Polyurethane vs Lacquer – The Ultimate Comparison 2024

Polyurethane vs Lacquer

Polyurethane is a protective coating available in water-based and oil-based formulations, offering durability and UV protection. Lacquer provides a glossy finish and is available in various types, including acrylic, CAB-acrylic, water-based, and nitrocellulose lacquer. When comparing polyurethane vs lacquer, each type has unique properties, making them suitable for different projects.

Common Uses – Polyurethane vs Lacquer


People commonly use polyurethane finishes to protect and enhance hardwood floors, furniture, cabinets, countertops, trim, doors, staircases, and outdoor decks. These finishes provide durability, resistance to wear, and protection against spills and scratches, making them suitable for both indoor and outdoor projects.


Lacquer finishes give a high-gloss, smooth, and reflective surface. They are often used on modern furniture and cabinetry, musical instruments, automotive restoration projects, fine woodworking, interior doors and trim, ceramics, art pieces, and architectural millwork. Lacquer can be an excellent choice for contemporary aesthetics, artistic endeavors, and architectural enhancements.

Advantages – Polyurethane vs Lacquer


Polyurethane finishes are best known for their durability and versatility, making them ideal for high-traffic areas and varied projects. They provide strong resistance to wear, moisture, and UV damage, offering customizable sheen levels. Their low-maintenance nature simplifies upkeep, ensuring long-lasting protection.


Lacquer finishes prioritize efficiency and aesthetics. They dry quickly and provide a glossy, polished look that enhances the visual appeal of the project. Lacquer maintains excellent clarity, showing the wood’s natural color and grain. It’s versatile, suitable for different surfaces, and flexible, making it ideal for items prone to movement.

Disadvantages – Polyurethane vs Lacquer


Despite its durability, polyurethane can be more challenging to apply due to longer drying times and a tendency to show brush marks. Oil-based polyurethanes can emit strong odors during application, and achieving the desired protection level might require multiple coats.


While quick-drying and visually appealing with a high-gloss look, lacquer is not as resistant to heat and moisture as polyurethane. It may not be suitable for outdoor projects or surfaces frequently exposed to moisture or hot objects. Repairing lacquer finishes if they get damaged can be more complex.

Special Considerations

Water or Oil-based Polyurethane?

Water-based polyurethanes are environmentally friendly and dry quickly. They have low odor and are suitable for indoor applications like furniture and cabinets. Oil-based polyurethanes are highly durable and heat-resistant, making them ideal for high-traffic areas and outdoor projects. They have a longer drying time and may yellow over time.

Water or Oil-based Lacquer?

Water-based lacquers offer quick drying times, low odor, and are easy to apply. They are commonly used for indoor projects and provide a glossy finish. Oil-based lacquers have exceptional durability and are particularly well-suited for projects that demand a robust protective coating.

UV Protection – Polyurethane vs Lacquer

Both polyurethane and lacquer can include UV protection, which prevents wood from fading and deteriorating due to sunlight exposure. Polyurethane finishes can have UV inhibitors, while UV protection can be added to lacquer finishes with specific additives. Both options offer durability and protection against UV damage.

Which Finish is Best – Polyurethane vs Lacquer?

There isn’t a definitive “better” option overall. Polyurethane is known for its durability and moisture resistance, making it great for high-traffic areas and outdoor use, while offering UV protection and sheen variety. Lacquer excels in providing a high-gloss, visually appealing finish with quick drying times and ease of repair.

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