Can You Tint Polyurethane? + How to Do It

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Polyurethane is a common finish used by many woodworkers on wood surfaces, giving excellent protection from dust and moisture. If you’re like me and you’re always searching for unique ways to achieve that perfect sheen, you might have considered tinting poly.

So, can you tint polyurethane to get the color and sheen you’re aiming for? Let me dive into the details and share my expertise on this.

Is it Possible to Add Tint to Polyurethane?

Yes, it’s possible to tint clear polyurethane. You can add different tints to poly to help make custom colors for your wood furniture or wood floors. Furthermore, tinted polyurethane adds ultraviolet protection to wooden surfaces. 

There’s no guide or exact formula to arrive at the pigment color that you want. You may need to have a trial and error to get your preferred perfect finish. 

5 Steps to Tint Polyurethane

Tinting polyurethane is easy. However, before adding color, you must gather a few things before proceeding with the steps. 

mixing tint and resin

Tools & Materials You’ll Need

Here are some tools and materials that you will need to achieve a tinted polyurethane coating:

  1. Sanding block
  2. Shop vacuum
  3. Automotive polishing compound
  4. Automotive rubbing compound
  5. Wood sandpaper
  6. Tack cloth
  7. Fine bristled paintbrush or any clean brush
  8. Eyedropper
  9. Wooden stir stick
  10. Scrap wood
materials for tinting polyurethane

Step #1: Pour Clear Poly into a Mixing Bowl and Stir

Pour clear polyurethane into a mixing bowl and stir thoroughly using a flat stick. I recommend using universal pigment colors for tinting both oil- and water-based polyurethane.

Step #2: Do a Batch Test

Doing a batch test will help determine whether the resulting mixture is the tinted polyurethane you want for your project. 

Take a measuring cup and pour a small amount of polyurethane into it. Continue to add the small amount of liquid into a separate container. If you decide to color a quarter of polyurethane, pour approximately three ounces into a container. 

Step #3: Mix Drops of Paint Pigment into the Polyurethane

Mix drops of paint pigment into the clear polyurethane. Add approximately three drops into the batch and stir it using a stick. Blend the solution thoroughly until you get an even and uniform mixture. You can blend as many colors as you please.

mixing polyurethane and tint

Step #4: Check the Tint Color of the Polyurethane

Check the resulting tint color of the polyurethane by applying it to a cheaper piece of wood. You can add drops of some more color or different shades until you get your desired color. 

Don’t worry if you have not achieved the custom color you like. You can easily toss the test batch away and start the process again from scratch. 

Step #5: Begin Tinting the Polyurethane’s Color

Once you have the shade of tint you prefer, you can create large quantities of the mixture with the same color. Make sure that this batch is mixed thoroughly. 

If you used one-tenth a quarter for a test batch, the remaining nine-tenth would be in the container. Multiply one drop by nine to get the exact color in bigger batches.

Applying Tinted Polyurethane Into Clear Poly

If you want to apply polyurethane that you have tinted into clear polyurethane, the process isn’t complicated as well. Simply follow these steps:

mixing polyurethane with tint
  1. Sand the surface
  2. Apply the first coat
  3. Allow the coat to dry before adding more coats

Should You Tint Oil-Based Poly?

Yes, you can tint oil-based polyurethane to prevent a yellowish color on wood as time goes by.

While oil-based paint or poly are great for their durable finish, resistance to abrasion and excellent scratch resistance, they have the tendency to yellow over time. This is the reason why I often resort to tinting polyurethane; it’s a handy way to keep that pristine look on the wood for longer.

Just make sure to allow at least 12 hours of drying time between each coat of polyurethane. If you sum the hours, it will take you days to finish a project, so make sure to plan ahead.

Should You Tint Water-Based Poly?

You can tint water-based polyurethane, as it’s designed to produce a clear finish with less odor. Furthermore, tinted water-based poly needs a shorter time to dry, but you need to add multiple coats. It is best you apply four tinted top coats on the surface. 

Interesting Read: How to Apply Poly Without Bubbles

painting dresser with tinted polyurethane

Should You Tint Poly with Acrylic Paint?

It’s possible to tint polyurethane with paint. Acrylic paints [1] are biodegradable and not oily. Paints offer many benefits, and adding acrylic paint to polyurethane minimizes its greasy texture. 

However, if you’re using oil-based poly, you might not be able to color it using acrylic. You can use universal color pigments to add to oil-borne polyurethane. On the other hand, water-borne poly is easy to tint with acrylic. 

Water vs. Oil-Based: Which is the Better Tinted Poly?

Water- and oil-based polyurethane each come with their own set of characteristics. Both can provide a durable finish, especially when applied correctly with high-quality products. When deciding between the two, consider the following factors:


In terms of hue, water-based polyurethane has no color and results in a clear finish. Oil-based polyurethane finish results in an amber hue. 

Dry Time

These two types of polyurethane have different drying times. A clear coat of oil-based polyurethane will take approximately 24 hours to completely dry. A water-based polyurethane, on the other hand, will take 4 to 6 hours.

painting bedside table with polyurethane


Oil-based polyurethane will emit a strong and pungent odor. This chemical odor is released during drying, so wear a respirator during application. Water-based polyurethane has little to no smell. 


In terms of texture and feel, oil-based polyurethane results in a smooth finish. 


Water-based polyurethane costs more compared to oil-based polyurethane. 

Is it Possible to Tint Poly with Latex Paint?

You can definitely tint polyurethane with paint. Mixing poly and plain latex paint can create a robust and durable finish, which is especially beneficial in ensuring the surface remains non-greasy during humid and hot summers.

dresser top with brown polyurethane finish

With latex paints, I’d suggest sanding them before applying oil-based polyurethane. After sanding, apply an oil-based primer for optimal results.

How Can You Make Poly Darker?

You can certainly darken poly by mixing it with pigments. Here are the steps to darken it:

  1. Sand the finish.  
  2. Clean after sanding.
  3. Blend the polyurethane with dark pigments.
  4. Proceed to applying tinted polyurethane on the surface
  5. Allow the coat to dry before applying more coats.


Can I mix poly and paint?

You can blend poly with most paints. Polyurethane is a clear protective coating that provides durability and resistance to abrasion, while paint adds color and can have different finishes.

By mixing them, you can create a tinted or colored polyurethane finish. Make sure to mix petroleum-based poly with oil-based paint and mix water-based poly with water-based paint. 

(But can you paint over polyurethane? Find out next!)

Can you use wood stain to tint polyurethane?

You can use wood stain to tint poly. A stain can deepen polyurethane’s color.

Can you mix poly’s color?

You can blend the polyurethane color to get a clear finish. If you wish to make the poly opaque color of the paint rather than transparent. You can add color to the mixture if you wish. 

Can you dye polyurethane?

You can dye polyurethane using dyes such as Rit and Tintex. You can also use a soluble dye with poly to create different colors. 


It’s very important to learn how you can tint polyurethane. Learning the process can save you a lot of time and effort and lessen the chances of mistakes. 

However, when embarking on this process, it’s essential to be meticulous. Ensure you have all the required materials on hand and diligently follow each step.

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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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