Enamel paint has a lovely hard and glossy finish that works great when finishing kitchen and bath appliances. This type of paint provides a durable and resilient finish that gives your craft amazing, vibrant colors that last.
Enamel paint has a thicker consistency, so depending on the application, you will need to use a paint thinner to work with it. With so many enamel paint thinner types and brands available, it is important to know which paint thinner will work best for you to get the job done.
What are the best thinners for enamel paint? The best thinner for enamel paint is mineral spirits. Other options are acetone, turpentine, lacquer thinner, and rubbing alcohol, but not all are recommended. It is important to use these chemicals in the right ratios and only with water-based enamel paints.
Enamel paints are great for painting various materials. They are often used for plastic models and miniatures and larger surfaces such as kitchen and bar counters or even cars. They produce a beautifully glossy and smooth finish that is tough and wear-resistant.
So if you want to know more about the best way to thin enamel paint for your specific application, we’ve got you covered!
Does Enamel Paint Need Thinner?
Although enamel paint is often referred to as a type of paint, it actually is more than its content. In the broadest sense, it refers to any solvent-based (also known as oil-based) paint that produces a hard, glass-like surface.
It is called “enamel” because of the beautiful finish that you often see in products that are kiln-baked or have a glossy melted glass coating. Except for the name, enamel paint has no similarity to the glass coating that the name suggests.
Enamel paint can be used with a lot of different applications. When you first open the can, you will see that enamel paint can have a very thick consistency, but that’s not always a bad thing. If you are using a regular brush to cover a large surface, then you can use the paint without the thinner.
However, if you are working with an airbrush, you will need to use a paint thinner to create a more liquid consistency, which will work better with airbrushing. If you are painting miniatures and need to create very fine details, then a thinner consistency will get the job done better as well.
You can also buy enamel paint made specifically for painting miniatures, which already has a thin consistency, so you won’t have to use paint thinners.
Keep in mind that thinning out paint is not the only purpose of paint thinners. They are also great to help you clean your brushes and thin out dry paint from various surfaces, so if you regularly paint with enamel paint, it’s great to keep them around the house for clean-up purposes.
Some paint thinners can clean up paint that has dried and hardened, while others can only clean up paint that is still wet or partially hardened. This is very important because it will affect your clean-up process later on.
Enamel Paint Thinners
When you select enamel paint thinners or thinners for any kind of paint, for that matter, you should consider whether it is water-based or solvent-based (oil-based) paints.
Oil and water don’t mix. While there are many paint thinners that can work with both water-based and oil-based paints, there are paint thinners that can work only with water-based paints and vice versa.
Most enamel paints are oil-based (solvent-based), which will work well with solvents as paint thinners. However, you can find some types of enamel paints that are water-based, so you should investigate whether your enamel paint is water-based or oil-based before looking at a paint thinner.
Possible Enamel Paint Thinner Substitutes
|Type of Thinner||Recommended Use|
|Mineral Spirit||Best paint thinner for enamel paint|
|Acetone||Diluted and only with water-based paint|
|Turpentine||Cleaning brushes (not recommended as a paint thinner)|
|Lacquer Thinner||Cleaning brushes (not recommended as a paint thinner)|
|Rubbing Alcohol||Diluted to 30% and only with water-based paint|
While you can always buy commercial enamel thinners, there are great substitutes for enamel paint thinners below.
1. Mineral Spirits – The Best Enamel Paint Thinner
Mineral Spirit (also known as White Spirit) is probably the most well-known paint thinner for all kinds of paint. Mineral spirits are petroleum distillates that do not have the offensive odor of turpentine and cost much less than traditional enamel paint thinners.
The reason that mineral spirit is beloved as a paint thinner is that while it changes the consistency of the paint, it doesn’t change anything else in the paint’s quality. You will have the same color and the same drying time for the enamel paint, which means you will have the desired result with a thinner paint consistency.
This is a great solution, especially for airbrushing since you don’t have to spend too much money on paint thinner but still get the desired vivid colors and glossy finish.
Keep in mind that although Mineral Spirit doesn’t have as strong an odor compared to turpentine, it still does have a strong smell that may be a bit unpleasant to some people. Nowadays, you can find great odorless mineral spirit options if that is a concern for you.
2. Acetone – For Use With Water-Based Paint Only
Acetone is more commonly known as nail polish remover. It is a strong and highly effective solvent, especially for a paint that dries hard like enamel paint. Acetone is commonly used to remove paint residue from hard surfaces like fiberglass, and it is a great thinner that can strip away the paint from your brushes and tools.
Keep in mind that acetone is a powerful solvent, so it may melt many types of plastic. If you are using a nylon brush, for example, the acetone will melt away the bristles.
While acetone is very effective at cleaning enamel paint from various surfaces, it is not great for thinning out your paint’s consistency for painting or airbrushing. It is not a thinning agent, so if you use acetone to thin enamel paint to paint with, you won’t get an even finish or vibrant colors. If you are painting on plastic surfaces, you may risk damaging that surface as well.
If you must use acetone as a paint thinner to paint with, it is best to dilute this paint thinner with water. However, this solution will only work with water-based enamel paint because water won’t mix well with oil-based paint, resulting in an uneven consistency.
3. Turpentine – Not Recommended
Turpentine is a solvent that is produced by the distillation of oleoresins from pine trees. Compared to mineral spirits, it has a very strong odor and more solvency, which means it is very easy to over-thin your paint with turpentine. If you use turpentine to thin your enamel paint, use it a little at a time so that the paint doesn’t become runny.
As a paint thinner, turpentine can also affect the drying time of your enamel paint. If you are using turpentine paint thinner, then you will have less time to work with the paint because it will dry faster, which is why this type of thinner is not recommended for airbrushing.
Turpentine is very effective at cleaning your brushes and can dissolve slightly hardened paint, so it is superior to mineral spirits in this sense.
However, many people don’t love working with turpentine because it is toxic and has a very strong smell, which may deter people from using this solvent as a paint thinner. You can find turpentine substitutes that are odorless and less toxic, however, which will work just as well.
4. Lacquer Thinner – Not Recommended
A lacquer thinner is a mixture of two or more solvents. Many of the chemicals found in these products are used as base solvents, such as acetone, amyl, ethyl acetate, ketone, and toluene. As a result, lacquer thinners are highly effective paint thinners for enamel paint.
Lacquer thinners are more commonly used to clean brushes because they can melt away even paint that has been completely dry and hardened. However, if you are using lacquer thinner to dilute the paint, you may find that the result may not be very aesthetically pleasing.
Since lacquer thinner is a very strong solvent, it can dull the colors of enamel paint and create an uneven surface. Depending on the type of lacquer thinner you use (for example, those that contain acetone), painting on plastic isn’t suitable because it will damage the plastic.
5. Rubbing Alcohol – Dilute To 30%
Rubbing alcohol works well as a paint thinner, but it is more suitable if you have water-based enamel paint rather than an oil-based enamel paint.
You can find rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) in most drug stores, but not every type of rubbing alcohol will work well as a paint thinner. That is because rubbing alcohol has varying degrees of isopropyl: 30%, 70%, 90%, and 99%.
The 90% isopropyl alcohol is too strong to use as a paint thinner. You will create a gum-like mixture that is impossible to paint with. To thin out your enamel paint, you will need to look for 30% or 70% rubbing alcohol.
As a brush cleaner, rubbing alcohol is effective but probably not as effective as mineral spirits or acetone, so if you have to choose, it’s always better to go with a more effective solution.
Rubbing alcohol is a great paint thinner for water-based paints, but if your enamel paint is oil-based, the result may vary. That’s why you should look at the composition of your enamel paint first before you buy rubbing alcohol as a paint thinner solution.
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