Tinting Lacquer With Dye And Colorants

In this video tutorial, Rod Keyser shows you a variety of products he uses in his furniture refinishing shop to tint and color lacquer finishes.

Furniture Finishing "How To" - Tint Lacquer With Dye and Colorant

Lacquer has long been the leading finish used by furniture manufacturers, cabinet makers, furniture refinishers, woodworkers and hobbyists. Anyone who applies a protective coating to wood at some point has either used, or considered using lacquer as their finish coating.  Lacquer has long been the reigning champion of furniture finishes because of it's durability and ease of application. Perhaps one of lacquer's finest attributes however, is the ability to add a wide assortment of dyes and colorants. Tinting lacquer with dye and colorants is the secret to magnificent finishes. It's how we make ordinary wood finishes extraordinary.

tint lacquer with dye and colorant


Tinting lacquer is such a standard "go to" approach for coloring wood and furniture for many finishers, it just becomes a technique we do without giving it much thought.  We become comfortable with the colorants we use because we often use them daily.  For instance, I know that 99% of the wood stain finishes going through our shop will be tinted or shaded in some fashion. Knowing this, I allow for the addition of more color when I choose my base stain. In fact, on some occasions I don't even use a base stain of the furniture and apply all my color by tinting lacquer with dye and colorants.

tint lacquer

When we think about coloring wood, I think you would agree that stain is the first thought that comes to mind.  Staining wood is a different subject, and we cover that in detail within the wood furniture staining and glazing section of our website.

Staining is a completely different process that we cover in the above link, and while stain can be a vital component of the wood finishing process it's not the only way of applying color to wood furniture and many would say not the most important. Staining can't overcome a poor tinting job, but tinting can overcome and improve a poor staining job.

Stain Furniture

Transparent VRS Opaque

When I think about tinting my lacquer to add color or effect to my finish, my mind immediately shifts to my first and most important question. Do I want the color I'm adding to have a transparent effect, or an opaque effect ?  Sometimes, the choice may be a combination of the two.

Transparent color normally comes in the form of dye. Adding a dye stain to our lacquer is in effect adding a controlled amount of transparent color. It adds a rich color and depth to our wood finish while still allowing the wood grain to be very noticeable. One reason to apply the dye stain to lacquer instead of using a dye base stain is the ability to control the amount of dye we use. This is vital at times, especially when custom matching finishes. Dyes will often have names such as brown mahogany, medium brown walnut, colonial maple, etc.

Opaque colorants, usually called universal colorants are the lessor known and understood of the two types of lacquer tinting colorants, but I would say the difference between an average finisher and an advanced finisher would in part be defined by the finishers understanding and use of both dye AND opaque colorants. An opaque colorant lacks the rich brilliant color that the dye tends to have. Colors such as burnt umber, raw sienna and bulletin red are the types of generic names applied to many opaque colorants. Opaque colorants are mainly used with lacquer in two ways. Opaque (universal colorants) are added in larger amounts to clear lacquer to form a solid color lacquer (paint) OR in a far lessor quantity (such as a couple drops) to add color to lacquer when the rich tone of dye isn't desirable or when hiding the grain either a little or a lot is the objective.


tinting wood finishes
lacquer furniture finish
furniture refinishing

What Types/Brands Of Dyes And Colorants To Use In Lacquer

Dyes For Lacquer - As is the case with most products, there are many choices and this is compounded with constant influx of new brands being introduced regularly and other brands simply changing names or disappearing altogether thanks to corporate buyouts.  There are however, a few "go to" brands that have been around for many many years and they tend to be my choices and the dyes I stock in my shop and use daily, so those are the brands of dye stains I can suggest and stand behind because of my experience with them.


In the past, I would have first suggested Mohawk brand ultra penetrating NGR dye stains as my first choice. HOWEVER, Mohawk (owned currently by RPM ) bought out Behlen finishing products some years ago and now uses the Behlen product line as their more reasonably priced consumers brand. The Mohawk brand is still considered their "for professional use" product line. I've always loved Behlen, and still do so Behlen Solar-Lux NGR dye stain would be my top recommendation for NGR dye stains for adding to lacquer. They can be purchased through Amazon with the supplied links.

Trans Tints are my other "Go To" dye that I use regularly for tinting my lacquer for my wood finishes. They are super concentrated, so a little bottle goes a very long way !  Normally, only a couple drops is all I need to tint lacquer.  I've become very familiar with Trans Tints, and lately I seem to use them more now than any other dye. That's just me though. Trans Tints can be purchased on Amazon through the supplied links.

Color Shifting - Another Way To Use Dye Stains And Colorants In Lacquer

Color Shifting - Before

Color shifting is another way dye stains play a major role in furniture refinishing.  When doing furniture refinishing, dyes can be used to shift a color that's too red, to brown without darkening the color by adding a small amount of green dye to our lacquer and applying one coat to "shift" the color.  Likewise, we can cancel out certain unwanted tones, such as orange for example. To turn orange to a more neutral brown, we would add a little blue to our clear lacquer. We could then follow that up with another color if we so choose, such as red or amber for instance.


Color Shifting - After

The table and chairs pictured to the left were refinished by me for a client that wanted the color changed. They supplied a sample, and my job was to match the table to the sample.  My objective was to NOT strip off the finish, but to shift the existing color.  It proved to be a challenge due to the yellow tones that were present in the original finish, and the complete lack of yellow tones in the sample.  I first needed to cancel out the yellow, and then slowly add the color I needed to match my sample.  This job required me to use Trans Tint Dyes, Bordeaux to cancel out the yellow tones, followed up with Black and Dark Walnut Trans Tint dyes also added to clear lacquer and applied slowly and cautiously through several coats of lacquer. The finished color was wrapped up by adding honey amber to give the final color some warmth it had lost by eliminating the yellow tones in the wood. These trans tint colors can be piked up through the Amazon links provided.  


Opaque Colorants For Lacquer

Cal Tint 11 colorants have long been a very trusted brand of universal colorant that can be used in many different mediums and solvents, including lacquer.  Add just a little to clear lacquer and it will add some color and opacity to your finish. Cal Tints can be purchased in many colors and are available through Amazon with the links provided.

Tints- All universal colorants are another trusted brand of opaque pigment that can be used in many different mediums and solvents, including lacquer.  Add just a little to clear lacquer and it will add some color and opacity to your finish. Tints All colorants can be purchased in many colors and are available through Amazon with the links provided.


The Restoration Studio LLC

Rod Keyser, along with his wife Jen have owned and operated The Restoration Studio LLC since 1991. A family run business just ouside of Philadelphia Pennsylvania specializing in residential furniture refinishing and furniture restoration.