Enamel paint vs acrylic

Updated February 21, 2017

Enamel paints and acrylic paints are two completely different types of paints that each serve specific purposes. Understanding the difference between these two is vital to knowing which to choose. In general, enamel paint is a durable household paint appropriate for many do-it-yourself projects. Acrylics are water-based art mediums appropriate for, among other things, scrapbooking activities. But artists also use "enamels." Educate yourself about the details of the differences.


Enamel used to refer to only some oil based paints. Today, some water based finished products use the term "enamel." Acrylics are always water based.


Acrylics dry to a matt finish, and can be covered with a gloss if preferred. Enamels dry to a glossy finish.


High gloss enamel paints work well in kitchens and bathrooms. Enamels dry to a hard finish and are washable. Acrylics are often used by artists.

Fun Fact

Acrylic paints can be used in place of fabric paints. After painting cotton clothing, allow it to dry and then heat set.


Many enamel paints must be used with ventilation due to fumes. Acrylics do not have this problem.


The term "acrylic enamel" refers to an automobile paint. Many feel that is is inferior to acrylic urethane, because the latter has better UV protection.


Artists who use oil paints instead of acrylics on paper or canvas are not using enamel paints. Artists do use enamels on surfaces such as copper and glass.

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About the Author

Samantha Hanly is an organic vegetable gardener, greenhouse gardener and home canner. She grows a substantial portion of her family's food every year. After receiving her bachelor's degree, Hanly embarked on a career teaching dramatic arts, arts and crafts, and languages. She became a professional writer in 2000, writing curricula for use in classrooms and libraries.