Polycrylic vs. Polyurethane: What’s the Difference?

Many painters understand the idea of using the best surface finish for their projects. Great finishes reinforce the ability of the surface to resist corrosion, fatigue, and wear and tear. Besides, they can also help decrease the abrasion level of the surface. Two of the most used finishes are polycrylic and Polyurethane. They’re both excellent for finishing wood and other surfaces. However, there are differences in their effect. What are these differences?

Polycrylic vs. Polyurethane: What’s the Difference?

Polycrylic finish is more durable than its polyurethane counterpart. It has more excellent fatigue resistance and wears and tear. However, Polyurethane is a better option to use on a wide range of surfaces, especially wood and surfaces prone to abuse and heavy use. It’s pretty easier to apply than polycrylic. Polycrylic is cheaper, while oil-based Polyurethane is more expensive.

The article will look into the differences between polycrylic vs. Polyurethane. In addition, we’ll also consider the following related questions:

  • What is Polycrylic and Polyurethane(Pros, Cons, Uses)
  • 12 differences between Polycrylic and Polyurethane
  • Polycrylic vs. Polyurethane for different surfaces

Polycrylic vs Polyurethane Comparison Chart

Here are the differences between polycrylic and polyurethane coats: 

Curing timeCures in a shorter timeIt takes much longer to cure
Fastest Drying TimeDries fasterTakes a longer time to dry
Colors & TintsDoesn’t leave any color or tin behind Dries with a yellow or amber tint
SheenIt appears in high-gloss and satin sheensIt comes in both satin and gloss sheens
Durable & LastingLess durable and only suitable for the interior surfaceOil-based Polyurethane lasts longer and is more durable
ToxicityZero toxicityHighly toxic and requires a respirator
Budget $25 to $40 $29 to $40
ApplicationSuitable for interior surfaces such as trim, furniture, and cabinetsPerfect on a wider range of surfaces, including trim, wood, cabinet, furniture
Clean-UpEasy to clean (based on whether it’s water-based or oil-based            Easy to clean if water-based; oil-based requires solvent
RepairEasier to repairA bit difficult to repair
Polycrylic vs Polyurethane

Are Polycrylic and Polyurethane the Same Thing?

No, polyacrylic and Polyurethane are not the same. One of the main distinctions between these two finishes is their chemical composition. Polyurethane finish comes in two forms: water-based and oil-based. Polycrylic finish is based on water only. This means that Polyurethane is suitable for a wide range of applications, whereas polycrylic has limited applications. In addition, polycrylic is not the same as Polyurethane because polycrylic dries faster; oil-based Polyurethane can take some hours. 

Why Should You Use Polycrylic or Polyurethane?

The choice or application of either polycrylic or Polyurethane depends on the specific needs of the surface you’re working on. If you’re looking at better durability and strong adhesion, the best option is Polyurethane. This is mainly due to its acrylic-based formula, suitable for abuse-prone surfaces. On the other side of the coin, polycrylic will work better than any other finish if you’re looking at interior surfaces. Polycrylic is the best option for surfaces such as cabinets, trim, or pieces of furniture. This is because it is water-based and boasts lesser durability. 

What is Polycrylic?

Polycrylic is a water-based coat that you can apply to various surfaces. If you’re considering coating your wood, furniture, stairs, trims, cabinets, and polycrylic products will be the best choice of coat. The product comes in different forms: satin, semi-gloss, and high-gloss finish. Its water-based nature makes it easier to clear and clean. Another feature of polycrylic products is that it dries clear. 

It has a quick-drying feature without releasing any toxic smell. However, it can take some time before polycrylic fully cures. In addition, polycrylic doesn’t brook much heat. Polycrylic helps to provide optimum protection and finish to your wood project. The good thing about polycrylic is that it isn’t compulsory to have ventilation before you can apply it. This product is not toxic and so won’t constitute any health hazard to your skin or when inhaled.  

Pros of Polycrylic

  • Environmental friendly
  • Easy to clean with soap and water
  • Less volatile organic compounds
  • Wood protection
  • Less durability

Cons of Polycrylic

  • Only suitable for interior surfaces
  • Cannot withstand pressure or abuse 


Polycrylic finish is only suitable to be applied on interior surfaces such as trim, furniture, and cabinets. They are also great for other surfaces that are more prone to abuse and heavy use. For painters finishing contoured and irregular surfaces, polycrylic comes in handy as an aerosol to make your work look excellent. It’s also best to apply polycrylic on vertical surfaces. You can use a synthetic bristle brush to apply it. It can also be rolled. You should apply it in the same single direction with the grain. 

How to Apply Polycrylic?

Here are things to keep in mind to apply polycrylic finish:

Brush or Roll

It is best to apply polycrylic using a high-quality synthetic bristle brush. Make sure to apply it in a single direction with the grain while avoiding over-brushing. For optimum result, leave for about 120 minutes and sand it using 220-grit sandpaper for an even finish. This will ensure proper adhesion of extra coats. 

Apply properly

One thing you’ll notice with polycrylic is that it doesn’t dry quickly when applied over matte latex paint. This is due to the presence of additives in the paint. It’s worth mentioning that you must apply polycrylic products properly. 

Can turn milky

The consequence of not correctly applying polycrylic on your wood surface is dire. First, The surface can turn milky if you apply the product in thick layers over paint or dark wood. The second thing is that the product will not spread evenly and smoothly except if it’s applied in thin coats. 

Even spread is slightly tricky.

However, it may be a little bit difficult to have an even spread and application of polycrylic on your surface. As a result, you must be on the lookout for drips and pools when applying it. When applying polycrylic, wait until it completely dries out. This way, you can avoid a sticky finish.  

What is Polyurethane?

Polyurethane is a synthetic resin that can be applied to floor finishing, cabinets, and other woodwork. It is also referred to as a type of varnish perfect for finishing compatible surfaces. It is a widely used varnish choice because of its transparency and ability to resist abrasions, water, and even fungus. It is toxic and can be pretty dangerous to your health when inhaled.  

Oil-based Polyurethane

Oil-based Polyurethane is a Kind of varnish that is produced based on solvent. It can pose a danger to the environment when used. Hence, there’s a need to consider safety measures when applying it. It has a high resistance capacity to wear and tear. 

Water-based Polyurethane

This type of Polyurethane is more environmentally friendly since it is based on water. It is also safer to use compared to the other type of Polyurethane. However, they have lower wear and tear resistance capability when compared to the other type of Polyurethane. 

Pros of Polyurethane

  • It provides durability to surfaces 
  • It has an extended lifespan
  • Ease of use 
  • Extra protection on surfaces 

Cons of Polyurethane

  • Require ventilation to achieve an optimum result 
  • It takes a longer time to dry 
  • Environmental issues 
  • Odor 
  • It requires brushing on the finish 


Polyurethane varnish can be typically applied on more expansive surfaces than its polycrylic counterpart. Polyurethane works well on wood furniture and flooring, apart from working on both interior and exterior surfaces. 

To apply it, you can use either a nylon brush or foam, depending on whether it is water-based or oil-based. In the end, applying a thin coat of the finish is best, leaving it to dry out through the night before the second coat’s application. If you use it in a thick layer, it may produce a cloudy appearance. You may get a plastic-like look if you misapply it or in excess layers. 

How to Apply Polyurethane?

Polyurethane is not tricky to apply as you can easily apply it using spray or brush. When it comes to applying polyacrylic, it can sometimes be difficult due to its runny consistency with constant attention. It is best applied in a thin coat to avoid running, drips, or patches. A thick poly application can also result in a sticky finish. Unlike the application of polycrylic, is it easier and possible to achieve a smooth and even spread of Polyurethane? However, it must be applied in thin coats.  

A general rule of thumb is to ensure the workspace is well-ventilated before applying Polyurethane. This is because the product is harmful and can release toxic fumes. These fumes can cause suffocation or skin irritation.  

Polycrylic vs. Polyurethane: What are the Differences?

Deciding which is better between polycrylic and Polyurethane depends on several factors. Prominent among these is the need for the surface you’re painting. You’ll also have to consider your preference for the visual effect of the project you’re handling. There are a lot of areas in polycrylic and polyurethane share similar properties. Their differences are also many.  

When it comes to durability and better adhesion, Polyurethane is a better choice and can be applied to different surfaces with high traffic. Polycrylic has lesser durability and is only suitable for interior surfaces such as trim, furniture, cabinets, and more. 

1. Curing & Fastest Drying Time

Polycrilic has a fast drying time compared to Polyurethane. Although it can sometimes become dry as quickly as possible, its complete dryness requires a longer time even to touch. There can be brush or lap marks which can be problematic, especially with larger surfaces. Polycrilic also takes a longer time to cure than Polyurethane. Polyurethane can take about 24 to 48 hours to dry, while polycrylic can take 30 minutes to 24 hours. 

2. Colors, Tints, Sheen

Polycrylic is color and tint-friendly. If you properly prepare the surface, you can apply colors and tints to polyacrylic with chalk paint. On the other hand, you can tint Polyurethane using color pigment. Tinting polyurethane will require you to use color pigment, but you should ensure it is a drop at a time. 

The good news is that both polycrylic and Polyurethane, whether in their water-based or oil-based form, come in high-gloss, semi-gloss, gloss, and satin sheens. This way, you can have a shiny and glossy wood or flooring surface.  

3. Durable & Lasting

Polyurethane has more durability than polycrylic. This is why it is suitable for abused-threatened surfaces such as hardwood flooring, regardless of its complex application. Polycrylic has less durability, making it limited only to interior surfaces. They are not great for surfaces that cannot withstand excessive abuse. 

4. Toxicity & Odor

Polyurethane comes with dangers as it contains many volatile organic compounds harmful to health. Hence, there’s a need to protect yourself from health hazards when applying the product. It is usually best to put on a respiratory to keep you safe. Polycrylic, on the other hand, has no VOCs, making it less dangerous to the environment. Generally, water-based Polyurethane is far less potent than the oil-based version. 

Polycrylic has no strong odor and does not have the same toxicity as Polyurethane. When you apply polycrylic, you may not need to protect yourself. Polyurethane can produce a mild smell with sooner dissipation after you apply. You may not notice it quickly as a non-toxic smell will not drown the air in the room. Thanks to its less volatile organic compound. 

5. Water Resistance & Heat Resistance

Due to the physical properties of Polyurethane, it is resistant to water. However, this does not mean it is waterproof. It has a protective layer on surfaces such as hardwood, making it resistant to water penetration. Polycrylic, on the other hand, is resistant to water, which is why it dries faster. 

Polyurethane has can withstand temperatures to a reasonable extent. It can resist heat between 80 degrees Fahrenheit to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Some polyurethane can also tolerate heat up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Polycrylic has a quick-drying feature and has lower resistance to heat or temperatures. 

6. Repair

The best way to repair a damaged polyurethane is by dipping a piece of 320-grit in a shallow container of Minwax and carefully sanding the area you wish to repair. You can also repair polyacrylic marks by sanding the damaged area and reapplying. 

7. Clean Up

Clean water and soap is the best remedy to clean up water-based Polyurethane, while oil-based is best cleaned with mineral spirit. Polycrilic, on the other hand, is best cleaned using a damp cloth and Minwax. 

8. Budget

On average, you may need to budget between $25 to $40 for Polyurethane. However, this depends on the size of the insulation package. Polycrilic will need a budget of $29 to $40. By impaction, Polyurethane is costlier than polyacrylic.


Polycrylic is a protective layer that is best applied to woodworking projects. It is a better choice for woods as it forms a solid seal on any wood pieces, offering protection and preventing damage from weather conditions. Polyurethane is mainly applied on items such as freezer thermal insulation systems. 

Using polycrylic sublimation for woods requires coating the wood with a light polycrylic layer, leaving it to cure and dry. Sublimation for polycrylic on wood appears to stick to polycrylic coated wood. When you use polycrylic to sublimate wood leaves a clear finish and protection on your wood. The great thing is that polycrylic is easy to apply. Polyurethane for sublimation on wood helps to print the design choice on wooden decor on sublimation paper. After that, you can move the ink into a poly-coated project. You’ll need to use heat and pressure to transfer the ink.


Both polycrylic and Polyurethane are suitable for ornaments. They work perfectly for glitter ornaments, and the result is always fantastic. Start by filling polycrylic or Polyurethane in a syringe. Shove the syringe towards the top of the ornament. Then, begin to spin the poly finish around. Continue the swirling until the product becomes fully coasted. 

Next is to turn the ornament can upside down in a small piece container to drain the excess. Once you drain for two minutes, use a small funnel to turn the glitter into the ornament. Begin swirling the glitter around until it covers the glitter. 

Light or Dark Wood

Polyurethane imparts a slight amber tone to the wood. Therefore, it may not make the right choice for a pure-white painted finish. Oil-based Polyurethane will leave your light wood darker. You may also notice that its product turns your stained wood brown tint, orange, or yellow. The stained wood color will not be affected if you’re using water-based Polyurethane on light wood. The only change you’ll notice is the seeming more brightness the poly will confer on the stained wood due to its shine.

On the other hand, applying polycrylic on light woods leaves your surface beautiful. Polycrylic leaves the surfaces applied clear without adding any yellowish look. It won’t alter lighter wood’s appearance, such as maple birch, including white paintings. 

Polycrilic provides a better finish but may alter the appearance of dark woods. Polyurethane may not change the appearance of dark woods if applied correctly. This is why it’s best to follow the application procedures, such as applying the product in thin coats. In this instance, Polyurethane is preferable to polycrylic on dark wood. This is one of the beauties of polycrylic. 

Polyurethane is more suitable for flooring & Countertops projects

Polycrylic has less durability than Polyurethane, which is why it is suitable for oversized furniture and other interior surfaces. Depending on the need, you can also apply Polyurethane for large pieces of furniture because of its durability. Polycrylic is not a suitable finish for floors as more frequent recoating will be required, especially in an area with too much traffic. Polyurethane makes the right choice of finish for floors as it provides long-lasting protection. 

Countertops require a long-lasting finish due to the abuse they get at times. It is best to use Polyurethane when it comes to countertops, as it will undoubtedly provide the countertop with a long-lasting finish and strength compared to polyacrylic. 

Chalk Paint

It is best to choose polyacrylic on chalk paint than Polyurethane on chalk-painted surfaces. This is because polyacrylics will not turn yellow. Additionally, it doesn’t smell like Polyurethane which can be dangerous to health. However, applying oil-based rather than water-based poly over chalk paint is recommended. With oil-based Polyurethane, your chalk paint surface will glitter and look glossy. With a water-based coat, the chalk surface may turn yellow. 

Polycrylic vs. Polyurethane Water-based

Water-based polycrylic products do not have as much odor as in Polyurethane. Secondly, Polycrylic is not toxic, meaning you can use them in an enclosed but ventilated workspace. This makes it not difficult to work with. On the contrary, water-based Polyurethane does not have many volatile organic compounds, making it less dangerous to the lungs and nose. Poly also releases toxic fumes that can affect your health. 

What’s more, the two products dry quickly, but water-based polycrylic is faster than Polyurethane. While it may take water-based Polyurethane to dry in 2 hours fully, polycrylic will take far less time.

Final words

Polycrylic vs. Polyurethane: what’s the difference? This is an important thing to consider before choosing your choice of finish. Both finishes have different areas of application. Hence, it is vital to know the composition before choosing your finish. Woodworking will look perfect with both finishes, but it is best to choose Polyurethane considering these comparisons.

However, polyacrylic has unique features and is lovely for specific applications. It is suitable for different interior use and comes with lesser durability. Polyurethane can withstand abuse, making it suitable for exterior use. It’s, however, best to find out what you need before choosing either of the finishes.

For better adhesion and durability, Polyurethane is the best choice. However, polyacrylic does not have the same durability as Polyurethane. Hence, you can only apply it on interior surfaces such as trim, cabinets, or furniture.

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