on my Patreon.
I don’t think you can go far wrong with the products in this post. Nevertheless, this post only reflects my opinion and experiences. I know, for example, that Garfy swears by the matt varnish spray from Winsor & Newton.
What are your experiences with matt varnishes? Which matt varnish should I definitely try out next? Feel free to drop your recommendations in the comments section below so that other readers can benefit from it too.
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Thanks, I’ll put it on my list for future product reviews!
Been a huge fan of the Testors series, for matte their Lusterless Flat Lacquer Clear Coat cans are great. They seem similar to the Mr Hobby line (small cans) but dry so smoothly. But been hearing really great things about AK’s ultra matte, have to give it a try, especially if it can be applied via airbrush
I’m a big fan of rust oleum’s Matt varnish. It’s a hardware store pint brand, it’s cheap and if you spray it at the proper distance is really mat! Great reviews!
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I’m a big fan of Varnish+ by Instar. Really great by brush, not tried with an airbrush yet, but it’s quite thin, so should work nicely.