April 12, 2022

Difference between Polyurethane and Lacquer

There are many types of polyurethane coating materials. One of the most commonly used ones is polyurethane lacquer, a solvent-based coating that cures or hardens into a solid coating when applied to a solid surface. Polyurethane lacquers are highly durable, but they can be sensitive to moisture and ultraviolet light. Once cured, polyurethane lacquers cannot be sanded, ground, or chemically altered, so they don’t offer the flexibility of other coating materials.

What Polyurethane is

Polyurethane works well to provide consumers with a thick and glossy finish. This solvent forms a film that looks and feels like plastic in a liquid form. Once the product begins to dry, it is thick and not easy to apply. This feature makes it tricky to use without a thinning agent. Manufacturers have designed this product in two forms. Water-based and oil-based.

Water-based Polyurethane

This product is advantageous to the consumer because it is less toxic and almost odorless. Many consumers find this a financial bargain because the finish remains intact for a few years. The finish will often not degrade over time into a yellowish color. Since it is water-based, this product will dry relatively faster. The beauty provided by this option is often counteracted by its inability to withstand high heat levels. This problem means it is not advisable for areas directly exposed to sunlight. 

Oil-based Polyurethane

This variation of Polyurethane is the most common. It is the most well-known finish, and this is because of its durability and long-lasting protection. You can expect this product to be dry within 24 hours. For this reason, many woodworkers will choose water-based Polyurethane instead of oil-based Polyurethane. The main decision here is between durability and easy application. The oil-based Polyurethane is excellent for withstanding high levels of heat. It is not very appropriate for indoor furniture because it often produces a toxic odor. You will only enjoy this finish if the room has been adequately ventilated. It is important to note that the finished product is very tough and leaves little room for error during application. Any errors will need to be sanded because successive coats will not stick firmly.

What Lacquer is

Lacquer has become a trendy wood finish worldwide because of its many advantages. It has a very straightforward method of application that is quite appealing to many DIY woodworkers. This product dries quickly, given that it is a thinner finish. The improved drying time is combined with a smooth and glossy final finish. It offers excellent durability and is resistant to most elements that can damage the wood. The product is thin; therefore, it needs a high-volume application. You should spray this high volume at a low pressure to allow it to dry faster.

There are three kinds of lacquers. Acrylic Lacquer, water-based Lacquer, and nitrocellulose lacquer. These types of Lacquer all have similar features, mainly that they are durable and quick-drying.


Acrylic Lacquer 

Woodworkers often choose acrylic Lacquer because it doesn’t turn yellow. The majority of wood finishes commonly become yellow over time. This problem can reduce the value of your wood. Acrylic Lacquer is advantageous because it maintains a clear color throughout its lifetime. 

Water-based Lacquer 

This option is excellent for in-home products because it is healthy. This product will often be less toxic and odorless. It is a natural finish that doesn’t compromise durability and is preferred over other oil-based finishes. This option has the most extended lifespan and can last longer than different types of lacquers by five years. Application is also easy because it dries fast and is cheaper to purchase.

Nitrocellulose lacquer 

This finish is one of the thinnest available and has extraordinary evaporative properties. Many carmakers in the past would use this to seal parts of their vehicles. It is a color-enhancing product that works on light or dark wood furniture. The wood can defend itself from scratches as it forms a solid protective film. Nitrocellulose lacquer is highly flammable and should be applied in a room with sufficient ventilation. The main advantage of this product is that you can easily repair it. It is highly compatible and blends well with any previous coats.

Polyurethane vs Lacquer


When comparing these two products in quality, the better option is Polyurethane. It is often found to last longer, and this may be due to its thicker and stronger coating. Lacquer has less quality because it is thin. It protects from the inside by penetrating the layers of the wood. Polyurethane will succumb to scratches over time, but it’s the optimal choice for better quality.

Straightforward application

Polyurethane is challenging to apply because the liquid is thicker and cannot be used without a brush. This product will often leave brush marks on the surface upon application. This problem means there is a need for you to purchase a fine brush. This tool should prevent the marks from occurring. Lacquer is easier to apply because you can do it with a high volume, low-pressure sprayer. You can evenly spread the Lacquer without any brush marks with this tool. 

Dry time

Polyurethane is the option that dries the fastest of the two. The water-based Polyurethane is much thinner and will dry faster. It does not offer the same protection as Oil-based Polyurethane, but it will dry faster. For professional woodworkers, a quick-drying option is preferred. This solvent should be fully dry within 10 minutes. Polyurethane will need up to 24 hours to dry. Lacquer will dry quicker, making it better for consumers who want to apply multiple coats.

Lacquer vs polyurethane durability

Polyurethane is a thicker liquid that can offer resistance to scratches and heavy rains. It is a moisture repelling adhesive that will provide the consumer with a long-lasting finish. Lacquer is thinner and will form a glossy finish that is not waterproof. This option will not offer excellent durability but will work well for indoor furniture. 

Lacquer or Polyurethane for tabletop

Polyurethane can withstand high levels of heat. This feature means that the finish will survive well on a tabletop.

What is Lacquer made of

Shellac dissolved in alcohol.

What is Polyurethane made of

Polyol, a type of complex alcohol, and diisocyanate.

Leave a Reply