Once a miniature hits the table, it’s inevitably going to be subjected to the rigors of gaming. Even the most careful of gamers will have accidents. It’s painful to see hours of hard work spent painting a figure vanish in one quick tabletop accident, but that’s why most gamers seal their miniatures after painting them.
So how do you want it?
Sealants come in a variety of finishes, but for the most part they can be grouped as gloss, satin, and matte. Most people prefer a matte finish on their gaming miniatures but this brings with it a problem. Unfortunately the strength of a sealant is usually proportional with how glossy the finish is, meaning matte sealants tend to offer the least amount of protection to miniatures. This isn’t as much of an issue with a display pieces but with a model that will face the rigors of the game table it means being more susceptible to damage.
Fortunately there’s a pretty pretty simple solution, which is to seal your miniatures with a coat or two of a high-gloss sealant for strength and then a matte coat to give it the desired finish. My personal choices are to use Kylon’s Crystal Clear for protective strength, and then use Testors Dullcoat to give a matte finish. I’ve heard many recommendations for Krylon’s Matte Finish spray to use instead of the Dullcoat but I haven’t used that product yet myself.
Keeping it Clear
Like spray-primers, sealants can have some wonky effects on models if they’re not applied correctly. One of the most common sealant accidents is a fogging effect as the model dries. Occasionally re-sealing the miniature can clear this up but more often than not it just winds up in a ruined paint job.
I’ve adopted a few practices to minimize the chance of fogging my miniatures. The first is the easiest – shake the sealant. A lot. Shake it until you think you’re done, then shake it some more. I’ve heard folks recommend as much as 2 minutes or so if you haven’t used your sealant in a while. Since there’s no harm in over-shaking, you’re better off going long than not shaking enough.
Another concern is the prevention of condensation on the miniature, which could interfere with the sealing. The best way to avoid this is to only use your sealant when the temperature is in the range listed on the can and to acclimate the can and your miniature to the climate wherever you’re going to do the sealing. Wherever you plan on sealing your miniatures – be it a porch, basement, garage, or spray booth – leave your miniatures and your spray can there for a few minutes before spraying.
Different brands of sealant have different suggested distances between can and miniature when sealing, and it’s best to stick with the recommendation. I use a cardboard box to catch any over-spray and will spray a couple spurts onto that to make sure there’s no clog in the nozzle before approaching my figures.
Make sure not to start or end any spray on the miniatures itself – start to one side, spray past the figure, then let go. Occasionally a nozzle can spurt when it’s opening or closing, and that can add some unwanted funky texture to your models.
What about Basing?
One of the questions I had to work through once I started basing my miniatures was if I should seal them before I add features like grass or snow or after. After some experimentation I’ve found I get the best results by sealing the miniature with my usual 2-gloss-2-dull protective coats after I’ve painted the ground but before adding any “additives.”
After that I’ll add the static grass, flock, or snow. Once that dries a last quick Dullcoat will help everything stay on the base. Finally I’ll do any water features (if any). I don’t have a lot of experience with basing using water features but I’ve heard that they react badly to sealant, so I’d seal my miniatures first before adding any water to the base.
I use spray sealants almost exclusively but many people swear by brush-on sealant. I haven’t had any issues with spray sealant myself and it’s infinitely faster but I do use brush-on sealant for one purpose: post-sealing finish.
For the most part, a matte finish looks good on miniature but there are some places where you want a glossy finish. The easiest way to achieve that is just to brush on a glossy sealant at the very end. In the past I’ve done this with crystal balls, gems, and materials that are supposed to be lacquered.
Clear-coat this Post
The importance of a good clear coat can be overlooked easily – the best sealant jobs are the ones you can’t tell have been applied. You won’t know you’re doing something wrong until you see the dreaded sealant fog on your figure, so the best advice I can give is be patient and take all the precautions you can.