Polyshades vs Gel Stain (Which One is Better?)

When you want to modify the color of already stained wood, you’ll be advised to apply coats of Polyshades or Gel stain. But what’s the difference between both top coats?

The difference between Polyshades and Gel stain is that Polyshades is a two-in-one finish that consists of a wood stain finish and a polyurethane top coat while Gel stain is a wood stain.

Since Polyshades contain polyurethane, the finish is used to lighten or complement the wood stain color. Gel stain is used to deepen the wood stain color.

Also, Polyshades give a satin or glossy finish while Gel stain gives only a transparent finish. Gel stain needs a top coat when dry while Polyshades is already designed with a top coat.

What is Polyshades?

What is Polyshades?

Polyshades is a two-in-one finish that provides a wood stain color and a durable polyurethane top coat. When Polyshades coat dry, you’ll get a mix of wood stain and polyurethane finish making the wood look better and still protecting it from damage.

Polyshades require 2 coats for good coverage and durability. On average, a Polyshades coat will dry in 6 hours under normal conditions and can take up to 12 hours in humid conditions.

The biggest advantage of Polyshades is that it saves so much time. With just 2 coats of the finish and in less than 12 hours, you’ll get a nice wood stain color and a durable top coat.

This saves you from applying the wood stain first and then waiting several hours for it to cure before applying multiple coats of a top coat while sanding between each coat.

What Are The Pros Of Polyshades?

  1. Polyshades can be used on existing polyurethane finish.
  2. Polyshades are used to top coat already stained woodwork.
  3. Polyshades are easy to apply.
  4. Polyshades are used to modify or enhance wood stain color.
  5. Polyshades are used on indoor wood like furniture, chairs, and cabinets.
  6. Polyshades offer good wood protection.
  7. Polyshades is moisture-resistant.

What Are The Cons Of Polyshades?

  1. Polyshades don’t give the best of either the stain or top coat – The finish isn’t as colorful as wood stain and it’s not as durable as regular polyurethane
  2. Polyshades can’t be used on high traffic areas like floors and decks
  3. Polyshades can only be used indoors.

What is Gel Stain?

What is Gel Stain?

Gel stain is a jelly-like thick finish commonly used to darken already stained wood. Gel stain is applied either with a foam brush or wiped on with a rag.

The jelly-like texture of gel stain makes the stain take longer to dry. On average, a coat of gel stain will become dry enough for a recoat 10 hours after it was applied but it takes the overall finish at least 24 hours to dry.

The thick jelly-like texture also means that you can achieve a good gel stain finish with fewer coats usually, 1 coat of gel stain is good enough. You can use gel stain on indoor and outdoor surfaces including trims, doors, and furniture. You should know that Gel stain will need a waterproof top coat when dry.

The biggest advantage of gel stain is that it doesn’t penetrate wood like other stains do since it’s not thin enough to be absorbed in wood. This is perfect for homeowners that can’t decide between a traditional wood stain and a paint finish – Gel stain offers a bit of both.

What Are The Pros Of Gel stain?

  1. Gel stain is used to darken stained wood
  2. Gel stain is used to top coat vertical surfaces like walls since the jelly form means it won’t run or drip on the wall
  3. Gel stain is thick so it gives good coverage
  4. Gel stain requires just one coat
  5. Gel stain can be used on interior and exterior surfaces

What Are The Cons Of Gel Stain?

  1. Gel stain on its own isn’t waterproof or very durable – You’ll need a top coat when the gel stain dries
  2. Gel stain takes a long time to dry and during this dry time, the finish can accumulate dust
  3. You need to wipe off Gel stain excess after application
  4. Gel stain sometimes needs to be thinned before use.

So, is Gel Stain better than Polyshades, or are Polyshades better? Let’s find out next.

Polyshades vs Gel Stain

To figure out the better topcoat, we’ll compare the features of Gel Stain and Polyshades together and see which comes out on top.

Here is a chart that shows the major differences between Gel stain and Polyshades:

 PolyshadesGel stain
DurabilityGoodNeeds a top coat for durability
UseTo lighten or modify paint colorTo deepen already stained wood
Dry Time6 hours between coats and about 12 hours overall dry time10 hours between coats and more than 24 hours overall dry time
ColorPolyshades come in many color choicesGel stain is only transparent
Interior or Exterior useCan be used on interior surfacesCan be used on interior and exterior surfaces
The FinishSatin or GlossyGlossy but the gloss fades over time

Next, let’s check out these differences and more in detail.

Durability

How durable are the topcoats?

Polyshades is a durable finish. The topcoat is designed with a built-in polyurethane layer that repels stains and withstands dents, scratch marks, and scars. However, you should know that Polyshades is only durable when used on indoor surfaces like furniture and cabinet. The finish is not durable enough to withstand the harsh exterior environment.

Gel stain on the other hand is very durable but only when the finish is sealed with a top coat like polyurethane or varnish. Ordinarily, Gel stain is not strong enough to protect the wood, especially when used on high traffic areas like floors and countertops.

To make Gel stain durable and tough enough to withstand heavy use and traffic, you’ll need an extra topcoat. When the Gel stain is sealed, it becomes very durable and more resistant to wood damage.

Verdict: Polyshades is more durable than ordinary Gel stains but if the Gel stain is top coated, it becomes more durable than Polyshades.

The Use

What is the topcoat used for?

Polyshades is used to lighten or modify already stained wood. The polyurethane topcoat of Polyshades allows light to bounce off the finish creating a lighter shade of the finish.

You can also use Polyshades to enhance the color of already stained wood. To do this, you need to buy a Polyshades finish with the same color as the existing finish. When dry, the finish will have more color.

Gel stain is used to deepen the color of an existing finish. Since Gel stain is very thick, it doesn’t allow light to shine through to the finish. Instead, Gel stain blocks the rays of light making the finish appear darker or deeper. You can also use Gel stain to darken wood.

Verdict: Polyshades is used to enhance and lighten stained wood while Gel stain is used to deepen and darken stained wood.

Dry Time

How long does the finish take to dry?

Polyshades dry quickly because the finish is not very thick. On average, a coat of Polyshades will dry in about 6 hours while the overall finish takes about 12 hours to dry.

Gel stain takes a long time to dry and each coat requires at least 10 hours to dry enough for another coat. The overall finish takes at least 24 hours to dry. The reason Gel stain takes this long to dry is because the stain is jelly-like and very thick.

Verdict: Polyshades dry faster than Gel stain because Gel stain is thicker than Polyshades. Each Polyshades coat dries in 6 hours or less while Gel stain takes at least 10 hours to dry between coats. The overall finish of Polyshades dries in 12 hours while the overall finish of Gel stain dries in at least 24 hours.

Interior or Exterior Use

Can the topcoats be used indoors or outdoors?

Gel stain can be used indoors and outdoors. You can use the finish to protect the interior and exterior surfaces. However, to use gel stain on an exterior surface, you need to seal the gel stain with a top coat like exterior polyurethane when it gets dry.

Polyshades can only be used on indoor surfaces like furniture, cabinets, and wood trims. You can’t use Polyshades on outdoor surfaces because the finish is not durable enough to withstand the exterior environment.

Verdict: Gel stain can be used indoors and outdoors once sealed but Polyshades is ideal for indoor use.

The Finish

What type of finish does the top coat give?

Polyshades come in satin and glossy finishes. You can go for the shiny appearance of a glossy finish or the semi-gloss appearance of a satin finish.

Gel stain only gives a glossy finish. When dry, the Gel stain coating becomes a shiny layer that allows the wood grain to shine through.

Verdict: Polyshades gives a satin or glossy finish. Gel stain only gives a glossy finish.

When Should You Use Polyshades?

  1. Use Polyshades to lighten or modify already stained wood.
  2. Use Polyshades when you need a quick finish – Polyshades will give a colorful and durable finish in a few hours.
  3. Use Polyshades to protect indoor wood like furniture and cabinet.
  4. Use Polyshades to get a colorful finish – You can even pick the color that you want.
  5. Use Polyshades when you want a Satin or Glossy finish.

When Should You Use Gel Stain?

  1. You should use Gel stain when you want to deepen already stained wood color.
  2. Use Gel stain when working on vertical surfaces like walls.
  3. You can use Gel stain on interior and exterior wood.
  4. Use Gel stain for glossy finishes.
  5. Use Gel stain when working on softwood like Pine and Cedarwood.
  6. Use Gel stain to get a transparent finish that will reveal the natural beauty and wood grain.

Final Words

In summary, Gel stain and Polyshades both offer a combination of other types of finishes. For Polyshades, you get a combination of polyurethane and wood stain.

For Gel stain, you get a wood stain with paint properties. You should know that both finishes are not very durable but Polyshades can still withstand light to medium use.

Gel stain on the other hand requires a sealing top coat to be durable or have moisture resistance. Finally, ensure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to know the ideal finish for your task.

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