Can you put lacquer over vinyl decals?

Vinyl decals are bound to lose their glossy looks after being up in the rain and sun for a few years. It’s only natural that you’d want to keep everything looking new for as long as possible, so is there a way to shine up those decals?

A good way to do that is through the coating and sealant. However, some coats work better than others while some don’t work at all, and if you’re not an expert on the subject, it can be difficult to know which is which.

So, can you put lacquer over vinyl decals? Let’s find out.

But before you can begin considering putting lacquer over your vinyl decals, it’s important to understand what exactly lacquer is.

What this article covers:

What Is Lacquer?

can you put lacquer over vinyl decal

Lacquer is coated on wood and dries through solvent evaporation to make for a hardened, polished, and more durable finish. 

Most high-end furniture has a final lacquer finish to get that shiny aesthetic on the wood that’s so closely associated with grandeur and luxury.

The reason so many furniture manufacturers insist on a lacquer finish is that it keeps the wood underneath from turning yellow with age. It also does a great job of protecting the furniture from water damage.

When lacquer is being applied to something, it’s typically sprayed using a low-pressure sprayer. You also want to ensure that the room is ventilated.

If you’re trying to restore faded vinyl decals, spraying lacquer over them won’t necessarily do the job. However, it will give your vinyl that glossy appearance that can breathe some new life into it. If you’ve invested in a custom-cut vinyl decal, you want to do everything you can to keep it looking shiny and new.

how can you put lacquer over vinyl decal

Lacquer typically has 3 variations: acrylic, water-based, and nitrocellulose.

Acrylic Lacquer

This type of lacquer works best for ensuring that the wood finishes don’t yellow, causing a clearer color.

Acrylic lacquer is more resistant to scratches and marks while remaining flexible. This makes it a great choice for any kind of wood that’s not decorative and sees moderate to heavy use. Think of things like fishing poles or dowels.

Acrylic is the most expensive out of the 3 acrylics and typically needs to be combined with a thinner agent when you apply it.

However, this is also used for vinyl decals on walls or wooden surfaces.

Water-based Lacquer

Water-based is by far the least toxic of the 3. It’s pretty much odorless and it’s more durable than oil-based finishes.

It dries fast, isn’t as expensive as acrylic, and when combined with nitrocellulose lacquer, it lasts for around 5 years once applied. This makes it an excellent choice for things like outdoor furniture that don’t need to twist and bend, but do need a substantial layer of protection against things like sunlight exposure and rain.

Nitrocellulose Lacquer

how can you put lacquer over vinyl decals

This lacquer is used to enhance color, making it perfect for both light and dark furniture.

What sets this lacquer apart from the others is its evaporative property. You’ll have to apply multiple coats to get the finish you want, but it dries quickly, so you can get a moderately-sized piece wrapped up in an afternoon’s work.

It began as a lacquer finish for cars and made its way to wood furniture after carpenters noticed how easy it was to work with. It now serves primarily as an excellent way to add a protective film over whatever you’re coating.

Even though we’ve established what lacquer is, we still need to differentiate it from polyurethane. When looking at sealants, many people wonder if can you put polyurethane over vinyl decals.

What’s Polyurethane?

Polyurethane is popular for wood finishes and is a way to provide a thick glossy finish. Because it’s a polymer-based sealant, it’s somewhat similar to plastic when it’s still in its liquid form.

Where lacquer is thin, polyurethane is thick and isn’t as easy to apply. It can only be applied when a thinning agent is combined with it. Typically, you mix polyurethane and mineral turpentine to make the solution workable.

Polyurethane comes in two types. Oil- and water-based, both of which are durable.

Oil-based

Old-based polyurethane provides a durable finish that takes a while to dry, often upwards of 24 hours depending on the conditions. It’s the most durable of the two and can withstand a good amount of heat. This makes it a good choice for an exterior vinyl decal if you live somewhere arid. 

The downside to oil-based is its toxicity and odor. If you want to apply this to any vinyl decals, it’s essential to do so in a well-ventilated environment.

If you incorrectly apply it, it’ll need to be sanded down, damaging the decal.

should you put lacquer over vinyl decals

Water-based

This is the less toxic and odorless finish out of the two. If applied to wood, you’ll see no yellowing over time as it protects the furniture from most of the effects of Uthe chemical reactions that take place in the wood.

In the same way that water-based lacquer keeps furniture safe, it can protect your vinyl decals

It also dries faster than oil-based polyurethane. The downside is that it doesn’t handle heat as well as oil-based.

These work best on desks and softer wooden surfaces that aren’t exposed to the sun too often.

So, if you have a vinyl decal on a cupboard in your room or simply a wall away from a window, this is perfect.

Differences between Lacquer or Polyurethane

The key differences between these two finishes include the thickness, ease of application, and overall dry time.

Thickness

Polyurethane is thicker than lacquer and doesn’t penetrate into wooden surfaces as well as lacquer.

It’s also more susceptible to scratches and causing vinyl decals to lose color over time.

Lacquer does the job of being durable and longer lasting.

Application

should you put lacquer over vinyl decal

Lacquer needs a high volume, low-pressure sprayer so that it can be sprayed onto the vinyl.

Polyurethane on the other hand requires a brush if you want to apply it. The problem with this is that brush marks can be left on the vinyl decal itself, damaging the design.

The spray is more expensive than buying a small brush with some polyurethane, but it’s easier to apply and you don’t risk leaving any marks.

Drying Time

Lacquer takes less time to dry than polyurethane. This includes both of its variants.

You’ll find that woodworkers prefer lacquer since it only takes around 10 minutes to dry. This means that they can apply a finish on more items in less time.

Since lacquer takes such a short time to dry, you can apply multiple coats with ease.

A common misconception about finishes is that they’re good if you want to get wrinkles out of vinyl decals. If your vinyl decal is already wrinkled, you need to solve the problem before you apply a coat of lacquer or sealant to it, otherwise, you’re only going to make the problem permanent.

The appearance of wrinkles has a lot to do with the way you store your vinyl decals. Make sure you let them flat or hang them straight so there’s no chance for the wrinkles to form and you’ll be good to go.

Putting Lacquer Over Vinyl Decals

how you should put lacquer over vinyl decal

To answer the question that was proposed at the beginning of the article, yes, you can put lacquer over vinyl decals. But why would you need or want to do so in the first place?

Lacquer acts as a finish on wooden surfaces, so if you have a vinyl decal on a wooden surface, you’re guaranteed a shiny coat.

However, it can be applied to non-wooden surfaces too, and still serve its same purpose.

If you want to save wall decals from looking faded and deteriorated, the coating is a good start.

Applying lacquer over vinyl decals does a good job of making the transfer process easier.

What it excels in is creating a good base coat for you to transfer the decal.

Once you have a smooth, lacquered base and the decal is applied, simply let it dry and apply a lighter coat to keep that glossy look.

However, if you’re applying lacquer over vinyl decals once it’s already on the wall, it can lead to some problems.

Seeping

Applying too much lacquer to your vinyl decal can cause the lacquer to seep beneath the decal itself.

This damages the adhesive responsible for transferring the vinyl to the wall as well as causing the decal to curl up.

So, if you’re trying to keep your decals from peeling off walls or curling, using lacquer isn’t the answer.

This means that if you already have edges that are peeling, don’t add a lacquer.

Bubbling

how you should put lacquer over vinyl decals

Depending on what lacquer you’re using, some won’t allow you to apply it during the transfer process.

For example, the oil-based lacquer won’t be too kind to your vinyl compared to how they’re treated by acrylic and water-based.

If you’re using oil-based lacquer, you want to wait a bit before applying it to the recently transferred decal.

Since this lacquer is toxic, it can cause the solvents in the decal to react with the color, causing bubbles to appear after the transfer. 

Conclusion

To sum all of this up, yes, you can put lacquer over your vinyl decal, and doing so poses many benefits. 

If you want to keep your vinyl decal looking glossy on whatever surface it’s transferred to, coating it with lacquer will do the job.

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