Does Enamel Paint Need a Primer or a Topcoat or Both

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Enamel paints on their own are already quite resistant but there are quite a few instances where applying a topcoat after the paint job or preparing the surface beforehand with a primer can be useful or even necessary. A lot of times using both can be a good idea too. In this article, I will go over the use cases of topcoats and primers, when to use them, and what they actually do to protect your paint job.

So in short, Enamel Paints do sometimes need a topcoat or a primer and in some cases even both. If the painted object is supposed to be outside then sealing the enamel paint with a topcoat will ensure the longevity of the paint. Some materials, like metal or plastic, require a primer to ensure that the paint sticks to the material.

Enamel paint generally leaves a smooth, glossy, and appealing look after drying up.

However, depending on the type of surface and temperature of the room or area, it may be advisable to apply both a primer and a topcoat.

For instance, enamel paint looks great on wood when used alone but a touch of primer helps it to stand the test of time and prevent the paint from flaking and cracking in the long run.

Just as with the primer, you may not need a topcoat when using enamel paint.

While either or both primers and a top coat may be applied due to preference, the general guide is the surface that’s to be painted.

If the surface is one that’s prone to lots of contact or extreme weather conditions, a primer and topcoat may be necessary to ensure the longevity of the painting.

What Is Enamel Paint?

Enamel paint is a type of paint that leaves a hard, reliable yet glossy finish when dry.

It’s usually used for painting outdoor surfaces or floors. One of its major advantages is that it’s compatible with lots of surfaces such as wood, metal, stainless steel among others.

Enamel paint helps to preserve the look of the surface as it prevents yellowing, retains color and is not easily susceptible to stains. The water and rot proof nature of enamel paints also make them a viable option.

Enamel paints can be oil-based or water-based. Oil-based enamel paints are better suited to wooden and outdoor surfaces due to its thick nature. There are different variants of enamel paints for different surfaces such as floors, doors, handrails, and porches.

What Is A Primer?

Primers are sometimes called undercoats as they serve as a preliminary coating on materials that are to be painted.

The essence of applying a primer before painting is to make the surface more receptive to painting. It’s advisable to make use of a primer if the surface to be painted isn’t water-resistant or is composed of porous materials.

A primer offers more adherence to painting and increases the durability of the painted surface, helping to prevent corrosion and warping. When applied to metal surfaces, a primer helps to prevent oxidation or rust which may occur due to surface exposure to moisture.

What Effects Does A Primer Have On Enamel Painting?

  • Primers prevent the absorption of enamel solvents when painting wooden surfaces.
  • Applying primers to wooden surfaces helps to reduce increase the water-resisting abilities of the paint finish.
  • Using a primer may reduce the number of paint coatings required to give your surfaces and homes a good appearance.
  • Primers help to increase the adherence of metal surfaces to enamel paints, thereby preventing flaking and cracking.
  • Primers generally increase surface adherence to painting and give it a smoother finish.

What Is A Topcoat?

A topcoat simply refers to the outermost covering of a paint job. This covering is usually translucent and helps to protect the underlying primer and paint from aggressive agents.

Using a topcoat provides the painted surface with water and chemical resistance and gives it a pleasant look. Topcoats are made of solvents that make them harden in response to oxidation (exposure to moisture), which prevents water and other reactive agents from seeping into the underlying primer and paint coatings.

Basically, topcoats help to reduce the permeable ratio of painted surfaces. The top coating helps to seal in the paint and in addition to a primer protects and preserves the surface material from rot and corrosion.

What Are The Benefits of A Topcoat?

  • A top coat helps to provide and increase the resistance of paint coatings against water and other chemical or weather elements.
  • Applying a topcoat gives painted surfaces an appealing and beautiful outlook.
  • Topcoats reduce the permeability (penetration or diffusion of water and chemical components) of painted surfaces.

What Is The Difference Between A Primer And A Topcoat?

Given the multiple similarities between them including the reduction of surface permeability, corrosive protection, and flaking resistance, you may be wondering if there are any differences between a primer and a topcoat.

The following are some of the notable differences between a primer and a topcoat:

  • The primary difference between a primer and a topcoat is that the former is underlying while the latter is the outermost layer.
  • A primer is used in preparing the surface for painting while a topcoat involves the very art of painting.
  • The primary function of a primer is to increase the adherence of a surface to paint while the topcoat offers a protective layer that prevents external agents from wearing down the painted surface.
  • A primer may not be necessary for every paint job depending on the nature of the surface but a top coat is always required for aesthetic and protective functions.
  • Primers and topcoats are different in composition based on the solvents and pigments used in making them.

Primer vs Topcoat: Which Should I Use?

Primers and topcoats have different functions and should not be seen as alternatives to each other.

While a primer can also reduce permeability, it doesn’t offer external protection from extreme weather or chemical agents.

Primers are also beneficial in filling and polishing surfaces which make the painting process less strenuous and give it a smoother look.

A topcoat, on the other hand, can’t replace the primer as it doesn’t have the necessary bonding components of the primer. Neither does it have surface filling properties. Factly speaking, primers are more essential as they may reduce the coating layers needed when painting.

Nevertheless, the most important thing to consider when faced with the question of combining enamel paint with a primer or topcoat is the nature and location of the surface to be painted.

If the surface is one that’s highly exposed to weather elements and water, both a primer and a topcoat should be used.

Although enamel paint has a high level of surface adaptability, it’s best to complement it with a primer for more effective results.

A topcoat may not be necessary indoors but could prove useful on door casings and kitchen covers due to its water-resistant and contact proof nature.

Rather than be isolated from one another, the primer and topcoat should be used together for effective and long-lasting paintings.

Not only do these two guarantee your paint job better protection when applied together, but they also help to beautify and augment the paint finish for a pleasing and smooth look.


The major advantage of enamel painting is its compatibility with different range of surface types, be it wooden, steel or aluminium.

However, while enamel paint assumes a hard shell when it’s fully dry, it’s not by nature resistant to water and weather conditions to the level of protection offered by a topcoat.

Also, enamel paint isn’t insusceptible to cracking and flaking caused by regular exposure to moisture.

As earlier stated, the major determinant of what to use in combination with enamel paints is the surface that’s to be painted. If you’re repainting a surface, the use of a primer may not be necessary although you may apply a thin layer of topcoat. Whereas, if you’re painting a surface for the first time, it’s advisable to use a primer to eliminate variance in thickness.

You should also use a top coat to tip it off for protection against oxidation, flaking, and cracking which can result from exposure to moisture. It’s imperative to note that the place of primers and topcoats cannot be overemphasized when it comes to ensuring long-lasting and beautiful paintings.

For further enquiries and clarifications on enamel paints, primers or topcoats and their suitable combinations, you should see an experienced paint professional near you.

Hi, I am a passionate maker and professional prop maker for the entertainment industry. I use my woodworking, programming, electronics, and illustration know-how to create interactive props and puzzles for Escape Games and marketing agencies. And I share my knowledge and my experience on this blog with you so that you can become a maker yourself.

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