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Model Railroading > Dullcote Alternative - A Fixative Shootout


Date: 07/21/20 22:46
Dullcote Alternative - A Fixative Shootout
Author: tmotor

Many years ago my first experince with weathering powders was with Bradgon products.  After spending a hour getting the effect just right, I was ready to spray some Dullcote to seal it.  To my horror, the Dullcote soaked into the weathering powder and nearly made it disappear.  Surely that is just an effect when it is wet.  After it dries, the color will come back.  Right?  Well, not so much.  After it dried the majority of the effect was lost.  Paints experience much less color shift, but chalks and powders are affected significantly.
 
I went on a quest for an alternative.  Artists that work in pastel, charcoal, or chalk as a media use a “fixative” to coat the piece to prevent previous layers from smearing, allowing them to build upon each layer.  If another layer is to be applied, then a “workable” fixative is used.  This has a flat finish and provides “tooth” for the next layer of media.  However, when the piece is done, a “final” (non-workable) fixative that is semi-gloss is applied, which helps prevent fingerprints and smudges. 
 
The Test Car
A black Walthers tank car was heavily weathered with Pan Pastels (740.5) “Burnt Sienna” above the waistline, and Pan Pastels (820.5) “Neutral Gray” below the waistline. 
 




Date: 07/21/20 22:46
Re: Dullcote Alternative - A Fixative Shootout
Author: tmotor

Several artists workable fixatives and “sealers” were applied to the tank car.  The selection of fixatives was based on those that had good reviews for results with pastels/chalks.  A sleeve of paper masked all but a narrow section on the tank surface for the fixative sample to be applied.  (Masking tape was not an option, as it would remove much of the weathering.  There was some bleed-under with the paper mask, but it worked fine for the purposes of this experiment.)  A narrow band of the original Pan Pastel finish was kept between each sample as a contrast to compare the color shift.  The products are placed behind their sample, in the order applied.  From left to right:
 
Dullcote [$6, 3 oz spray can, $2/oz]
Provided the usual flat finish.  Of course, the enamel odor required proper ventilation.  The convince of a spray can means no need for an airbrush, or worrying about a brush smearing the surface of the weathered finish.  However, the dark color shift never lightened to allow the Pan Pastels to recover.  This will be the baseline that all other samples are judged.
 
SpectraFix [$15, 12 oz pump bottle, $1.25/oz]
Virtually no smell, is non-toxic, seals the weathering, levels nicely, creates a good flat finish, and cleans-up with warm water.  It can be sprayed from the bottle (which is a pump bottle) or applied with an airbrush.  It is based on milk casein.  The stock pump bottle has poor control of the spray volume.  One reviewer suggested using a new spray bottle that would produced a higher level of control and atomization.  An airbrush would also do the trick.  It dries lighter than Dullcote, so it is a contender.
 
Grumbach [$15, 5 oz spray can, $3/oz]
This company is well known in art circles as a manufacturer of artist’s paints.  They also offer this fixative.  It too requires proper ventilation.  Pretty much the same color shift as Dullcote, but a bit more shine; like a semi-gloss.  Definitely a loser.
 
Dead Flat [$7, 2 oz liquid in a bottle, $3.50/oz]
Decades ago, my first experience with “weathering” was with RustAll.  I was amazed at how easy it was to get good results on just about any material; metal, plastic, even paper.  They still offer a kit with 4 bottles, labeled simply 1, 2, 3, and 4.  Bottle #3 is sold separately as “Dead Flat”, and was applied with an airbrush.  No discernible odor.  The big surprise is how well it recovered, with hardly any color shift at all!  So far, this is the one to beat.
 
Krylon [$7, 11 oz spray can, $1.60/oz]
Offers this workable fixative in a spray can.  It has the usual buzz-bomb odor, so it needs to be applied in a spray booth, or outside.  The usual color shift occurred when it was wet, but there was not much improvement after it dried.  The color of the Pan Pastels remained dark, hardly lightening at all.  Moreover, the finish was semi-gloss, making it more of a Final Fixative.  This one goes in the Loser column.
 
While researching fixatives, I came across 2 high-end fixatives that were given good reviews.  Their price tags are North of $25, which did give me some pause.  I don’t think I have ever paid that much for something that came in a spray can before, but when looking at the per oz cost it isn’t totally outrageous.  Besides, if their claims to cause the least color shift on pastels prove to be true, I’m in. 
 
Sennelier Latour [$25, 12 oz spray can, $2/oz]
First up to bat of the high-end fixatives.  The resulting color shift confirmed some reviews that it was similar to SpectraFix.  There was very little odor, and it dried completely flat finish, and quickly.  It was the best performance by a spray can so far.
 
Lascaux [$26, 10 oz spray can, $2.60/oz]
The other Champagne Fixative had a color shift slightly better than Dullcote, produced a flat finish, and the alcohol-based formulation requires proper ventilation.  For a list price of $40, I was expecting much better results.  Loser.



Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 07/22/20 08:38 by tmotor.




Date: 07/21/20 22:46
Re: Dullcote Alternative - A Fixative Shootout
Author: tmotor

So, how did they do?

3rd Place
SpectraFix was an improvement over Dullcote, but still darkened both the upper and lower halves of the tank car shell.  Using brighter shades of Pan Pastels would compensate.
 
2nd Place
Sennelier Latour produced a more subtle color shift, but it was still there.  Again, brighter shades of Pan Pastels would help.
 
1st Place
I have to admit that on first appearances, I wouldn’t give RustAll’s “Dead Flat” much of a chance to compete.  The bottles look like the type found at a Dollar Store.  (I can imagine a couple of guys in a garage, filling the bottles with their secret brew.)  The liquid inside looks like skim milk.  However, cottage industry or not, the results speak for themselves.  David beat Goliath.  It is almost hard to tell there was anything applied to the tank car; which is precisely the desired result!  The RustAll products have been on the market for decades, but for some reason I had not thought to try Bottle #3 as a fixative.  I guess I thought it only was to be used as part of their kit with Bottles #1, #2 and #4 only.  It was a pleasant surprise.  It not only passed the Smell Test with flying colors, but had the least color shift.  Not having the convenience of a spray can is fine.  Using an airbrush is a quick fix.   (I may even look for a high-quality pump spray bottle.) 
 
Interestingly, although it has the most humble packaging, it is the most expensive per oz. of all the samples tested, including the high-end fixatives.  I don’t know what is in the formula for Dead Flat, but I do know I like the results.  I had put the RustAll bottles in the back row, behind all the newer entrants to the weathering marketplace.  However, after this "rediscovery", it will now be on the front row.  How ironic that I spent all this time and money to reseach a fixative, when the best choice has been sitting on my paint shelf this whole time.  In all of the weathering tutorials, I don’t recall seeing the RustAll products referenced; which is probably why it was not on my radar. 
 
Though the Dead Flat is the focus of this post, Bottle #1 has a rust color that is a no-brainer for couplers, rail, axles, etc. that are “bare metal”.  Hit it with Bottle #2 to “age” the rust a bit.  It is not a solution for all weathered rust effects (such as streaking), but for bare, abused, abandoned metal, it does a nice job.



Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 07/21/20 23:29 by tmotor.



Date: 07/22/20 05:50
Re: Dullcote Alternative - A Fixative Shootout
Author: nathan314

Thanks for taking the time to do this.  Interesting results.

Nathan Beauheim
Loveland, CO



Date: 07/22/20 06:30
Re: Dullcote Alternative - A Fixative Shootout
Author: RRTom

tmotor:
The fellows in the Pennsylvania Railroad's famed Altoona Test Department had nothing over you.
Nice work.



Date: 07/22/20 06:55
Re: Dullcote Alternative - A Fixative Shootout
Author: Arved

How durable is Deadflat? I have some models I'd painted with Floquil Flat Finish, and it yellowed and flaked off, often shortly after application. The best it got, it still seemed like a soft paint, easily damaged in handling. Just about anything else was better. Hair spray might have been better!

I prefer airbrushing to "paint bombs," but I know I'm in the minority. I just never had any luck with aerosol paints. Deadflat sounds promising!

Thanks for doing this test.

Arved Grass
Fleming Island, FL



Date: 07/22/20 06:56
Re: Dullcote Alternative - A Fixative Shootout
Author: ChrisCampi

Awesome!  Been having the same fight for ground cover. Spend hours getting everything looking just the way I want it and poof! The adhesives either leaves it looking wet, way to dark or makes the powders disappear.

Did you consider hair spray? I had some mild success with that but to many coats leaves a slightly darker satin finish with the brand I choose.



Date: 07/22/20 07:47
Re: Dullcote Alternative - A Fixative Shootout
Author: ghemr

 I've found that Pan Pastels will hold up better (won't disappear) than chalks after applying Dullcote.



Date: 07/22/20 08:53
Re: Dullcote Alternative - A Fixative Shootout
Author: tmotor

Arved Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> How durable is Deadflat? 

Not sure yet.  That will be the next bit of testing I perform.  
I suspect it will allow the car to be handled, but how well it accepts new layers of weathering remains to be seen.
As far as long-term effects, time will tell if it yellows or flakes off.  Some of the issue is the weathering media.  A thick layer of Pan Pastels is not going to provide the best underlayment for adhesion of new layer on top.  If the fixative soaks into the Pan Pastels, then it will help it bond.  
One thing I will try is to overcoat it with Dullcote to see if the Dead Flat prevents color shift. 
I bet a final coat of Dullcote (or one of the other "smelly" fixatives) will protect better than the (presumably) water-based Dead Flat.  We'll see.



Date: 07/22/20 09:04
Re: Dullcote Alternative - A Fixative Shootout
Author: tmotor

ChrisCampi Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Did you consider hair spray? I had some mild
> success with that but to many coats leaves a
> slightly darker satin finish with the brand I
> choose.

Great Idea! 
I know there is a "hair spray technique" for simulating peeling paint, but had not considered it for a fixative.  Thanks for putting that on my radar.
I may have to line-up several brands and see how they perform.

Just now did an online search.  It reveals art students have been using hair spray for years as a fixative.  :-0



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 07/22/20 10:15 by tmotor.



Date: 07/22/20 10:31
Re: Dullcote Alternative - A Fixative Shootout
Author: lnrr1066

4thDistrict Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> The #2 rated Sennelier Latour is currently $20.93
> on Amazon Prime with free shipping. 

And $15.14 from Dick Blick; shipping free with minimum $45 order.  Dick Blick is a great source for Pan Pastels and other weathering supplies, so you don't have to browse through their catalog for long before you will meet that $45 min.



Date: 08/02/20 21:29
Re: Dullcote Alternative - A Fixative Shootout
Author: bnsfsd70

Absolutely love this thread! Thanks for taking the time to look into all of these products, testing them out, and sharing the results with all of us here

- Jeff 



Date: 08/03/20 23:49
Re: Dullcote Alternative - A Fixative Shootout
Author: bearease

tmotor Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> ChrisCampi Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
> > Did you consider hair spray? I had some mild
> > success with that but to many coats leaves a
> > slightly darker satin finish with the brand I
> > choose.
>
> Great Idea! 
> I know there is a "hair spray technique" for
> simulating peeling paint, but had not considered
> it for a fixative.  Thanks for putting that on my
> radar.
> I may have to line-up several brands and see how
> they perform.
>
> Just now did an online search.  It reveals art
> students have been using hair spray for years as a
> fixative.  :-0

Wouldn't hair spray be too shiny? That's why it works well for the peeling pait technique (great to use on box car roofs, by the way!)
And yes tmotor, thanks for putting this together -- great to see the side-by-side results.



Date: 08/04/20 05:04
Re: Dullcote Alternative - A Fixative Shootout
Author: grandeguy

I have used Tamiya Flat Clear for all my Weathering/ Dulling of models for a number of years. Im surprised you didnt include it in your comparisons. Far superior to Dullcote in my humble opinion.

                                          Regards, Dave Dane



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