23 August 2010

Matt Varnish

I’ve only just recently started to Matt Varnish my models, and I’ve been painting stuff for at least 10 years. I guess it was because I felt it was a lot of work and the extra cost added etc etc.
But the breaking point came earlier this year when I was very pleased with a paintjob on some models that I use for Legends of the Old West and they were just impossible to take a picture of because the shiny finish of some paints I used reflected like a supernova making them all look as if dressed in rubber or wet leather suits.


So I started looking into Matt Varnish possibilities, and started out with a small bottle of Vallejo Matt varnish – the one you paint onto the models with a brush. Not really the effect I was looking for, sure it did seem to have some Matt characteristics but far from being absolutely matt and there was still that weird glossy finish to it. I tried mixing with water, and I tried it “pure” straight out of the bottle.  And the weirdest thing was that results seemed to vary even when I used the same method and the same amount of varnish. I gave up on Vallejo’s bottled Matt Varnish (though I really like their other paints and they sure are cheaper than GW and contain more paint!).

So the only option left, for me at least, was to try out the Army Painter Anti-shine matt varnish spray can. I did some research on the internet on how it worked, if it messed up static grass etc before I actually bought a can.

The good news are that it does NOT melt or mess up any static grass. It also leaves your models completely matt and without that annoying shiny/waxy look that some paints leave you with.

The bad news is that I always come to think about the movie Spartacus – the scene with the Gladiators before the combat at the circus “Those who are about to die salute you”, because really  this spray is the most unpredictable thing I’ve ever used.

Pirate captain to the right is as you can see completely messed up in the facial area, and have an overall rough looking surface - this is because of a crappy can of Anti Shine. Compare to the perfect result on the pirate to the left, smooth and matt as it should be when the can works as it should.

Now look at these "dusty" Old West models, looks like raincoats. Compare to the good "anti shine+matt" result below.

As I write I’m currently using my 5th can of this stuff, and the history is such that the first try was perfect. The first time I used my first can of Army Painted Anti Shine pleased be a lot since I achieved all that I wanted on my first test model. What happened was, that my 2nd model was completely messed up with some grey slime goo!? I had shaken the can like crazy before I even used it that day, but it just covered my entire model in some grey crap that completely destroyed the paintjob and I had to clean off the model with thinner and repaint most of it. The sad thing is that this model had been greenstuffed and the grey crap destroyed much of the delicate features on the face in particular.

I had the can exchanged for a new one. This 2nd can worked flawlessly down to about 20%. Once I reached the “bottom” of the can so to speak, it started to behave odd again. Leaving my models covered in s crystal looking surface – I think “coal” would describe the look the best. You know that half shiny surface of small particles. The can was useless after this attempt. I had to buy a 3rd can. This third can also worked well, down to a certain level, I think about 50%, when it started covering my models in “dust”. This could only be fixed by painting “Vallejo matt varnish” over those areas in which case the model was back to its original shiny finish.

Below you can see my Al Swearengen before and after a coat of Army Painter Anti Shine. Again without problem and with perfect result.

It really makes a huge difference and looks damn good when it works.

It is impossible to predict how the Anti Shine will behave each time. I’ve had effects and results ranging from perfect  matt, to “Ok” results where you still have some glossy areas, to that odd looking “coal surface” , to dusty finish of particles, to actually destroyed models with some grey slime.
I’ve shaken the can for 10 minutes, I sprayed it indoors, outdoors, in humid conditions, in dry conditions, in warm conditions, in temperate conditions – and I have the can stored indoors in a dresser so that it’s not in direct sunlight or have any temperature fluctuations during storage. Using this stuff is like Russian roulette. You actually never know how it will behave, you cannot see if the results are OK by simply spraying a flat surface with some paint on (I did that and got different results on actual models), you can try to test the spray on some crap model you aren’t afraid of losing. But even then you may get a good result on the test model and seconds after get disaster on the actual model you want matt.

So why do I keep trying? Actually, the thing is, once you start matt varnishing your collection there is no going back. Up to the point of actually starting to matt varnish my collection I didn’t care much about the glossy finish. But afterwards, after starting the process of matt varnishing my collection – you can see the difference and it really is a huge one. Suddenly all of my soft highlights and transitions are showing instead of being buried beneath the shiny reflection.

A friend sent me a link to some thread about this problem , think it was a thread on Warseer forum, where it said that the problem with matt varnish in spray cans is that it settles very fast once it is stored on a shelf. The mix inside the can is supposedly made up of two parts, one consists of tiny matt particles and the other is the gas propellant or whatever. Anyway, supposedly once this product leaves the factory it ages really fast – and bad. So there is no reason to keep it around on your shelf for months without use, because those matt crystals will settle on the bottom of the can and pack themselves hard after which you will get the grey slime covering your models once you reach a certain level of use.

So if you buy a can, and it looks as if it works OK, then spray as much as you can as soon as possible. I used 2 cans to go thru a couple of SoTR Platoons as well as my Wild West and French Indian War collection. All of which had good end results. I got the worst results when I painted groups of models and sprayed them a week or more apart over a month or more. The spray gradually worsened until it became unusable even though I still had about 20% left in the can.

Below are some more before/after results where the spray worked without problem.


  1. Jag litar på ditt omdöme när det gäller detta. Personligen så vågar jag inte köpa mattsprej eftersom det känns som att man slösat flera hundra kronor i slutändan om man inte sprejar allt på en gång. Blir resultatet av påmålad matt varnish på en yta av typ halvblank varnish bra?

  2. Jag har bara lyckats få half-assed resultat med Vallejos matt varnish, och då har jag ändå köpt 2 flaskor och testat mig fram. Det bästa man kan få är en halvglansig yta, men oftast inte ens det.

    Det ska finnas andra sorters matt varnish ute än dessa två, men all min erfarenhet kommer från att använda vallejo respektive army painter varnish.

  3. have you never tried Testors dullcote ? i had a similair problem with overly shiny models on my dire avengers - i inked them with old GW blue ink and it was really shiny - so much so that you couldnt see any highlights etc, after blasting them with testors though they are fine - as to leaving it unused for months, i bought the testors around a year ago, and used it last week on some Malifaux models and it wa sfine - no goop etc - hope that helps

  4. Thanks for the tip, I really need to look into some alternate Matt Varnish because Army Painter is damn unpredictable to say the least.

  5. 'Testors Dullcote' is the best matte varnish around, without exception. The other spray that I use is Rustoleum 'Frosted Glass', which is the same thing in a bigger spray can. Hopefully, you can get these where you are.


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