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Stain, Varnish or Paint?

Stain, Varnish or Paint?

Paint, woodstain, varnish, lacquer, oil, opaque dye; with so many alternatives for treating wood, it's hard to narrow which type is best suited to your project, even if you know the timber species you're treating! The process of selecting the right coating for any particular woodwork job can, at first, appear quite daunting. However, if you break it down into a number of basic questions, the answer becomes much more straightforward. Use these as a starting point to help narrow down your choices and find the right product for the job:

Is the job outside or inside?

Is the timber new or previously coated?

Are you looking for a particular colour, or to show off the wood, or a bit of each?

What is the timber used for? E.g. window, door, cladding, fencing, etc...

Having answered these questions, the solution may be obvious, but the type of product to use may need further consideration, for example, would a paint, woodstain or varnish be the most appropriate product to use?


Now often referred to as an 'opaque coating', paint is a 'solid' coating that completely obscures the colour of the existing surface, whether that's bare timber or an existing coating. Paint is ideal when a completely uniform finish is required or there are blemishes or imperfections to be hidden. The term 'paint' is generally used for multi-purpose interior and exterior coatings for use on wood, metal and plastic, or even masonry. The term 'opaque' is now commonly used to refer to timber coatings of this type, which are more flexible and which also allow the texture of the timber to show through. Paints tend to provide a more uniform surface, which offers more impact-resistance rather than the long-term weather-resistance of opaques.

Opaques should be used when a uniform colour is preferred, or there is something to hide rather than show off. Dulux Trade Quick Dry Opaque combines high performance solid colour with all of the benefits of a premium quality woodstain.


Traditionally a fully transparent coating that shows off all of the timber's colour and grain. Now also available in a range of shades (which are semi-transparent) and sheen levels, they are primarily for interior applications. They do not perform well externally because they have insufficient pigment and are less flexible than woodstains.

Varnishes, such as Dulux Trade Quick Dry Varnish are perfect for interior locations where you want a tough, hardwearing finish that shows off the timber.


A semi-transparent (also referred to as translucent) coating that provides colour but also allows any timber features (colour and grain effects) to remain visible, and often enhances them. It can be tinted to non-wood shades, but most commonly used in timber shades such as Teak, Oak and Mahogany for a natural appearance. Woodstains are formulated for weather-resistance and flexibility, so perform far better externally than varnishes. Woodstains are more suited to exterior surfaces, where their flexibility and weather-resistance protect the wood while not obscuring its natural appearance. Find out more about Dulux Trade Classic Woodstain.

Go to the Dulux Trade Woodcare page to discover all our woodcare products, watch apllication videos and download fact sheets.