Can You Paint Over Shellac? Tips and Tricks for a Flawless Finish

Can You Paint Over Shellac? Tips and Tricks for a Flawless Finish


Shellac is a popular wood finish known for its durability and glossy appearance. It’s a natural resin secreted by the lac bug and has been used for centuries to protect and beautify wooden surfaces. The appeal of shellac lies in its ability to provide a rich, warm finish that enhances the grain of the wood while offering a strong protective layer.

Considerations for Painting Over Shellac

Before starting a project to paint over shellac, there are a few things you should keep in mind:

  1. Condition of the Existing Finish: Check if the shellac surface is still intact or if it’s starting to peel or crack. If there’s any damage, you’ll need to fix it before painting.
  2. Type of Paint: Decide whether you’ll be using oil-based or water-based paint. This choice will affect how you prepare the surface and apply the paint.

Understanding these factors is important for achieving a smooth and flawless finish when painting over shellac.

Shellac as a Finish

Shellac is an excellent choice for finishing wood because it offers versatility and is easy to apply. It dries quickly, allowing you to add multiple coats in one day, and if there’s ever any damage, it can be easily fixed by dissolving it with alcohol. That’s why many woodworkers and furniture restorers love using shellac as their go-to finish.

Advantages of Shellac:

  • Quick drying time
  • Easy to apply and repair
  • Enhances wood grain
  • Provides a high-gloss finish

Disadvantages of Shellac:

  • Susceptible to damage from alcohol and heat
  • May require frequent maintenance
  • Not waterproof

Common Reasons for Painting Over Shellac

There are a few common situations where you might want to paint over an existing shellac finish:

  1. Changing the Look: If you’re tired of the current appearance of your furniture or woodwork, painting over the shellac can give it a whole new style.
  2. Fixing Damage: Over time, shellac can wear off or get damaged, so repainting is necessary to restore its beauty.
  3. Sealing Stains: Shellac is great at sealing in stains, which makes it an ideal base for applying new paint.

Key Takeaway

Before you start your painting project on top of shellac, it’s important to know its characteristics and follow the right preparation methods. This will ensure that your final result not only looks amazing but also lasts long. Proper surface preparation includes cleaning, sanding, and choosing compatible paints to achieve optimal adhesion and durability.

By keeping these factors in mind, you’ll be well-prepared to successfully transform your shellacked surfaces into beautifully painted pieces.

Understanding Shellac

Shellac is a natural resin secreted by the lac bug, primarily found in countries like India and Thailand. This organic material has been used for centuries as a wood finish due to its durability and glossy appearance.

Definition and Composition of Shellac

Shellac is composed of:

  • Laccifer lacca: The secretion from the lac bug.
  • Alcohol: Used as a solvent to dissolve the resin and create liquid shellac.

The combination results in a versatile finish that can be applied in multiple thin layers, providing a rich, lustrous surface that enhances the underlying wood grain.

Differences Between Dewaxed and Wax-Containing Shellac

Two main types of shellac are available: dewaxed and wax-containing.

Dewaxed Shellac

  • Better adhesion for paint and other finishes.
  • Less likely to interfere with subsequent coatings.
  • Slightly more expensive due to the additional processing involved in removing the wax.

Wax-Containing Shellac

  • Easier to apply and can provide a slightly better initial sheen.
  • Often less expensive than dewaxed varieties.
  • Wax content can interfere with the adhesion of paints and other finishes.
  • More challenging to prepare for painting over.

When planning to paint over shellac, it’s crucial to determine whether you’re dealing with dewaxed or wax-containing shellac. Dewaxed shellac is preferred as it allows for better adhesion of paint, while wax-containing shellac may require additional preparation steps.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Shellac as a Finish


  1. Durability: Provides a hard, protective coating that resists wear and tear.
  2. Glossy Appearance: Offers a high-gloss finish that enhances the natural beauty of wood.
  3. Quick Drying: Dries rapidly, allowing for multiple coats in a single day.


  1. Sensitivity to Heat and Alcohol: Can be damaged by exposure to high temperatures or alcohol spills.
  2. Limited Outdoor Use: Not suitable for exterior applications due to its susceptibility to moisture.
  3. Preparation Needed for Painting Over: Requires careful preparation if you plan to paint over it, especially if it’s wax-containing.

Understanding these properties helps in making informed decisions when working with shellac finishes, particularly when considering painting over them. Proper preparation techniques ensure successful outcomes, maintaining both functionality and aesthetics.

Can You Paint Over Shellac?

Painting over shellac is entirely possible and can yield excellent results if done correctly. The most crucial step is to properly prepare the surface before applying any paint. This involves several key processes:

1. Preparing the Surface

Scuff Sanding

Use 150-grit sandpaper to gently scuff-sand the shellac surface. This helps create a rough texture that allows the new paint to adhere better.


Before you start painting, clean the surface thoroughly with mineral spirits. This removes accumulated wax, dirt, grease, and other contaminants that could prevent the new paint from sticking properly.

Dealing with Existing Shellac

If you’re unsure whether your shellac finish contains wax, consider using dewaxed shellac as a primer to ensure better adhesion of your topcoat.

2. Compatibility of Paint with Shellac

When painting over shellac, it’s essential to choose a paint type that is compatible with the existing finish. Not all paints will adhere well to a shellacked surface:

  • Waterborne paints: These can be particularly tricky as they require a dewaxed shellac base for proper adhesion. Dewaxed shellac ensures there are no issues with wax interfering with the new paint application.
  • Oil-based paints: Generally more forgiving, these do not necessarily require a dewaxed shellac layer but still benefit from it.

3. Using Primers

Priming is an effective way to improve adhesion and durability when painting over shellac. A primer specifically designed for use with shellac can help achieve a flawless finish:

  • Zinsser’s BIN Primer: Known for its excellent adhesion and stain-blocking properties, this primer works exceptionally well on shellacked surfaces.
  • Pigmented Shellac Primer: Provides better coverage and ensures that the original shellac does not bleed through the new paint layer.

4. Factors to Consider When Painting Over Shellac

Several factors need careful consideration:

  1. Condition of Existing Shellac: Ensure it’s in good condition without significant cracks or peeling.
  2. Type of Paint: As mentioned, compatibility matters—waterborne vs. oil-based paint considerations are crucial.
  3. Surface Preparation: Scuff sanding and cleaning cannot be overlooked if you want lasting results.

5. Tips for Achieving Good Adhesion

Achieving good adhesion when painting over shellac requires attention to detail:

  • Always opt for dewaxed shellac if you’re using waterborne paints.
  • Use high-quality primers like Zinsser’s BIN to seal in any stains or odors and promote better adhesion.
  • Test a small area first to ensure compatibility between your paint and the existing shellac.

Successful painting over shellac hinges on understanding its properties and following meticulous preparation techniques. Properly prepared surfaces paired with compatible paints and primers will reward you with a beautiful, long-lasting finish.

Using Shellac as a Primer for Different Types of Paint

Using shellac as a primer offers numerous advantages, particularly when dealing with different types of paint. Its versatility makes it an excellent choice for both waterborne and oil-based paints.

Benefits of Using Shellac as a Primer

Shellac provides several benefits when used as a primer:

  • Smooth Base: It creates a smooth and even base, allowing the new paint to adhere better.
  • Sealing Properties: It effectively seals stains and odors, making it ideal for surfaces that have been exposed to smoke or other contaminants.
  • Quick Drying: Shellac dries quickly, enabling faster project completion.

Compatibility with Waterborne Paint

Waterborne paints, including latex paints, are commonly used in modern painting projects due to their low odor and ease of cleanup. Dewaxed shellac is particularly compatible with these types of paint:

  • Dewaxed Shellac: This type is preferred because it allows for better adhesion of the waterborne paint. Wax-containing shellac can interfere with the bonding process.
  • Stain Blocking: When used under latex paint, dewaxed shellac helps to seal in any existing stains on the surface, preventing them from bleeding through the new paint.

For example, if you’re repainting a piece of furniture that has water stains, applying dewaxed shellac as a primer will ensure those stains don’t appear through the fresh coat of latex paint.

Considerations for Oil-Based Paints

Oil-based paints are known for their durability and rich finish. Shellac serves as an effective primer for these paints as well:

  • Barrier Creation: Shellac acts as a barrier, preventing the oils from the new paint from seeping into the underlying surface. This ensures that the final finish remains intact without any discoloration or unevenness.
  • Wax Content: Unlike waterborne paints, oil-based paints can be applied over both wax-containing and dewaxed shellac. However, using dewaxed shellac still provides better results.

For instance, when refinishing kitchen cabinets with oil-based enamel, applying shellac first will create a smooth base and prevent any old stains or contaminants from affecting the final appearance.

Practical Application Tips

To maximize the benefits of using shellac as a primer:

  1. Surface Preparation: Always clean the surface thoroughly before applying shellac. Use mineral spirits to remove accumulated wax and gunk.
  2. Scuff Sanding: Lightly scuff sand the surface with 150-grit sandpaper to ensure better adhesion.
  3. Application: Apply a thin layer of shellac using a high-quality brush or sprayer. Allow it to dry completely before applying your topcoat.

Shellac’s ability to serve as a versatile primer makes it invaluable in various painting projects. Whether you’re working with waterborne or oil-based paints, understanding how to use shellac effectively can significantly enhance your results.

Preparing the Surface: Key Step for Successful Adhesion

Properly preparing a shellac surface is essential for achieving a flawless paint finish. If you skip this step, you may experience issues such as peeling, chipping, or an uneven appearance due to poor adhesion. By paying attention to detail during the preparation stage, you can ensure that your paint job lasts long and looks visually appealing.

Importance of Preparing the Surface Before Painting

Shellac is known for its glossy and smooth finish, which can make it difficult for new paint to stick properly. To overcome this challenge, it is crucial to create a surface that allows the paint to adhere effectively. This involves two main steps: scuff sanding and cleaning the surface.

Scuff Sanding: Creating Texture for Better Adhesion

Scuff sanding is crucial because it creates a slightly rough texture on the shellac surface, which helps the new paint layer adhere better. Here’s how you can effectively scuff sand a shellac-coated surface:

  1. Choose the Right Sandpaper: Opt for 150-grit sandpaper as it provides the best results. This level of coarseness is sufficient to create a textured surface without causing significant damage.
  2. Sand Lightly: Apply gentle pressure while sanding. The goal is to reduce the glossiness of the shellac, not completely remove it.
  3. Check Your Progress: Regularly inspect the surface during sanding. If you notice a consistent dullness across the entire area, it means you’re ready to move on.
  4. Clean Up Residue: After sanding, make sure to thoroughly clean any dust generated using a vacuum or tack cloth.

Cleaning the Surface Before Finishing

Cleaning is equally important as it helps remove any contaminants that could hinder paint adhesion. Dirt, grease, and oils have the potential to create barriers between the shellac and new paint layer:

  1. Mineral Spirits: Wipe the entire surface with mineral spirits. This solvent is effective in removing built-up wax, grease, and other residues without causing harm to the shellac.
  2. Denatured Alcohol: If you need deeper cleaning, especially when dealing with existing shellac layers that require removal or partial dissolution, denatured alcohol can be used.
  3. Allow Drying Time: Make sure that all cleaning agents have completely evaporated before proceeding with painting.

Techniques for Scuff Sanding

To make scuff sanding more effective:

  • Sand in consistent circular motions or follow the wood grain for even abrasion.
  • Avoid over-sanding, as excessive sanding can penetrate through the shellac layer and damage the underlying wood.
  • Utilize sanding blocks to maintain even pressure and contact across larger surfaces.

Final Preparations

After completing the scuff sanding and cleaning steps:

  • Run your hand over the surface to assess your work; it should feel smooth but not slippery.
  • Double-check for any remaining particles or debris that could impact the application of paint.

Properly preparing your shellac-coated surface creates an ideal foundation for painting, ensuring excellent adhesion and durability of your new finish.

Selecting the right products is crucial when painting over shellac. The correct primer ensures excellent adhesion and blocks any potential stains or odors from bleeding through the new paint. Here are some highly recommended products for this specific task:

Zinsser’s BIN Primer

Zinsser’s BIN primer stands out as a top choice for those looking to paint over shellac surfaces. This shellac-based primer offers several benefits:

  • Excellent Adhesion: One of the primary reasons Zinsser’s BIN primer is favored is its superior adhesion properties. It sticks firmly to shellac, creating a strong base for the subsequent layers of paint.
  • Stain-Blocking Properties: This primer effectively seals in stains, ensuring they do not bleed through your final coat of paint. This feature is especially beneficial when dealing with wood knots, tannin stains, or water marks.
  • Versatility: Suitable for both interior and spot exterior use, Zinsser’s BIN can be applied to various surfaces, including wood, plaster, metal, and more.

Application Tips

  • Surface Preparation: Ensure the shellacked surface is clean and scuff sanded with 150-grit sandpaper before applying the primer.
  • Drying Time: Zinsser’s BIN dries quickly, allowing you to recoat within 45 minutes to an hour.
  • Cleanup: Use denatured alcohol for cleanup due to its shellac-based composition.

Pigmented Shellac Primer

Another excellent option is using a pigmented shellac primer. These primers are designed to provide better coverage and color uniformity while ensuring that the original shellac does not bleed through the new paint.

Benefits and Applications

  • Enhanced Coverage: The pigmentation in these primers helps in achieving better coverage compared to clear primers. It masks any underlying colors or stains on the shellacked surface.
  • Stain Blocking: Similar to Zinsser’s BIN, pigmented shellac primers effectively block stains and odors from seeping through.
  • Compatibility with Paint Types: These primers work well under both latex and oil-based paints, providing flexibility in your choice of topcoat.

Choosing the Right Product

When selecting a product for painting over shellac:

  • Check Compatibility: Ensure that the product label mentions compatibility with shellac finishes. This detail is vital as it guarantees optimal results.
  • Consider Your Paint Type: Dewaxed shellac primers are necessary if you plan to use waterborne paints. For oil-based paints, regular shellacked surfaces may suffice.

While Zinsser’s BIN remains a popular choice due to its proven track record, other brands also offer quality pigmented shellac primers:

  1. Kilz Original Shellac-Based Primer
  2. Rust-Oleum B-I-N Advanced Synthetic Shellac Primer

Both alternatives provide excellent adhesion and stain-blocking properties suitable for painting over shellacked surfaces.

Choosing the right primer sets the stage for a flawless finish when painting over shellac. Products like Zinsser’s BIN primer and other pigmented options ensure excellent adhesion and prevent any underlying issues from marring your final coat of paint. Always prioritize compatibility and surface preparation to achieve professional results in your DIY or renovation projects.

Tips and Tricks for a Flawless Finish on Shellacked Surfaces

Achieving a flawless finish on shellacked surfaces requires attention to detail and the right techniques. Here are some valuable tips:

Finishing with an Oil/Varnish Blend

Using an oil/varnish blend can significantly enhance the durability and appearance of your shellacked surface. The blend penetrates the wood, providing a smooth, hard finish that is resistant to wear and tear.

Steps to Apply an Oil/Varnish Blend:

  1. Prepare the Surface: Ensure the shellac surface is clean and dry.
  2. Scuff Sanding: Lightly sand the surface with 150-grit sandpaper to create a texture for better adhesion.
  3. Apply First Coat: Use a brush or cloth to apply a thin coat of the oil/varnish blend. Wipe off any excess after about 10-15 minutes.
  4. Drying Time: Allow the coat to dry completely, typically around 24 hours.
  5. Additional Coats: Repeat the process for additional coats, lightly sanding between each layer for optimal results.

Utilizing Shellac as a Primer for Latex Paint

Shellac serves as an excellent primer for latex paint, ensuring better adhesion and preventing common issues such as bleed-through and discoloration.

Benefits of Using Shellac as a Primer:

  • Stain Blocking: Shellac effectively seals in stains, knots, and odors that might otherwise seep through latex paint.
  • Adhesion Promotion: Provides a superior bonding surface for latex paint, resulting in a longer-lasting finish.

Applying Multiple Thin Coats

Applying multiple thin coats of shellac creates a robust base for painting over while preventing issues like bleeding or discoloration of the final topcoat.


  • First Coat: Apply a thin, even coat using a high-quality brush or sprayer.
  • Drying Time: Let it dry completely (typically around an hour).
  • Subsequent Coats: Lightly scuff sand between coats and apply additional layers until you achieve the desired thickness.

Techniques for Achieving a Flawless Finish

Achieving perfection when painting over shellac involves following these practical techniques:

  • Surface Preparation:Thoroughly clean the shellac surface with mineral spirits to remove any wax or contaminants.
  • Scuff sand with fine grit sandpaper (150-grit) to create an ideal texture.
  • Primer Application:Use Zinsser’s BIN primer or another high-quality pigmented shellac primer that is compatible with your topcoat paint.
  • Apply thin, even coats and allow proper drying time between each application.
  • Painting Over Shellac:Choose paint compatible with shellac, focusing on latex paints if using dewaxed shellac as a primer.
  • Apply multiple thin coats of paint for even coverage. Ensure each coat dries thoroughly before applying the next one.
  • Finishing Touches:After applying the final coat of paint, consider finishing with an oil/varnish blend to protect your work and enhance its appearance.

Using an Oil/Varnish Blend for Durability

A blend of oil and varnish not only adds durability but also enriches the wood’s natural beauty by bringing out its grain and luster.

Application Tips:

  • Apply thin layers using a lint-free cloth or high-quality brush.
  • Allow ample drying time between coats to ensure each layer bonds properly.
  • Lightly sand between coats with very fine grit sandpaper (220-grit) for a smooth finish.

Incorporating these tips will help ensure you achieve professional results when painting over shellacked surfaces. Simple practices such as scuff sanding, using appropriate primers, and opting for high-quality finishing products make all the difference in attaining that flawless finish you desire.


Painting over shellac is possible with proper preparation and the right techniques. Thoroughly cleaning and sanding the shellac surface before applying paint ensures the best results. While it may require more effort, painting over shellac can be a successful and durable option for updating your surfaces.

Key Takeaways

  • Surface Preparation: Properly prepare the surface by cleaning and scuff sanding to ensure optimal adhesion of the new paint.
  • Compatible Paints: Choose paints that are compatible with shellac, such as Zinsser’s BIN primer or other pigmented shellac primers.
  • Use of Shellac as Primer: Consider using shellac as a primer for latex paint to promote better adhesion and prevent bleed-through.

Experimentation and consultation with professionals can also help achieve the desired outcome. Engaging in these practices allows you to update the look of your space effectively.

A few reminders:

Always clean the surface thoroughly to remove any dirt, grease, or contaminants.

Scuff sand with 150-grit paper to create a rough texture for better paint adhesion.

Consider using dewaxed shellac when working with waterborne paints.

Encouragement to experiment with different techniques and products will enhance your confidence in handling shellacked surfaces. With the right approach, you can successfully paint over shellac finishes to revitalize your space while ensuring a long-lasting finish.