Can You Use Shellac Over Paint?


Last updated: September 5, 2023

Pro Painters Guide on Using Shellac Over Paint

Can you shellac over paint

Painting wood is one of the easiest ways to improve its aesthetics. But sometimes, paints are not enough, and you might need something more durable with more depth, like shellac. 

Many woodworkers swear by shellac when it comes to sealing wood. More importantly, shellac has a beautiful, high-gloss finish, which adds accent to your project. 

But can you use shellac over paint? Let’s find out together! 

Can You Use Shellac Over Paint?

You can use shellac over paint only if you choose the correct shellac. There are two main types of shellac for different paints – regular Shellac and dewaxed Shellac. Dewaxed shellac can be used for any paint, but regular shellac can only be used for oil-based paint. 

What Is Shellac?

Shellac is a type of resin deposited on trees by the female lac bug. These trees are found mostly in India and China. The resin is collected from the bugs and processed into various shellac products. 

For many years, shellac has been used as a durable coating for wood and is known for its high gloss. It comes in a variety of colors, including clear and amber tones. It is commonly used as a sanding sealant, primer, stain blocker, odor blocker, and varnish. 

Raw Shellac usually has an earth-tone color, ranging from pale yellow to deep brown. The finished product may come in spray form, or you can apply it using a brush. 

Can You Use Shellac Over Paint?

In this section, we will see how shellac performs over different types of paint. 

Can You Use Shellac Over Oil-Based Paint?

Yes, you can use shellac over oil-based paint. These include both regular and dewaxed shellac. Shellac sticks to oil paint without any issues as long as the paint is fully cured before you apply shellac. 

If you apply shellac while the paint is still wet, it could result in a reaction and affect the final results. In addition, it’s best to use a thin coat of shellac to avoid drips and longer drying periods. 

Can You Put Shellac Over Water-Based Paint?

Yes, you can, but there’s a caveat – you must use the correct shellac. Unlike oil-based paint, water-based paint doesn’t work with all types of shellac. Specifically, it is only compatible with dewaxed shellac.

This means that if you plan to use shellac over any water-based paint, it has to be dewaxed. Regular shellac doesn’t usually stick to water-based paint because it contains wax.

Can You Shellac Over Spray Paint?

Spray paint contains the same product as traditional paint containers, except that it comes in spray form. Since most spray paints are oil-based, it means you can use shellac over them. However, you have to be sure the paint is oil-based. For water-based spray paint, you can only use dewaxed shellac. 

Ensure the painted surface is dry before applying shellac. Depending on the texture of the paint job, you may need to roughen it up with sandpaper to ensure the shellac sticks better.  

Can You Use Shellac Over Latex Paint?

Latex paint is usually water-based, which means you can only use a specific type of shellac – dewaxed shellac. Regular shellac won’t adhere to latex paint because it (Shellac) contains wax. The same problem exists when you try to use any wax product on latex or any water-based paint. 

This means that if you apply regular shellac on latex, it will peel off. 

Dewaxed shellac, as implied by the name, is completely free of wax, which is why it works perfectly with latex and other water-based products. The main difference between regular shellac and dewaxed shellac is that the latter is harder, and as such, you may find it a bit harder to sand. 

Can shellac be used over acrylic?

It depends on the type of acrylic paint. If the acrylic is water-based, which is often the case, then you can only put dewaxed shellac over it. For solvent-based acrylic paints, shellac might not work with it. 

In general, we don’t recommend using shellac over acrylic, except if you really know what you’re doing. Instead of shellac, you can use any good acrylic-based varnish to avoid any problems with adhesion and discoloration.

Can You Use Shellac Over Enamel Paint?

Yes, you can. Using shellac over enamel paint helps to provide a smooth and durable finish and protects the surface from scratches and stains. However, it’s important you choose the right shellac. 

Enamel paint includes both water-based and oil-based enamel paint. You have to be sure of which enamel paint you’re using, whether it’s oil-based or water-based before you can decide which type of shellac to use for it. 

As you would expect, regular shellac can be used over oil-based enamel paint, while the dewaxed option is suitable for enamel latex (water-based) paint. In case you’re not sure which type of enamel paint you have, then use dewaxed shellac.  

Can You Use Shellac Over Milk Paint?

Yes, shellac can be used to seal milk paint, provided the paint is fully dried. Like latex paint, milk paint is water-based, which means it works best with dewaxed shellac. 

If you apply regular shellac over milk paint, it won’t adhere well. 

One of the main benefits of milk paint is that it doesn’t have any issue with off-gassing because it doesn’t contain VOCs or harmful solvents. It’s much more eco-friendly than oil paint. 

Overall, regardless of the paint you’re using, you can always use dewaxed shellac on top. Regular shellac only works with oil-based paints. 

How to Use Shellac Over Paint

What You Need

  • Shellac.
  • Paintbrush.
  • Sandpaper.
  • Cleaning solution.
  • Gloves .
  • Clothes


  • Prepare the surface

Start by cleaning the surface. Wipe it with a clean cloth to remove dirt and grime on the surface. For the best results, dampen the cloth with denatured alcohol. Make sure you have your gloves on to keep your hands protected from the alcohol. After wiping the surface, allow it to completely dry before you carry on with the project. 

  • Sand the surface

The next step is to sand the surface. This will help roughen up the surface, making shellac stick better. You can use medium grit sandpaper for this purpose. For wooden projects, sanding should be in the direction of the wood grain. If the surface is already painted, which is the case we’re dealing with, just sand the paint until it becomes dull. 

  • Apply Shellac

After shellac surface prep work, you’re ready to apply the shellac. But before you do so, it’s always a good idea to do some patch tests to be sure of the results. So, first, apply a small amount of shellac on a small part of your project and allow it to dry. If it comes out too sticky, add mineral oil to loosen it. You need only a few drops. 

Once you’re satisfied with the patch test, go ahead and apply shellac to the rest of the surface. Otherwise, resend the surface and do another patch test. 

When you’re ready to apply the shellac, pour some of it into a small container, then apply it using a brush. Shellac in the direction of the wood grain. Work as fast as you can, as shellac dries pretty fast. 

You can apply a second or final coat, but only after the first coat has dried. 

  • Cleanup the tools

At the end of the project, soak the brush tips in denatured alcohol, then rinse with water. Any other material that has been dampened with denatured alcohol, such as a rag, should be disposed of. If you have any shellac remaining, you can store it in a cool, dark place until you need it again. 

How Long Does Shellac Take To Dry?

Shellac typically dries to touch within 15-30 minutes after you apply it. You can cut down this time by almost half if you opt for a spray shellac. 

It is worth mentioning that the time it takes to dry to touch is not the same thing as the curing time. Even though the paint feels dry to the touch, it can take several hours to fully cure. You should be willing to wait overnight or at least 24 hours before using the item. It might even take a few days, depending on the weather conditions and how thick the coating is. 

In general, factors like temperature and humidity will significantly affect the drying time of shellac. Lower temperatures and high humidity levels will prolong the drying period. Also, the type of shellac used and the application method can affect the drying time. It’s highly recommended to avoid applying a thick coat and instead, use thin coats. 

Whatever happens, ensure the shellac has enough time to cure, as that is the only way to guarantee a smooth and durable finish.  

Some Alternatives for Shellac Over Paint

In case you decide not to use shellac over paint, there are other finishes that can serve the same purpose. Here are four main shellac alternatives to use over paint: 

1. Polyurethane

Polyurethane is commonly used as a clear finish, which makes it a great alternative to shellac, especially if you’re concerned with aesthetics. It leaves a smooth, glossy sheen, just like shellac. 

Polyurethane can be oil- or water-based. You can use polyurethane on latex and other oil-based paints including latex and oil-based paint. Like shellac, it’s stain-blocking and resistant to scratches. However, it turns yellow over time and may be difficult to repair when messed up.

2. Lacquer

Lacquer is available in different finishes, ranging from gloss to satin. Since shellac is glossy, you would want to go for the glossy finish if you want to achieve a similar effect. You can also find lacquer in various colors. 

Like shellac, you can dissolve lacquer with alcohol, which makes it easier to make repairs if you mess up your work. It is also easy to apply.

The main downside with lacquer is that you can only use it over latex or water-based paint. It doesn’t stick well with oil-based paint. Also, lacquer is flammable, so ensure there’s enough ventilation and no open flames or heat source wherever you’re using it.

3. Varnish

Like lacquer, varnish is available in different finishes, including satin, gloss, semi-gloss, and matte. If you want to create a similar sheen as shellac, then you will need the gloss option. 

Varnish is also available as oil- and water-based paint. So, make sure you choose a varnish that is the same type as the paint. 

In general, varnish works better with water-based or latex paint if you’re applying it directly. For oil-based paint, you will need to use a primer. 

Can you use shellac over paint

4. Polyacrylic

Finally, we have polyacrylic, a water-based finish very similar to polyurethane. It is commonly used to make flat paint glossy, especially acrylic paint. But besides the gloss option, it also comes in other finishes. 

The main advantage of polyacrylic is that it’s non-toxic and does not turn yellow over time. But it’s less durable than polyurethane and shellac, so it might not be the best option if you need something that can handle a lot of wear and tear. 

Precautions to Take When Using Shellac

  • Before handling shellac, make sure to wear your gloves and an overall to protect you skin. Also, wear a respiratory mask to avoid inhaling fumes.
  • Ensure the area where you’re working is well-ventilated. This is important to reduce the impact of the fumes.
  • Shellac usually contains denatured alcohol, which makes it flammable. SO avoid using it close to an open flame or a heat source. Notwithstanding, it’s still a good idea to keep a fire extinguisher nearby.
  • Shellac can be poisonous when ingested, so make sure to it away from the reach of children and pets.
  • When working with shellac, it is best to use disposable items. These include the container, brush, and spoon.

FAQ – Can You Use Shellac Over Paint

Can You Mix Shellac With Paint?

You can mix shellac with paint as long as they have a similar base. This means you can mix oil-based paint with regular shellac, but you can’t mix oil-based paint with dewaxed shellac. Likewise, dewaxed shellac can be mixed with latex paint but not oil-based paint. In general, we don’t recommend mixing the two products. 

Can I use shellac primer over paint?

Yes, shellac primer can be used over paint, especially if you think shellac or the top coat will not stick directly. This is often the case when you’re working with oil-based paint. A shellac primer will improve adhesion. 

Do you have to sand before shellac?

Sanding before shellac will help remove any dust nibs and create a smoother finish. It may also help to improve adhesion. But it’s not a strict requirement. Likewise, you don’t need to sand between coats unless there are any flaws in a coat. You can use 180-220 fine grit sandpaper if you’re sanding before shellac. 

How many coats of shellac should I use?

To get a super smooth shellac finish and a high-quality seal on the painted surfaces, 3-4 coats of shellac are recommended. This will give the paint job a full protective covering. Leave each coat for at least one hour before applying the next one. To ensure shellac doesn’t drip, it should be applied in thin layers. 

What happens if you apply shellac before the paint has finished curing?

Applying shellac over paint before it has fully cured can lead to cracks in the paint. When this happens, some of the paint will start peeling off, creating an uneven surface. 

Will the paint stick to shellac?

Yes, it will. Shellac is typically used as a sealant, but you can also paint over it, although it might not be the ideal substrate. If you have any doubt about the paint sticking, you can apply a primer prior to the paint. 

Can you shellac over the stain?

Yes, you can! However, like paint, the stain should be completely dry before applying shellac over it. Using shellac over stain is a great way to protect it against wear and moisture. It’s always a good idea to test the product on a scrap material to be sure it’s compatible with the stain. 

Content Summary – Shellac Over Paint

To conclude, using shellac is a great way to create a glossy effect on your paint job. However, it’s extremely important you choose the right type of shellac. Otherwise, you will mess up the project. 

Specifically, regular shellac only sticks to oil-based paint. If your paint job is latest or water-based, then you will need dewaxed or wax-free shellac. Dewaxed shellac will also work on oil-based paint. 

To be on the safe side, always check the label of the shellac to be sure you’re using the correct product. Let us know if you have any more questions about using shellac over paint. Until then, happy shellacking!

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