Can You Paint Over a Lacquer Finish?

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Although lacquer products are known to yield an attractive gloss, the reality is it’s still a wood finish that fades over time. You may choose to restore it, but can you paint over a lacquer finish?

In this guide, I’ll share some insights on how to approach this without damaging the wood’s current state.

Is it Possible to Apply Paint on a Surface That’s Lacquered?

Yes, it’s possible to apply paint on a surface with a lacquer finish. However, you must prep the material before the application to avoid ruining its condition. You’ll also need to run a dry cloth over the area you’ll be painting to ensure it’s dust-free. 

painting furniture with lacquer

After that, begin sanding the wood grain with 150–grit and 300-grit sandpapers. You must wipe the sawdust away and apply a primer over the surface before the painting application. 

Lacquer Properties and Types

The combination of shellac and synthetic substances is one of the reasons why lacquer products can form durable and solid finishes. They carry similar properties to varnish, making them suitable as protective coatings for wood, metal, and other surfaces. 

Before painting over a lacquer finish, you must also know how the product works to determine the proper methods and materials for this procedure. Here are the lacquer types you’ll encounter in the market: 

Acrylic Lacquers

Since acrylic lacquers have fast-drying properties, these products have continued to rise to fame in the automobile industry since their initial development in the 1950s. 

Acrylic lacquer

Once dried, these wood finishes tend to create durable and clear coatings that don’t yellow over time. Given these benefits, I’d recommend acrylic lacquers, especially for light-colored wood materials.

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Urushiol-Based Lacquers

Unlike the previous option, urushiol-based lacquer dries slowly. Despite the extensive drying time, you can count on its durability after the fully cured application. 

On top of its aesthetically pleasing gloss, its protective layers can resist potential damage from water, scratches, and acids. 

Nitrocellulose Lacquers

Another common sight on hardware store shelves is the nitrocellulose [1] lacquer. It’s a wood finish made of a solvent formula sensitive to high temperatures. 

Nitrocellulose lacquer

Most woodworkers use this wood finish on furniture pieces and musical instruments because of its fast-drying features. 

Water-Based Lacquers

If you’re refinishing cabinets in the kitchen, water-based lacquers are your best option. You may not know, but it’s an eco-friendly product with non-toxic chemicals. Although they don’t include oil components, they yield durable coats and resist scratches.

See Also: Can You Apply Shellac Over Lacquer?

Benefits and Drawbacks of Lacquer

Like any material in your workshop, lacquer finishes have upsides and drawbacks. It would help if you noted these things to learn how to utilize these products effectively. 


Dries Quickly

When applied on a surface, most lacquer types don’t take too long to dry. Thanks to this attribute, you can finish the application faster than when using other products. 

UV Protection

As you know, UV rays can cause damage to wooden properties when exposed regularly. Fortunately, lacquer finishes can fight against these harmful weather conditions and prevent the coats from fading. 

spray painting chair with purple lacquer paint

Highly Durable

If you apply lacquer properly, its protective coat can last long without recoating. Its unmatched durability allows the applied surface to resist flaking and chipping on wood.

High Gloss Texture

Lacquer’s glossy finish gives the product an edge over other options because of its aesthetically pleasing appearance. 

After applying this finish to a furniture piece, you can expect color enhancement that makes the tint pop. It also makes the color lasts longer, eliminating the need for frequent refinishing. 


Prone to Scratches

Although lacquer finish offers solid and long-lasting results, it’s still not safe from scratches made by sharp objects. Unfortunately, leaving the surfaces with scratches can result in greying the area. 

But in some cases, some lacquer finishes turns white over time. Why is this so? And how to fix it? Read next!

Recommended Paints To Use

Now that you can paint over a lacquer finished surfaces, you must choose the right type of paint for the process. Here are the safe and effective choices to solve your dilemma: 

spray painting cabinet drawer with enamel paint

Enamel Paint

Enamel paint is one of the products you can buy for painting over the lacquer finish. You may not know, but it consists durable formula that can resist potential damage from water exposure. 

Since it’s easy to apply, newbies won’t have difficulties handling this material. Once set, it gives off a glossy finish. Personally, I’d suggest opting for the spray-type or acrylic enamel paint.

Mineral Paint

True to its name, this paint includes mineral binders in its mixture. It’s a self-leveling product without sanding or priming the surface. You also don’t need to apply a top coat on it. 

While it might come with a higher price tag than some alternatives, its durability to endure tough conditions is exceptional.

Chalk Paint

The good thing about chalk paint is it can stick well to any surface, so it’s the perfect option for painting over a lacquer finish. It needs some prepping before the application, but the paint dries within 30 minutes. 

lady painting over chalk paint

Since it’s a dry matte finish, I’d suggest applying a sealant over the painted surface for extra protection. 

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Painting Your Lacquered Furniture

Materials You’ll Need

Step #1: Preparing Your Workspace

Whether sanding a material or not, your workspace must be well-ventilated for your safety and convenience. If you can do the project in an open space like a garage, it’s better than doing it indoors. 

preparing to sand MDF board

Meanwhile, I understand that not all woodworkers can work outside. In that case, you must ensure the place has excellent airflow by opening the windows and doors. By doing this, you can avoid inhaling sawdust during the procedure. 

After that, don’t forget to cover any object near your working area with plastic sheets. Keep those things away from the application site, as you wouldn’t want to expose them to dust particles and chemicals.

Lastly, you must wear a face mask and gloves for these procedures. Like it or not, most wood finishes carry a strong odor that may cause irritation and allergies. 

Step #2: Determine the Type of Lacquer Used on the Surface

To determine if you can paint over a lacquer finish, you must identify what kind of lacquer you’ll use. Doing this lets you know the proper way to prep the material. 

First, I suggest checking if the finish is under the catalyzed or ordinary category. You can soak a clean cloth in mineral spirits or thinners and wipe it across the finished surface. 

spray painting MDF board

If you notice the wood finish coming off the rag, it’s the ordinary kind. If not, it’s a sign that you’re working with a catalyzed lacquer.

You must also check if the surfaces have high, medium, or satin sealant. Typically, the ones with a shiny appearance fall under high to medium gloss variations. Meanwhile, wood finishes that are dry-looking belong to the satin category.

Step #3: Sanding the Glossy Lacquered Surface

Sand the Glossy Surface Using 150-Grit Sandpaper

Leaving the surface scratched is the last thing you want when dealing with high and semi-gloss wood finishes. Because of this, I suggest using 150-grit sandpaper for the best results. 

You must remove the gloss on the lacquer finish if you want the paint to stick to the surface since it’ll enhance the material’s adhesion. 

Sand the Flat-Finished Surface Using 300-Grit Sandpaper

Fine-grit sanding papers (around 300-grit) should suffice for prepping flat finishes. You must execute the sanding procedure along the wood’s grain and not against it. If not, the process could result in noticeable scratches. 

sanding surface of MDF board

You can opt for a palm sander to finish the prepping faster. And if you’re sanding a broader surface, using electric-powered sanders will also offer you more convenience and efficiency.

Step #4: Wiping the Dust Off With a Tack Cloth and Damp Rag

After sanding, you must ensure that the wooden surface is free from dust produced during the previous step. It’s crucial to ensure that you won’t paint over dust particles, so you must run a tack cloth across the area. 

Next, soak a lint-free cloth in water and squeeze it hard to eliminate excess water on it. Once the rag is damp, wipe the surface again to remove lingering sawdust. 

Step #5: Applying the Primer (Oil-Based)

Now that the surface is dry and clean, the following process to tackle is applying an oil-based or latex primer. You can use a two to four inches brush for this step, as long as you keep the coat application as thin as possible. 

Follow the wood grain’s direction to yield an even result. If you apply thick sealant coats, expect the surface to dry slower and develop unsightly runs. 

sealant applied on wood

You must wait at least two hours before the second primer application. After that, let the next coat dry for two to four hours. Typically, the drying time depends on the weather condition. 

Step #6: Applying the Paint (Three Coats)

The best way to apply paint on a lacquer finish is through brushing or spraying. I’d recommend a minimum of three coats for this application, but oil-based paint products only need two. 

Step #7: Allow it to Dry

Check the product’s instructions to determine how long you must wait for the paint to dry. You must ensure that the surface is not wet before adding another coat. 

Generally, paint applications dry for around four hours. Once that’s done, you must seal the surface with a polyurethane finish or varnish.

Is Sanding Required to Paint Over Lacquer?

final sanding

Although sanding requires effort, skipping this method isn’t the best idea because lacquer finishes are glossy and can’t adhere to paint solutions well. If you are not keen on this process, read the next section for other alternatives you can consider. 

See Also: How to Remove Lacquer from Wood 

Applying Paint On Top of Lacquer Without Sanding

Apply Chalk Paint Over Lacquer

Since this paint solution includes chalk, emulsifier, and water-based pigments, it’s a sure-fire alternative for painting over lacquer finishes. The only problem is this product isn’t as durable as others, and it’s not easy to apply. 

If you want less hassle, I’d recommend using a primer before applying the chalk paint.

Use Deglosser or Liquid Sander

Unlike sanding, applying liquid sander or deglosser can remove glossy finishes without exposing the surface to potential scratches or other damages. It’s also a non-toxic material, so you don’t need to use a mask during usage. 

Apply Mineral Paint

Another environment-friendly alternative you can apply to the lacquer finish is mineral paint. These products don’t need sanding because you can use them straight to the drywall. 

painting dresser with mineral paint

Utilize Lacquer Primer for Wood

Some binding primers, like products from B.I.N and Zinnser, require no sanding procedures. Their binding and adhesion power allows the surface to yield a durable finish.

Use Milk Paint and Bonding Agent

Some woodworkers prefer milk paint over other traditional products because it uses milk proteins as binders instead of synthetic substances. This paint solution can stick to the surface with a bonding agent without sanding and priming requirements. 

All you need to do is mix equal parts of milk paint and bonding agent in a container. Once combined, you can apply it with a foam brush or roller.

Recommended Finishes To Use

The typical recommendation for wood finishes revolves around polyurethane, wax, and alkyd varnish. However, the latter has a polyester resin component that can stick well with lacquer finishes. 

using paint roller to apply polyurethane

Since it yields a natural appearance, maintaining and cleaning it won’t be a problem. Alternatively, spray gel finishes can also work well. 

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Is it better to spray or paint over lacquer?

Yes, it’s better to spray or paint over lacquer because this wood finish adapts well to wood expansion and contraction. It’s also thinner than other options, so using rollers or brushes over it isn’t ideal.

Can you put lacquer over acrylic paint?

No, you can’t put lacquer over acrylic paint. If you do this method, it will show visible damage on the surface. 

Can you paint lacquer with a brush?

You can paint lacquer with a brush. When using a brush, it is important to choose a high-quality brush with fine bristles to achieve a smooth and even application. However, some cases reveal that spraying makes the task easier. 

Is it advisable to spray lacquer on top of water-based acrylic paint?

If you let the painted surface fully cure, you won’t encounter issues spraying lacquer over water-based acrylic paint. 

Can you apply lacquer over an enamel-painted surface?

Yes, you can add lacquer finishes on an enamel-painted surface. The only problem is this method could lift the painted area if you apply the finish without checking if the surface is fully cured.  


Now that it’s clear that you can paint over a lacquer finish, the next step to make is to put these methods into action. As with any woodworking endeavor, I always stress the importance of weighing your options before diving in.

Feel free to follow this guide and work at your own pace. After all, this craft takes time to master.

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Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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