What is Polycrylic and How Should I Apply It?

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If you are a carpenter, woodworker, DIY person, or anything in between, if you work with wood, you know that it has to be specially treated to endure. Wood pieces have to be finished with a special layer to add protection from moisture, light, and the elements.

Using a finish on the wood is also ideal because it helps protect the paint underneath and keeps colors vibrant and intact for much longer than they otherwise would.

A good finish can even help add some color and/or gloss to the mix as well. One of the best types of finished and protective agents for wood is Polycrylic.

Today we want to talk all about Polycrylic, what it is, how to use it, how it is applied, and much more. Let’s get right to it and tell you all about this awesome protective and finishing agent for wood.

What is Polycrylic?

Technically speaking, Polycrylic is a water-based protective coating. The main purpose of Polycrylic is to protect the wood. Polycrylic comes available in a variety of finishes including high gloss and satin finishes.

Not only does Polycrylic come with the benefit of protecting wood pieces from various forms of damage, like water damage, but it also helps add some beauty to the mix too.

Depending on the type or color of Polycrylic you use, it can help add some nice color or a glossy finish to your wood pieces. Polycrylic is often used as a finish for things like doors, cabinets, furniture, and other pieces of wood.

Types of Polycrylic

There are two main types of Polycrylic that you can use:

  1. spray-on or aerosol Polycrylic
  2. roll-on Polycrylic

Spray-on Polycrylic

Spray-on Polycrylic

Spray-on Polycrylic is a good option to go with if you just want to apply a thin layer really quickly. It sprays out of an aerosol bottle and is quite easy to apply. This ease of use is probably its biggest benefit.

It does dry very fast because it comes out in a thin layer, but applying a very even layer, especially without getting air pressure marks, can be a bit difficult.

There is also the fact that aerosols in spray cans are not very good for the environment, plus these aerosol Polycrylic cans are usually fairly limited in terms of quantity. It is best used for smaller projects.

Roll-on Polycrylic

Roll-on Polycrylic

On the other hand, you have roll-on Polycrylic, which usually comes in a can just like paint. These cans tend to be fairly large and they are best used for larger projects.

There are also more varieties of roll-on Polycrylic. However, the downfall of a roll-on Polycrylic is that it is hard to apply without noticeable brush strokes.

It also dries very fast, so when using a brush or roller, you have to be very quick to get the right look before it dries.

What Polycrylic Is Recommended?

There are several different brand names of Polycrylic available, but our personal favorite is a popular one in the industry for good reason. It works well, is competitively priced, and available in a multitude of finishes, colors, aerosols, and cans.

Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish

The product we would most highly recommend is called Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish. For $20, you get a full quart of Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish, which is a really great price for quite a large quantity.

Next, keep in mind that this is the roll-on variety, so you need to use a brush or roller to apply it to wood, just like you would with paint or varnish. For this reason, this particular product is best used for larger projects and for flat pieces of wood.

Furthermore, this particular Polycrylic is very fast drying and it only takes a few minutes to begin setting. So, while you do have to work fast to apply even and good looking layers of it, it does dry fast, which many views as a bonus.

Now, keep in mind that Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish goes on clear, and dries clear. It features a crystal-clear finish and it does not provide extra color or any kind of gloss.

Therefore, while it is not the best for adding aesthetic qualities, it is a really good option for protecting your woodwork pieces for light and moisture damage, and to keep the paint underneath intact for a much longer time than without the finish.

What is also nice, is that this finish is very easy to clean up with some soap and warm water, at least when it is still wet.


  • Very fast drying
  • Provides ideal protection for wood
  • Good quantity for a great price
  • Cleans up easily


  • Not ideal for very small and intricate projects
  • Requires a brush and/or roller to apply

Why Apply Polycrylic?

Let’s quickly talk about why you should apply Polycrylic to your woodworking projects.

Polycrylic is a protective layer, which is something you should apply to your woodworking projects. It forms a solid seal over any piece of wood and therefore protects your projects from damage that can be caused by temperatures, water, and light.

Polycrylic is a good option because you can find clear, satin, and glossy finishes. Simply put, you could use the clear variety to protect the paint underneath, or you could use the glossy or satin options for something more glamorous or ornate. 

How Long Does it Take for Polycrylic to Cure?

How Long Does it Take for Polycrylic to Cure

Applying Polycrylic and letting it cure does take some knowledge. Polycrylic is very fast drying, much faster than most other finishes or varnishes, but that said, it does not dry or cure instantly.

First, whenever you are using Polycrylic, it is always recommended that you apply 3 layers, as 1 or even 2 will usually not suffice. Polycrylic will dry to the touch within about 30 minutes, and it can then be handled about 1 hour after application.

However, keep in mind that you should recoat it, and you can apply the second coat of Polycrylic 2 hours after the first application, and then repeat this for the third coating as well.

After you have applied the third and final coating of Polycrylic, you should wait for at least 24 hours to fully cure. So, generally speaking, depending on how much you applied, it should take roughly 24 hours for Polycrylic to fully cure.

How to Apply Polycrylic

Let’s quickly go over exactly how you need to prepare a surface so you can apply Polycrylic. It might sound complicated, but there is actually not all that much to it.

Repair dents and cracks

Before you apply Polycrylic, you need to repair any dents and cracks that may be in the wood piece. If you are creating a new piece, there should not be dents or cracks, but if you are working on an older piece, then this does need to be done.

You don’t want it seeping into cracks, as this will result in uneven application.

Clean the surface

The other thing that you need to do before applying Polycrylic is to clean the surface. You do not want any dust, dirt, or other debris getting stuck under it.

Once that stuff is stuck under the Polycrylic layer, it is there for good; not only will it look bad, but it will also create streaks during the application process.

How to Apply Polycrylic Spray

When using the aerosol variety of Polycrylic, first off, be sure to follow the steps above in terms of making sure there are no cracks and cleaning the piece.

The aerosol variety is very easy to apply, but be sure to read the instructions on the specific product you have, as different products have different guidelines.

Generally speaking, you want to hold the spray about 1 foot away from the piece and apply an even layer, making sure that you are somewhere with no or minimal airflow.

You will also want to wear a protective breathing mask when doing this, just so you do not inhale any. This is best used for smaller projects.

How to Apply Polycrylic With a Brush

Applying Polycrylic with a brush is also fairly easy and straightforward. Once again, you want to clean and repair your workpiece before applying Polycrylic with a brush.

When doing this, you want to use a high-quality synthetic brush. Now, the hard part here is avoiding streaks and brush marks.

To avoid brush marks, make sure to use a high-quality and fine bristle brush, make sure to only apply the Polycrylic in a single direction, and always go with the grain of the wood.

Do not apply too much pressure to the brush, and make sure to only apply a thin layer. It is better to use 2 or 3 thin layers, rather than a thick layer at once.

Tips For Applying Polycrylic Over Paint

Yes, it is possible to apply Polycrylic over paint, but it is a little bit tricky. What you need to do is apply 2 or 3 layers of the paint before you get started. Make sure that the paint is totally dry.

Now you want to use very fine sandpaper, just to sand it a little bit in order to get some texture going on the paint. Normal dried paint is too smooth and the Polycrylic will not stick right, so sand it slightly.

Other than that, applying Polycrylic over paint is the same as applying it on unfinished or unpainted wood.

Tips for Applying Polycrylic Over Stain

Once again applying Polycrylic over stain is the exact same as with applying it over paint. Just make sure that the stain is completely dry and that you have a couple of layers of it.

Lightly sand the stain to create some texture, and then apply the Polycrylic using the techniques we discussed.

Can You Paint Over Polycrylic?

Technically speaking, yes you could paint over Polycrylic, but it is somewhat pointless. The whole point of Polycrylic is to be a protective coating over wood and paint, so painting over it is somewhat counterproductive.

Applying Polycrylic Over Vinyl Decals

Yes, you can apply Polycrylic over vinyl decals. Keep in mind that normal decals can be easily removed from most surfaces. However, if you go over vinyl decals with Polycrylic, they are there for good. The Polycrylic will seal the decals in place and you won’t be able to get them off again. If this appeals to you, just ensure that you follow proper brushing instructions to prevent visible streaks.

Alternatives to Polycrylic

There are some alternatives to Polycrylic, but quite honestly, we would recommend using Polycrylic over all alternatives. You could go with polyurethane, which can be oil-based, whereas Polycrylic is only water-based. There are also bio-paints, Candelilla wax, and various oils that can be used.

Additional Tips for Working With Polycrylic

  • Always use Polycrylic in a well-ventilated area. It has some pretty strong fume
  • Always wear a face mask when using the aerosol variety. You don’t want to inhale the fumes
  • Always allow Polycrylic to cure for a few hours more than the label instructs, just to be sure that it has set properly
  • Keep some warm water and soap nearby, because if you apply it wrong, you will want to wash it off before it dries
  • Make sure to use Polycrylic in a fairly cool and dry environment. Too much heat and moisture will cause the Polycrylic to take much longer to dry and cure
  • When using Polycrylic, never use a wet brush, as this will negatively affect the consistency and overall efficacy of the product
  • Whenever possible, Polycrylic should be the final layer, not an intermediary layer


There you have it – everything you need to know about Polycrylic – what it is,  how to use it, tips, and more. It really is a great type of finish to use on wood, so give it a try.

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