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Not only does varnishing helps protect the finished paint work, but it can also enhance the colours. Personally I have always dreaded varnishing models, because it can go horribly wrong. I have read many pieces on what to use and why method A always works and method B never works, but I think the results are as much down to environment as they are the method and materials. So that said, this is what works for me, it might work for you or it might not.
After finishing the model and checking it over I leave it in a cupboard for at least 24 hours, longer if I have used washes. This allows the paint to dry totally. The most important part is to protect the model from dust during this phase, but if they are in a sealed container they won’t dry out properly. If dust is a major issue then I would suggest placing an inverted cardboard box over the models to try and shield them a bit.
Once the models are dry apply a coat of Humbrol Gloss varnish, thinned by adding about 10% White Spirit. As always its better to apply two thin coats rather than 1 thick one. If you apply varnish to thickly then it won’t set properly, meaning you might as well not have applied it in the first place. Leave the model in a well ventilated but dust free place to dry, it should be touch dry in 15 to 30 minutes, but it needs to be left for at least 24 hours to properly dry.
Then apply a coat of Daler~Rowney Soluble Matt Varnish. Again this wants to be thinned by adding white spirit. It needs to be a bit thinner than the gloss varnish and applied to about the same thickness as a normal layer of paint. When the varnish first goes on it is very glossy, but as it dries it becomes more matt. It takes about 24 hours to become fully matt, but you should know after about 30 minutes if it is going to need a second coat.
My method involves some superstitions and is not based on scientific principles, it works for me and I’m sticking to it. I understand that gloss and matt varnish are the same hardness, the only significant difference being that the matt varnish has matting agent added. However I can’t bring my self to apply matt varnish directly onto a model, because of an incident that happened some years ago when I trashed a squad of 20 models by applying matt varnish without gloss, they all turned white. Now I know that this was more likely to be a dodgy tin of varnish, or not leaving the paint to dry, but I still can’t risk it.
Sometimes is possible for models to develop glossy patches after they have been touched, this is usually oils from the skin rather than the matt varnish rubbing off.