I have been using Army Painter Quickshade 'dip' over the past year or so. In an ideal world I wouldn't, as I would much prefer to carefully shade my figures blah blah, but the realities of busy life at the moment means that a product that can shade and varnish does save me time.
Being used to working with acrylics though, I don't enjoy the fumes of the solvent-based Quickshade, and have often thought that there must be some sort of equivalent water-based product. Over the past month my tin of Quickshade has steadily been turning into a lumpy, thick disgusting mess, so I got myself down to Bunnings (a chain of hardware stores here in Australia) to find an alternative.
Here's what I'm trying out. It's a water-based polyurethane varnish with stain in it, made by Cabots. There are various shades of stain, and it is available in satin and gloss. I bought the walnut stain in satin.
To start with, the Cabots varnish cost about $25 for half a litre, as opposed to around $40-50 for 250ml of Quickshade. You do the maths.
Here's a comparison of the shade. The figure on the left has Quickshade Strong Tone applied with a brush, the one on the left has Cabots, also brushed on. I can't tell the difference.
Here's a figure after being painted with the Cabot's varnish, with a top coat of Vallejo matt varnish, and before highlighting.
Vedict? The water based stain from Cabots didn't smell, brushed on more easily than Quickshade, seems to do the same job of shading and is a quarter the cost. It may be that the polyurethane varnish doesn't form as strong a coating on the figure as the solvent-based Quickshade, but that's the only possible advantage I can think of for using it.
I would be interested if anyone knows whether the Quickshade is stronger. I tried a bit of scraping at the figures with my fingernail and a knife, but didn't notice much difference.