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:
Highest quality, but expensive
Mr Topcoat Flat & Premium Top Coat Flat
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. I found the Premium version to be a nuance more matt. Therefore, Premium Flat became my go-to varnish, though it’s another 2 bucks more.
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:
The most matt matt varnishes
Tamiya TS-80 Flat Clear Spray
This varnish is very comparable to Mr Premium Topcoat Flat from Mr. Hobby. It is similarly expensive, even if there are 100 ml in the can. 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 above).
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:
AK Interactive Ultra Matte Varnish
Ultra Matt Varnish from AK Interactive is even more matte than the Tamiya and Mr Hobby products, so it will make metallics and dark colours slightly grey. It doesn‘t come in a spray can, you have to use an airbrush. Several thin coats are necessary, otherwise, the result can easily become a bit uneven due to the high proportion of matting agents. For this reason, it’s not really suitable for brushing on. But if you’re looking for a varnish that is dead flat, for example for your terrain, look at Ultra Matt Varnish from AK Interactive.
Where to buy: AK Interactive again caters more towards the scale modelling crowd, but you can find their products on Amazon and ebay:
The best budget matt varnishes for miniature painting
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.
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. You can get it at hobby stores like at hobby stores like Wayland and Element Games, and Amazon and ebay.
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:
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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.
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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