Polycrylic vs. Polyurethane: Which One is Best for Wood?

When it comes to finishing your pieces, whether it’s a table and chair set, a bookcase, or some kitchen cabinetry, both polycrylic and polyurethane are essential. They not only provide the requisite coating, but they also provide an aesthetically pleasing shine.

When going for a natural look with your woodworking, you’ll usually use one of these two finishing options. You can even use both for certain workpieces. For several projects, however, you would just need to select one. When you go to the hardware store and see these two different items, you wouldn’t want to select the wrong one for the finishing job you have.

The only way to ensure that you make the correct decision is to understand the best applications for polycrylic vs. polyurethane, as well as the benefits and drawbacks of using it on your workpieces.

What is Polycrylic?


Polycrylic is a useful water-based sealant. Its protective coat would be useful for a number of DIY and woodworking projects. It also comes in a variety of finishes, like satin and gloss.

Some of the most common DIY projects are tables, chairs, entertainment centers, and consoles. And, since most will require a large amount of work and time to complete, you’ll want to give them the best topcoat possible.

When using polycrylic, you have the option of using it with a spray bottle or a roller, depending on the piece you’re working with, making it easy to reach tight corners.

Most do-it-yourselfers prefer polycrylic to add a touch of chic charm to interior woodwork pieces ranging from living room furniture to doors, tables, and cabinets.

Furthermore, when dealing with light wooden surfaces such as maple and birch, it is usually the best choice of finish or topcoat. It is suitable for these light-colored surfaces because it has a transparent finish with no tint.

When using water-based stain for your wood pieces, polycrylic is a much superior option to oil-based polyurethane. Polycrylic, unlike polyurethane, does not require a long drying period. Since it dries quickly, it can greatly shorten the duration of your project.

In most cases, polycrylic is less costly than polyurethane, making it a reasonable option when price is a concern.

Finally, polycrylic is less difficult to clean than polyurethane. Since it contains water-based components, cleaning up afterward is easier.


 1. There is no residual odor


Since polycrylic has no lingering odors, you won’t have to keep the windows open for hours while using it. When working indoors, this can be a significant advantage, particularly if you or anyone in your household is sensitive to chemical odors.

2. It dries completely clear

You always get a clean finish with polycrylic. This is especially important when working on surfaces that are naturally light in color, such as birch, maple, and ash. Unlike polyurethane, which dries with a slightly yellow finish, polycrylic retains the appearance of the surface.

3. Relatively inexpensive

When compared to other finishes such as polyurethane, polycrylic is less costly. It is less expensive to produce than oil-based polyurethane because it is water-based.

4. Easy to clean

One of the aspects that makes the water-based polycrylic finish a great option is how easy it is to clean. Unlike polyurethane, the surface can be cleaned with only soap and water.


1. May give a white finish

Contrary to popular belief, polycrylic is not fully clear. If you apply it too thickly to a surface, it may leave a milky-white finish. This is a common concern while working with dark-colored paints on dark-colored surfaces.

2. It is difficult to apply

Polycrylic’s low viscosity makes it more difficult to spread than polyurethane. In other words, it has a runny consistency, which can be difficult to deal with while operating on vertical surfaces. And, since it dries much faster than polyurethane, it can be difficult to spread uniformly on wide surfaces until it starts to dry.

What is Polyurethane?


Polyurethane, unlike polycrylic, is available in both water-based and oil-based forms.

Polyurethane is the more flexible of the two, since it can be used on a wide range of surfaces. Water-based polyurethane is favored because it is less toxic, has a low odor, and dries easily.

While oil-based polyurethane does not dry as quickly as water-based polyurethane or its polycrylic equivalent, it provides a more durable finish than both. It can also withstand high temperatures.

Some of the woodworking parts you create will be exposed to elements such as heat or put in high-traffic areas. You’ll want a hard finish on such pieces if you want them to last.

Polyurethane is the perfect option for offering a hard finish to your tabletops, hardwood floors, and other items that will be subjected to a lot of abuse.

The properties of polyurethane are the same as those of molten plastic. This means that as it hardens, it forms a tight protective layer over the wood surface. This finish, unlike polycrylic, is difficult to remove and will last a long time.

When using polycrylic and other finishes, it is difficult to achieve the shine that polyurethane gives your wood furniture. As a result, it is always the best option when you want to give parts a gleaming and expensive appearance.

Polyurethane’s hard shell is also scratch-resistant, maintaining the quality of your woodworking parts for a long time.

Water-based polyurethane is ideal for photo frames, side tables, desks, and bookcases; oil-based polyurethane is ideal for hardwood flooring, kitchen tables, and any surface that might get wet, such as outdoor furniture.


1. Long-lasting

It is true that polyurethane (particularly the oil-based form) takes longer to dry than polycrylic. However, as it dries, it forms a strong shell over the item, ensuring its longevity. To make matters even better, this hard shell is impervious to scratching and marking. When you use polyurethane, you won’t have to redo the finishing for a long time.

2. Adds a glossy coat

Polyurethane is an excellent choice for a finish that will give your furniture a rich and glossy appearance. Unlike polycrylic, oil-based polyurethane often leaves a glossy coat on wood surfaces.

3. Ideal for large surfaces


Polyurethane’s slow drying time makes it suitable for working on wide surfaces. This is due to the fact that you would not have to worry about any parts drying until you finish applying finish to the whole piece, which could otherwise result in an uneven appearance.

4. Ideal for both finished and unfinished wood

When working with softwood, polycrylic can come in handy much of the time. Polyurethane, on the other hand, can be used to finish both finished and unfinished wood, making it extremely versatile.


1. Needs ventilation

When working with oil-based polyurethane, make sure to use it in a well-ventilated area. This is due not only to the odor it emits but also to the fact that it is a poisonous and flammable finish.

2. Takes a long time for the paint to dry

If you are working on a tight deadline, polyurethane may not be the best finish for you because it takes a long time to dry. Furthermore, after it has dried, the curing process takes much longer.

Polycrylic vs. Polyurethane: Which One Should You Choose?

If you are an accomplished woodworker who works on a number of projects on a daily basis, it is best to have both polycrylic and polyurethane materials on hand. If you just want to add a topcoat and spruce up your interior furniture, polycrylic is a perfect choice because it dries quickly and is easy to apply. It also has a nice transparent finish and is less expensive.

When it comes to longevity, polyurethane will always be the more dependable alternative over polycrylic. It is also easier on unfinished and finished surfaces that must withstand high temperatures and use.

When it comes to wooden items that could be exposed to humidity or get wet, the oil-based polyurethane finish should be preferred over the polycrylic finish. When applying a seal coat, it might be preferable to use polycrylic rather than oil-based polyurethane. This is because polyurethane will leave a yellow tint.