Thinning Enamel Paint: With a List of Thinners That Work.

Enamel paints are great for painting a lot of different materials. It is often used for painting miniatures and plastic models. Enamel paints have a very smooth, professional finish once they are dry and they are most often used with an airbrush. But most Enamel Paints are a little to thick to be used with an airbrush right away, so they have to be thinned. After reading this article, you will know what kind of thinners can be used with Enamel Paints and which one should not be used or do not result consistent good paint finishes.

In this Table, you will have a quick overview of all unconventional thinners, that can and can´t be used to thin Enamel Paints.

ThinnerCan be Used For Enamel Paints
AcetonePossible but not recommended. Especially not for painting plastics.
TurpentinePossible but absolutely not recommended!
WaterYes but only if the Enamel Paint is water-based. It does not work with Oil-based Enamel Paints!
White Spirit / Mineral SpiritYes. This is probably the best choice for thinning Enamel Paints.
Lacquer ThinnerPossible but not recommended. It has a lot of drawbacks when used for Enamel Paints.
AlcoholPossible but the results can vary greatly. So I would not recommend it.

Does Enamel Paint Need Thinner?

The short answer is, not always. Depending on how the paint is being applied, wich an airbrush or a regular brush, the paint sometimes has to be thinned and sometimes not. Thinner paint is also better for painting fine details and thicker paint is better for large even surfaces.

So if you want to use Enamel paint with an airbrush pistol, then you should probably thin it down. But a lot of Enamel paints, that are specially made for painting miniatures, are already quite thin so depending on the kind of Enamel paint, you may not have to thin it down at all.

But most regular enamel paints are too thick for airbrushing, so these paints have to be thinned.

If you need to thin down your enamel paints then I would recommend using Mineral Spirits or special enamel thinner.

What Do You Use to Thin Out Enamel Paint?

Most Enamel Paints are too thick right out of the box, so they need to be thinned down.

So what do you use to thin out Enamel Paint? The short answer is Mineral Spirits. Mineral Spirits or White Spirit, is perfect for thinning out Enamel Paints. You can also use commercial Enamel Paint thinners but they are mostly just specially mixed Mineral Spirits.

There are several ways to thin out Enamel Paints but you will get the best results by using Mineral Spirits or White Spirites, as they are sometimes also called.

You can also use Commercial Enamel Thinners but they are a little more expensive and most of the time they will achieve the same or very similar results.

Can You Thin Enamel Paint With Acetone?

Acetone can thin Enamel Paints but it is not recommended to use Acetone as a thinner. Acetone can be used for cleaning off enamel paints from brushes and other surfaces but if it is used as a thinner it can come to complications. Acetone can dissolve plastic, for example. So if an Acetone diluted Enamel Paint is used on plastic it can come to complications.

Acetone is not a thinning agent, so if you use it as such, then the outcome can be unpredictable.

It could work just fine but you can also run into problems like an uneven finish, dull colors or you could even damage the surface by painting it with Enamel paint, that has been thinned with acetone.

So I would recommend using Acetone mainly for cleaning things like brushes or you can use it to remove paint from different surfaces too. But I would not recommend using it as a thinner!

Can You Thin Enamel Paint With Turpentine?

The short answer is, it is possible but absolutely not recommended! Turpentine speeds up the drying time of many oil-based paints, so it can come to problems when using Turpentine as a thinner for airbrushing enamel paints. The best Thinner for Enamel paint is Mineral Spirits.

Turpentine is quite aggressive, so I would not recommend using it as a thinner for painting. You could end up damaging the surface, that you are trying to paint.

Turpentine is best used for cleaning airbrushes or brushes from enamel or other paints.

Turpentine also speeds up the drying time of most oil-based paints so if you are using it as a thinner for painting enamel paints with an airbrush then your airbrush may end up getting clogged. Which is not ideal for any project.

Can You Thin Enamel Paint With Water?

In short, yes you can but only if the Enamel Paint, that you want to dilute, is water-based. If the Enamel Paint is oil-based then you should use Mineral Spirits as a thinning agent. Water will only work for thinning water-based Enamel Paint and not for oil-based Enamel Paints.

Most Enamel Paints are oil-based and water-based enamel paint is not as commonly sold and therefore kind of hard to come by.

If you want to use water to thin Enamel Paint, then make sure, that your paint is water-based. Oil-based paints will not mix with water.

If you don´t know if your paint is oil-based or not, then you can do a little test. Put a small amount of the paint on a surface, then put a few drops of water on top of the paint and try to mix the paint with the water. If the water mixes with the paint, then your paint is water-based.

But if the water is just building drops on top of the paint, then your paint is oil-based. The oil will reject water and it is nearly impossible to mix water with oil.

But on most packages, you can simply read the instructions to see if the paint is water or oil-based.

Can You Thin Enamel Paint With White Spirit / Mineral Spirit?

Yes, you can use White Spirit for Thinning Enamel Paint. It is the best method for thinning Enamel Paint. It does not change the drying time or the brightness of the color. So it is the best choice for most artists when it comes to thinning Enamel paints for airbrushing.

Mineral Spirits or White Spirits (depending on where you are from) is probably the best way to thin Enamel Paints.

A lot of commercial Enamel Paint thinners are Mineral-Spirit-based.

Can You Thin Enamel Paint With Lacquer Thinner

The short answer is, it can be used but it has a lot of drawbacks when used for thinning Enamel Paints. Lacquer Thinner can slightly melt plastics, for example. When mixed with Enamel paints it could result in an uneven or dull finish.

Lacquer Thinners is not meant to be used with Enamel Paints so there are obviously a lot of drawbacks when it is still used to thin Enamel Paints.

Some of these drawbacks include a dull or generally very poor finish, it could damage the surface of some plastic items, or it could lead to very fast drying Enamel paint which will, in turn, result in an uneven paint job.

I can´t find any advantages to using Lacquer finish with Enamel Paints. So I would just recommend using Mineral-Spirits if you want to achieve a consistent and good quality paint job.

Can You Thin Enamel Paint With Alcohol

It is possible to thin Enamel Paint with alcohol but the results can vary greatly. You can achieve good results but it can also lead to a lot of problems depending on the kind of alcohol and the paint brand. So in order to get a consistently good result, Mineral Spirits are always a better choice.