What is the difference between acrylic and enamel paint?

Traditionally model kits were painted with enamel paints such as the well-known Humbrol range but in recent years most paint manufacturers have added acrylic paints to their product ranges.

What is the difference between acrylic and enamel paint?

Both types of paint have their advantages and disadvantages and the choice of paints is usually down to personal preference.

Enamel paints are spirit or oil based and need a specialist thinners or white spirit to thin them and clean up brushes etc. after use.  They have an organic chemical smell and take 6-8 hours to dry and have a very hard finish when dry.

Most acrylic paints are usually water-based – Tamiya paints are an exception – and you can use water or the manufacturers thinners to thin the paint and clean up after use.  Unlike enamel paints, acrylic paints don’t have a strong smell, they dry quickly, usually in a couple of hours, but the finish is softer than enamel paint. Many people find that acrylic paint does not adhere well to unprepared plastic and find it is best to use a primer first.

Like oil and water, enamel and acrylic paints do not mix and ideally you should use only one type of paint on any model.  If you try to overpaint an acrylic paint with an enamel paint, then the solvent in the enamel will lift the underlying acrylic paint.  You can usually overpaint an enamel paint with an acrylic paint provided the enamel paint has fully cured and there is no solvent left in the enamel.

Both types of paint can be hand painted or airbrushed and both types will need to be thinned for airbrushing although there are some ranges of pre-thinned airbrush-ready paint such as the Vallejo Model Air acrylic paint range.



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