Polycrylic and polyurethane have similar names and are used for the same purpose. How can you possibly decide which one to use? There are a few key differences that you’ll want to keep in mind when you’re deciding which type of finish to use for your next project, and this article will clarify each one of them for you.
If you have a piece of furniture or another project in the works, read this piece to determine whether polycrylic or polyurethane is the right step.
What is Polyurethane Used For?
Among these two products, polyurethane is the more well-known. Polyurethane is a protective finish that comes in both satin and glossy finishes. It’s a synthetic plastic material made from polymers, hence the name. It’s frequently used for tables and other types of flooring and furniture.
Polyurethane can be either sprayed onto surfaces or wiped on.
There are different types of polyurethane and they each have their pros and cons. To decide which type of polyurethane to use, consider the information in the section below.
Types of Polyurethane
Polyurethane comes in both oil and water formulas. Some of the main differences between the two include:
Water-based polyurethane is:
- Lower in odor and less toxic.
- More quick-drying.
- Less durable.
- May add a slightly yellow tint to wood.
- Ideal for items that will not be exposed to extreme temperature differences.
- Useful for desks, nightstands, bookshelves, and other small wood items.
Oil-based polyurethane is:
- More odorous.
- Has a slight color.
- Slower to dry.
- More durable and can resist extreme heat.
- Better for surfaces that may become wet, like wood flooring.
- Ideal for kitchen tables.
The Benefits of Polyurethane Over Polycrylic
Polyurethane is essentially a liquid form of plastic. Used as a finish, it adds an attractive shiny layer that makes surfaces glean. It resists scratches and dents, and as compared to polycrylic it’s extremely durable over time. Oil-based polyurethane is especially tough.
Polyurethane can also be somewhat easier to apply than polycrylic, which is runny in consistency. It takes a long time to dry, but that can actually be a benefit — it means that you have plenty of time to complete a large project without the finish drying too quickly.
Polycrylic has a more runny consistency than polyurethane. When working with vertical surfaces, polyurethane is easier to work with since you don’t have to worry about drips.
Although polyurethane has a somewhat yellowish tint, it’s preferable over polycrylic when working with dark paint because a thick layer of polycrylic over dark paint will result in a milky finish.
Lastly, polyurethane is better for using with matte latex than polycrylic. Polycrylic takes a long time to dry when used over matte latex, and the resulting finish is uneven and cracked.
For a strong protective shield against future wear-and-tear, polyurethane is a great choice.
What is Polycrylic Used For?
Polycrylic is another type of liquid plastic that is used as a finish. Unlike polyurethane, polycrylic is always water-based and comes in one basic type. Similarly to polyurethane, though, it comes in both glossy and satin finishes.
It’s quite clear in color, which is perfect for wood projects where you want the natural color of the wood to show through. Polycrylic protects wood surfaces from scratches and other forms of damage.
Polycrylic is best for interior wood projects. It’s frequently used for tables, cabinets, doors, desks and other types of furniture.
The Benefits of Polycrylic Over Polyurethane
Firstly, polycrylic dries much more quickly than polyurethane. Polyurethane takes a long time to dry, which may not be convenient for those that are in a hurry to complete a project. Polyurethane can take a full 12 hours to dry completely.
Polycrylic is also very affordable. It’s great for beginners or for DIY projects due to its low cost.
Polycrylic is completely clear, unlike many types of polyurethane. That makes it ideal for projects where you don’t want a yellowish tint over your wood or paint.
In comparison to polyurethane, polycrylic is safer. Polyurethane is quite toxic and flammable, so it cannot be used safely in areas that aren’t well-ventilated.
Polycrylic has a runny consistency, so it’s best for horizontal surfaces. It’s also better for small projects since it can be difficult to get an even coat of polycrylic on large surfaces.
Lastly, because polycrylic is water-based, it’s much easier to clean up than oil-based polyurethane. You can use regular soap and water to clean your hands and any other surfaces.
How to Choose: Polycrylic vs Polyurethane
Consider the following questions to help you decide whether to use polycrylic or polyurethane for your next project:
- Does the surface need to dry quickly? If you can’t wait all day for a large piece to dry, then go with polycrylic. Polyurethane can take up to 12 hours to dry completely.
- Can the area be adequately ventilated? If your project is in an area that’s difficult to ventilate, avoid polyurethane at all costs. It’s toxic and highly flammable! Polycrylic is a safer choice.
- Will the piece be used frequently? Polyurethane is a bit more durable than polycrylic, though both are strong protectants. High-traffic objects like floors or kitchen tables should be finished with polyurethane.
- Will it be exposed to water or extreme heat? Surfaces that may become wet or be exposed to extreme heat should always be finished with oil-based polyurethane rather than a water-based formula.
- Is it a large or small piece? Larger pieces are easier to finish with polyurethane than polycrylic. The latter dries quickly and is better for small pieces like tables or desks.
As you can see, there are a lot of factors to consider in the great “polycrylic vs polyurethane” debate. Polyurethane is best-suited for certain types of projects while polycrylic is a much easier, more affordable choice for others.
If you’re uncertain of which one to use, revisit the questions in the section above to make a final decision. It never hurts to test out your choice on a small area first to make sure the results are to your liking.