Polyurethane vs Acrylic Paint [7 Tests Done For Best Choice]

The primary difference between polyurethane and acrylic paint is that polyurethane is more long-lasting and has a higher resistance to stains and scratches. In contrast, acrylic paint is easy to apply, water-based, and thus easier to clean up

Mostly recommended finishes include latex paint with a polyurethane topcoat or an all-acrylic paint. But, what’s the difference between the two? To help you make the best decision, we have put to test polyurethane and acrylic paint in seven classifications. 

Key Takeaways Of The Test

As always, test any new products in an inconspicuous area before applying them to your entire project. Now from our test results:

  • Polyurethane is your best bet if you need a tough, durable finish that can withstand lots of wear and tear. 
  • If you need something lower in cost and easier to apply, go with an acrylic product

Polyurethane vs Acrylic Paint: 7 Comparison Tests

When it comes to polyurethane vs acrylic paint, there are a few differences to consider. Before we get into more details, let’s touch on paints and finishes. 

  • Water-based products are easier to apply, are cleaner, and have fewer fumes. 
  • Oil-based products take longer to dry, they provide a more durable finish. 

Here’s a quick overview of the comparison test points to keep in mind when comparing polyurethane and acrylic paint: 

Polyurethane vs Acrylic Paint
  1. Durability: Think About The Location!

Polyurethane is more durable than acrylic paint, thanks to its protective topcoat. This makes it ideal for high-traffic areas or surfaces that are likely to see a lot of wear and tear. Acrylic paint does not have a protective topcoat, so it is not as durable as polyurethane. 

  1. Cost: Don’t Break The Bank In Inflation

Polyurethane is more expensive, although the cost difference will vary depending on the brand and quality of the product. But, it is worth noting that polyurethane usually goes further since you don’t need to apply as many coats.

For example, if you’re painting a dresser with a quart of each type of paint, you might need two coats of acrylic but only one coat of polyurethane. 

  1. Application process: Make Most Out Of It.

Both types of paint can be applied with a brush, roller, or sprayer. However, polyurethane can be difficult to apply evenly due to its thick consistency. Thinners can be added to polyurethane to improve its consistency, which will also increase its overall cost.

  1. Drying time: Carefully Or It All Ruins.

Polyurethane takes longer to dry than acrylic paint, so it is important to allow adequate time for the product to cure before using the surface or putting furniture back in place. 

  1. Odor: You Will Live With It.

Both types of paint emit fumes during application and while drying, but polyurethane has a stronger odor than acrylic paint. Good ventilation is a must when applying any paint inside your home. 

  1. Cleanup: Don’t Ignore After Paint Mess.

Water-based polyurethanes clean up easily with soap and water. In comparison, oil-based products require mineral spirits or other harsh chemicals for cleanup. Acrylic paints clean up easily with soap and water regardless of whether they are water-based or oil-based products. 

  1. VOCs: Keep Your Environment Clean.

When painting with either product, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are released into the air. However, water-based acrylics have lower VOC levels than oil-based paints or stains. 

Also, oil-based polyurethanes have the highest VOC levels of all three products. When choosing a product with low VOC levels, go with water-based acrylics. 

Bonus Tip: Don’t Forget The Overall appearance: 

Polyurethane offers a high-gloss finish. It enhances the natural beauty of the wood grain. In contrast, matte finishes tend to give surfaces a more muted look (although semi-gloss and high-gloss finishes are available). 

Acrylic paints are available in a wide range of finishes. It includes flat/matte, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, and high gloss. So you can choose the perfect finish without sacrificing durability or protection from UV rays and other environmental factors. 

For renovation projects, remember to look at the surface type and condition of stairs to decide the best paint for them.

Acrylic Yrethane Vs Polyurethane: Which Finish Do You Need?

The finish is an important consideration when painting indoor or outdoor surfaces, commercial or residential surfaces. 

Acrylic Urethane

Acrylic urethane is a type of paint that offers superior durability and performance. 

  • It’s typically used on surfaces with a lot of wear and tear, such as driveways, garage floors, and decks. 
  • Acrylic urethane paint is resistant to UV rays, so it won’t fade in direct sunlight. 
  • One downside is that it can be difficult to apply evenly on a large surface area without experience. 


Polyurethane is another type of paint that offers excellent durability. 

  • It’s often used on wood surfaces, such as floors and furniture. 
  • Polyurethane paint is easy to apply and dries quickly, making it a good option for beginners. 
  • However, it can be susceptible to UV damage and should not be used in direct sunlight. 

Can you use polyurethane over acrylic paint?

Aye, you can keep using polyurethane over acrylic paint without any problems. Polyurethane is a clear protective finish that will protect your painting from dirt, dust, grease, and UV rays. 

It will also give your painting a nice glossy finish. However, it is important to ensure that your acrylic paint is completely dry before applying the polyurethane. Otherwise, the polyurethane won’t adhere properly. 

Once your paint is dry, you can apply the polyurethane in several coats. Let each coat dry for at least four hours before applying the next one. When you’re finished, your painting will have the protection it needs to last for years! 

How To Seal Acrylic Paint With Polyurethane?

If you want your paintings to last a long time, you must seal them with a protective layer. One of the best ways to do this is by using polyurethane. 

Polyurethane is a clear finish that will protect your painting from dirt, dust, grease, and UV rays. It will also give your painting a nice glossy finish. 

  • Preparation

Before you start, you must ensure that your painting is completely dry. If it’s even little damp, the polyurethane won’t cling appropriately. 

Once you’re sure it’s dry, give the painting a light sanding with a fine-grit sandpaper. 

This will help the polyurethane adhere better. Wipe off any dust with a tack cloth before applying the polyurethane.

  • Application

You can use a brush, roller, or sprayer. If you’re using a brush or roller, pour some polyurethane into a paint tray and dip your applicator into it. 

Then, start painting on the polyurethane in long, even strokes. Work in small sections, so the paint doesn’t have a chance to dry before you finish it. 

If you’re using a sprayer, pour the polyurethane into the reservoir and spray it onto the painting in long, even strokes. Again, work in small sections, so the paint doesn’t have a chance to dry before you finish it. 

  • Drying Time

Once you’ve applied the first coat of polyurethane, let it dry for at least four hours before applying a second coat. After the second coat has dried for at least four hours, your painting is officially sealed! For spray paint coat, here’s how long it takes to dry!

Can You Use Oil-based Polyurethane Over Acrylic Paint?

Oil-based polyurethane is one of the most durable finishes for wood floors, furniture, and trim. It’s long-lasting and resists scratches, stains, and moisture. And it enhances the natural beauty of wood with a rich, glossy sheen. 

However, oil-based polyurethane can take up to 24 hours to dry completely. So if you’re planning to use it over acrylic paint, ensure the paint is fully cured first. If not, the paint could become soft and gummy, causing wrinkling and bubbling. 

The same goes for oil-based products you plan to use over the paint, such as stains or varnishes. Once the paint is thoroughly dry (usually after 3-4 days), you can apply your oil-based finish without worry.

Can You Use Water-based Varnish For Acrylic painting?

Water-based varnish is not recommended for acrylic paintings because it can cause the paint to become tacky, making it difficult to apply additional layers of paint. Additionally, water-based varnish can dull the colors of an acrylic painting. 

If you’re looking for a way to protect your acrylic painting, consider using an oil-based varnish instead. While oil-based varnish takes longer to dry, it will provide a more durable barrier against dirt and fingerprints.

Can you mix polyacrylic with acrylic paint?

Mixing these two products can give you some great benefits. 

  • It will help to protect the paint from scratches, chipping, and other damage.
  • It makes the paint durable, easier to clean, and can give it a lovely gloss finish.

Just be sure to follow the directions on the products you’re using, and test the mixture on a small area before applying it to your entire project. Also, following safety guidelines, properly dispose of acetone after completing the paint projects!

Can You Clear-Coat Acrylic Paint?

Yes, you can clear-coat acrylic paint. Clear coating or sealing acrylic paint is an important step to protect 

  • the painted surface from scratches 
  • damage caused by UV light 
  • and everyday wear-and-tear. 

Clear-coating acrylic paint is an easy and effective way to give your artwork a long-lasting finish. With the right materials and proper application, you can ensure it stays vibrant and beautiful for years. 

Can You Spray A Clear Coat Over Acrylic Paint?

Yes, you can spray a clear coat over acrylic paint. Many automotive finishes use a base coat of acrylic paint followed by a clear coat of either lacquer or urethane. The clear coat helps protect the paint from UV rays, dirt, and other elements. 

To do this with an acrylic painting, be sure to first use a spray sealer or varnish to protect the paint from the clear coat. Apply several light coats of clear coat, allowing them to dry in between coats. Once the final clear coat is dry, your painting should be protected from the elements! 

Final Words: 

Polyurethane and acrylic paint each offer unique benefits! But it’s important to weigh those comparison tests against your specific needs before deciding. Both products are suitable for interior and exterior applications! Finally, if you live in Florida, here are the best exterior paints for your house.

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