Difference Between Lacquer and Varnish (With Table)

People often pay a lot of attention to the furniture and decorative items at their homes or their offices. Wooden furniture and pieces have been ethereal for a long time. Even today, people prefer buying wooden items because they are beautiful, give ethereal vibes, and have a long shelf life. Lacquer and varnish are types of coating done on wooden materials for the purpose of protecting the wooden piece. There are many types of coating available on the market for wood protection that can be used, among which the lacquers and varnish are very popular due to the benefits they offer. 

Lacquer vs Varnish

The difference between Lacquer and Varnish is that the Lacquer is a solvent-based coating while the Varnish has more solid materials in it. The former is rather a thin layer, while the latter gives a hard and tough coating to the wooden piece being coated with it. Both of them protect the wood from acid, alkali, water, and other environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, moisture, etc.

Lacquer is an alcohol-based solution having shellac present in it. The shellac is the main component responsible for the synthetic coating providing an intense gloss to the wooden piece on which the lacquer is applied. The lacquer provides the wooden piece with a thin covering layer that gives protection against alkali, acid, water, and other factors.

Varnish is a thick solid-based system that provides a thick topcoat to the wood. It is usually the final coating as it provides protection against alkali, acid, water, UV radiation from the sunlight, and other environmental factors. It consists of plasticizers that are responsible for the protective action as well as its consistency. 

Comparison Table Between Lacquer and Varnish

Parameters of ComparisonLacquerVarnish
MeaningAn alcohol-based system providing a protective and shiny layer to the wooden items.It is a solid-based system used for the top coating of the wooden piece.
CompositionShellac + alcoholPlasticizer + Resin + Drying oil + Suitable solvent
ConsistencyThin consistencyThick consistency than lacquers
ProtectionProvides protection against alkali, acid, water, and some other environmental factors but does not protect against UV radiation.Provides protection against alkali, acid, water, UV radiation from the sunlight, and other environmental factors.
FunctionProtection; provides intense shiny gloss.Protection; provides sheer finish to matte finish.
ApplicationBy a sprayerApplied using a brush
Visual effectsProvides a thin layer of transparent coating which retains the original grain of the wood.It is not that transparent, and the final grain can be slightly different from than original piece.

What is Lacquer?

Lacquer is a solvent-based product used for wooden things to give them a glossy appearance. Lacquers are basically alcoholic solutions containing shellac, which provides a synthetic coating that gives the wooden piece an extra intense gloss. The coating is thin and can discolor or get scratched as time flies.

Lacquers are solvents based and have a thin consistency, which makes the application of the lacquers easy. It can be applied by the use of the sprayer. Also, it dries very quickly due to the thin consistency and being an alcohol-based product as the alcohol is volatile in nature. The lacquers are resistant to acid, alkali, and water.

However, as time passes, the color can fade, and it may have scratches. This can be prevented by applying a layer of lacquer when the color starts fading or when scratches are seen. The gloss provided by lacquer has an intensely sharp, shiny nature and makes wooden looked extra polished. This kind of coating is preferred in polishing doors, decorative, and luxury items.

What is Varnish?

Varnish is a hard, transparent protecting cover done on wooden objects for their protection from the external environment. It is usually the topcoat or the finishing coating done on the wooden objects. The products get a glossy appearance after the varnish is applied.

The protective coat is highly durable as it contains a lot of solid materials. Varnishing is done on wood also provides protection against UV light. The chemical composition of varnish can be described as a mixture of resin, drying oil, and a thinner mixed in a suitable solvent. This produces a clear and hard solution. The coating provides a glossy surface but a hardcover.

The varnish protects the wooden piece from acid, alkali, UV radiation, and other factors. It protects the wood’s texture and its color from fading. Another good property of varnish is that it’s colorless. So, it can be easily used as a topcoat or finish coat and will enhance the natural wooden grain of the product. The number of coating to be applied can differ based on the wooden item and the purpose of the varnish.

Main Differences Between Lacquer and Varnish

  1. Both varnish and lacquers provide gloss. While lacquer gives an intense gloss, the varnish provides sheen finish levels.
  2. Lacquers are less durable than varnish. Varnish can protect the wood against acid, alkali, UV light, and abrasions, while lacquers can protect against all the factors except for the protection against the sunlight.
  3. Varnished contain plasticizers while lacquers do not.
  4. Varnish protects the wood against UV light, whereas lacquer does not.
  5. Lacquers can be applied by sprayer, while varnish cannot be applied by sprayer. A varnish is applied by a brush as it has a thick consistency.


The wooden pieces find a huge place in our daily lives ranging from furniture, benches, doors, tools to decorative items. Lacquers help to provide a shiny and glossy appearance to the wood along with acting like a protective layer. Varnish provides a thick top coating to the wooden piece, which provides gloss and protection against external factors. The lacquer retains the original appearance of the product as it is a thin transparent coat, as is the first preference when it comes to the coating of wooden decorative or luxury items. Both of them have their respective functions and are widely used in the wooden market.


  1. https://www.bcin.ca/bcin/detail.app?id=66297
  2. https://ojs.cnr.ncsu.edu/index.php/BioRes/article/view/BioRes_06_2_1648_Cakicier_KS_Varnish_Hardness_Scratch_Heat_Treat
  3. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/ie50318a003
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