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How to Paint Over Lacquer: Complete Guide

Lacquer is an amazing material that provides the perfect finish over wood and any type of material. Whether it is a shiny and glistening coat you have decided to go with or the matte finish on top, both are extremely long-lasting but might chip off after years of wear and tear. This is why applying a second layer over time becomes necessary. The thick coverage helps to protect the wood underneath.

If you decide to paint over lacquer, the task can be quite challenging. Lacquer will not bring about the same benefits it is supposed to if you have not applied it the right way. This is especially true if you’re planning to add double layers. Surfaces that already have lacquer applied to them don’t accept the second coat as easily as woodwork does.

Hence, to successfully paint over lacquer, you need to plan your steps carefully. This guide will help you in doing exactly that and more. Keep reading to find out how to paint over lacquer, the advantages and disadvantages, and helpful tips you should keep in mind when painting over lacquer.

Can You Paint Over Lacquer?

Painting over lacquer is completely possible. In fact, it is actually preferred because it ensures that your paint lasts for longer without chipping off. However, proper procedures and safety measures need to be followed in order to ensure that the finish is ideal and the paint properly adheres to it. This guide will provide you with all the information on this.

What Is Lacquer?

Lacquer is a type of finish that is applied to all types of woodwork and metal surfaces after a coat of paint. Lacquer is the most preferred type of finish to be applied on wood because it is more durable on these surfaces and provides a strong and shiny finish. This is because lacquer finish, unlike other types of water-based or oil-based paints, contains resin, which is why it creates the perfect finish on woodworks.

Lacquer is made with minimal chemicals, which is why it is highly preferable to use on furniture. It also contains an ingredient called shellac, which is made from alcohol. It is what provides the glossy and glistening finish to materials when the lacquer is applied.

These are the different types of lacquer that you can use. Depending on the type of surface you plan to apply it to, you can decide which to pick:

  • Acrylic lacquer
  • Water-based lacquer
  • Metal lacquer
  • Nitrocellulose lacquer
  • Urushiol-based Lacquer

Where Should We Apply Lacquer?

When it comes to the application of lacquer, you can apply it either through a brush or use spray-on lacquer. The spray version is easier to apply and can dry up pretty quickly. It is important to note that lacquer cannot be used on top of all items with a different finishing type. This is because lacquer will dissolve the finish, and ultimately the two will mix and leave a mess.

Here are some household items that are perfect for lacquer:

  • Kitchen cabinets
  • Furniture
  • House art pieces

Advantages of Lacquer

Before we discuss how to paint over lacquer, it is important first to consider the advantages of painting lacquer. Let’s take a look:

1. Saves You Time and Effort

Lacquer is a type of finish that dries very quickly compared to varnishes and finishes. At room temperature, it only takes about fifteen minutes to dry. Hence if you plan to apply a layer of paint over lacquer, you won’t have to wait for too long. As a result, you will easily be able to finish your project in no time.

2. It Is Pocket-Friendly

It is cost-effective compared to other types of finishes, for example, varnish, shellac, and polyurethane. At a minimum, a bottle of lacquer will cost you less than $500, which is less than how many other finishes are for.

3. No Need to Sand

When you apply multiple layers of lacquer, you don’t even need to sand in between. This is because the solvents in their solution easily melt into the other and fuse together. They don’t need a protective barrier to separate them or any preparation beforehand either.

4. It Provides Greater Durability

When painting over lacquer, less assured you are making that item and material durable and long-lasting. It is the toughest and durable finish out there. Lacquer completely penetrates the wood, which enhances its durability. Hence when you paint over lacquer, you are essentially ensuring that the paint will not chip off.

5. It Is User-Friendly and Versatile

Lacquer arrives in a small bottle that is ready to use right out of the package. You just need a brush to apply it. For spray-on lacquers, it is even easier. You just need to place it against the wall and apply the lacquer. Moreover, with the various types of lacquer available, you can decide which one to use depending on the material and surface.   

Disadvantages of Lacquer

However, there are also some disadvantages of lacquer that you should consider before applying a layer of paint on top of it.

1. Formation of Blushes

Once applied, lacquer tends to leave blush formations. Unfortunately, this can only be noticed after the lacquer has dried, which makes this issue even more difficult to solve. However, this only happens when you don’t apply lacquer the right way. It can also happen if you are applying the lacquer in a less humid environment.

Blushing appears in the form of tiny blotch in the shape of tiny circles on the wood when the lacquer dries. You can prevent these blushes from happening by improving ventilation in the room and not having too much moisture.

2. Presence of Tiny Bubbles on Surfaces

Similarly, sometimes when the lacquer is not applied properly, it can also leave tiny bubbles that resemble the surface of orange peels. This, too, only appears after the lacquer has been applied. It can also be frustrating because those tiny bubbles are noticeable, especially when you paint over the lacquer.

You can prevent this from happening by applying lacquer quickly with a spray gun. Your motions should be swift. You should also ensure that the air is not trapping under the lacquer.

How to Paint Over Lacquer: Step By Step Procedure

Now that you know everything about applying lacquer and its possible drawbacks, it’s time to discuss how to paint over lacquer. Regardless of the finish, the lacquer has provided, whether it is shiny or matte, painting over it can often be difficult. This is because the thick coverage of lacquer is tough and does not accept any layer of paint.

You will need to follow a step-wise procedure in order to ensure an even and long-lasting application of paint. This step-by-step guide will also provide you with steps on how to apply primer and then paint over it.

Items You Will Need

The items you will need for this procedure are:

  • Paint
  • Primer
  • Wet rag
  • 150-grit sandpaper
  • 300-grit sandpaper
  • Paintbrush or spray gun
  • Safety gear

Step 1: Apply the Lacquer

If your woodwork surface does not already have lacquer applied, you will need to apply that first. Depending on what surface you are painting, you can use various types of lacquer. These include:

1. Water-based Lacquer

This type of lacquer is mostly used on bare wood. This is considerably safer and much more environmentally safer compared to varnish. A fine finish will require you to apply about three layers of water-based lacquer. It will also need to be done 24 hours after each layer.

2. Nitrocellulose Lacquer

This type of lacquer is mostly applied on wood surfaces that need to have a coat of bright paint. However, since it dries quickly, it’s not the recommended type of lacquer for beginners.

3. Acrylic Lacquer

Though more commonly used on automobiles, acrylic lacquer is also now used on woodwork. However, this is super dry lacquer paint.

4. Urushiol-based Lacquer

This is a strong and durable lacquer that is resistant to water, alkaline, and acid. Unlike other types of lacquer, this one works best in humid and dry conditions where it dries quickly.

Step 2: Identify the Sheen

If you have woodwork that already has lacquer applied to it and you plan to paint over it, you will need to identify the sheen on it. To do this, you will have to run your hand on the lacquered surface to identify texture.

If this surface is shiny and glossy, then you have a semi-gloss or hi-gloss finish. If the surface is rough and textured, then it implies that the surface has a flat finish.  

Step 3:  Prepare the Area

Next, you must prepare the area you of the woodwork you are working with. Keep all the materials, including a damp cloth, paint, and brush, close by. Make sure there is no dust on and around the woodwork.

Step 4: Sand the Surface

Now, it’s time to sand the surface.  If you are working with a semi-finish or hi-gloss finish, you will need to use 150-grit sandpaper. However, if you are working with a flat finish, then you will need to use 300-grit sandpaper. The finer 300 grit sandpaper helps to buff off and create friction on the woodwork without losing the gloss. It is likely not to cause any damage either.

Step 5: Clean the Dust

Once you have sanded the surface, there is likely going to be lots of dirt and dust left from the sanding. At this point, you should take your damp rag and wipe all this dust off from the woodwork. Try not to use excess water in the rag; it should be damp and not wet. Too much moisture and water will saturate the wood. This is not what you want to do.

Step 6: Apply a Layer of Primer

It’s time to apply your primer. Whether it is latex, water-based, or oil-based primer, you should apply a thin layer of it with your brush. You should work against the grain of the woodwork to ensure the primer is seeping into each grain. This is the most crucial step when it comes to painting over lacquer, so make sure you are doing it correctly.

Make sure that your primer is the same as your lacquer paint; this will ensure uniformity in the overall color of the woodwork. Apply this second layer in the same direction as the first one, even if you notice spots or bumps when the first layer of primer has dried.

Step 7: Wait For the Primer To Dry

Moreover, you should wait at least 24 hours for the primer to dry before applying the second layer. Be sure to check the instructions or user manual of primers to determine the exact drying time. To check whether your primer is dry, you should notice the surface not being sticky. It will likely also have tiny bumps on it. This means that it’s time to apply the second layer of paint.

Step 8: Apply the Paint

After sanding the lacquered surface, priming it, and letting it dry, it is time to apply the paint. You can paint the woodwork with oil or latex paint of any sheen. Since you have sanded and primed, painting over the lacquered surface will be quite easy. However, you must ensure that you are painting in the same direction that the primer had been applied.

Moreover, if you notice any bare patches, you can cover the imperfections up with a second layer of paint. However, make sure that you allow each layer to dry before adding this next layer of paint properly.

Step 9: Sand the Surface Again Before Applying Second Layer of Paint

Besides waiting for the appropriate time for the paint to dry, it is also recommended to sand the surface again before adding the second layer of paint. This will allow the woodwork to accept the paint easily. Depending on the weather conditions, your paint drying time may vary. If it is garden furniture in particular that you are painting, then sanding in between makes the paint job even more effective.

Step 10: Apply a Clear Coat

Lastly, after letting your second layer of paint dry, it’s time to apply a clear coat on top. This is an optional step, but most wood enthusiasts recommend finishing off with a clear coat as it seals the paint and will give the overall surface a shiny glow.

Tips to Keep in Mind When Painting Over Lacquer 

Now that you know how to paint over lacquer, it might be worthwhile to discuss what tips and precautions you should be keeping in mind. Take a look:

1. Allow the Paint to Dry Completely

Unlike ordinary paint or varnishes, lacquer is quite different in its characteristics. It is imperative that you make sure the surface is completely dry before you add a second layer. This will ensure that your paint does not mix and give a distorted look.

2. Paintbrush Type

Use a synthetic brush that has fine and thin bristles. This ensures an even layer of the primer and the paint that prevents any bubbling and gives a flawless look.

3. Use a Respirator When Painting Over Lacquer

The truth about lacquer is that it is highly lethal because of the toxins inside it. This is why you should use a respirator at all times when using lacquer because breathing it in might damage your lungs. Despite their being environmentally-friendly versions of lacquer, it is still best to use a respirator as a precaution.

4. Wear Safety Gear

Since lacquer is so toxic, you should use it with extreme precaution. This also includes wearing protective gear and clothing as well as gloves. You must avoid any lacquer contact with your skin because it may cause irritation and other skin conditions. If you do come in contact, wash it off immediately. Moreover, make sure that your hair is covered when working with lacquer.

5. Paint in an Open Area

When you are applying lacquer, make sure that you do it in an open area well ventilated. Lacquer paints are highly flammable and can cause fires if they are used in an open heat source. Even smoking a cigarette near it can be dangerous, especially if it’s not in an open area.

6. Other Things to Keep In Mind

  • Do not eat near lacquered woodwork till it is dry
  • Try to shower before changing into your day clothes
  • If you feel feverish, are coughing, have a runny nose or sore throat, or have skin irritation, seek medical advice immediately

Frequently Asked Questions

Now that you know everything about painting over lacquer, you might still have a few questions. If that is the case, we have answered some of the most common questions people have when it comes to painting over lacquered surfaces. Keep reading to find out.

1. Can I Use Chalk Paint Over Lacquer?

The great thing about chalk paint is that it sticks to every kind of material and lacquer. From wood, wall, laminate, and metals, basically any surface, chalk paint works well with it. So, yes, you can use chalk paint over lacquer.

2. Is Sanding Between Each Layer of Paint Necessary?

Yes, sanding is an essential step when painting over lacquer. This ensures that your paint adheres to the surface properly and for a much longer time. Sanding roughs up the texture of the surface that helps the paint to stick. If you fail to sand the surface, your paint will soon begin to flake, chip off, and bleed. Hence, if you plan to paint on a surface with a lacquer finish, you will have to sand it in between.

3. Can I Apply Latex Paint Over Old Lacquer Surfaces?

We mentioned earlier in the step-by-step guide that if you are not starting on woodwork from scratch, you will only need to sand, wipe clean, and then apply the paint if the surface has already been painted. Even with latex paint, all these steps will need to be followed.

The first thing you will need to do is sand the surface with 150 or 300 grit sandpaper. Then, wipe the surface clean with a damp cloth and then apply a thin layer of paint. You can also choose to wipe the surface down with mineral spirits. This helps to clean off any dirt, possible grease, and silicone particles.

4. Is Primer and Lacquer the Same Thing?

No, they are different from each other. Primer is applied before you apply paint, whereas lacquer is typically applied after the paint is applied on the surface. However, the two are applied to ensure the paint adheres to the surface and lasts long without chipping.

5. Which Is Better: Varnish or Lacquer?

From the two, lacquer is much tougher and durable. Hence, it is much better. Lacquer, though is harder to apply, is much more effective because it gives a flawless finished look and it just wears better compared to varnish. Varnish does give a beautiful finished look when applied correctly, but it is not as long-lasting.

The Bottom Line

The safety concerns of lacquer might scare you away, but if you use it the right way and with precaution, you can easily enjoy its benefits. The truth is that lacquer paint is much more effective, durable, and cheaper than other types of paint. It also provides a better and shinier finish, which is why all of the efforts of applying it make it worthwhile.

We hope you found this guide on how to paint over lacquer helpful. Remember that lacquer does not work on every type of surface, so find out if yours will be suitable for lacquer application. With a bit of hard work and patience, you will achieve the perfect finished look on your items!