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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Enamel, Lacquer, Latex, Varnish, Alkyd. What’s the difference?

This is a common question I get. I’ll do my best to shed some light on the issue.

This simply means Water-Based. You can simply clean it up with water.

This is the finish most are familiar with. Varnish has been used for decades as the standard for most projects involving wood finishing. It can be sprayed or brushed. Varnish comes in an Oil-Based and Latex formula. The difference between the two is slight, but important. Both will give the same durability and longevity. The latex is easier to clean up, but does not store as easily because you are required to store it at room temperature. If it freezes, it is no longer usable. An oil-based varnish can be stored anywhere because the oil will not freeze. The oil-based has a tendency to yellow at a faster rate than the latex. Oil-based is also harder to clean and dispose of.

Lacquer is a very hard drying product that looks spectacular on cabinets and trim work. It can only be sprayed, so touch up is harder to do. However lacquer is far superior for cabinets because of its amazing water resistance. It comes in clear as well as a wide range of colors. It also yellows much slower than Varnish or Enamel. So you will hold the true color longer. Also, because of its very fast drying time, it makes projects go faster. Though it is harder to apply and harder to touch up, I would still highly recommend lacquer for any cabinetry, because of the finished product vs. varnish or enamel.

The difference in Enamel vs. Lacquer or Varnish is that Enamel only comes in colors. Enamel does not come in clear. Enamel can also be sprayed or brushed, but the trade off is that oil-based enamels take up to 12 hours to fully dry. They do make a Latex version of enamel that dries faster, but I have not been as impressed with the quality vs. oil-based. If you have only a small project that needs to be done, latex will be fine. If you have a large project, such as all the trim on a level of the house, I would go with an oil-based. It will hold up better and last longer.

Alkyd is a tricky product because Denatured Alcohol is the only product that can clean it up. The only alkyd-based product that I use frequently is a product called Seal Coat. I used it if I am restoring cabinets or doors to a fresh new clear coat and I need to ensure the oils that have been used over the years do not bleed through the new clear coat. Other than that, I typically stick to lacquer, oil, or latex.

One thing to keep in mind is that as long as you take the lid off the used can of paint and let it dry out, you can simply toss any cans into the standard garbage. Otherwise they will need to be brought to facility to be properly disposed of. If you throw full cans of paint away, you can receive large penalties.

As always, if you have questions, feel free to email me at

Dave Racer
Paradise Finishes, Inc.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing this interesting and informative article, painting with airless spray gun will be faster and more interesting!
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