Enamel vs. Latex Paint- Learn the Differences 2023

blue orange splash color enamel vs. latex paint verycreate.com

.If you regularly make 3D prints, model building or craft items with clay, you will need to learn how to use paints as well. There are two types of paints that are usually used by crafters.  The big question is between enamel vs. latex paints. I’ll explain which is the best for your project!

The main difference between these paints is that enamel is an oil-based paint that is made with either alkyd (synthetic) or linseed (natural) oils. Latex is a water-based paint made from acrylic resin.

Both types of paints can be used for personal or commercial crafts. Oil-based paints last longer because they contract and expand from room temperatures better than latex paint. It is ideal for projects that will be handled with heavy use, or intended for outdoor exposure on metals, like cars and trucks.

On the other hand, latex paint is more suitable for artistic work, color blends, house paint, and a clean, matte finish.

Latex Paint

Let’s take a closer look at how Latex paint works. In this type of paint, the carrier is typically water with glycol ethers mixed as a solvent.

Note that despite its name, Latex paint does not contain latex from the rubber plant. The term “LATEX” in the paint actually refers to the acrylic resin (binder) that is used in the paint. Confusing, right?

You will find many paints on the market that are made with water as their thinner. However, they do not have a latex resin and are simply called “water-thinned” or “water-reducible” paints.

If you buy a paint for your project that specifically has the words ‘latex’ in it, that is because it contains a plastic resin that’s not made from rubber. Instead, the resin is made of polyvinyl or acrylics.

Latex Paint for Crafts

If you want to paint your 3D prints or clay crafts, you can opt for latex paint. You can use this paint with a brush or use a suitable latex paint sprayer. It also works well on surfaces that have already been painted with other latex paints. Acrylic paint for crafts is very inexpensive, sometimes costing as little as 99cents per bottle!

smallbottles craft paint and rocks enamel vs. latex paint verycreate.com
Small bottle of acrylic are very economical!

Here is a basic budget set that I have used often:

>>Check Price On Amazon<<

Many beginner and advanced level creators prefer working with latex paint for their air-dry clay models. This type of paint holds up best compared to other types of paint, such as Tempera.

An eggshell or flat finish is only possible with latex paints. This latex finish is considered to be the more sophisticated and stylish of the two. Latex paint on crafts is also easier to clean up once you are done. Is durable enough to withstand wear and tear.

white latex house paint gloppy Enamel vs. Latex Paint verycreate.com
Latex paint is thick and dries matte unless you buy glossy option

Flexible yet durable, latex paint is easy to clean and water-resistant enough that makes it ideal for most crafting projects.

Prep the surface.

Using Latex paint on non-porous surfaces such as metal, requires a base coat of a primer paint specifically intended for metal.  If you don’t use a primer first, the latex can have a non-permanent bond to the surface and once exposed to temperature changes or weather, you can end up with a peeling mess.

latex on tile wall peeling Enamel vs. Latex Paint verycreate.com
Acrylic latex paint will not adhere permanently to non-porous surfaces without a special primer paint. 

In addition, it works better if you sand the surface you are trying to paint.  Latex works best when there is a small texture of roughness. Provides just enough tooth for the paint to adhere to.

Latex paint has a milder odor than enamel paint, making it the better choice for bigger projects where you will need to paint for several hours.

You can mix a variety of additives to Latex paint including Floetrol. It is not the only brand you can use, but quite popular with users.

Even without a primer, Latex paint adheres well to wood, as wood is porous.

blue house paint Enamel vs. Latex Paint verycreate.com
Acrylic Latex paint is ideal for housepaint

Latex paint dries faster than enamel, so the paint coats must be laid quickly and left to level. Cleaning up latex paint is much easier and only requires water and a rag.

Pros of Using Latex Paint in Your Projects

  • It’s easier to apply latex paint to all kinds of surfaces. It also dries a lot faster. As we noted earlier, this is an advantage if you are painting a small object or sculpture.
  • Latex paint is relatively cheaper than enamel paint.
  • It is easier to clean up with just soap and water.
  • Latex paint is safer to use since it produces fewer fumes. Still, make use to use proper ventilation regardless of the type of paint you use.
  • With Latex paint, you will need to put on multiple coats to gives your project the required color variation.
  • Latex paint doesn’t get yellow over time.
  • Latex paint is also relatively better for the environment.
  • It is easy to find Latex paint brands with great warranties.

Cons of Latex Paint

  • When going from a dark color to a lighter color, you will need to paint multiple coats.
  • Latex or water-based paint doesn’t hold up as well as oil-based paints.
  • Latex paint is not as waterproof as oil-based enamel. It can wash out over time if your craft is exposed to water.

Enamel Paint

The term “Enamel paint” is used to describe any paint that is based on oil. Enamel paint is design to dry out in air and turns into a hard, usually glossy finish, on the surface of an object.

It is often found in hardware stores in spray bottles, which makes for no mixing issues, and comes out in a streak-free consistent stream.  Don’t use them inside though! They can be quite smelly and you don’t want to inhale micro particles of paint into your lungs.

cans of enamel paint enamel vs. latex paint verycreate.com

Most enamel paints are alkyd resin-based, while some enamel paints have been made by adding varnish to oil-based paint.  You may be familiar with fingernail polish, which is a common enamel.  Notice how glossy it is when wet and dry.

red fingernail polish Enamel vs. Latex Paint verycreate.com
Red Fingernail Polish is super shiny!

Enamel paints were first created in the nineteenth century after the industrial revolution. The paints at that time were less reliable than nowadays.  For example, whitewash paints in use at the time were known to easily smudge off.

At that time enamel was known as the vitreous shell surface of porcelain and ceramic tiles. These items were impermeable, sanitary and very tough.

Common Commercial Uses

You are also familiar with car paint, which is also a type of enamel.  Enamel paints are usually glossy and do not fade with exposure to sun or the weather for up to 15 years.

airbrush car Enamel vs. Latex Paint verycreate.com
Enamel paint is designed for heavy outdoor use on non-porous surfaces

Marketers of the time came up with the name to link enamel with the surface of cookware, tiles, sinks and bathtubs etc.

This was a creative and convenient way to indicate that this paint was equally water-resistant and tough to remove. It was a powerful marketing move to sell oil based paints by calling them enamel paints.


Enamel Paints for Crafts

The paint gives a glossy, smooth finish and has much fewer brush marks than latex paint.

Enamel is the preferred choice for crafts where there may be contact with water. Since oil and water do not mix, enamel coating creates a strong barrier for your projects.

Enamel dries with a hard glass-like finish that is easy to clean and hard to stain. Three varieties are used within this paint. These include satin, semi-gloss and high-gloss. The glossy finish gives a shine to your crafts.

Enamel paint is overall more durable than latex. The paint is designed to dry hard. Enamel paint is more suitable for withstanding fluctuating climates and temperatures. If you are crafting something that will be out on display or handled a lot, go with enamel paint.

Here is a useful set to get you started:

>>Check Price On Amazon<<

You can use a variety of additives with enamel including Penetrol, which is quite popular with professionals. It is an additive that allows for deeper penetration of the paint surface, and helps create a water-tight bond.  It’s spendy! But, if you’re painting an expensive model that you have lovingly made, it’s worth the cost!

Enamel paint takes longer to dry but has a better finish.

Enamel paints are more difficult to clean after. Since they are based on oil, you will need to use a paint thinner, for cleaning brushes and surfaces that the paint has spilled on.

Pros of Using Enamel Paint in Your Crafts

  • Enamel paints offer a final result that is a lot smoother and almost near perfect with little sheen.
  • It paint is very durable. Once hardened, the paint can last for many years. It’s resistant to mildew.
  • Stains usually wash off easily.
  • Enamel paint comes in a wide range of colors to unleash your artistic talent.
  • A single coat is enough with most enamel paints.
  • Enamel sticks well to clay models and 3D prints.
  • It can be used by beginners. You don’t need to be too creative to use oil-based paints.
  • You can put oil-based paint over any type of paint including water-based latex paint without the need for applying a primer.

Cons of Enamel Paint

  • Strong chemicals in enamel paints release strong fumes.  Enamel paints may cause breathing problems.
  • Enamel paints are difficult to clean up after you finish. You will need to use a proper thinner and clean your brushes properly when using enamel paint, and be quite time consuming.
  • Enamel paints take longer to dry than water-based latex paints.

Check Out My Other Articles On Paint:

How Long Does Acrylic Paint Take To Dry?

How To Remove Acrylic Paint

Final Thoughts

Whether you choose enamel or latex paint, always remember that there is no true economy in buying cheap paint. Always buy the best-quality paint you can afford, if you want to give your crafts a professional look.

Remember that the main difference between the two is the resistance of coating that the colors create and glossiness on your artwork.

You may also need to put a coat of primer before you begin painting, regardless of which type of paint you choose. Use latex-based primer if you plan to use a latex paint. Oil-based primer works well with oil-based paints.

If you have more questions or want to add something let us know!

Anita HC

I hope you are enjoying this article! I love helping creators learn. My goal is to help you find the knowledge and inspiration you need. Check out our library of articles and visit often...I'm adding articles every week! Thank you again for reading!

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