The Ultimate Guide to Wood Dye vs. Wood Stain

Wood dye and wood stain might sound similar in grammar, but there’s a huge difference, and professionals highly consider the differences while choosing for different applications. That’s why it’s important that you know the differences between DIYers, woodworkers, or carpenters, so you can give a better finish by using the right pigments. Since the purpose is to give the wood a nice look, you have to be precise in choosing the right colors.

In that case, we compiled a guide here to educate you about the difference between wood dye and stain, so you can make a better decision about either using dye or stain on the wood when giving a brilliant finish to the wood. Before we dive into the differences, it’s necessary to know about them first.

What is a wood dye?

Dye is also another type of pigment often mixed in oils like mineral spirits, in water, or alcohol as a carrier. You must have heard of dying clothes and different materials. It works the same in wood. They are transparent and bring color to the wood without pasting the layer of pigment. Even the light can pass through their small molecules, unlike large stain molecules.

Furthermore, like wood stain, wood dye is also further categorized into oil-based and water-based wood dye. The water-based is lighter than oil-based wood dye. There’s another type known as an alcohol-based wood dye. Generally, these elements like alcohol, oil, and water act as carriers that carry the pigments. Otherwise, there’s no major difference, and with their ability to react with the wood, the entire concept of wood dye changes with their carrier.

What is a wood stain?

Wood stains can be considered thin water or oil-based paints made with large molecules and less soluble pigments to give a pleasant wood color. Their three important categories include penetrating, acid, and film-forming. The film-forming is the oldest one and has been used for centuries. The wood stain varies in tons of colors which further have a wide range of shades and textures.


Now that you know about the wood stain and wood dye, it would be a lot easier to describe their differences, so you can easily tell which one to choose.

  • Formulation

Wood dyes are made using dye pigments and a carrier, which can be either oil, water, or alcohol. On the other hand, wood stain is made using stain pigments along with a carrier and a binger. There’s one thing extra in this case, which is a binder.

  • Preparation Process

The preparation of wood dye is casual, and it comes with a lot of impurities. On the other hand, wood stains are made under restricted conditions where there’s no chance of adding impurities. Also, extra care is maintained to keep the stain pure.

  • Solvency

As mentioned earlier, dye particles are smaller in size and easily soluble in their carrier, either water or alcohol. Even in some cases, it comes in powder form, which is later solved into water or alcohol to get the final shape. In the case of a stain, there’s no chance of solvency as the particles are larger and don’t dissolve at all. Even to mix the pigments, you need constant stirring as they settle down when left for a while.

  • Resistance to Fading

Since the colors of the stain are darker, the chances of getting faded also increase. As a result, stains are more lightfast than dyes.

  • Structure

Wood dye isn’t in its pure form, but the wood stain is in its purest form. At the same time, the dye has smaller molecules, and the stain has larger ones. That’s why dye is comparatively cheaper than stain.

Pros of Wood Dye

It doesn’t rest on top of the wood and gives you the desired grain you want to keep and don’t want to hide under the thin layer of paint. That’s why there’s less chance of showing scratches or peeling the surface. Peeling the surface would mean peeling the wood. Since it’s translucent, you can expect it to highlight the wood grain patterns.

Understanding and Using Dyes

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Pros of Wood Stain

If you want to give your wood another look with a thin layer of some different, decent color, wood stain works the best. It can be a great choice in case you’re not a fan of grain patterns on the wood. Its thin paint layer can hide the grain and give a new look. Another most significant advantage of using wood stain has an even finish because of its thin layer that settles evenly on the wood.

Cons of Wood Dye

First, it doesn’t apply evenly on the surface, and you have to be professional in painting while coloring the wood with dye. Second, it’s easy to fade when it comes in direct contact with sunlight because of its thick layer. Third, you can’t give the wood a new look with different colors until you apply multiple coats of wood dye.

Cons of Wood Stain

It’s a lot more expensive than wood dye. When staining the wood, there’s a chance of blotchy areas, which is not the case in wood dye. Most importantly, you have to stir the stain before its application to the wood as the pigments settle down when left alone for a while. In that case, you may end up wasting the entire box if not stirred before use. Another significant con is losing the wood grain pattern, which most people love to have on the wood after painting it.

Leather Dye vs. Stain

Leather dye differs from wood dye slightly in the application. Otherwise, both contain the same mixture of substances for coloring. However, in the case of leather dye, it’s the material that is dipped into the dye. When compared with wood stain, it has the same differences as the wood dye.

It has smaller particles that are easy to dissolve and gives transparent colors. On the other hand, stains have larger particles that are not easy to dissolve and form a thin layer of pigments.

Furthermore, stains are comparatively expensive and give a brand-new look. But the leather dye just changes the color a bit instead of giving an entirely new look. They actually enhance the original color while giving a wide range of shades. The leather dye particles penetrate deeper into the material and a lot deeper than the substances in the stain.

Can You Dye Wood with Leather Dyes?

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What is the Difference Between Wood Dye and Wood Stain?

Both wood dye and wood stain come in the same form, having either small or large pigments along with carriers in the form of water, oil, or alcohol. Still, there’s a lot of difference in both types of pigments that are listed below:

  • Both have carriers and substances as pigments, but the wood stain contains a binger too, which is not found in the wood dye.
  • The wood stain is comparatively expensive than the wood dye.
  • The wood dye offers a lot less color choice than the stain.
  • You can have multiple colors and further shades in case of a wood stain.
  • When it comes to penetration, the wood dye penetrates deeper than the wood stain while giving a natural color to the material.
  • When it comes to solvency, the wood dye is more soluble than the wood stain because of its smaller particles that are easy to dissolve.
  • The wood stain doesn’t easily fade even when exposed to sunlight because of the thin pigment layer.
  • That’s why the wood stain offers more protection against sunlight, rain, and wind than the wood dye.
  • You need a lot of stirring before using the wood stain, but it’s not the case with the wood dye because of their small pigments that never settle down.

WOOD DYE vs. WOOD STAIN and what are the differences

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Is Wood Dye Better than Stain?

It depends on the situation and your requirements for the material. For instance, if you need a natural grain pattern on the wood, the wood dye is better than the stain. On the other hand, if you want to give the wood a brand new look, the wood stain is preferred. Similarly, if it’s the material that has to be outside the home and the chances of getting faded increase, you would go for the wood stain. Last, if you’re low on budget and don’t need more color choices, the wood dye can be the ideal choice.

Is Wood Dye the Same as Stain?

The wood dye can be similar to the stain but not the same. There are tons of differences between the wood dye and the wood stain that loudly says they are not the same. However, you can find many similarities as well, which clearly speak of being the same. In the end, you can conclude that they can be similar in some cases, but overall, they are not the same.

For instance, the wood dye also contains pigments along with water and alcohol as the carriers. It’s the same in the wood stain too. Both can be either water-based, oil-based, or alcohol-based. On the other hand, when it comes to the differences, the wood dye has comparatively smaller particles, but the wood stain has larger ones. Also, the wood dye doesn’t cover the wood grain pattern, but the wood stain makes a thin layer over the wood while giving it an entirely new look.

What are the Disadvantages of Wood Dye?

The wood dye penetrates deep into the material, which is quite appreciable for the natural look, but the color easily fades in less time. At the same time, as there’s nothing layer over the material, you can’t expect protection against outside factors like wind, rain, and sunlight.

Furthermore, you don’t have enough color choices and can’t give a material a brand-new look as the wood stain does. As a result, you’re restricted to limited colors only that are relevant to the natural color of the material. Last, chances of getting uneven color during the application are also high, and you need an expert for the dying. Otherwise, you may not get the desired finish.

Should you use dye or pigment stain?

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How to Use Wood Dye?

The wood dye no doubt differs greatly in the wood stain, but when it comes to the application, the process is the same. Here’s a list of steps you need to go through to use the wood dye to get the desired finish:

  • Start with stirring the wood dye in the box to ensure there’s no pigment settled down the surface and the mixture is ready.
  • Smooth the surface using sandpaper as usual as the application of the wood stain. Get a medium-grade snapper first and then a higher one later.
  • Wipe the dirt off and make sure when the surface is smooth, there’s no dirt on the wood.
  • Fill the small pores that can cause uneven coloring.
  • Let the wood dry if you have used a wet cloth to precisely wipe the surface.
  • Apply the wood dye in the direction of the wood grain pattern.
  • If you want a darker color, apply multiple coats.
  • Let the wood dye naturally when you’re done with the application.

What is the Best Wood Dye?

TransTint Dyes is one of the best wood dyes that you can mix with water for an economical and non-flammable stain. You can mix it with alcohol for fast dying while making it non-grain raising stain. It comes in a number of different colors, so you can have more color choices to match your furniture setup. Most importantly, it comes at an affordable rate, which everyone can easily pay.

TransTint Wood Dye Review


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How Long Does Wood Dye Last?

Usually, it lasts for around one or two years under good maintenance and is protected against sunlight, wind, and rain. But if you apply polyurethane sealant, the lifespan can increase up to two more years. The sealer protects the material besides increasing the durability of wood dye to ensure you get the darker color for a prolonged time on the material.

So, it works the same as the wood stain because when polyurethane sealant is applied with the wood stain, the durability is the same for about five years. However, the lifespan differs in the case of water-based stain and oil-based stain. Oil-based stain lasts comparatively longer than water-based stain.

Is Wood Staining Permanent?

The wood staining is permanent to some extent but not completely. However, you can remove the stain with effort. Still, you won’t get the same material as before. After the application, the color won’t fade for about five years if polyurethane sealant is applied. Further, it can start fading and will take many years to get back to its original form.

Still, you can’t get the original look of the material. However, you can change the look by applying the stain of another color. So, we can conclude that it’s permanent to some extent and that’s why you have to be extra careful about its application on the wood.

Can You Paint Over Wood Dye?

Painting over wood dye or wood stain is quite easy. Since the purpose of painting is to put a thin layer of pigments on the wood, it can be placed on either the stain or the dye. But it has to be less dense than the paint, or it won’t be possible.

Since the wood dye and wood stain both are less dense than the paint, you can easily paint the wood. However, you may go through the sanding process to make the surface ready for painting. Otherwise, no sanding would also work for the paint.

Wood Finishing – Dying Wood Versus Staining Wood

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How Do You Make Wood Dye?

There are tons of methods to make the wood dye using food and other substances. The primary process involves grounding, blending, and mixing to get the desired color. Here’s a list of methods you can use to make the wood dye:

  • You can dissolve some used coffee ground in the vinegar to get the dye.
  • When using beets ground up, it produces a red dye.
  • Using cochineal, you can produce carmine dye.
  • Walnut shells produce a brown dye, while onion skin offers yellow dye.
  • Sunflower can make either red or yellow dye, depending upon the plane used.
  • Turmeric produces a yellow dye.

What Wood Stain Lasts the Longest?

Generally, the wood stains last for around three years. The durability can be increased using polyurethane sealant after finishing the stain. So you can conclude that a wood stain with sealant lasts the longest and up to 5 years. When we go into the stain categories, the oil-based stain lasts the longest. You can expect a lifespan of around five years if the sealant is applied after the finish. On the other hand, the water-based wood stain can last for a maximum of three years.

When looking for the best wood stains that last the longest, Varathane 262025 Premium Fast Dry Wood Stain lasts the longest when applied with the sealant. Besides, it’s ideal for outdoor and indoor use. It contains nanoparticles that penetrate deep into the wood for increased longevity.

Do Wood Dyes Fade?

Yes, with time, the wood dye fades, and it takes less time than the wood stain and is much shorter than the wood paint. Primarily, it doesn’t give a coat to the material applied. That’s why its fading is fast and quite easy. When exposed to external factors like rain, wind, and sunlight, the fading increases.

However, you can apply polyurethane sealant to reduce the fading to some extent, but since it doesn’t make a thin coat and penetrates deep into the material, it’s a lot easier to fade. Of course, if the material is protected against external factors, the fading can be reduced.

Is it Better to Stain Wood with a Brush or Rag?

A lint-free rag is a lot better than a brush because it helps in evenly applying the stain. You can manage to avoid blotchy areas using a rag. It also helps to precisely apply the stain, which you can’t manage with a brush. It can be a little hectic with a rag, but you can get the best results.

However, you should throw the rag once used and shouldn’t use the same for applying the stain on different wood. Still, if you’re not comfortable with the rag, the brush also does the job, but you have to be more precise, accurate, and perfect in applying the stain without leaving it blotchy.

Should You Shake Wood Stain?

Of course, you have to shake the wood stain before using it, or you may ruin it. Actually, the pigments that are larger in size settle down, and to bring them back, you have to mix while shaking them. Otherwise, without shaking it, you may ruin the entire process. The results won’t be effective, and you won’t be able to get the desired finish. It’s clearly mentioned on the tin to ensure even if you forget; you remember while seeing the box. It clearly shows the importance of shaking the wood stain. Since the wood dye has smaller particles, that may not be required to shake. Still, it would be a lot better if you shook that one too.

What Happens if You Paint over Stained Wood?

Painting the wood over stains is quite easy and doesn’t require much effort. All you need to do is sand a little. Sometimes even sanding may not be required, but it’s better if you sand because the surface will be ready to get paint. Since the stain is less dense than the paint, you can easily paint the stained wood. However, it might be challenging to stain the already painted wood. It requires a lot of sanding to get the surface ready for staining.

Can You Paint Over Stained Wood without Sanding?

Of course, you can paint over stained wood even without sanding first. But it would be good if you sand the surface first to make it ready for the paint. That is why the paint would give a lot better results than before. Otherwise, it’s not necessary or compulsory, but you can sand for an efficient finish.

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Kevin Nelson

I will always have a special place in my heart for woodworking. I have such fond memories working on projects with my parents on the weekends in the garage growing up. We built tables, shelves, a backyard shed, 10' base for a water slide into the pool, 2 story fort playhouse with a fire pole, and so much more. This woodworking blog allows me to write helpful articles so others can enjoy woodworking as much as we have.

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