Difference Between Lacquer and Varnish

Lacquer vs Varnish

Lacquer and varnish are glossy coatings that are applied over wood and other surfaces, to have a protective covering that also looks aesthetically pleasing. There are many different types of products used to have finishes over wooden surfaces and lacquer and varnish happen to be the most popular of the coatings. These products have many similarities but also have subtle differences that play an important role in deciding either of the two when looking for a particular finish on one’s wooden furniture. These differences will be enumerated in this article.


Lacquer is a transparent coating that can be applied over the surface of wood, as well as metallic furniture. This finish is solvent based hard finish that is also very durable because of the presence of plasticizers inside. This coating is mostly clear though it is possible to have tinted finishes too. This hard and yet transparent coating prevents furniture from scratches and other finds of damage from the elements as well as accidents. Because lacquer contains shellac that has been mixed with alcohol, this transparent coating provides a shiny finish that makes furniture glossy. As it produces a shiny finish with just one coat, one does not need to apply several coats of lacquer over the surface of his furniture. It is possible to apply lacquer over wood by simply spraying it though it is also applied by using a brush.

Talking of ingredients; lacquer is a resin that is quick drying and made up of cotton and nitrocellulose. The product is made by dissolving nitrocellulose and other pigments and plasticizers in solvents that are volatile. The name lacquer is of Portuguese origin where lac refers to a resin obtained from certain insects.


Varnish is a protective transparent covering that is used over wood, to have a glossy finish and also to prevent damage from weather. Varnish contains resin and oil in a thinner or any other solvent. It is applied over the surface of the furniture in the form of a liquid, but dries up quickly to leave a transparent glossy film that provides protection and also looks aesthetically pleasing. Varnish is a product that prevents damage to the surface not only by UV rays of sun and other elements like rain and snow, but also from accidental spills, scratches, and chemicals. Though varnish mostly produces glossy finish, it is possible to add flattening agents to produce satin finish or semi-gloss finish.

Lacquer vs Varnish

• Both lacquer and varnish are used to provide a finish to wooden furniture, but they are different in ingredients and how they are made.

• Varnish is made from resins that are mixed with thinners or other solvents to remain liquid. On the other hand, lacquer is made by dissolving cotton and nitrocellulose in solvents.

• Varnish is always transparent, whereas lacquer can be made to give tinted finishes.

• No flattening agent is added in lacquer, whereas varnish can produce semi glossy and even satin finishes because of the presence of flattening agents.

• Lacquer being quick drying, it is applied mostly by spraying whereas varnish is applied using a brush.