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Cellulose Paint vs Nitrocellulose Lacquer

Nitrocellulose lacquers and cellulose paints are often confused due to differing terminology used in different places at different times. We've compiled the comparison table below to try to clear up some of this confusion and help you achieve the finish you have in mind.

If you have any further questions please don't hesitate to get in touch - we're happy to help, and will expand these guides over time to encompass more detailed information.

Before we dive in to the table itself a few definitions are useful:
  Build: Lacquers and Paints are resins dissolved in solvents. This solution conforms to the shape of the surface being sprayed, the solvent evaporates and leaves behind the resin. How much of the solution evaporates and how much is left behind as the final finish is referred to as its solids content, which is analogous with its build. High build has high solids content; low build has a low solids content. The higher the proportion of solids in the liquid lacquer/paint solution the higher the build, the thicker the coat of resin left behind once the solvent evaporates and the thicker the layer of finish.
  High Clarity: A term used when describing see-through but coloured finishes. High Clarity means that it will give the surface beneath a new colour, but will not cover up the pattern. A good example of this is a wood stain, which changes the colour of the wood but does not hide the pattern of the wood grain.
  Opaque: Not see-through - anything underneath will be covered up.
  Tinted: Referring to a lacquer or finish having a pigment or dye added to give it colour without making it opaque.
  Translucent: Slightly see-through, will block some of what is underneath.
  Transparent: Completely see-through, does not obscure or block out what is underneath.

  Cellulose Paint Metallic / Pearl Cellulose Paint Tinted Nitrocellulose Lacquer
Used on vintage guitars? Yes, such as 50s Fenders Yes, such as 50s Fenders Yes, such as 50s Fenders
See through or opaque? Opaque Opaque See-Through
Clarity: None - it's opaque None - it's opaque Most tinted lacquers have high clarity, giving colour but leaving the grain pattern underneath visible.
Build/solids content? Low/Medium Low/Medium Low
Requires a base coat? Yes - White or Grey Cellulose Primer Sealer Yes - White or Grey Cellulose Primer Sealer Yes - Clear Cellulose Sanding Sealer
Requires a top coat? No - Can be polished directly. Top coat only for vintage style finishes, or to give a sheen level not available in the the paint itself e.g. Matt Yes - Gloss, Matt or Satin Clear Nitrocellulose Lacquer Yes - Gloss, Matt or Satin Clear Nitrocellulose Lacquer
Thinned using? Standard Cellulose Thinners Standard Cellulose Thinners Premium Anti-Bloom Cellulose Thinners
Available in aerosols? Yes Yes Yes
Available bottled for spray guns? Yes Yes Yes
Can be brushed on? No No Not recommended
Drying time before polishing: 1 week Dependent on top coat 2 weeks
Cracks with age? No No Yes
Discolours with age? No No Yes
Examples of colours: Fiesta Red; Surf Green; Sonic Blue; Daphne Blue; Seafoam Green; Olympic White Shoreline Gold; Gold Top; Lake Placid Blue; Inca Silver; Ocean Turquoise Metallic Blonde; Butterscotch; Sunburst; Lemon Drop; Amber