Painting Over Enamel Paint – Do´s and Don´ts

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A lot of crafters, especially new ones, tend to ask themselves if it is possible to paint over already painted surfaces with another type of paint, like enamel paints. I personally made quite a lot of mistakes in the past that lead to horrible paint jobs down the road. So I decided to write this article about enamel paints and how to paint over them to avoid any of these problems happening to you.

To make it short, whenever you are painting over enamel paints with acrylics or any other type of paint it is essential, that you prepare the surface before painting. Either by sanding the surface or by applying a primer. Applying Enamel Paint to an already painted surface without preparing it first is generally not recommended.

So generally, you should always prepare the surface, that you plan on painting.

Depending on the underlying paint you may have to get rid of the previous paint by scraping or sanding it away or you may have to apply a primer before painting over it.

But painting over an already painted surface without preparing it first is a bad idea. It can lead to the paint chipping or bubbling after a while. So even though it may look good the first few weeks the paint will eventually come off. So it is essential to prepare the surface before painting it.

Can You Paint Enamel Over Acrylic?

Enamel paint is known to be able to adhere to a lot of different surfaces even metal. Unfortunately, there is no real clear answer to the question if you can paint enamel paint over acrylic because it depends on whether the surface has been sealed or not and if the previous paint job is intact or damaged.

In short, painting enamel paint over acrylic paint is possible if the acrylic paint has not been sealed with a topcoat and if the paint job is intact. If the paint has chipped off or if the paint has thrown up bubbles, however, then it will be necessary to remove the paint before applying a new coat of paint.

You can easily see if a topcoat was applied to the previous painting by sprinkling a few drops of water on the painted surface.

If the water drops are running off of the surface or if they stay on top of the paint, then the paint has been sealed with a topcoat.

If the water is absorbed, however, then the acrylic paint has not been sealed. In which case, you can simply paint over the pained surface with the enamel paint. But I would recommend applying a primer before painting the acrylic painted surface to ensure, that the enamel paint will hold for a long time.

You can get a basic primer in your local hardware store or right here on amazon. My favorite primer is the bulls eye primer from Zenisser. This primer will stick to almost every surface and it is quite cheap compared to other primers.

If the acrylic paint has been sealed with a topcoat, however, then things will be a little more complicated. You have to get rid of the topcoat by sanding the surface thoroughly. So sand the topcoat and the paint away as much as possible.

Once you have gotten rid of everything it is time to apply a primer. Again you don´t have to apply a primer before painting but it is recommended to do so if you want your paint job to last long.

Once the primer has dried you can simply paint the surface with the enamel paint.

Can You Paint Acrylic Paint Over Enamel?

While it is quite easy to paint enamel paint over acrylic paint it is not as simple the other way around. Acrylic paint is water-based while most Enamel Paints are oil-based. And that is exactly the reason why painting on enamel paint directly is often not recommended because the paint will simply not stick.

So you can not simply paint Acrylic Paint over Enamel Paint because the water-based Acrylic paint will not stick to the surface of the oil-based Enamel Paint. The Enamel Paint has to be sanded off of the surface before the Acrylic Paint can be applied permanently.

So in order to paint a surface with Acrylic Paints, that has been previously painted with Enamel Paint, it is necessary to get rid of the enamel paint before.

So you have to sand the enamel paint off of the surface very thoroughly. It is strongly recommended to apply a primer before you paint the surface with the acrylic paints. This will ensure, that the paint will be permanent and it will ensure a nice and even finish.

If you paint the Acrylic paint directly on the Enamel paint then the paint will eventually peel off. Mainly because the water-based acrylic paint can not stick to the oil-based enamel paint. And it doesn´t matter if the Enamel paint was sealed with a topcoat or not.

Can You Paint Lacquer Over Enamel Paint?

This one is really tricky. Lacquer and enamel paints have kind of a love and hate relationship. So while it is possible to cover Enamel Paints with Lacquer Paints the outcome can be quite unpredictable.

It is possible to paint Laquer over Enamel Paint. Lacquer, however, has a tendency to lift Enamel Paint off of the painted surface. Apply a little bit of Lacquer in a location that is hard to see to test how the painted surface reacts to the Lacquer.

It is generally possible to paint Lacquer straight on Enamel Paint if the paint was not sealed with a topcoat. But it is kind of hard to predict if the outcome will be good because Lacquer can in some cases react with the Enamel paint and pull the paint of off the surface resulting in bubbles.

So it is recommended to test if the paint will be accepted well by the Enamel paint, by adding a small amount of paint in an area, that is hard to see.

In case the Enamel Paint is not reacting well to the Lacquer you can still remove the previous paint job from the surface by sanding the entire object. Or, if you are lucky and the enamel paint was not applied with a primer, then you can sometimes scratch the paint off of the object with a metal spatular.

Can You Paint Enamel Over Lacquer?

While painting Lacquer over Enamel Paint can be quite complicated painting Enamel over Lacquer is surprisingly easy.

You can paint Enamel over Lacquer without any issues. It is only important, that the Enamel Paint is applied in thin and even layers in order to create a strong and even bond with the underlying Lacquer layer. A topcoat can ensure a longer lifespan of the Enamel paint but is generally not necessary.

So generally, applying Enamel Paint to surfaces, that have been painted with lacquer, is not an issue. The Lacquer is a good base for Enamel paint as long as the coat of Lacquer has been applied evenly to the object and does not peel off of the surface. If that is the case, then you have to remove the Lacquer before applying the Enamel Paint.

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.

10 thoughts on “Painting Over Enamel Paint – Do´s and Don´ts”

  1. I have window frames door and door frame that are coated with enamel..what do i need to do to paint water based paint over enamel..

    • Hi Karen,
      the best approach would be to sand the door and window frames down to remove as much paint as possible or at least scuff the paint up. Then apply a strongly adhering primer to the door and window frames. Then you can finally apply the water-based paint on the primed surface. You should also seal your paint after it has dried simply because water-based paint tends to get damaged easier and a topcoat can protect it.

    • Hi Bev,
      I would not recommend doing that. It might work but most of the time it probably won´t. Using a primer first, however, will ensure that the paint adheres properly and you don´t have to worry about peeling paint.

  2. Hi, is there any difference in old enamel and the ones today. I am painting a door that has 80’s enamel paint on it over a previously 70’s stained door. I thought it wood be best to use enamel for ease of use.
    Do I need to prime/undercoat or can I paint straight on top? Do I need to lightly sand?

    • Hi Vicki,
      there are probably some differences in enamel paint since the ’80s but I could not tell you which. I personally always sand and prime the surface before painting it in cases like these just to make sure that the paint adheres properly.

  3. Hello Valentin.
    I have a Bakelite bezel for one of my vintage meters, it got cracked and I repaired it. Do I have to put lacquer over the enamel paint or can the enamel paint cure hard enough to protect itself?

    • Hi Laurence,
      enamel will usually not need to be sealed with any lacquer. Enamel paint will dry hard and it is very resistant to scratching and the elements if it was applied correctly.

  4. I purchased a metal mailbox that has a shiny black finish on it. I am wanting to paint my street address on it, but am concerned on how to prepare my box first and then what kind of paint would be best to use to paint my address on it.

    • Hi Shirley,

      for painting metal, the best approach is to sand the surface of the metal first. You only have to scratch the metal surface a little bit so that the primer can adhere to the metal surface.
      Then apply a primer that adheres well to metal (an oil-based primer would probably be best). Let the primer dry and then paint the mailbox with enamel paint. Enamel paint is, in my experience, the best choice for painting metal that is going to be exposed to the elements because it already is resistant to UV light and water-resistant without the need to apply an additional coating.

      However, if you paint the mailbox this way then you have to paint the whole thing. You can also try to get a well-adhering enamel paint that doesn´t need a primer if you just want to paint your address on the mailbox.

      I had some mixed results when using these types of paints but I would give it a try and if it doesn´t work then you can always just sand, prime, and paint the whole thing.

      I hope that helped you and good luck with your project!


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