What is the difference between lacquer & urethane paint?

Updated March 23, 2017

Acrylic lacquer and urethane paint are the two most common paint types used for painting automobiles; however, they are very different types of paint. Urethane-based paints replaced lacquer paints in the last couple decades; however both paint types are still available for purchase.


Lacquer paint used to paint cars comes in two main types. Acrylic enamel is one type that is very easy to work with and requires only one or two coats. This type also does not require a clear paint coat over it. Acrylic lacquer paint is the other type, but does require multiple coats of paint. Lacquer paint dries quickly and the person painting the car can easily rub out imperfections and repaint them quickly without having to wait for the paint to dry. These two types of paint are incompatible with each other, and cannot be placed on the same car because of this. If lacquer paint is sprayed over enamel paint, the paint almost always wrinkles or shows other types of blemishes.


Urethane paint is the most common type of auto paint used today, according to the website Learn Auto Painting. Urethane paints are used because of the quality finish they offer. Auto painters and car restorers, according to ThomasNet, believe that urethane paints offer a more durable, nicer finish that is more chip-resistant than acrylic lacquer paints. Most of the time, a clear coat is applied to a vehicle that has urethane paint on it.


If you wonder what type of paint your car has on it, there are several ways to find out. Many auto supply stores that sell auto paint may be able to look it up for you. Another way to find out is to look at your car's auto ID tag, which usually lists a specific paint code on it. Your vehicle's VIN number may also state the type of paint and colour used on your vehicle. Finding out the paint type and colour is important if you are trying to match up paint colours to touch up your car or repaint it.


According to ThomasNet, urethane paint is easier to apply, compared to lacquer paint, and provides better coverage. It dries quicker and reduces the wait time between applications. Urethane paints, however, are toxic because they contain iscocyanantes, which are compounds that are harmful to the human body. Acrylic lacquer paint is water-based and is much less toxic.

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About the Author

Jennifer VanBaren started her professional online writing career in 2010. She taught college-level accounting, math and business classes for five years. Her writing highlights include publishing articles about music, business, gardening and home organization. She holds a Bachelor of Science in accounting and finance from St. Joseph's College in Rensselaer, Ind.