Cost of Clear-Coat Versus Paint Finishes

Paints involve more steps and more time than clear coatings, which adds cost but how much? January 13, 2006

I own a small cabinet shop that primarily does stain grade with a water base topcoat. I'm bidding on a job for which the finish will be off-white, and I need to know if the bid for finish should be higher or lower (more or less time) than the clear coat, and by what percent. I plan to use a water base lacquer. I also need to know what percent to add for glazing. I'm thinking of adding 50% for glazing, but realize this may be low.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor B:
There are so many variables in coming up with your cost. Giving a percentage could be very misleading and costly in the end. You need to break down your total finish parts and assign them a value so that you're able to truly compare the two. Disassemble/pre-sand/prep/stage/seal/sand/topcoat/sand/topcoat/cure/assemble/pack. If painting parts may need to be filled or caulked and more sanding involved, then clear. Glaze is totally different depending on the glaze, the applicator's experience and methods. Again, try a job, keep track of time to accomplish each part, and add frustration to come up with price.

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
For a quick estimate, I use paint as twice the cost of a stain/topcoat finish. Add any glazing, distressing, crackle, etc. and the cost goes up quickly.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the responses. I am trying the job and will keep track of my time, but I do need to give a number for the bid in order to do the job. I want to be fair to the customer and myself. Doubling the time for paint sounds reasonable to me. Would tripling the time for paint and glaze be a reasonable place to start? I'm not looking for dollar amounts, but would like to know time comparisons.

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
Depends on the type of glazing. If it's "color in the corners and details" and you can just spray it in, then triple is high, but nice if they're agreeable. If it's hand applied and/or there's any brush effects, then triple seems realistic. If it's a special effect, it'll have to be higher. Glazing over paint is more time consuming than in a stain finish because every detail shows up so well. No room for error.

From contributor A:
Painting is probably double. If you add up the sanding hours, it starts to look pretty ugly unless you have several migrant or child laborers. Clear coat your fill defects 1st sand, seal, 2nd sand, clear coat, clear coat. Done. White paint job: fill defects, 1st sand, seal/prime coat, fill defects, 2nd sand, 2nd prime coat, 3rd sand, topcoat, topcoat. Done. That's all assuming that you don't have to sand between topcoats and you don't have to spray a clear coat over the color coat. That's the reason the old timers loved spraying 3-4 quick coats of nitro lacquer on red oak.

From contributor M:
Here in Israel, we take $25 for stain, clear coating for a square meter, while it is $60-80 (depending on who and how many basecoats/topcoat) for paint (called Shlif-luc).

From contributor O:
Our experience has been that getting a good opaque finish with waterborne is way more work than getting either an opaque or clear satin finish with solvent-borne. Getting a good stain, clear coat with waterborne is not substantially harder, but requires a learning curve which you already have.

I support the use of waterborne, but if you want to know exactly what I'm talking about, compare MDF sanded to whatever you want (120 to 600) and sprayed with MLC or any other waterborne primer versus MDF sanded on the face to 400 and the edge to 600 and coated with MLF Clawlock or any other post-cat high solids primer.

You can get a good 'paint' finish with waterborne, but it's a lot of work if you don't seal with something like a solvent borne sealer (vinyl or shellac). Our experience has been that the easiest, fastest, cheapest finish is solvent clear on stained wood, solvent borne paint and waterborne clear tied for second, and way down the list, strictly waterborne paint a distant third. This hierarchy can be qualified to a point in which the order is lost but suggests a simple norm or our experience.