What is Metalized Dye Stain – Application Process and Tips

Metalized dye stains

Metalized dye stains (also referred to as “metal-complex” and “metal-complex dye stain”) are not new and were initially created in the 1950s to resist fading.

Although metalized dye stain does fade over time (when exposed to the sun’s UV light and other external conditions), it does so much more slowly than water-soluble dye stains.

The durability of this more sturdy dye is usually due to the presence of metals such as nickel, chromium, copper, and cobalt added.

Metalized Dye Stains Usage

Metal-complex dye stains act as an excellent spray-on stain for wood surfaces indoors as well as outdoors.

Since they dry quickly, spray-on metalized dye stains are some of the easiest stains to apply on bare wood. They can also be mixed with evaporating solvents such as lacquer and sprayed as a toner.

One greatest benefits of using these metal dye stains are that unlike other wood stain types (including latex and oil-based stains), they offer a much deeper, even, streak-free coat. This simply means you can achieve a professional-looking finish with relative ease – even if you’re a first-time user.

Besides wood stains, metal-complex dyes are also used in various other industries and for a variety of other applications like leather finishing, dyeing of nylon, stationery printing inks, toners for photocopiers, coloring for metals, plastic, etc. So, if you are into any of the aforesaid industries, the metal-complex dye can prove to be a great option for you.

Metalized dye stains come with several benefits.


  • Easy to use
  • Affordable and readily available
  • Offer an attractive look to the wood
  • It does not hide the natural wood grains
  • It can be modified in terms of color and properties

Like all products, they also have a few limitations, which you should know before using them.


  • Not suitable for outdoor use
  • Not food safe, so it isn’t suitable for kitchen use
  • It doesn’t protect the wood from moisture, UV rays, and insects
thinning and applying metalized dye stain

Thinning the Metal-Complex Dye Stain

When you need to use it as a wood stain, remember that most metal-complex dye stains are available in pre-thinned condition (in acetone) and are highly popular in businesses and retail establishments that spray stains.

You just need to apply it correctly on the surface. These dyes contain no water and are labeled “non-grain-raising” or “NGR.”

However, you can further thin these dyes with up to 25% acetone if required. But doing so can affect the final color of your stain project.

Some manufacturers also produce a concentrated liquid form that you will need to thin before using. The thinner to use with these concentrated metal-complex dyes includes acetone, alcohol, lacquer thinner, or even water.

When using water for thinning metalized dye stains, do keep in mind that it can cause grain raising on wood surfaces. But the benefit you will be offered is in terms of slowing down the drying time, which means you will get more time to apply the stain. To address the issue, people often use a retarder (instead of water) to slow the drying time without raising the wood grains. 

Applying Metal-Complex Dye Stains on Wood

Applying the metalized dye stain is easy with a brush or spray gun. But the best way, I think to apply it is by using a sprayer like Wagner Flexio 590 paint sprayer. I have used it once, and it offered an even coat with minimal overspray.

These sprayers come with two nozzles – one for spraying stains and the other for painting walls. You can use any one of them for applying the metal-complex dye stain.

When spraying, hold the paint sprayer about 12 inches away from the surface and move it in a side-to-side motion. Keep a damp cloth handy that will help you even out the stain where ever required.

You can also use a paintbrush to apply the metal-complex dye stain. But, in that case, you need to take care of two things – first, use a good quality brush (like a Purdy brush), and second, back-brush the stain after you have applied it. This will help in evening out the stain and ensure it’s pushed deep into the wood pores.

Once the stain is applied, let it dry for at least 2 hours. Then use a finish coat (like varnish, lacquer, shellac, etc.) of your choice.

A word of caution here – Before applying the final coat, make sure that all residual stain has been eliminated from the surface and that it is completely dry. Failure to do so can lead to an unappealing sticky residue that will be difficult, if not impossible, to remove.

Tips and Warnings

One main downside of metalized dye stains is that they’re not very forgiving. This means once you apply the stain, you won’t be able to go back and fix any mistakes. So, it’s important to be careful and take time during the application process.

Also, if you are using them to stain outdoor surfaces such as furniture, siding, window trims, etc., ensure that it’s not directly exposed to UV light for long. Since the dye can degrade rapidly in direct sunlight, it’s best to use it for only indoor wood furniture or those in the shade outdoors.

The bottom line

Metalized liquid dyes and stains have been a staple for various projects for decades, from wood staining in crafts to industrial applications. They are easy to use and give an attractive finish that does not hide the natural wood grains. Plus, faster drying time and extra depth in color make them the perfect choice when seeking a top-quality result.

When shopping for metalized dye stains for commercial or private woodworking projects, make sure to purchase from a reputable dealer who offers a wide variety of color choices. Also, follow the manufacturer’s application and thinning instructions to achieve the best results.

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