Can You Tint Polyurethane?

Polyurethane is a common term in the woodworking world. Woodworkers apply this type of finish to their projects to protect them and enhance their appearance. But have you ever thought about tinting polyurethane? Yes, you heard it right.

Tinting polyurethane is a thing, and it’s a fantastic way to add a dash of color to your woodworking projects while still enjoying the protective benefits of polyurethane. But before we dive into the details of tinting polyurethane, let’s take a moment to understand what polyurethane is and why it’s so popular among woodworkers.

Polyurethane is a synthetic resin used in varnishes and certain hard plastics. In woodworking, it’s commonly used as a finish due to its durability and versatility. It provides a protective barrier that shields the wood from scratches, stains, and water damage, making it an excellent choice for furniture, flooring, and other wooden items.

Polyurethane finishes can be oil- or water-based, each with its own characteristics and uses. But the question we’re interested in today is, can you tint it?

What is Tinting?

Now, let’s talk about tinting. Tinting is the process of adding color to a wood finish in woodworking. It’s a way to change the color of the wood without completely hiding the grain, which is often one of the most attractive features of wooden items. Tinting can be done for aesthetic reasons, to match a specific color scheme, or to enhance the natural color of the wood. It’s a popular technique among woodworkers and DIY enthusiasts alike.

Tinting involves adding a small pigment to the finish before applying it to the wood. The pigment can be a dye or a stain depending on the desired effect. The result is a colored finish that still allows the texture and grain of the wood to show through. It’s a bit like staining wood but with the added benefit of the protective properties of the finish. So, can this process be applied to polyurethane? Let’s find out.

Can You Tint Polyurethane?

So, you’re probably wondering, can you tint for polyurethane? The answer is a resounding yes! You can tint polyurethane to add color to your woodworking projects. This process involves mixing a small amount of color into the polyurethane before applying it to the wood.

The color can come from various sources, including oil-based paint, water-based paint, or specialized tinting products. The key is thoroughly mixing the color into the polyurethane to achieve a consistent color.

Tinting polyurethane is a fantastic way to customize and make your projects unique. Whether you want to match a specific color scheme or experiment with different hues, tinting polyurethane offers endless possibilities. Just imagine the vibrant, colorful finishes you can create!

Types of Polyurethane

Now, let’s talk about the different types of polyurethane. There are two main types: oil-based and water-based. Each has its properties and uses; understanding these can help you choose the right one for your project.

Oil-based polyurethane is known for its durability and rich, warm finish. It’s great for many wear-and-tear projects, such as floors or tabletops. Oil-based polyurethane has a slightly amber hue, which can enhance the color of the wood. And yes, you can tint oil-based polyurethane. Tinting involves mixing a small amount of oil-based paint or stain into the polyurethane.

On the other hand, water-based polyurethane is known for its clear, natural finish. It doesn’t yellow over time, making it a great choice for light-colored woods or projects where you want the wood’s natural color to shine through. Water-based polyurethane is also less toxic and has less of an odor than its oil-based counterpart. Can you tint water-based polyurethane? Absolutely! You can tint it using water-based paint or specialized water-based tinting products.

How to Tint Polyurethane

Now that we’ve established that you can tint oil- and water-based polyurethane, you’re probably wondering how to do it. Well, you’re in luck! Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to tint polyurethane.

First, you’ll need to gather your materials. This includes the polyurethane, the tint or paint you’ll use to color it, a mixing container, and a stirring stick. If you’re using a polyurethane tint kit, it should come with everything you need.

Next, pour the polyurethane into your mixing container. The amount you’ll need will depend on the size of your project, but it’s always better to mix a little extra than to run out partway through.

Now, it’s time to add the tint. Start with a small amount – you can always add more but you can’t remove it once it’s mixed in. Stir the tint into the polyurethane until it’s fully incorporated, and the color is consistent.

Before you apply the tinted polyurethane to your project, it’s a good idea to test it on a scrap piece of wood first. This will allow you to see how the color looks when it’s dry and make any necessary adjustments.

Once you’re happy with the color, you can apply the tinted polyurethane to your project like regular polyurethane. Use a high-quality brush or a foam applicator and apply thin, even coats. Allow each coat to dry fully before applying the next.

Precautions When Tinting Polyurethane

Tinting polyurethane isn’t particularly dangerous, but you should take a few precautions to ensure the process goes smoothly and safely.

First, always work in a well-ventilated area. The fumes from polyurethane can be harmful if inhaled in large amounts, so it’s important to ensure plenty of fresh air. Suppose you’re working indoors; open windows and use fans to circulate the air. Consider wearing a respirator if you work in a space without good ventilation.

Second, protect your skin and eyes. Polyurethane can be irritating if it comes into contact with your skin or eyes, so wearing gloves and safety glasses is a good idea. If you get polyurethane on your skin, wash it off immediately with soap and water.

Finally, be careful when disposing of any leftover tinted polyurethane. Don’t pour it down the drain or into the ground. Instead, let it dry completely and throw it away in a sealed container.

Benefits of Tinting Polyurethane

Tinting polyurethane has many benefits that can take your woodworking projects to the next level. Let’s delve into some of these advantages.

First and foremost, tinting polyurethane enhances the aesthetic appeal of your woodwork. Adding a dash of color can bring out the wood’s natural grain, highlight specific features, or create a completely new look. It’s a fantastic way to add a personal touch to your projects and make them unique.

Secondly, tinting polyurethane provides a level of customization that’s hard to achieve with other finishes. Mix and match colors to create the perfect shade for your project. The possibilities are endless, whether you want to replicate a specific color or create a custom blend.

Lastly, tinted polyurethane combines the protective benefits of a polyurethane finish with the aesthetic appeal of a stain. This means you get the best of both worlds – a beautiful, colorful, durable, long-lasting finish.

Potential Drawbacks of Tinting Polyurethane

While tinting polyurethane has many benefits, it’s also important to be aware of the potential drawbacks.

One of the main challenges of tinting polyurethane is achieving a consistent color. If the tint isn’t mixed thoroughly, it can result in a streaky or uneven finish. This is particularly true if you’re using a dark tint on a light wood, as any inconsistencies will be highly visible.

Another potential issue is the difficulty of application. Tinted polyurethane can be a bit trickier to apply than regular polyurethane, especially if you’re going for a darker color. It may require multiple coats to achieve the desired color, and each coat must be applied evenly to avoid streaks or patches.

Lastly, while tinting offers a level of customization, it limits your ability to change the color in the future. Once the polyurethane is tinted and applied, changing the color would require sanding down the finish and starting over.

Despite these potential challenges, many woodworkers find that the benefits of tinting polyurethane far outweigh the drawbacks. You can achieve stunning results that showcase your craftsmanship with practice and patience.

Tips for Successful Tinting

Tinting polyurethane can be a bit of an art, but you can achieve great results with a few tips and tricks. Here are some expert tips for successful tinting:

  1. Test Before You Apply: Always test your tinted polyurethane on a scrap piece of wood before applying it to your project. This will allow you to see how the color looks when it’s dry and make any necessary adjustments.
  2. Stir Thoroughly: Stir your tint and polyurethane thoroughly to ensure consistent color. Any clumps or streaks in the mixture can lead to an uneven finish.
  3. Work in Thin Coats: Work in thin, even coats when applying your tinted polyurethane. This will help you achieve a smooth, even finish and allow you to build up the color gradually.
  4. Use Quality Products: Not all tints and polyurethanes are created equal. For the best results, use high-quality products. For example, Minwax-tinted polyurethane or white-tinted polyurethane are known for their excellent quality and consistency.
  5. Be Patient: Tinting polyurethane isn’t a process you want to rush. Take your time, work carefully, and allow each coat to dry fully before applying the next.

Alternatives to Tinting Polyurethane

While tinting polyurethane is a fantastic way to add color to your woodworking projects, it’s not the only method. There are several other ways to change the color of wood finishes, each with advantages and considerations.

One popular alternative is staining. Wood stains penetrate the wood, enhancing its natural grain and color. Stains come in various colors, from natural wood tones to vibrant hues, giving you plenty of options. However, unlike tinted polyurethane, stains do not provide a protective finish, so you’ll need to apply a clear coat of polyurethane or another finish on top.

Painting is another option. Paint provides a solid, opaque color and can completely change the look of a piece of wood. Like stains, paint does not provide a protective finish, so a clear topcoat may be necessary.

Finally, there’s polycrylic. Polycrylic is a water-based protective finish available in clear and tinted varieties. Tinted polycrylic can be used like tinted polyurethane, providing color and protection in one step. However, polycrylic is not as durable as polyurethane, so it may not be the best choice for high-traffic areas or surfaces with heavy use.

Troubleshooting Common Problems

Tinting polyurethane is generally a straightforward process, but like any DIY project, it can have challenges. Here are some common problems you might encounter and how to fix them:

  1. Bubbles: If you notice bubbles in your finish, it’s likely because you’re shaking the polyurethane or applying it too quickly. To avoid this, stir the polyurethane gently and apply it in thin, even coats.
  2. Streaks or Uneven Color: This can occur if the tint isn’t mixed thoroughly with the polyurethane or if the polyurethane is applied unevenly. Stir your mixture well before applying, and work in thin, even coats.
  3. Drips or Runs: These can happen if you apply too much polyurethane at once. Again, the key is to work in thin coats. If you notice a drip or run, smooth it out immediately with your brush or applicator.


When it comes to tinting polyurethane, several questions often come up. Let’s address some of the most common ones:

What can you use to tint polyurethane?

You can use various products to tint polyurethane, including oil-based paint, water-based paint, and specialized tinting products. The key is to ensure that the tint is compatible with the type of polyurethane you’re using (i.e., oil-based tint for oil-based polyurethane, water-based tint for water-based polyurethane).

Can you tint polyurethane with wood stain?

Yes, you can use wood stain to tint polyurethane. Just remember to mix thoroughly to ensure consistent color.

Can you tint both oil-based and water-based polyurethane?

Absolutely! Both types of polyurethane can be tinted. The process is the same; the only difference is the type of tint you’ll use.

How do you add tint to polyurethane?

To add tint to polyurethane, mix a small amount of tint into the polyurethane, stirring thoroughly to ensure consistent color. Always test the tinted polyurethane on scrap wood before applying it to your project.


Tinting polyurethane is a fantastic way to add color to your woodworking projects. It enhances the aesthetic appeal of your work and allows for a level of customization that’s hard to achieve with other finishes. Whether you’re using oil-based or water-based polyurethane, the process is relatively straightforward and can yield stunning results.

Like any DIY project, tinting polyurethane has its challenges. Several factors must be considered from achieving a consistent color to applying the finish evenly. But with some practice and patience, you can overcome these challenges and master the art of tinting polyurethane.