Difference Between Shellac and Varnish

Shellac vs Varnish

Shellac and varnish are the names of finishes used for wood to have a protective covering. These finishes are transparent and not only enhance the durability of any wooden surface but also make a covering that looks attractive. Despite being almost similar in appearance, there are differences in the materials used in these two wooden finishes. There are also some other differences between shellac and varnish that will be talked about in this article.


Varnish is a transparent coating made of resins obtained from trees that are mixed with spirits or other oils. The liquid is quick drying and applied over wood and other surfaces, to have a hard and clear film that is both decorative as well as protective in nature. Varnish leaves the surface glossy though today, it is also made to leave behind not so shiny film. Varnish has been used since time immemorial over wooden furniture to create a finish that makes surfaces beautiful and very durable.


Shellac is a resin that is produced by some insects that are native to Southeast Asia, particularly India. It is called lac and naturally secreted by the insect that thrives on many different kinds of trees. The insect makes cocoons of this resin that is used as the base ingredient and mixed with alcohol to make a clear product called shellac. This substance not only makes a protective covering over wood and other surfaces but also seeps in the pores to seal imperfections.

Shellac vs Varnish

• Varnish is of plant origin, whereas shellac is of animal origin.

• Varnish has been in use since much older times than shellac as it was known to ancient Egyptians.

• Shellac is obtained by mixing the resin obtained from the secretions of certain insects that are found in Southeast Asia.

• Varnish also cures as it dries. This is the reason it provides more protection to the wooden surface than shellac.

• For antique items, shellac is a better option as it can be applied with thinner coats than varnish.

• Varnish is made by mixing resin of trees with oil, whereas shellac is made by mixing the resinous secretions of insects with alcohol.

• Shellac is nontoxic, and this allows it to be used to make outer coverings of capsules and pills. Shellac is also used as an insulating material in electric appliances.

• Shellac is a type of varnish but not used over surfaces that are exposed to moisture.

• Shellac is alcohol soluble while varnish is not soluble in alcohol.