Polycrylic Guide

Polycrylic Guide

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Anyone starting out in woodworking or carpentry will soon learn that, in order to preserve the integrity of your wood, you will need to treat it. Treating your wood means finishing it with a compound that will leave a protective film on the surface. This film will protect your final piece from the elements.

This process also helps your paint last longer and retains the intensity of that paint for a longer period of time. Not only that, but with the right choice of finish and proper application, you can actually add some color, as well as gloss, to your wood project. There are several options to choose from when looking at these finishes, so which one should you buy?

Well, one of the best options is polycrylic. In this polycrylic guide, we will be taking an in-depth look at this amazing compound that can be used to protect and finish all your wood projects.

What is Polycrylic?

Basically, polycrylic is a water-based coating that is used to protect the wood. There are multiple finishes, ranging from high gloss to matte. Though the primary function of this compound is to protect your wood from the elements, it can also add some attractiveness, as well.

This can be done by choosing a polycrylic that has a bit of color to it. This will tint the natural shade of the wood (typically to a slightly more amber shade), while also adding a little gloss to the wood. This is why it is so often used on furniture, doors, and cabinets.

Types of Polycrylic

When you are looking at polycrylic finishes, you will have two main types to choose from. The difference is not in the formula, or even the color (though some will have some coloring), but rather in the application process.

Here are the two types of polycrylic:


This is a great option when you are looking to add a lighter layer in a short amount of time. Spray-on polycrylic uses an aerosol sprayer and is probably the easier of the two applications (which is one of the big benefits of this option). Another great asset of the spray-on method is the fact that the drying period is shorter, since you are only applying a thin layer.

There are, of course, a few cons that we need to mention. The first is that it takes practice and patience to apply a thin coat evenly without ending up with pressure marks from the air. Plus, it does use an aerosol can, which is not even remotely eco-friendly. The use of an aerosol can also leave you with a minimal amount of finish. The limited amount it provides makes this a great choice for small projects.


The other option is the roll-on application, and this style of polycrylic comes in a paint can. This means you have a large amount to use on your project. That is why this is preferred for larger tasks. This option offers many more options to choose from in both color and brand.

Just like with the spray-on application, there are some drawbacks to choosing this method. Roll-on polycrylic has a tendency to leave very obvious brush streaks. This method also dries very quickly, so speed is your friend when applying polycrylic in this manner.

Polycrylic Guide

What is the Difference Between Polyurethane and Polycrylic?

Now, as we said, there are many different options of finish you can go with, but one of the most popular is polyurethane. So, why choose polycrylic over polyurethane? To tell the truth, they both have their places in the wood-finishing world, so we thought we would take a look at several key factors to consider when deciding on which one will work for your project. Here are some of the key things to consider when making your decision:


When you boil it down, you are choosing between either oil-based or water-based options. With polycrylic, though, you have no choices. You will have to use a water-based solution, as that is the only type that is offered with this product. However, with polyurethane, you get both oil and water-based options, which give it a little advantage in the versatility department.

Here are some more differences:

Oil-Based Polyurethane

This is probably the best choice for finishing wood floors wood that see a lot of traffic or use. This polyurethane does well with heat, unlike water-based solutions. It is very resistant to water, which is also why you may find this used a lot in the outdoor furniture world.

Water-Based Polyurethane

This option stinks less than the oil-based option. It also dries faster, but it is not great with high temperatures and excessive water.


This finish is even less smelly and toxic. Like the water-based polyurethane, this option dries quickly and has trouble with excessive water.


Both of these finishes come in the same categories of gloss. The right gloss can make your project shine in just the right way. Oil-based polyurethane will dry with a bit of color tinting, though. It tends to dry a little on the yellow side, which makes it great for dark woods, which will use the finish to accent and bring out the warmth of the wood. Water-based polyurethane and polycrylic both dry clear, which makes them both great options for lighter woods.


In this category, oil-based polyurethane wins, as it is, by far, the most durable. Though any of the choices will offer a certain level of protection, if your project will be seeing a lot of use or foot traffic, your best choice will be oil-based. It can withstand heat and moisture, so, all in all, polyurethane is definitely the winner in this category, but, more specifically, the oil-based variety is best.


The application difficulty is an important distinction between the two options. Polycrylic will be hard to apply, as it has a thinner consistency. Not only will you have to apply thin coats, but you will have to apply more of them. You also will have to pay close attention to potential flaws, like drips and air pressure marks.

You will also have to wait until the layers are completely dry before applying the next one to avoid creating a sticky texture. It also dries quickly, which is nice, but not for large projects, as this tends to lead to uneven coverage.

Also, whether they are oil or water-based, they both apply well over paint. If, however, you are using a latex paint that is a matte color, you may find that it takes much longer for the polycrylic to dry due to the extra compound included in the paint’s formula.

Toxicity and Safety

Polyurethane is definitely more of a safety risk. You will have to employ extra safety precautions due to both the toxic fumes and the flammability. In fact, wet polyurethane is very flammable, so you will need to keep it in a well-ventilated area away from any potential fire hazards.

The toxic smell can actually irritate your lungs. This means that, with the oil-based variety, in particular, you will need to wear a respirator, as well as protective clothing.

Polycrylic doesn’t have all these issues. Its smell is far less strong, and, although it still has some toxicity, it is far less than the polyurethane option. So, you will be able to wear less protective gear, which may allow for better mobility.


There are some questions and scenarios where one or the other is a better choice. Here are a few things to consider:
High temps & moisture? If your project will have your wood exposed to either of these, then you will want to go with the oil-based polyurethane.

Light or Dark?

If you are working with a light-colored wood or with light-colored paint, you will want to steer clear of oil-based polyurethane, as it will leave a yellow tint to the project.

Sealing or Finishing?

If you are just simply using this as a finish, then water-based polycrylic is the best choice. Whereas, if you are using this as a sealant, as well, then you will want to go with the more durable polyurethane.


If you are trying to get a project done in a hurry, then you will want the option that dries quicker, and that is polycrylic.


Due to the toxicity of polyurethane, if you are working in an area with poor ventilation, you may want to err on the side of caution and go with polycrylic.

Small or Large?

If you are dealing with a large project, it is best to go with the option that dries slower, so that you can get the most even layers possible. That means large projects benefit more from the use of oil-based polyurethane.

Vertical or Horizontal?

If you are working on a project that is vertical, it will be easier to go with polyurethane, as it is thicker and will adhere to the surface better. Polycrylic will tend to drip, which will not leave a smooth-looking surface for your final product.


If you need a quick and easy cleanup, then going with polycrylic is a smart choice. You can clean this application with soap and water, no matter the surface.


If budget is a concern, then you will want to consider polycyclic, as it is far less expensive than polyurethane.

These are just some of the questions you can ask to answer the question of which option you should go with. You may also want to know what exactly the differences between polycrylic and polyurethane are. Well, let’s look at more questions…

Polycrylic FAQs

Now that you have the basics in regard to polycrylic finish, there are probably plenty of questions that are floating around your mind. We felt that it would be helpful to scour the internet and find some of the most commonly asked questions about this topic.

We have answered them for you in the following section. Hopefully, by the time you are done with this section, a majority of your questions will be answered.

How to Apply Polycrylic

Having the right information for the proper application is crucial to the final project's success. Here are the steps for each application of polycrylic.


It is important to prep the wood surface for the finishing process. You should make sure it is clean of all substances. You will also want to sand down the area with fine grain sandpaper. This will remove any scratches left on the surface of the wood.

After you have prepped the work area, you will then want to clean the area to make sure you get rid of all the extra dirt and dust particles you stirred up when sanding the floor.

The best way to do that is to wipe down the area with a lint-free cloth that has been moistened with mineral spirits. Once you have it all cleaned up, you will want to dry the area.



You will want to start by shaking the canister very well for a couple of minutes before beginning the process. You will want to do this periodically throughout the entire process. Typically, it is recommended to do his about every ten minutes.

As you spray on the polycrylic, you will want to make sure to cover surrounding areas to protect from overspray. You will hold the canister upright about a foot from the surface, and then push the button down completely.

Move the canister in gentle sweeping motions, slightly overlapping the strokes. You will want to make sure to apply thin layers to prevent imperfections in the application. Then you will want to wait 30 minutes to let it dry before you apply the next layer.


The first thing you will want to do is stir the polycrylic well, so that it has a milky consistency look to it. Then, grab your synthetic brush and begin applying a thin coat to your wood surface. You will want to be careful not to load the brush down, as that will not allow for an even and thin coat. Also, you will want to go with the grain of the wood, not against it.

Once you have laid down your thin coat, you will want to let it dry for about two hours before applying the next layer.


You will want to sand the area in between coats so that you can ensure the smoothest finish when done. This means that you will want to clean it up as you go, too. Once you have laid the final layer, you will want to let it dry for 24 hours for a complete dry.

But it isn’t yet cured…

How long for polycrylic to cure?

Though it may be dry, the process is not quite finished. There is still the curing portion to take into consideration. This will typically take several weeks, even up to a full 30 days, before it is cured. Cured means that the toxic VOCs will have evaporated.

How many coats of polycrylic should I use?

Because this solution is a water-based formula, you may have to add extra layers compared to other options. The recommended number of coats is 3, though you can go up to 5 without too much excess build up.

How to Remove Polycrylic

There are a few options to use when you are looking to remove polycrylic. Here are the two main options:


This is probably the option that will take the most work. You will want to use a few different types of fine-grained sandpaper. If you have a large area and a flat surface, you can use a sander to help you outwit this task.

Then you can switch to hand sanding for difficult places or ones that have the most irregularities. When you are done sanding the surface down, you will want to clean the dirt and debris before beginning the reapplication process.


There are also solutions that are crafted to strip the finish without messing up the wood. You will want to make sure you use the proper safety equipment and work in a well-ventilated area. This is the fastest way to remove polycrylic.

How long should paint dry before applying polycrylic?

To ensure that the paint maintains its integrity, you will want to make sure that it has thoroughly dried before applying polycrylic. The time frame that takes will depend on how thick the paint is, the ventilation of the room, and the temperature. So, this answer is really a per-project decision.

Which paintbrush for polycrylic?

Because polycrylic is a water-based solution, you will want to use a synthetic brush. Natural bristle absorbs too much water, and this may cause them to go limp. You can also try foams if you use them flat on the surface.

What to apply polycrylic with

There are several methods you can use to apply polycrylic. By far, the most popular is the brush or can, but we still want to look at all the options:


You will, of course, as we have already mentioned, want to use a synthetic bristle brush. Then, you will dip the brush in the polycrylic, being careful not to add too much of the substance. Then, going with the grain from end to end, you will brush gently. When you get to the end of the piece, you will repeat the process so that you can remove any bubbles that may appear in the finish.


With this option, you need a soft cloth and the polycrylic. Take some of the polycrylic and pour a small amount onto the cloth. The first layer needs to be applied in circular motions. The following layers can be applied with the cloth in stroke motions.


With the spray-on application, you will need to keep the can in motion at all times so that you can avoid bubbles. You will want to spray from the side and not directly overhead. Make sure that, as you move the nozzle along the wood, you keep a steady pace so that you get even coverage.

What can you use to clean on polycrylic?

The best product to use to clean anything coated with polycrylic is mineral spirits. You will want to make sure you dust the surface regularly, but, when dirt has built up, using a cloth dampened with mineral spirits will do the trick easily and effectively.

How to clean paint brush with polycrylic on it

Polycrylic is a water-based solution, which means cleaning your tools will be extremely easy. You will want to add some lukewarm water into a bowl. Then, take hand soap and rub it on the wet brush for a few minutes. You will then take your hands and rub the bristle gently in a circular motion, adding water as you do this. You should see a lather beginning to form.

You will then gently begin squeezing the lather toward the tips of the bristle, making sure to keep an eye out for discoloration. If the lather is clear of coloration, then your brush is clean, and all you will need to do now is rinse it out. If this doesn't clean the brush, simply repeat the process until it is clean.

Once you have rinsed out the soap, place the brush in newspaper and then hand dry it or lay it out to dry.

Final Thoughts

Now that we have dove into some of the most frequently posed questions and answered them thoroughly, we hope that a vast majority of your questions have been answered.

With this knowledge and understanding, you can see why polycrylic is such a great choice for any woodworker or carpenter. Though there are other options, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages, and that is why a lot of experienced woodworkers choose this solution for all their finishing needs.

This polycrylic guide was crafted to give you as much information as possible so that you would feel confident that you could make an informative decision. Now that you are armed with everything you need to know about polycrylic, you should feel more confident with it being your go-to option for your woodworking needs.

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