Nice and shiny

The process of varnishing and basing my collection of Del Prado pre-painted 25/28mm-scale Napoleonic figures has made me realise how much I like the resultant shiny, toy soldier ‘look’ of the figures. I know that quite a few other wargamers also like to use brightly painted, gloss-finish figures even though they do not look realistic … whatever that means.

In my case I think that one reason why I like this toy soldier style of figure is because the first toy soldiers that I ever used were good old pre-war Britains figures. The infantry wore red tunics and the cavalry and artillery wore blue … even though the latter were crewing a green-painted 25-pounder field gun! I used to play with them on the floor of my paternal grandparent’s front parlour when we visited them.

I also owned a few of my own Britains, Herald, and Timpo toy soldiers, and all those in ceremonial dress were painted with gloss paint. I can clearly remember my father ‘fixing’ the broken-off head of a Britains hollow-cast figure back on to the body using a length of matchstick.

When I bought my first metal wargames figures (they were from Hinton Hunt’s 20mm-scale Crimean War range) I painted them using Humbrol gloss enamel paint because that was all I could get hold of. I did try turning the gloss paint into matt paint using trick I had read in Airfix Magazine. This involved adding tiny amounts of talcum powder to the paint, but I could never get it to work; all I ended up with was very lumpy paint that had a distinctly odd smell … a sort of mixture of paint thinner and lavender perfume.

During the early 1970s I painted a whole load of Minifigs 25mm-scale American Civil War figures using Humbrol gloss enamel paint, and during last year’s clear out of my garden shed I found them … and other than one of two easily repaired chips the paintwork looked as good as when I painted the figures forty years ago!

After that I moved over to using matt enamel paint and then – in the fullness of time – to matt acrylic paint. Even then I used to give my completed figures a coat of gloss polyurethane varnish to protect the paint job I had done prior to applying a coat of matt varnish.

Nowadays I don’t bother to apply the final coat of matt varnish, and although I know that certain wargamers find this totally unacceptable, I have found that I prefer the nice and shiny toy soldier ‘look’ of my figures. It not only protects them from the ‘slings and arrows‘ of normal wargaming use, but also reminds me that my hobby is fighting warGAMES.


14 Comments on “Nice and shiny”

  1. David Crook says:

    Hi Bob,

    I don't know if its a perception thing or not but whilst I would not hesitate to varnish anything 18th or 19th century in gloss I prefer matt for mechanized armies.

    18th or 19th century troops with their bright colours just seem better with a nice glossy finish.

    Certainly when I get to that period I will be using gloss varnish.

    All the best,


  2. jhnptrqn says:

    I agree with David Crook. The brightly colored uniforms to me just look better with a gloss coat; matt colors seem to make the uniforms dull. From WW1 on any figures I have use matt or flat colors. Of course my new approach to wargames is I'm playing with toy soldiers and want them to look like toy soldiers.

    Regards, John

  3. Stryker says:

    Gloss or satin varnish really helps to bring out the colour of Napoleonic uniforms. When I started painting figures back in the early 70's I used matt Humbrol (but gloss mushroom for flesh!) and gloss varnished them. I now use satin varnish but it tends to dry quite glossy anyway. Matt finished Napoleonics, even when beautifully painted, just don't quite do it for me!

  4. Kev says:

    Yes- Agree. Gloss Finish is spectacular on Toy like Figures- Soldiers & Civilians alike. KEV.

  5. David Crook,

    Until relatively recently I would have agreed with you … but over recent years I have been gloss varnishing even my drab-painted figures and I must admit that I like the 'look'.

    All the best,


  6. Jhnptrqn (John),

    I did try using satin varnish on my figures for a while, but found that it was either too glossy or not glossy enough, so in the end I opted for a full-blown gloss varnish finish.

    I am now much happier with the 'they are toy soldiers so they are glossy' approach … I suspect for reasons that are very similar to your own!

    All the best,


  7. Stryker,

    For colourful uniforms I think that a gloss finish is an absolute MUST as it makes the colours really stand out.

    One thing that I have also noticed is that if you gloss varnish a matt painted figure that has had 'shading' applied to it, the figure looks almost clown-like because the shading seems to leap out at you. To me a simple paint job that has been gloss varnished looks much neater in comparison.

    All the best,


  8. Kev,

    I somehow suspect that more of my regular blog readers are going to agree with us than are not going to.

    All the best,


  9. arthur1815 says:

    I've certainly come round to the gloss-painted/varnished toy soldier look. Partly because I've reached a point where I'm not so worried abou the extent to which my wargames do reflect history accurately so long as I can enjoy a pleasurable game – hence Imagi-nations rather than historical opponents – but also because the tpy soldier style is so much easier for me to paint!

    How splendid you found your ACW Minifigs; I hope you will post some pictures of them here.

    Happy Easter!

  10. Arthur1815,

    Some years ago I remember a member of WD saying that once you started to call your wargame figures 'toy soldiers', you had reached a certain level of maturity.

    I think that you are right about accepting that your wargames are supposed to be fun … and that having imagi-nations and gloss-finished toy soldiers is part of that enjoyment. I also agree that painting figures in the toy soldier style is easier than using the currently fashionable multi-shade style.

    I think that I featured my gloss-painted ACW figures in a blog entry last year. I hope to repair the chipped paintwork at some time in the future, and when I do I will certainly write a blog entry about them … and I will definitely include some photographs of them.

    May I wish you and your family a Happy Easter.

    All the best,


  11. Red_Cardinal says:

    I agree entirely with everyone's comments about gloss varnish.

    I went over to gloss/satin for my Napoleonics and fanasty gifures because I feel that they give a rich depth to the colour whereas matt varnish tends to dull colours down.

  12. Red_Cardinal says:

    “fanasty gifures”

    typing typing….sorry 🙂

  13. Red_Cardinal,

    It would seem that quite a few of use prefer the colours on our figures to be glossy so that they stand out and look more vibrant.

    All the best,


  14. Red_Cardinal,

    It says much for my reading ability that I had not noticed the error … and had seen the word 'figures' rather than 'gifures'. Mind you, a 'gifure' does sound as if it is some sort of fantasy creature!

    All the best,


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