When the color of your walls starts to feel stagnant, it’s tempting to repaint them. Painting can be a fairly quick and easy project, depending on the size of the room and how many people you have to help.
As you get started, it can seem like the hardest decision will be choosing a paint color. With so many variations of the same shade and color, how do you choose?
There is another choice you’ll have to make, though. You’ll need to decide what type of paint will work best in your house. The main decision will come down to two types of paint: enamel or acrylic.
So, what’s the difference between enamel and acrylic paint? When comparing enamel vs. acrylic paint, enamel is oil-based and most acrylic paints are water-based. Enamel paint creates a harder layer that’s more durable against moisture, while acrylic paint is non-toxic and easy to wash away.
There are plenty of other differences between the two types of paint. In this article, we’ll review all of these differences to help you choose the right paint for your weekend home improvement project.
What Is Enamel Paint?
Enamel paint is a type of oil-based paint that’s more heavy duty. It’s water-proof rather than just water-resistant, lasts longer, and creates a harder layer of paint on any surface.
When we say any surface, we do mean that it can be applied to more than just walls. Enamel paint works well on plastic, glass, metal, wood, and copper, in addition to the walls of your home.
Recently, new types of water-based enamel paints have hit the market, but the majority of what you’ll find with enamel is oil-based paint.
These paints have a higher toxicity than acrylic paints and must be applied with plenty of ventilation in the room and a breathing mask for everyone painting.
Since enamel is highly durable, versatile, and water-proof, it works best on outdoor projects.
What Is Acrylic Paint?
Acrylic paint is a water-based paint that has many different varieties. You can find acrylic paint for both home improvement and arts and crafts projects.
Because it’s water-based, acrylic paint is non-toxic and much safer to use than enamel paint. It doesn’t require nearly as many safety precautions, though it’s always good to have proper ventilation and breathing masks while painting.
Acrylic paint has a larger variety of colors that stand the test of time. It won’t fade or crack and has great UV-resistance, which makes it great to use for both indoor and outdoor applications.
The only downside to using acrylic paint outdoors is that it’s only water-resistant, not water-proof. This means that when exposed to high levels of moisture for long periods of time, the paint will not hold up well.
If you still want to use acrylic paint outdoors, we recommend adding a varnish seal over top.
Enamel Vs Acrylic Paint
When it comes to comparing enamel and acrylic paint overall, acrylic paint is probably your best bet. You’ll still get a nice coat of paint without all the toxicity.
However, enamel paint is necessary sometimes, like for outdoor home improvement projects such as repainting the house siding, a deck, or even a patio furniture piece.
Each type of paint has their purpose along with expected pros and cons. In the sections below, we’ll compare each type of paint in specific qualities to see how they differ on a more detailed level.
When it comes to texture, enamel paint wins.
Acrylic paint tends to have an issue of showing brush strokes in the paint, whereas enamel paint goes on cleanly without any obvious brush strokes or lines.
This isn’t necessarily a deal breaker for acrylic paint. If you apply the paint cleanly with smooth brushing motions, it still comes out nicely. A roller may even give you an advantage over a regular paint brush.
You’ll need to do several light coats of acrylic paint to get the color saturated enough, so if you notice obvious brush strokes in one layer, you can rest assured they’ll be covered up in the next layer.
Enamel paint doesn’t have this issue. You can freely apply enamel paint with a paintbrush, roller, or even a spraying device and get a nice, smooth coat no matter what application you choose.
Although there are usually finish options for every kind of paint, generally, acrylic paint tends to dry more on the matte side while enamel paint dries glossy.
With enamel paint, you can also find finish options of high-gloss, satin, or matte, though each of these will inherently be a little glossy – including the matte option.
Acrylic paints are harder to find a variety of finishes for, but they are out there. If you’re having trouble finding acrylic paint in the finish you want, but you don’t want to get enamel, we recommend trying latex paint.
Latex paint is another non-toxic option that you can choose if you want to avoid the toxicity of enamel paint.
When it comes to longevity, both acrylic and enamel paints have their advantages in different ways.
Enamel paint lasts longer from a durability standpoint. The paint creates a hard shell when dry, tough enough to stand up to any wear and tear.
It’s also water-proof, so it will last long even outside in the elements. Constant rain and snow won’t be an issue with enamel paint.
However, if enamel paint is used inside, it does tend to yellow over time. This can alter the color of the walls and change the look of your home.
Acrylic paint doesn’t yellow over time. It remains the same color decades after it was initially painted.
Acrylic paint also won’t crack or peel easily, so although it doesn’t dry to the hard shell of enamel paint, it stands up to its own wear and tear.
The only issue with acrylic paint is that it’s only water-resistant and not water-proof. If you use acrylic paint outside, it will not stand up as well against the elements.
This is mainly because acrylic paint is water-based. While enamel is oil-based and naturally repels water, the water-based nature of acrylic paint tends to bind with other water particles.
So over time, enamel performs better outdoors, while acrylic performs better indoors.
4. Ease Of Use
When it comes to ease of use, acrylic paint wins out.
You can apply it over old coats of paint and it tends to do well. For best results, we recommend using a primer before applying your layers of color, but you can generally just brush on the primer and paint with ease.
Enamel paint requires a bit of preparation. You must remove the old paint first, regardless of the type of paint it was, for best results with enamel paint.
Even after you remove the old paint, you still have to apply an enamel primer or other oil-based primer to the surface before beginning with your color paint.
With the added extra step of stripping the existing paint from an object, enamel paint can be a pain when using it for previously-painted projects.
5. Dry Times
The dry times are another area where acrylic paint wins out.
Acrylic paint can be dried to the touch within just a couple hours, fully dry in around 6 hours.
If you’re planning to apply a varnish on top, you will have to wait about a week after painting before you can add the varnish. This is just to ensure the entire layers and chemicals of acrylic paint have fully dried.
Overall, an object or wall can be considered dry with acrylic paint after just 6 hours.
With enamel, you’ll need at least 8 hours to dry, and that’s the bare minimum. For best results, enamel paint needs to be left to dry for a full 24 hours.
During the drying process with enamel, you must maintain that same level of high ventilation we mentioned earlier. This means running continual fans or leaving windows open if you’re working indoors.
If working outdoors, you’ll need to leave the project outside to dry overnight. This can be a problem if you’ve just painted a new patio table and a sudden rainstorm blows in.
Acrylic paint doesn’t require this high level of safety precautions. It has very low toxicity and will be fine to dry with just a fan or two on and a window open, if the project and weather permits.
6. Color Options
Acrylic paints are incredibly easy to mix colors, which means that there are more color options on the market. Even if you don’t find the exact color you want on the shelf, you can mix it yourself fairly easily with some knowledge of color theory and a paint stick.
Enamel paint has less color options readily available on the market and needs more work to mix. You’ll have to pour the paint together slowly and stir it with a paint stick for at least 5 full minutes to get a true mix.
You may even want to consider pouring two cans of paint at the same time into a new container to help with the mixing process.
Acrylic paint is much easier in this aspect, as all you have to do is combine and stir until the color looks right. With a process that simple, you’re bound to find a color already to your liking on the shelf.
VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are a big factor when it comes to determining your paint choice. These VOCs are carbon-based chemicals that are toxic both for humans and for the environment.
Most paints with high VOCs have limits as to how much you can use and how long you can be exposed to them.
Enamel paint is high in VOCs. Because of its overall toxicity, it requires extreme ventilation and safety precautions. You’ll need to wear a breathing mask when working with this paint and take breaks so you’re not exposed for long periods of time.
Acrylic paint, on the other hand, is very low in VOCs. You can even find some lines of acrylic paint that are zero-VOC and don’t have any at all.
If you’re worried about the safety of using enamel paint but need to paint something that will be outdoors, we recommend finding an exterior latex paint or using acrylic paint and applying a durable varnish seal on top.
This will prevent you from inhaling all the toxic chemicals involved with enamel paint and still allow you to paint items that will end up outdoors.
Best Projects For Enamel Paint
Since enamel paint is highly durable and waterproof and requires ventilation when applied, outdoor projects are your best bet.
Just because enamel paint is better used outdoors doesn’t mean your projects are limited, though. There are tons of projects you can do with enamel paint.
The first, and probably more obvious, is you can paint the outside of your house. Either your siding or an outdoor addition to your house such as a deck, porch, or patio.
The great thing about enamel paint is that it adheres to so many different surfaces. Its versatility with wood, plastic, glass, metal, and metal means that you can use it for many components outside your home.
Its use with plastic, metal, and glass especially comes in handy for patio furniture. If you’d like to give an old metal patio table a refresh with a new coat of paint, enamel would be perfect.
You can also use enamel paint on an outdoor sculpture. If you have a lot of outdoor art pieces in your landscaping that are looking old, try making them new again with a fresh coat of white enamel paint.
Best Projects For Acrylic Paint
Acrylic paint has many more project possibilities compared to enamel paint. That’s because acrylic paint isn’t just used for home improvement, but for arts and crafts projects as well.
If you go to any craft store, you’ll find a whole aisle or two full of mini bottles of acrylic paint in every color you can possibly imagine.
These bottles of paint can be used for painting models, rocks, canvas, wood, and more. You can use acrylic paint to create your own colorful birdhouse for your backyard!
Since acrylic paint is non-toxic and doesn’t require ventilation or a breathing mask, you’ll be safe to use it for any project you do whether inside or outside. If you want to use acrylic paint for home improvement, you can also use it to paint your walls, baseboards, doors, and trim.
Sometimes latex paint is a better non-toxic option for these home improvement projects, especially when it comes to the variety of finishes and brands available at your local paint store.
Even if you still want to use acrylic instead of latex, you’ll have plenty of options.
Just remember that with acrylic paint, it’s only water-resistant and not water-proof. If you plan to use acrylic paint for an outdoor project, be sure to seal it after letting it dry for a week with a water-proof varnish or seal.
Which Is Better: Enamel Or Acrylic Paint?
Overall, both enamel and acrylic paint have their purposes. Enamel paint is much more heavy-duty and works great for outdoor projects that can stand the test of time.
Acrylic paint is versatile, non-toxic, and an ideal option for many indoor craft and home improvement projects. Consider the type of project you want to paint and choose the one that fits your needs the best.