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Paint Lacquer vs. Latex Paint

Laura Wallace Henderson

Latex and lacquer are two main categories of paint. Lacquer paints consist of colored finishes that have solvent bases, while latex paints are water-based finishes. While both types of paint are useful in finishing and decorating, each one is more suitable for specific applications. Weigh all the benefits and drawbacks of latex and lacquer paints before you tackle your next painting project.

Latex Pros

Latex and lacquer require different methods of thinning and cleaning.

Latex paints have less of an impact on the environment than lacquer paints, due to their benign water base. Latex paints release fewer volatile organic compounds, or VOC, into the atmosphere. Large amounts of these compounds can affect the ozone in the air, one of the most toxic components of smog. Latex paint is generally less toxic than lacquer paint and poses less of a health risk -- although good ventilation is necessary when applying any type of paint or other finish. Latex tends to cure quickly, allowing you to apply a second coat within a short time. Wet latex paint washes off easily with plain water, making cleanup quick and easy.

Latex Cons

Latex is not as durable as lacquer finishes. Latex paints cure using a process known as coalescence. This type of curing occurs when the moisture evaporates from the solids, leaving a firm substance that won’t re-dissolve in water. The polymers in cured latex paint tend to soften and degrade over time, leading to peeling and chipping of the finish.

Lacquer Pros

Lacquer is one of the most durable finishes you can use on a variety of surfaces, including wood. Lacquers dry, rather than cure. Adding solvent to the dried lacquer causes it to re-dissolve, often allowing you more time to complete a painting project to your liking. Lacquer is more resistant to UV rays, making it a better finish for areas exposed to intense sunlight. Lacquer paints provide a shiny finish to small areas you want to highlight, such as trims and cabinet hardware.

Lacquer Cons

Lacquer paints require chemical solvents for cleaning spills and brushes, as well as thinning the paint. The high sheen of lacquer paints serves to highlight surface imperfections, often requiring numerous coats to provide adequate coverage.