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To topcoat or not to topcoat?


There are many different reasons to use clear coat. They mostly depend on the model genre, scale, material, and painting techniques. In general, they fall into 4 categories.



You spent all that time & money on the mini, the paint, and the decals   You want to protect your $ and work.


Some clear coats are applied to prepare the surface for a particular technique to follow. An example would be metallizer paints or oh, I do not know… Maybe the application of decals? 

Protection & Preparation:

Many times a clear coat application accomplishes both preparation and protection at the same time.


Some clear coats are applied as a final step in the build process. To achieve a certain overall surface finish, such as a matte coat to take away the shine on a model.

Since I have addressed the preparation aspect on the “Why you need to use gloss coat” tab, and the Finish category seems self-evident (I have never seen a glossy Panzer) I will focus here on the protection aspect. 

Before I go there, lets talk about types of clear coats.

There are 3 finishes major finish sheens:

  • Gloss

  • Satin – Dull coat

  • Matte / Flat

Note: depending on the manufacture, I have seen some dull coats look more like a flat and a matte look more like a satin.  When using a new product, test first.

Two types of clear coat:

  • Varnish

  • Lacquer

And three ways to apply it:

  • Brush on

  • Aerosol spray

  • Airbrush

You will likely read that gloss varnish/lacquer is more resilient to damage than matte. I am not going to weigh in this long-time debate. What is important is that the decal goes over a Gloss coat. But like a said earlier, I have never seen a glossy Panzer tank or CVN.

The difference between a varnish and a lacquer is varied, but for our purposes (over simplification alert) varnishes used on miniatures are water based acrylics.  Lacquers are oil / alcohol / solvent based. As mentioned before, you should pick one type and use that type for every aspect of painting / decaling of your mini.  Do not mix types on the same model. You know the saying, oil & water…  It can be done but it is risky.

The different ways to apply a clear coat come down to personal preference.  For me, the more detailed the model (GHQ for example) the more likely I will take the time to use an airbrush.  After 40 years of practice, I have become proficient in using aerosols (fast easy with no clean up) on less detailed models like 1-3000 Navwar.  This is a learned skill.   

OK. Back to why to top clear coat for Protection.  Now that you have fully painted, washed, and decaled your mini, you need to protect the paint and decal.

Proviso:  The above statement my cause some confusion.  I often clear coat between these applications for preparation reasons. I.E., washes work great over gloss, but I prefer to dry brush over matte / flat. What I am trying to say is once you are ready to complete your model.

You want to apply a final clear seal coat over the entire mini. Think of that final clear coat like wax on a car finish. Or better yet, a forcefield between your sort of clean fingers and the paint / decals.  Without a protective final coat, your decal is vulnerable to staining. Oh, let us say... like that time the cat spilled the cup of coffee on the game table and across the entire fleet... If the decals are top coated, they will not stain. The second greatest evil in the world cats are. But I digress... That final coat also has an additional bonus of helping the decal adhere to the mini.  It also seals the edges of the decals helping to avoid edge curling. See "why use gloss coat" tab


Since you have already read the "Why do I need to use gloss coat?" tab you already know that setting solution thermally bonds the decal print matric to the under-gloss coat. When you apply your final seal coat (I usually finish my naval minis in flat clear coat) that coat chemically adheres to the previous coat. You have now suspended the decal between two layers of clear protective sealer.




Clear coating is a great technique to employ for a wide variety of purposes. With some practice, you will become a master of clear coating in no time! Don’t send your forces into battle without proper protection…

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