Can You Spray Paint Over Lacquer? Professional Guide!


Last updated: October 5, 2023

Learn how to spray paint over lacquer with our comprehensive guide.

Yes, it’s possible to paint over lacquer finish so long as you follow the recommended steps that will produce a perfect outcome.

For most wood painters, lacquer finishes make the best choice over other wood finishes because they are durable, affordable, and easy to apply.

However, lacquer is a delicate finish that requires care and some expertise during application otherwise, the outcome would be blotchy and dry.

Lacquer also tends to crack and chip when pricked or scratched, which can be frustrating. If you have a surface with a ruined lacquer finish and want to revamp it, it is possible to spray paint over it. 

Since lacquer is a glossy finish, achieving good surface adhesion can be tricky, so you should work with suitable materials and supplies for an optimal outcome.

In this guide, we take you through the steps for spray painting over lacquer, from proper surface preparation to using suitable materials to finally paint over lacquer finish for the best outcome. 

Can You Spray Paint over Lacquer?

Yes, after carefully preparing the surface, you can easily spray paint over an existing lacquer finish. Start by sanding, then washing or wiping down the surface thoroughly with a damp cloth. Use 150-grit then 300-grit sandpaper to remove chipped lacquer finish, dust, and grime. Wipe the surface clean, then apply oil-based primer before spray painting. 

What Is Lacquer?

Before we explain how to paint over lacquer finish, a little introduction to the basics of lacquer would be a good idea. 

First off, how well do you understand lacquer? Okay, this is a wood finish that you can apply on any wooden or metal surface as a final touch-up after applying the last coat of paint. Lacquer is the most popular choice for the wood finish because it lasts longer on such surfaces and provides a shiny, attractive glow. 

Unlike other water-based or oil-based paints, lacquer contains resin, one of the most versatile qualities that give it that durable and beautiful finish, perfect for woodwork.

In addition, lacquer contains little to no chemicals, making it partially organic and highly suitable for furniture. It contains an alcoholic ingredient called shellac which brings out the glossy and glistening look on furniture pieces after application. 

There are different types of lacquer to choose from, including:

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

The type of lacquer you choose depends on the material you want to paint. 

For example, acrylic lacquer is more suitable for lighter woods and automobiles, water-based lacquer is best applied on kitchen cabinets, home furniture pieces, and even stairs. Metal lacquer works better on metal surfaces, while nitrocellulose lacquer and urushiol-based lacquer are recommended for use on natural wood. 

Where Can I Apply Lacquer?

The good thing with lacquer finish is that there are no restrictions on how or where to apply it. You can opt for the traditional brush strokes or grab a spray lacquer can. It’s much easier to work with a spray can as this also ensures the surface dries faster. 

One thing to note, though, is that you can’t apply lacquer over any existing finish. Lacquer is a potent formula that may be incompatible with other surface finishes. 

If you paint over any type of finish, it may dissolve it, causing the two formulas to mix and ultimately creating a bad mess. 

Here are a few examples of household surfaces that you can safely spray paint with lacquer: 

  • Furniture
  • Kitchen cabinets
  • House art pieces

What are The Advantages of Lacquer paint?

The question as to whether you can spray paint over lacquer requires a detailed answer, including how to do the actual job of spray painting over lacquer. 

Before we go over the steps, we must understand why you’d want to choose lacquer in the first place. What makes it tick? What should you keep in mind when working with it? 

The following are some of the likable traits of lacquer and why you should work with it in your next project. 

1. It Saves You Time and Effort

Compared to similar finishes and vanishes, lacquer’s main advantages are fast drying properties. It’s the one finish that dries within fifteen minutes at room temperature after application. That means you won’t have to wait for hours to add a new layer of paint over lacquer finish, you’ll literally complete your projects in time. 

2. Budget Friendly 

Who doesn’t want to work with something affordable yet a durable finish with a beautiful outcome? Well, that’s what you get from lacquer. The average price of a bottle of this formula costs less than $500, which is a better deal than shellac and other varnishes.

3. It Doesn’t Require Sanding

Ask any painter, and they’ll tell you that sanding between coats is the most daunting part of spray painting. But that’s optional when working with lacquer. 

The solution contains solvents that easily melt and fuse with the paint, creating a smooth finish that requires no sanding. Neither does lacquer require any other protective barrier, coating. With this solution, it’s all systems go once you start the application.

4. Greater Durability

When painting over lacquer, you’re assured of durability thanks to its rugged, long-lasting properties. Lacquer is so potent that it instantly penetrates the wood, ensuring no surface chipping and giving the material a longer lifespan. 

5. User-Friendly and Versatile

Whether a newbie or a professional painter, you can easily use lacquer. It’s usually packaged in easy-to-use bottles allowing you to comfortably apply it with a brush. Still, spraying on lacquer is the most straightforward approach. All you have to do is place the object in an ideal position and then spray paint.  

What are The Disadvantages of Lacquer?

There are two sides to everything, the good and the bad. We’ve seen all the good things about lacquer, now let’s examine the downside of it. 

1. It Can Form Blushes

Durable as it is, lacquer is prone to imperfections. Your lacquer surface may develop blushes after application and especially after the finish is dry. This can be frustrating, and you may need to strip it off to fix the problem.  

But this problem doesn’t happen often unless you don’t apply lacquer properly. Humidity can also be another cause for this, so you should apply lacquer in less humid environments. Blushes are generally tiny blotches that create circles on the wood surface after it dries. 

To avoid this problem, ensure proper ventilation when applying lacquer and avoid working in humid weather.

2. It can Produce Tiny Bubbles on Surfaces

Another challenge you’re likely to encounter when using lacquer is the formation of bubbles or orange peels. This is also caused by the wrong application of lacquer. Such tiny bubbles are easily noticeable, especially if you brush-painted over lacquer. 

Fixing them can be challenging, but you can prevent them from forming by quickly applying lacquer thinner with a spray gun in swift motion while ensuring no air is trapped under the lacquer finish. 

Which Spray Paint Can I Use on Lacquer?

Latex and oil-based paints are the best spray paints for surfaces. Such paints provide excellent adhesion and a glossy finish compared to other paint types. 

With good paint adhesion, you don’t have to worry about drips and runs during the application or premature cracking once the paint is dry and cured.

Oil-based enamel is also an excellent choice for painting over lacquer, giving it a beautiful and protected finish since it is more robust, rigid, and dries faster than regular paint.

Spraying chalk paint is also another option worth considering. While it provides good adhesion, it’s less durable and may wear out faster unless you are okay with regular maintenance to keep the paint in good condition. 

If chalk paint is all you have, you can still use it and then apply a clear top coat over the paint to enhance durability.

How to Paint Over Lacquer: Step-By-Step Guide

Now that we’ve answered your question: can you apply spray paint over lacquer, it’s time to show you how to the paint job. 

It’s important to note that while spray paint application over lacquer is usually a beautiful finish, achieving that outcome can be tricky. 

This can be attributed to the thick lacquer coverage, which is usually tough and not compatible with any layer of paint.

The application procedure begins with gathering the necessary tools and materials, such as:

Step 1: Determine Which Lacquer to Use

1. Water-based Lacquer

Since there are different types of lacquer, you may opt for any, depending on the surface you’re working on. Water-based lacquer is suitable mainly for bare wood. It is considered safer and eco-friendly than varnish. 

You’ll need at least three layers of water-based lacquer to achieve a fine finish, applied 24 hours after each layer.

2. Nitrocellulose Lacquer

If you want to add a coat of bright paint to your lacquered woodwork surfaces, nitrocellulose lacquer is the right paint to use. However, this type of lacquer dries faster, so don’t use it if you’re a beginner. 

3. Acrylic Lacquer

Acrylic lacquer was commonly used on automobiles, but it was not until recently that it gained widespread usage on wooden surfaces.

It’s a super strong lacquer paint that’s highly resistant to acid, water, and alkaline, meaning you can use it even in humid and dry conditions and still dry faster. 

Step 2: Determine the Sheen

Once you’ve established the right lacquer finish to use on your surface, the next step is determining the sheen, especially if the wooden surface you want to paint over has an existing lacquer finish.  

Determine the texture of the lacquered surface by running your hand on it. Does the surface feel glossy? If it does, you have a smooth gloss finish. Is the texture rough? That’s an indication you have a rough finish on your hands. 

You’ll need to prepare the surface for painting depending on the sheen.  

Step 3: Surface Preparation

Gather all your materials and tools ready. Clean the surface, ensuring no grime, debris, or dust on or around the substrate.

Step 4: Sanding

Sanding is next after cleaning. If the sheen is a semi-gloss finish, use 150-grit sandpaper to clean the surface. If it’s a flat sheen, 300-grit sandpaper is recommended. 

A 300-grit sandpaper is finer and more suitable for buffing off and creating friction on the substrate without affecting the gloss or causing damage.

After sanding, clear off the sanding dust, clean surface with a damp rag, then let the surface dry.

Step 5: Clean the Dust

Sanding causes a lot of dust to accumulate on the surface. You want to wipe away all of it before you begin painting.

Use the damp rag to clean the dust, ensuring you don’t leave too much water or moisture on the wooden substrate, which could saturate it. With that done, get the primer. 

Step 6: Priming

For this step, use any type of primer: latex, water-based, or oil-based, ensuring you apply a thin layer of it with a brush. Work carefully against the grain of the substrate, ensuring that the primer penetrates deep into the grain of the wood. 

Priming is a vital step in spray painting over lacquer finish, so ensure you do it right. Your primer type or brand must be the same as the lacquer to create a even look on the entire object. 

Apply at least two layers of primer, ensuring the first is completely dry before you add another. 

Step 7: Spray Painting

Once the primer is dry, it’s time to get to the easiest and most fun part of spray painting. Ensure you paint in the same direction as you did with the primer to maintain a uniform pattern. 

You can either use oil or latex paint with any sheen you desire.

If you notice imperfections like bare patches, you can conceal them with another layer of paint. Just don’t apply one coat over the other before it’s dry. 

Step 8: Sand the Surface Again Before Applying the Second Layer of Paint

You’ll need to sand the surface again before you apply another coat. This step goes hand in hand with waiting for one layer of paint to dry before you apply another. It’s the only way to ensure the outcome will be perfect. 

For example, if you’re painting garden furniture, sanding between coats will make your job effective and create the best possible outcome. 

However, if you use oil-based paints and apply oil-based primer, you can paint over lacquer without sanding. Oil-based primers provide a smooth surface that allows the coat of sealant to stick better. The same applies to mineral paint, a self-leveling finish capable of sticking on any surface. 

Step 10: Apply a Clear Coat

The final step to spray painting over lacquer finish is applying a clear coat on top after the second layer has dried. While this step is optional, it’s recommended by wood painters as it helps seal the paint leaving the surface with a shiny glow. 

Can You Spray Paint Over Lacquer?

Which Finishes To Use Over Lacquer Paint?

There are various finishes you can use over lacquer. You may opt for gel stain, wax, alkyd varnish, or polyurethane, with alkyd varnish being the best.

Glossy alkyd varnish is a polyester resin known for its strong adhesive properties that stick better on lacquer finishes than other known sealants. 

The glossy varnish has a natural glow, is highly durable, and is easy to clean and maintain. It also comes in different sheens, making it flexible. 

Spray gel stain is also a good alternative, but polyurethane doesn’t provide excellent bonding as glossy alkyd varnish and will mostly succumb to wear and tear. 

But applying a top coat is an optional step, and not every lacquer should be sealed. For example, lacquer comes in different finishes: ordinary and catalyzed. 

Ordinary lacquer isn’t that durable, and you’ll need to apply sealant like gloss alkyd varnish to seal it up and protect it. On the other hand, you don’t need a top coat on catalyzed lacquer since it’s a durable sealant.

To determine which type of lacquer you’re painting over, apply lacquer thinner or mineral spirits on a small spot of the lacquer finish, then wipe the small spot with a rag. 

If the finish comes off, it’s ordinary lacquer, and you should seal it with a good top coat. If it doesn’t come off on the rag, you have a catalyzed lacquer that doesn’t require additional sealing. 

Professional Tips for Spray Painting Over Lacquer paints

You’re now familiar with lacquer finish, the pros and cons, and the steps to spray paint over it. It’s good to touch on a few tips and precautions you should never forget when working with lacquer finish. Let’s take a look at some of these tips backed by professionals. 

Let the Paint Dry Completely

Lacquer has unique characteristics compared to ordinary paint and other finishes. Adding another layer of lacquer over a wet one can cause adhesion problems, and the paint may fail to mix. 

As a result, you could end up with a distorted outcome. Avoid this by allowing the paint to dry before adding a new layer of lacquer. 

Use a Respirator When Painting Over Lacquer

Lacquer contains very lethal solvents, requiring you to always wear a respirator to avoid breathing in the toxins. Wear a respiratory mask even when working with eco-friendly lacquer products. 

Wear Protective Gear

The toxicity found in lacquer solvents should be handled with care, and safety precautions should be applied at all times. 

Always wear hand gloves and other protective gear to avoid irritation caused by skin contact with lacquer. 

In case of direct skin contact, wash the area immediately with lots of clean water. Also, keep your hair covered when using this solution. 

Paint in an Open Area

Ventilation is crucial when dealing with toxic products like lacquer. Since this product is highly flammable, working in an open area with good ventilation is advisable to avoid fire hazards. Also, do not paint near open great sources or smoke while using lacquer. 

How to Tell If Paint Is Enamel Or Lacquer

Before you spray paint over lacquer finish, you’ll need to ascertain if the existing finish is actually lacquer or enamel. This is because lacquer and enamel have striking similarities, and you may confuse enamel for lacquer. 

Both products are glossy though they contain different solvents. The main ingredient in enamel paints is white spirits, while lacquer contains shellac.  

To determine if the finish on the surface is enamel or lacquer, dip a piece of cloth in lacquer thinner, rub in a tiny spot, and observe the reaction. 

If it wrinkles and comes off instantly, it’s enamel paint. But if the color comes off on the cloth after intense rubbing, it’s lacquer paint. 

FAQS: Can You Spray Paint Over Lacquer?

Can I paint over lacquer without sanding?

Sanding is only necessary in some situations, like when you use water-based paints. Since lacquer is glossy, it doesn’t adhere firmly to water-based paints unless you sand it first to remove the glossy layer of the sealant.  

Can I Apply Latex Paint Over Old Lacquer Surfaces?

Yes, you can, provided to follow the step-by-step procedure common with all types of paint. You must sand the surface with 150 or 300-grit sandpaper and wipe it clean with a dampen rag and mineral spirits where necessary. Once the surface is clear of dust, grease, and silicone particles, you can apply latex paint over the old lacquer surface. 

Which Is Better: Varnish or Lacquer?

Lacquer is more robust, potent, and a durable finish, so it’s a better option. While lacquer application is quite tricky, it’s more effective since it provides a flawless and attractive finish than varnish. And yes, you can achieve a beautiful finish with varnish if you apply it correctly, but even with that, it’s less durable and will wear out sooner.

Is Primer and Lacquer the Same Thing?

No, both products are different. Primer is a sealant that supports bonding between the substrate and the paint and should be applied before the paint. On the other hand, lacquer is a type of paint finish or sealant typically applied as a top coat on the final layer of paint. Both, however, serve the same purpose of maximizing adhesion, offering protection, and improving the overall surface look.

Final Thoughts

The possibility of spray painting over lacquer is now more apparent. And while it would appear like a daunting process, these steps make it look so easy, and indeed it is. You can spray paint over lacquer even if you’re an amateur. You only need to familiarize yourself with the steps and precautions, and you’re good to go. 

Besides, working with lacquer is preferable compared to other varnishes. With this, you get durability, efficiency, and a shinier beautiful finish in one package. Even better is that it’s very much affordable if you’re on a budget. 

Feel free to use this guide in your next lacquer painting job, as all the steps outlined here are proven and easy to follow, just what every woodworker or painter does. 

As you do, remember to ensure the substrate is compatible with the type of lacquer you want to paint over. If you can achieve that, you won’t have any problem painting over lacquer surfaces. 

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