Enhancing or changing the color of wood is one of the most powerful and creative tools available to you.
And there can be many considerations before you decide on using a dye- or pigment-based stain (or a dye/pigment blend).
But before we even start considering the application, we should first learn how the two types of colorants behave as a wood stain because they have different effects on the substrates they are applied to.
So, when I receive this common question…
“When would I use a dye-based stain vs. a pigment-based stain vs. a dye/pigment blend?”
Here is my answer…
Every situation has specifics to consider, but there are some general guidelines:
Dye stains are best used to create base/group color strength and better suited to shading and toning.
Pigment based stains are best used to create color depth and are better suited for adjusting/hiding wood grain effects, and at times, wood grain defects.
The reason “why” is because dyes and stains have different physical properties.
Dyes, made from chemical reactions with organic compounds and metals, have very small particle sizes and penetrate much deeper into the cell structure of wood.
Dyes are remarkably transparent even at very high concentrations. Whether blended into a binder or used as a concentrate in a solvent, dyes remain extremely vivid and can be used to adjust underlying color tones.
Wood dyes tend to have low to moderate fade resistance when exposed to light for a long period of time.
Pigments are ground inorganic oxides and much larger in structure.
When used at even low percentages in a stain base, they will begin to create translucency, and at higher concentrations, will develop opacity and hide the features of the substrate they are being applied over. This can create a muddy color effect if too high of a percentage of pigment is used in the stain base.
Pigment based wood stains are much more fade resistant to UV exposure.
As mentioned above, wood stains can be made from one or both types of these colorants and can be found in both water- and oil-based formats (this includes dye/pigment blends).
When shopping for wood stain, take note when stains are labeled as dye-based stain (Target NR4000 Stain Series, Mohawk Dye Stains and General Finishes Dye Stains).
In the big-box/consumer stores, the stains are mostly pigmented stains (for deck and siding; think Cabot, Flood and Sikens) and blended dye/pigment stains for DIY furniture, cabinet and running-trim finishing (think Minwax, Varathane, and General Finishes).
While some finishers find that the oil-based stains are easier to apply, it is now common practice to use water based dye stains over the oil stain to act as a color shade or color toner.
What is your experience with using dye-based, pigment-based or dye/pigment wood stain blends? Please share your thoughts or read what others are saying below in the “comments” section.