Difference Between Acrylic Paint vs. Enamel

Acrylic and enamel are two of the most commonly used paints for household work. Their main difference is that water is used as the main acrylic base, and oil is used for enamel.

None of these are worse or better than one another unless you have a specific use case in mind. In that case, the one that suits your work best will be the right choice for you.

Knowing about the differences in acrylic paint vs. enamel can help you have the right understanding of both paints.

We’ll talk about these two paints’ differences in this guide. You’ll have a clear idea afterward on picking the right paint for your task.

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Acrylic Paint vs. Enamel Paint

Let’s talk about the differences these two have with each other.

Chemical Composition

There are several major components in a paint’s chemical composition. The color you see in paint is what’s known as pigment. It’s the core of the paint.

Without it, red paint won’t look red, for that the red pigment has to be in the paint. Think of it as the pure color of the paint.

Then there’s solvent. This is the one responsible for the paint’s liquid form. You can’t use a pigment in its natural powder form. It has to come in a liquid form to use a brush or a spray to apply it to stuff.

A pigment and solvent mixture won’t stick to a surface if applied directly. Something has to be there so that the paint can stick. And for that, a binder is used. Its main task is to give the paint a grip to stick to surfaces.

Finally, there are additives. It is used to give a paint some features. It can change the normal consistency of a pigment or customize it according to a project’s needs.

In acrylic, the solvent is mainly composed of water, while, in enamel, it can be both oil and water. That allows enamel colors to have different gloss types.

And by changing the solvent’s consistency in acrylic, it’s possible to give it an enamel-like shine. It all comes down to how paint is prepared and the ingredients it has.


Since acrylic paint forms a film when dried, it can start to break down at some point. If a part of the film is broken, the whole layer will start to crumble and gradually fall from the painted surface.

And for this reason, you should give the paint a coating to lengthen its lifetime.

The coating won’t make acrylic as durable as enamel paint, but it can still do a great job. If you seriously want to do a project that will last for years without frailing or ripping apart, only use enamel.

It’s designed to be super durable and won’t break apart after a few months as acrylic does.

Use Case

You can alternate between two of these in your household or outdoor work. But since enamel’s composition allows it to be suitable to be used outdoors, it’s a good idea to keep it that way.

And while you can use acrylic outdoors, it’s best suited for indoor works. So, you can use it for design or household projects.

Acrylic is one of the most durable, long-lasting paints. Once it’s applied to something and dried completely, it forms a film-like coat on the object. It can stay on that object’s surface for years unless it is handled roughly.

If you need to paint something that’s not going to face constant handling or touching, you can surely use acrylic there.

While you can use acrylic for outdoor projects, it might not be the best idea because the paint will have to go through rough weather conditions. For these projects, the enamel is the best one.

Acrylic, also, should have less contact with water. Because the more the paint’s film is exposed to or comes in contact with any liquid, the formation starts breaking apart.

The film loses its consistency and starts breaking apart here and there, making the whole paintwork frail and crumble.

It would be best to use acrylic where the work won’t get a lot of moisture exposure and rough conditions. Use enamel for places where the level of humidity is high.

Use enamel for kitchen, bathroom, basin, outdoor walls, or any other areas where there are high water contact levels.

Enamel is naturally water-resistant and will be able to withstand these wet conditions with ease. Some people keep their furniture outdoors. Paint them with enamel to protect them from rainwater.

If you’re thinking of other cases, like small-scale metal or plastic painting or fabric painting, then use acrylic. Unlike enamel, acrylic has a broader use case range. It’s for all the works: for fun and serious projects.


Acrylic can be used with many things such as metal, plastic, and even on nails. However, it would help if you used acrylic with a primer. The primer will form a barrier between the main surface and the paint layer.

The reason for this is acrylic isn’t designed to be used on things like metal and plastic. It simply won’t stick on these surfaces unless a sticky layer is used.

On the other hand, enamel doesn’t usually require priming. Sometimes it does, but those are exceptional use cases. For the most part, it won’t require a primer at all. It, by design, will easily stick to surfaces strongly without the help of other chemicals.


A painting project is never complete without making a mess in the painting area. If you’re working indoors, always use something to cover the floor under your painting area.

You won’t want to stain the place with acrylic or enamel. A simple piece of cloth can save you from a lot of unnecessary hard work.

Try to work outdoors, if possible. But if you still make a stain, which you inevitably will, everyone does, there’s a good solution.

Acrylic can easily be cleaned with soap and water. It’s no big deal. But enamel is strong and will need to use a thinner to remove the stains. A good paint thinner is enough to thin the paint up so you can rub it off the floor afterward.

Work safety

Acrylic is mostly safe to use. It can be used by kids too. Unless the paint is ingested, there’s no big harm in using or touching it.

However, the enamel is designed to be very durable. And to achieve this feature, there are several harmful chemical compounds used in it.

These compounds give off harmful gases that, if inhaled while working with it, will cause some breathing problems.

If you’re working with enamel, work in a well-ventilated room. If there’s a window, open it up, let ample air in. Use a fan, if necessary, to increase airflow.

If it’s possible to take the project outside and work there, do so. It’ll be better since you won’t need to inhale those gases. Wear a gas mask, and don’t let kids around.

Finished Layer

Acrylic paint, when applied, will seem very glossy. Once you’re done using it and let it sit for a while, it’ll give a flat, matte finish.

For this reason, learn about the type of acrylic you’re using and test what the final color looks like. Only then, include the paint in your main project. You don’t wanna mess up your work.

On the other hand, there are generally no such issues with enamel. It’ll hold its gloss finish after drying and won’t change the texture.

Drying Time

Acrylic dries up quicker than enamel. However, there’s one catch. If you want your acrylic paint to be safe to touch and handle, then you should apply a protective coat over the paint.

The acrylic paint layer(s) won’t take much time to dry, give it a few hours, and it should be enough. But the coating may take a day to dry up.

On the other hand, the enamel is designed to dry quickly. It’s designed to be water-resistant and outdoors friendly. So quicker dry time is a must for this paint.

If you’re short on time and need the project completed within a day or less, use enamel. Depending on the type of enamel, the total drying time will vary.

Some enamels can get dried up in a matter of a few hours, while some may take a whole day.

It would help if you studied the enamel paint you’re thinking of purchasing to know about its drying time. Or you can check some quick-drying enamels to include in your project.

Learn more about acrylic paints:

What is the Difference Between Acrylic and Latex Paint?

Acrylic and latex paints are popular choices for both amateur and professional painters. Understanding the key differences between acrylic and latex is crucial in determining the best option for your project. Acrylic paint is water-based and offers excellent adhesion and durability. On the other hand, latex paint is also water-based but contains synthetic binders that provide a flexible, durable finish.

Can You Use Enamel Paint Over Polycrylic?

Enamel paint can be used over polycrylic by following these steps: Firstly, make sure the polycrylic has cured for at least 72 hours. Lightly sand the surface with fine-grit sandpaper, then wipe it clean. Apply a coat of primer, let it dry, and then proceed to apply the enamel paint using a brush or roller. Allow it to dry completely for a durable and smooth finish. Overall, knowing how to paint on polycrylic can help achieve the desired results.

Final Words

If you’ve decided what type of project you’re going for, choosing the right one between acrylic paint vs. enamel paint won’t be an issue for you now.

You’ve known the important bits of these two paints, and now you’re the one to decide the correct paint for your task.

There’s nothing to worry about if your first paint project fails. Everyone learns by making mistakes, by doing something again and again.

Don’t be afraid of testing with different colors and mixing things up. The more you know, the more mastery you have.

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