Spray Enamel vs Spray Paint – How to Tell the Difference!


Last updated: December 13, 2023

Discover the differences between spray enamel and spray paint in this post.

Spray enamel vs spray paint

Spray paint is a modern alternative to brush painting that is not only easy for anyone but also very effective. Whether you wish to transform an old piece of furniture or to protect surfaces from heat, moisture, or rust, having spray paint can make all the difference.

It is not uncommon to hear people comparing spray enamel vs. spray paint. There are many people that believe that both products are the same thing, and there are others who think otherwise. So, is spray enamel the same thing as spray paint?

In this article, we will look at enamel vs. spray paint and see how they stack up. Without wasting any more time, let’s delve straight in! 

Spray Enamel VS Spray Paint: What Is The Difference?

Spray paint is a general term that refers to different types of spray paints while Spray Enamel is a specific name of a particular type of spray paint formulated with enamel. So, while all kinds of Spray Enamel are spray paints, not all Spray paints are enamel. Besides enamel, other types of spray paint include lacquer, acrylic, epoxy, frosted, and chalkboard.

What is Spray Enamel?

Spray enamel is a kind of spray paint known for its hard, glossy sheen. It has all the properties of regular enamel except that it comes in an aerosol can and is dispensed via a nozzle. This makes it easier to apply and ensures no brush marks are left on your project.

When applied, spray enamel dries quickly to a hard thin layer of paint that protects the surface from adverse weather conditions. So, it’s commonly used for outdoor furniture or objects that frequently come in contact with water or heat.

Like other spray paints, spray enamel comes in a wide range of colors and can be applied to different surfaces, especially those that are difficult to paint on, such as metals. It is also available in different solvents, including water, oil, and even latex. However, oil-based paint is more popular.

It is worth mentioning that even though spray enamel is easy to apply, it contains high VOCs and has a strong smell. So, you must only use it in well-ventilated areas, wear your mask or respirator, and in extreme cases, have some understanding of how to get rid of spray paint smell faster.

Is Spray Paint Enamel?

Spray paint is not necessarily enamel. It’s a broader category that includes various kinds of spray paint, catering to different needs. On the other hand, spray enamel is a specific type of spray paint; there are many others out there.

Spray paint can be classified based on the finish, texture, or some other kind of feature. So, we have enamel, acrylic, lacquer, frosted, epoxy, general-purpose paint, and many other options for different purposes.

Spray enamel typically leaves a glossy finish, which can be in any color. On the other hand, spray paint can be any finish – satin, metallic, flat (matte), gloss, semi-gloss, or high-gloss.

You can choose enamel or any other type of spray paint depending on the surface and the finish you’re trying to achieve. Use enamel paint when you need a long-lasting and durable finish, especially for exterior use.

Differences Between Spray Paint and Spray Enamel

As we established earlier, spray enamel is a type of spray paint. So, comparing spray enamel with spray paint is the same as comparing a Tesla with a car.

Difference In Functionality

Unlike enamel, which is only one type of paint, spray paint includes other types of paint – frosted, acrylic, enamel, lacquer, and many others. Spray enamel has high weather resistance and is commonly used for items exposed to heat and moisture. Spray paint, on the other hand, is a broad classification and includes both waterproof and non-waterproof products. Also, not all spray paints are stain-resistant. Spray enamel, however, is usually stain-resistant.

Difference In Costs

The price of spray paint varies a lot depending on the type, brand, and quantity. This can be anywhere between $4 to $16 per aerosol can.

Spray enamel is one of the most expensive spray paints, which puts it on the higher side for the price. And the reason why it costs more than most other types of spray paint is that it’s a lot more durable and long-lasting. You may be able to purchase another type of spray paint for $4 but not enamel. Depending on the brand, you should expect to pay at least $7.

Difference In Composition

Spray paint usually has a solvent base, which can be oil or water. Likewise, with spray enamel, you can get it as water-based or oil-based. However, enamel paints take longer to dry than acrylic or latex but dry harder, which results in a more durable finish.

How to apply spray enamel

Follow the steps below to apply spray enamel on different surfaces.

How to spray enamel paint on metal

Enamel adheres firmly to smooth surfaces. So, painting metals with spray enamel will give a smooth, durable finish regardless of the object if you follow the correct steps. Here’s how to spray enamel paint on metal. 

1. Prepare The Surface

Painting with dust or rust on the metal surface can result in a cakey or uneven finish. 

So, before you apply paint, sand or scrape the metal piece to remove dust, rust, peeling paint, and other imperfections. You can also use a wire brush.

2. Clean The Surface

Next, brush off the dust and other unwanted stuff from the surface and spray water on it with a garden hose. Give it some time to dry.

3. Cover The Workspace

Mask the area or items around the workpiece you don’t want to paint, as any overspray can be difficult to remove. You can use a drop cloth or old newspapers.  

4. Remove Oil On The Metal

Remove oils or grime on the metal by applying solvent or degreaser (acetone) on the entire surface of the metal. Make sure it gets into every crevice. You can use a piece of rag and a toothbrush. Allow the piece to dry, and then move to the next step. 

5. Apply Primer

Once the metal dries, spray the entire surface with primer. Ensure you use a good quality primer with the same color as the enamel paint or a lighter color. If you use a darker tone primer than the paint, the final product will look clumsy. Priming also ensures the topcoat sticks better. 

6. Apply Your Paint

Give the primer enough time to dry, then apply a thin coat of the enamel spray paint. Allow the first coat to dry thoroughly before applying subsequent coats. 

How to spray enamel paint on wood

Enamel paint provides a thick coverage, which makes it effective for covering stains on wood. It is particularly recommended for areas that get a lot of foot traffic since it ensures the surface lasts longer. 

Follow the steps below to spray enamel paint on wood.

Step 1: Start by cleaning the wood surface with soapy water and a soft, clean cloth. Remove all dirt and grease, as these can affect the paint job. Don’t get the wood soaked; just wipe the surface and allow it to dry properly.

Step 2: Once the wood dries, sand it with fine-grit sandpaper to smoothen out rough edges and remove any uneven elevations. Next, wipe down the workpiece with a slightly damp cloth and allow it to dry.

Step 3: Now, apply primer evenly on the wood surface. Priming helps to fill in dents and gaps in the wood, creating a smoother surface for the paint to stick. It also ensures the paint adheres better. 

Use a primer that is the same color as the paint color, or you can choose a lighter color. Avoid using a darker color or undertone, as it might show through the topcoats. 

After applying the primer, allow it to dry completely. Depending on the surrounding temperature and humidity, this can take 1 to 4 hours (or more). You could add another coat of primer if the first one didn’t cover the surface well. Again, wait for it to dry, then move to the next step.

Step 4: After the primer dries, you can sand the surface again. Wipe down any dust with a piece of dry cloth, then apply the first coat of enamel paint. Allow the paint to dry completely before adding a second coat.

How to spray enamel paint on plastic

Plastic can be tricky to paint. It’s not as porous as wood, which makes it difficult for paint to stick to it. However, you can overcome this with the right amount of preparation. 

The steps described above for wood also apply to plastic, except that you don’t need to sand the surface a second time. Not sanding the surface, especially if it’s glossy, will cause the paint to chip or flake off. Sanding creates a tough texture which increases stickability. 

Also, wipe the surface with alcohol to remove oils before priming. 

How to spray enamel paint on a car

Using a brush or roller to apply enamel on a car might not level out the paint properly. Spraying is easier and quicker and will ensure you get a fine finish. Here’s how to spray enamel paint on a car properly:

Step 1: Sand the car to remove rust or old paint. Use an orbital sander. For difficult corners and spots, you can use a 600-grit abrasive sponge. Sand the surface in a circular motion until it’s even and ready to accept a new coat of paint. 

Step 2: Wipe down any dust with a piece of dry cloth. You can use mineral spirits or cellulose thinner for stubborn stains or dirt. Clean any residue left, then allow it to dry completely. 

Step 3: Now, the car is ready for painting. Cover any area you don’t want to paint with automotive masking tape. This is important to contain any overspray since spray enamel is not easy to clean up.

Step 4: Next, prime the surface. We recommend using a self-etching and rust-resistant primer. Wait for the primer to dry, then apply the enamel paint. You can add as many coats as you want for better coverage. Give the paint enough time to dry in-between coats. Then finish off with a clear coat of lacquer or wax. 

How long does spray enamel take to dry?

Under normal conditions, spray enamel takes around 10 to 30 minutes to dry to the touch and about 8 to 10 hours to dry fully. Drying times will be longer if the air is cool and moist, so it’s best to choose a time when the weather is warm and dry. Allow the paint is dry completely before you apply another coat. Don’t forget to read the label for instructions about the curing times.

Does enamel spray paint need a clear coat?

It depends. Most enamel spray paints are waterproof right out of the box and don’t require a clear coat. But sometimes, adding a sealant may be necessary to provide additional protection from the weather and scratches.

You can use a clear coat if the object you’re painting is supposed to go outside. A sealant or clear coat will ensure the paint last longer.

A common mistake beginners make when using a clear coat is applying it too soon after painting. This can cause several problems – bubbles, crackles, blisters, etc. To avoid this, ensure the enamel paint is completely dry before applying a clear coat.

Also, make sure the clear coat you’re using is compatible with the paint; otherwise, the result may not be as expected. We suggest buying matching brands to be on the safe side. So, if you’re using Krylon paint, the clearcoat should also be Krylon. It’s best to also use a Krylon primer.

Where to Use Spray Enamel

Spray enamel is commonly used on metal pieces since it provides a strong, durable finish. But it’s not only limited to metals. You can use it on almost any surface that requires a glass, glossy look or on items subjected to a lot of wear and tear or adverse weather conditions.

These include but not limited to glass, porcelain, wood, plastic, concrete, copper, and even walls. And because the paint is weather-resistant, it’s perfect for items meant to go outside. 

Some of the more popular applications include: 

  • Door trims
  • Door casing
  • Metal pieces
  • Cabinets
  • Baseboards
  • Outdoor furniture
  • Handrails
  • Floors
  • Model figures
  • Outdoor grills
  • Decks
  • Porches
  • Windows

Where to Use Spray Paint

Spray paint can be applied to just about any surface, depending on the formula. Some of the more popular uses include ceramic, plastic, wood, glass, metal, fabric and vinyl, fiberglass, wicker, tin, canvas, terracotta, styrofoam, and sisal.

In terms of location, outdoors is the best place to use spray paint. An open garage is the second best place. Proper ventilation is essential as spray paint has strong fumes.

Tips for Applying Enamel Paint

There are a few tips to follow when using enamel spray paint to ensure you get the best results possible. They are discussed below:

Protect Your Surroundings From Overspray

Enamel spray paints tend to spread easily and can settle on items or surfaces you don’t want to paint, making cleanup a hassle. To protect your surroundings from overspray, mask off things you want to remain paint-free.

If you’re painting a small object, you can set it in a cardboard box. Use a drop cloth such as plastic sheeting or an old bedsheet for larger pieces.

Covering your surroundings makes cleanup much easier when done. Remember to wear your gloves and mask.

Don’t Paint When The Weather Is Too Hot or Cold

Spray paints generally shrink when applied on very hot days. Likewise, if you paint when it’s too cold, the paint will take longer to dry, and that can cause bubbles or an uneven finish. Recommended temperature range is 50 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit while humidity should not be more than 85 percent.

So, before you start painting, always check the local weather forecast.

In addition, choose a well-ventilated place to work. This helps to lessen the effect of the paint fumes. It’s best to work outdoors, but an open garage is also fine.

Remember To Shake The Spray Can

Remember to shake the aerosol can for at least two minutes before you start painting. This is important to ensure the little ball in the can mixes well with the solids (pigment and binder) and liquids (oil, water, alkyd, resins, and other materials) in the paint. If you don’t shake the paint long enough, the paint might come out uneven or too thin.

Don’t Forget To Use Primer

If you want enamel paint to stick well, you need to use a primer. Spray paints, generally, stick better with spray primer. Depending on the surface, the paint may crack or flake if you skip primer. Priming also ensures you get even coverage, leading to a smoother and longer-lasting finish.

Spray Lightly

Instead of applying a single thick coat, apply several thin coats. This ensures later coats go on smoothly and stick better. It also helps to prevent drips. Even if you’re going to apply a heavy coat later (which might be the case if you’re brush-painting), start with a light coat, then you can make subsequent coats heavier.

When spraying, avoid moving the aerosol can too close to the surface to prevent overspray. For clogged spray tip, use lacquer thinner or warm water to wipe off the opening.

FAQs – Spray enamel vs spray paint

Is enamel spray paint strong?

Yes, enamel spray paint is one of the strongest options available. It leaves a hard, glossy finish that is resistant to chipping and can take a lot of abuse. As a result, it’s used for high-traffic areas or items that get heavy use.

Is enamel spray paint durable?

Yes, painting with enamel spray paint will always result in a durable finish as long as you prepare the surface correctly before painting. Compared to regular paint, enamel paint offers more resistance to chipping and fading. This makes it perfect for floors, chairs, tables, and other items that experience a lot of wear and tear.

Is enamel spray paint heat-resistant?

It depends on the particular product. Some enamel spray paints are specially formulated with heat-resistant properties to withstand temperatures higher than normal room temperatures. Such paints are usually UV-resistant and are perfect for exterior surfaces that get a lot of sun exposure. A good example is the Rust-Oleum High Heat Ultra Enamel Spray for Metal Surfaces

Is enamel spray paint waterproof

Most enamel spray paints are waterproof right out of the box. This eliminates the need for additional sealant or topcoat. Always check the label to be sure. Chances are that if it’s developed for exterior use, it’s likely waterproof.

Is enamel stronger than spray paint?

Since enamel is a type of spray paint, it would be out of place to say it’s stronger than spray paint. But enamel is generally one of the most durable spray paints available. It is arguably the toughest and strongest option available.

Can you spray lacquer clear coat over enamel paint?

No, this is not recommended. Applying a lacquer clear coat over fresh enamel paint tends to lift the paint. This is because the thinning agent used in lacquer reacts negatively with enamel upon contact and causes the paint to degrade. If you must apply lacquer over enamel paint, make sure the paint is fully cured. We suggest testing an inconspicuous area first before you proceed.

Final Thoughts.

To conclude, spray paint exists in several groups; spray enamel is just one of them. Others are frosted, chalkboard, epoxy, lacquer, acrylic paint, and so on.

Regardless of which version you choose, using spray paint will cut down on the amount of time you spend on a project, and you can succeed even as a beginner.

Spray enamel, specifically, is well-suited for areas that get heavy use or surfaces that are frequently exposed to moisture. It leaves a glassy, glossy finish that is guaranteed to last longer than most spray paints.

Let us know if you have any more questions about spray enamel vs. spray paint. Until then, happy spraying!

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