What is the difference between Lacquer, Polyurethane, and Varnish?

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In a general sense, lacquer is a clear or coloured coating, that dries by solvent evaporation and often a curing process as well that produces a hard, durable finish, in any sheen level from ultra matte to high gloss and that can be further polished as required. In a narrower sense, lacquer consists of a resin dissolved in a fast-drying solvent which is a mixture of naphtha, xylene, toluene, and ketones, including acetone. The word "lacquer" comes from the lac insect (Laccifer lacca, formerly Coccus lacca), whose secretions have been historically used to make lacquer and shellac. In America today the word lacquer refers to nitrocellulose, and little else; most other coatings are known as "varnish". In the UK however, the general rule is if you spray it, it's lacquer - if you brush it, it's varnish. All factory finished furniture these days is therefore lacquer (pigmented, tinted or clear). A polyurethane is any polymer consisting of a chain of organic units joined by urethane links. ... more
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