There seems to be quite a lot of confusion surrounding enamel and the difference between it and paint. Truth be told I didn´t really understand why people were so confused until I looked into the whole subject and I think I understand where the confusion is coming from. So let´s take a closer look at enamel and enamel paints and why it isn´t all that to paint.
As a whole, the difference between enamel and paint is that enamel is, traditionally, a high gloss coat that dried hard and was mainly used for coating porcelain while “paint” is a more general term for a coat that is mainly used to color a surface. And enamel paint is a type of paint that dries hard.
Enamel is, traditionally, a coating that dried hard and had a glossy finish. Enamel was mainly used to coat porcelain or other pottery to make it water-resistant.
Enamels were mostly used in conjunction with glazing, which is the process of burning a piece of pottery with either a metal or salt to create a coat that would permanently protect the surface of the pottery.
Paint is the general term to describe a mixture of components in a liquid base that air dries and leaves a solid-colored coat on the surface. Paints are available in a wide variety of different colors and there are a lot of different types of paints. The main paint types being water-based paints and oil-based paints.
There is also enamel paint, which is a type of paint that can be water-based or oil-based. Enamel paint usually dries hard and is usually used for outdoor projects.
What Makes a Paint an Enamel?
Enamel, as it was traditionally used, is not the same as enamel paint that you can get in any hardware store nowadays. The main difference being that enamel paint is a type of paint that drys on its own while “painted enamel” is a vitreous enamel that is applied to porcelain, for example, and then fired in a kiln.
As a general rule, enamel paint can be water-based or oil-based and it usually air-dries to a hard, glossy finish. Enamel paint is mostly used to coat surfaces that are outside because it creates a good, protective coat right away. Enamel paint is not enamel as enamel is used on porcelain and needs to be fired.
So an enamel paint is usually just a high gloss, hard drying paint that creates a protective coat. Enamel paint, like most other paints, is air drying.
Enamel paint has a wide variety of use cases including, high-temperature enamel used for engines or on grills, nail enamel used to color nails, and epoxy enamel used for protective coatings in industrial applications.
Difference Between Enamel Paint and Acrylic Paint?
Acrylic paint is one of the most used paints in arts and crafts so it is a good baseline to compare enamel paint with. This way it may be easier to understand what exactly makes enamel paints special compared to most other types of paint.
As a whole, the main difference between enamel paint and acrylic paint is that acrylic paint has a matt finish while most enamel paints have a high gloss finish. Acrylic paints dry elastic and a topcoat is recommended to protect the painted surface while enamel paints dry hard and don´t need a topcoat.
Acrylic paint is almost always water-based and they are a little bit cheaper than enamel paints, most of the time. So I usually prefer using acrylic paints for most of my projects.
Enamel paints are a little bit more expensive and you can get them as water-based and as oil-based paints. The big advantage that enamel paints have over acrylic paint is the fact that they dry hard and you don´t have to apply a protective topcoat to the painted surface.
Enamel paints are the ideal paints for painting outdoor projects.
There are also a lot of special industry-standard enamel paints that can be used for projects that need to survive a lot of wear and tear or very high temperatures.
Acrylic paints just can´t keep up with enamel paints in this regard.
Difference Between Latex Paint and Enamel Paint
Another type of paint that is widely used is latex paint. Latex paint is quite similar to acrylic-based paint so the comparison between latex paint and enamel paint will be quite similar to the comparison between acrylic paint and enamel paint as well.
As a whole, latex paint is not the same as enamel paint. Enamel paint is almost always oil-based while latex paint is mostly water-based. Enamel paint dries slower but hard while latex paint dries faster but flexible. Enamel paints are usually used for hard surface outdoor projects.
Latex paint is usually used to paint walls or ceilings mainly because latex paint is cheap and it can “breathe”, meaning Latex paint will let air through which will help avoid fungus.
Latex paint dries quite fast, compared to enamel paint, and it dries flexibly. So it can be applied to materials that tend to move, like wood, without any issues.
Enamel paint, on the other hand, is drying a lot slower than latex paint and it dries hard. So it is perfect for outside projects because it is naturally resistant to the elements without the need for a topcoat.
Most enamel paints are oil-based so they tend to smell a bit stronger than latex paint. Which is something you should keep in mind if you plan on using enamel paint to paint something inside.
In the end, it is really up to you and your project which paint is best to use. I would generally recommend using enamel paint for rigid outside projects that won´t move. Materials like metal and plastic for example are best being painted with enamel paint.
If you want to paint walls or other large areas that don´t need any extra protection from the elements then latex paint is probably the best choice.
When you want to paint smaller objects that are made out of materials that tend to move, like wood, then acrylic paint or latex paint is the best choice.