Can You Use Zinsser Bulls Eye Over Varnish?

by Sam Wood | Last Updated: 13/09/2021

Zinsser Bulls Eye is a water-based primer and sealer. It is rated for use on a wide range of surfaces. But you are here because you want to know if you can use Bulls Eye over varnish. Well, let’s find out. I grabbed some pine, varnished it and then painted it with Zinsser Bulls Eye and tested the results. Time to find out how this popular primer got on.

Can You Use Zinsser Bulls Eye Over Varnish?

Yes, you can. Zinsser Bulls Eye 123 both paints well onto varnish as well as adhering well. In my scratch test, the primer had fully stuck to the varnish and there was no peeling or scuffing seen.

The below graph is from Zinsser themselves and shows which surfaces that the Zinsser primers should be used on. Although it states that Bulls Eye 123 should not be used on varnish I found that it worked well.

Zinsser Primer Guide - Interior Surfaces

Zinsser Primer Guide – Interior Surfaces


The Bulls Eye painted onto the varnish really easily, just like painting any other surface with it.

Bulls Eye Painted Over Varnish

Bulls Eye Painted Over Varnish

Above you can see it after it has just been painted onto the varnished wood.


All of the samples have now had a week to dry and fully cure.

The samples after being left a week to cure fully

The samples after being left a week to cure fully

You can see the Zinsser Bulls Eye 123 on the left of this sample. When compared to the other two Zinsser paints you can see that it has not covered the wood as well as the other two. There are clear lines where you can still see through a little bit to the wood below.

Saying all of that, it has still covered really well for a single coat of primer. Just not as well as the B-I-N and Cover Stain.

Scratch Test

Now comes the time for a real test of just how well this paint has worked. The problem with painting a shiny surface like varnish is poor adhesion, everything will look good until the paint is bumped or knocked and then it all simply falls off.

So with that said it is time to find out how well the Bulls Eye 123 has stuck to the varnish. For this, I used a piece of rough-cut c16 timber.

I like to use this method as I feel it is a thorough test for the paint while not being overkill. I don’t want to use something too soft which is not representative of the challenges the paint will face and I also don’t want to use something too hard. If I used a really hard material it would just scratch every paint and not give me any usable results.


So let’s find out how well the Bulls Eye got on. Below you can see the same sample after it has been through the scratch test.

After the scratch test

After the scratch test

Not a mark on it. The Bulls Eye has adhered really well to the varnish, so it has definitely passed this test, with flying colours I would say!

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Wood by name, wood by nature. I am a fully qualified, time-served, award-winning joiner with an NVQ Level 3 in Carpentry and Joinery as well as an HNC in Construction. Beyond my joinery qualifications, I have also earned a degree in building surveying. I believe these qualifications make me perfectly positioned to provide expert advice on many different areas of DIY as well as share all of the tips I have picked up in over a decade working on building sites!