Acrylic vs Enamel Paint: Can You Paint Acrylic Over Enamel?

You may have heard that you can’t paint acrylic over enamel. But is this true? And if it is, why?

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the differences between acrylic and enamel paints, and explore whether or not it’s possible to layer them.

can you acrylic paint over enamel

Enamel Paint vs Acrylic Paint

Enamel paint is a type of paint that dries to a hard, glossy finish. It’s often used for painting surfaces like cabinets and trim. Acrylic paint, on the other hand, dries to a soft, matte finish.

While this is the basic difference, there are many more. Read on to learn.

Paint Type

Acrylic paint

Acrylic paint is an emulsion of a liquid acrylic polymer, which makes it different from other types of paint.

Acrylic paints are made with water, pigments, and acrylic binders. The pigments are usually ground so that they can be mixed with the acrylic binder; this mixture creates the color for the paint. 

Enamel Paint

Enamel paint is a high-gloss oil-based paint used on hard, non-porous surfaces. Enamel paint has three main ingredients: resin, solvent, and pigments. The type of resin used will determine the final properties of the paint film; polyurethane resins produce a tough and durable film, while alkyd resins produce a softer film.

The solvent used to thin the resin and allow the pigments to be evenly dispersed is Turpentine. It evaporates as the paint dries, leaving behind the resin-pigment film. 

There are two types of enamel paint: alkyd-based and petroleum-solvent-based. Alkyd-based enamel paints have excellent flow and leveling properties and good adherence to metal surfaces. However, they can yellow over time and are not as resistant to high temperatures as petroleum-solvent-based paints.

Petroleum-solvent-based enamel paints have good color retention and resistance to high temperatures, but can be difficult to work with due to their slow drying time and strong fumes. 


Viscosity refers to a fluid’s thickness or how difficult it is to pour. Acrylic paint has a much thinner consistency than enamel paint, which means it is easier to run and spread.

Enamel paint, on the other hand, has a thicker consistency, making it more challenging to work with. 


Another key difference between these two types of paint is the finish. Acrylic paint has a wide range of finishes available. This includes glossy, matte, transparent, opaque, and even fluorescent!

With so many options available, you are sure to find the perfect finish for your project. On the other hand, enamel paint dries to a glossy finish.

If you’re looking for paint that will give your project a sleek, polished look, then enamel is the way to go. However, if you prefer a more natural look, acrylic might be a better choice. 

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Drying Time

One of the major differences between acrylic and enamel paint is the drying time. Acrylic paint dries very quickly, usually within 10-30 minutes. This makes it a great option for projects where you need to work quickly or don’t have a lot of time to wait for the paint to dry.

Enamel paint, on the other hand, takes much longer to dry. It can take anywhere from 24-48 hours for enamel paint to fully dry. 

This is because enamel paint is oil-based and acrylic paint is water-based. Oil-based paints take longer to dry because they have to be mixed with a solvent (like mineral spirits) to thin them out.

The solvent evaporates as the paint dries, which makes the drying process take longer. Acrylic paint doesn’t need to be thinned out with a solvent, so it dries much faster. 

Type of Surface

Another key difference between these two types of paint is the type of surface that they can be used on.

Acrylic paint can be used on porous and non-porous surfaces, including wood, glass, plastic, canvas, etc.

Enamel paint, however, should only be used on non-porous surfaces such as metal, copper, concrete, etc. This is because enamel paint dries very hard and can crack if applied to a porous surface. 


Acrylic paint is less toxic than enamel paint. This is because most enamel paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

VOCs are liquids that evaporate easily at room temperature and can cause health problems like headaches, dizziness, and even cancer.

Acrylic paint doesn’t contain VOCs, so it’s a safer option, especially if you’re painting in a small space.


Enamel paint is more durable than acrylic paint. This is because enamel paint forms a stronger bond with surfaces than acrylic paint.

Enamel paint also doesn’t chip as easily as acrylic paint does. This makes it a good option for surfaces that will get a lot of wear and tear, like countertops, metals, or floors. 


Acrylic paint is soluble in water, which means it can be thinned out with just water. Enamel paint, on the other hand, is not soluble in water.

This means that you’ll need to use a solvent like mineral spirits (turpentine) to thin out the paint. 

Color Availability

When it comes to color availability, acrylic and enamel paints are both widely available in a range of colors.

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However, if you’re looking for specific colors or shades, you may have more luck with acrylic paint. Enamel paint is only available in oil-based formulas, so your color choices will be more limited.

Although, there are recent enamel paints that are water-based, like Berger Water Based Enamel and Sherwin-Williams Water Based Acrylic Enamel.


Acrylic paint is easier to clean up than enamel paint. This is because water-based paints can be cleaned up with just soap and water.

Oil-based paints require mineral spirits or other harsh chemicals to clean up. So if you’re looking for easy cleanup, acrylic paint is the way to go. 


When it comes to cost, acrylic and enamel paints are fairly similar. However, acrylic paints are generally less expensive than enamel paints because they contain water.

So there you have it! These are just a few of the key differences between acrylic and enamel paint.

Can You Paint Acrylic Over Enamel?

Interestingly, you can paint acrylic paint over enamel paint. The reason is that the flexible nature of acrylic paint will allow it to expand and contract with the surface, preventing cracks and peeling.

This feature makes it a good option for painting over existing enamel paint. However, you’ll need to prepare the surface and use a primer.

It is important to note that the final results will not be as glossy or resistant to wear and tear as if you had used enamel paint directly.

But if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to add some color to your project, painting over enamel paint with acrylic paint is a great option!

Alternatively, you can also paint enamel over an acrylic painted surface that hasn’t been sealed. In fact, acrylic makes an excellent primer for enamel paint.

The only problem you would face is in the type of thinner used with the enamel. You’ll be safe if it’s mineral spirits, however, if it’s a lacquer thinner, then it might weaken the acrylic paint especially if the concentration is too high.

So, there you have it! You can indeed paint acrylic over enamel and vice versa. Just be sure to take the necessary precautions.

How to Prepare Enamel Painted Canvas for Acrylic Paint

We will walk you through the steps you need to take to prepare an enamel-painted canvas for acrylic paint.

By following these simple steps, you can ensure that your painting project turns out exactly the way you imagined it!

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Step One: Prepare the Surface

The first step in preparing your canvas is to clean the surface. This will remove any dirt, dust, or grease that might prevent the paint from adhering properly.

You can use a mild soap and water solution for this step or a gentle cleanser and a soft cloth to remove any dirt or debris from the surface. Be sure to rinse the surface well and allow it to dry completely.

Once the canvas is clean and dry, use fine-grit sandpaper to lightly sand the surface. This will help create a rougher surface for the new paint to adhere to. Be sure to sand evenly and in all directions.

After sanding, wipe away any dust with a damp cloth. Allow the canvas to dry completely before proceeding.

Step Two: Apply a Primer

Once the surface is clean and dry, you will need to apply a primer. This will help the paint adhere better and provide a smooth surface for painting.

There are many different types of primer available on the market, so be sure to choose one that is specifically designed for use with enamel paint but we will recommend using gesso. 

Gesso is a type of primer that will help the new paint adhere better and also provide a nice, even surface for painting.

Apply a thin layer of gesso over the entire surface of the canvas. Allow the gesso to dry completely before moving on.

Make sure you apply the primer according to the manufacturer’s instructions and allow it to dry completely before moving on. 

Step Three: Paint!

Now that your canvas is prepared, you are ready to start painting! Use any type of acrylic paint that you like and let your creativity flow.

If you find that the paint is not adhering well or covering evenly, simply apply another layer of primer and try again.

When you are finished painting, be sure to allow the canvas to dry completely before displaying it.


We hope this article has helped you understand the process of painting over enamel paint with acrylic paint.

If you follow the steps we have outlined, you should have no problem achieving beautiful results that will last for years to come!

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