The "gloss is tougher than matt" comment is a wargamers' urban myth that crops up every so often on various web sites. In this post I’m going to look at some of the false logic behind this myth.
Firstly, for a given type of varnish, there is no noticeable difference in strength between the gloss and matt variants. They will be based on the same basic solvent / resin mix differing only in the presence of the matting agent which is a minor ingredient by weight.
So why are gloss varnishes ascribed near mythical levels of protection compared to matt varnishes? Well it’s caused by some false comparisons and misconceptions:
- There is a difference in strength between a spirit based varnish and a water based varnish. The resins will be significantly different due to the different solvents involved (spirit vs water) with the spirit based resins generally being the toughest.
- Usually, multiple thin layers of varnish are better than single layers. So if you apply two coats of spirit based varnish (gloss then matt) you should not be surprised to find that two layers of varnish affords more protection than one.
As a result the common hobby method of gloss (spirit) then matt (water) will be a lot stronger than matt (water) alone for both reasons of spirit vs water and two coats vs one.
This confusion is compounded by the observation that matt varnished figures become shiny on prolonged use. This is often ascribed to the “weak” matt varnish layer wearing off. Whilst this is possible it is more likely to be due to the transfer of sebum from the skin during use. The wax in the sebum will produce a nice shine and it will look like the matt varnish has worn off.