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Gunpla building 101: A Beginner's Guide to Top Coats and Finishing Techniques

January 10 2023
Gunpla building 101: A Beginner's Guide to Top Coats and Finishing Techniques

What are Top Coats

Top coats are clear, protective finishes applied over the paint on a model to enhance its appearance and protect it from damage. They can be applied in a variety of ways, such as spray cans, brush-on liquids, or airbrush-applied fluids. 

Most top coats are formulated to dry quickly and cure to a hard, durable finish that can withstand handling and environmental hazards. They come in different types of finish, Gloss, Semi-gloss, and Matte. Some top coat also have UV protection and Self leveling properties.

Among the different types of top coats available, the spray cans are the most commonly used method for finishing a Gunpla kit. They are easy to apply and dry quickly, but they do require good ventilation and can be somewhat messy to use.

Safety First

It is very important to take proper safety precautions when using top coats, as they can contain potentially harmful chemicals.

  1. Proper ventilation: When applying top coats, it's important to make sure that the area is well-ventilated to prevent inhaling fumes. If using a spray can, it's best to work in an open area such as a garage with the door open. If using an airbrush, make sure that you have a proper ventilation system in place.

  2. Personal Protective Equipment: When working with top coats, it's a good idea to wear gloves and a respirator mask to protect your skin and lungs from exposure to the chemicals in the top coat.

  3. Use in a safe place: Make sure to use top coats in a safe and stable place, away from heat sources, open flames and where children and pets can't reach it.

  4. Follow instructions: Always read the instructions on the top coat's packaging and follow the manufacturer's recommendations for safe use.

  5. Clean up: Clean up any spills or overspray immediately and dispose of any rags or materials used in the application properly.

  6. Store Properly: After use, store top coat cans or bottles properly, away from heat and in a well-ventilated area, as per the instructions on the container.

Why do I need to Top Coat my Gunpla?

There are several reasons why you might want to use a top coat after finishing a Gunpla kit:

  1. Protection: A top coat can help to protect the paint on your model from scratches, chips, and other types of damage. This is especially important if you plan to handle the model frequently or display it in a location where it may be exposed to dust or other environmental hazards.

  2. Gloss and Sheen: A glossy top coat will give your model a shiny, vibrant finish that can really make the colors and details pop. while a Matte top coat will give a non-glossy finish, good for simulating a realistic looking finish.

  3. Smoothness: Applying a top coat can help to smooth out any rough or uneven surfaces on the model, which can improve the overall look and feel of the finished product.

  4. Weathering and Aging Effect : Top coating also an important step for some builders that love to simulate weathering or aging effects, adding those effect after the final top coating will make it look more realistic.

  5. Fixing small mistakes: a top coat can also help to fix small mistakes in the painting process, by hiding and even out the rough surface.


The main difference between gloss, semi-gloss, and matte finish top coats is the amount of shine or luster that they provide to the surface of a model.

  1. Gloss Finish: Gloss top coats provide the highest level of shine and luster, giving the model a bright, vibrant appearance. This finish makes the colors and details on the model stand out and can be great for showcasing the work put into the kit. They are often used on show and competition models.

  2. Semi-gloss Finish: Semi-gloss top coats provide a moderate level of shine and luster, somewhere between gloss and matte finish. They are less reflective than gloss finish, which can be good for simulating a more realistic finish.

  3. Matte Finish: Matte top coats provide the least amount of shine or luster and have a non-reflective finish. This makes them good for simulating a realistic finish and also for hiding small imperfections. Some builders prefer this finish for their models as it adds an "aged" look to it and also eliminates the plastic look of the kit.

In addition to their different finishes, different top coats may also have different properties that can affect their performance. For example, some top coats may dry faster than others, while others may be more durable or resistant to environmental hazards.

Should I use Top Coat when Panel Lining?

Panel lining is a technique used to add definition and detail to the surface of a Gunpla model by accentuating the panel lines and other details on the kit. It's usually done using a fine brush and a dark paint or ink. And it's usually done before the top coating process. Check out our beginner's guide to panel lining.

Top Coating is applied after panel lining to protect the paint, give the model a glossy or matte finish, and to even out and hide any unevenness or smudging that may have occurred during the panel lining process. It also makes the panel lines look more defined and crisp, as well as enhancing the overall look of the model.

It's important to note that when you're going to apply a top coat on your model, you should avoid spraying or brushing the top coat directly onto the panel lines, as it may cause the paint to fill in and obscure the details. A good way to avoid this is by masking the areas around the panel lines before applying the top coat.

What are the common Top Coats to buy?

  1. Mr. Hobby (Mr. Color and Mr. Top Coat): These are a popular brand of top coat made by Gunze Sangyo, they offer a wide range of top coat types including gloss, semi-gloss, matte, and a range of other special effect top coats.

  2. Tamiya: This is a well-known brand in the hobby industry, they offer a variety of top coats including gloss, matte, and clear.

  3. Vallejo: this brand offers a wide range of top coats, including gloss, matte, and satin finish. They also have an airbrush ready top coat, which is suitable for airbrushing applications.

  4. P3: A well-known brand for miniature and model painting, they offer several different types of top coat including gloss, matte, and their own "P3 matte varnish"

  5. Future (Kleer): this is a popular brand of top coat that is often used to add a glossy finish to a model. It is a water-based top coat and comes in a variety of sizes, including a convenient spray can.

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