Basics of Enamel Paint Explained

An off center, close-up shot of a can of yellow enamel paint.

Enamel paint, also known as oil-based enamel, is the kind of paint that dries to a durable, lustrous, and solid finish. This product is used to create a glossy trim for kitchens, bathrooms, or any surface that needs a shiny finish but has to endure constant washing. Before latex paints became popular, most paint manufacturers produced flat enamels, which were firm, oil-based flat paints resistant to cleaning and rubbing. However, most modern washable and durable paints are labeled as flat enamels, even if they are not. Read on to learn more about enamel paints so you can use them properly on your next project.


Although all enamel paints serve the purpose of creating a hard, washable, and glossy finish, they come in two basic types. The first type, oil-based enamel paint (also known as alkyd-based), dries slower, thus allow retouching, and has a strong solvent scent. The second type, water-based (also known as latex or acrylic paints), dries faster and has a moderately low odor.

Moreover, enamel paints come in several finishes varying from low-luster or eggshell, to satin, semi-gloss, and high-gloss.


Different kinds of enamel paints are produced for different applications. It is always important to keep in mind that the higher the luster of the paint, the greater its strength when it dries. However, you can use types, such as fast-dry enamels, for many home surfaces like counters because they withstand high levels of humidity, constant scrubbing, and washing. Floors can be covered with floor enamels to withstand more traffic and to have greater moisture resistance. High-temperature enamel is ideal for use on engines because it offers great heat resistance.

Methods of Application

Although most enamel paints can be applied with both brushes and spray equipment, it is always important to follow the label instructions especially with regards to drying time. It is always best to apply paint in several thin coats rather than one thick layer, as this promotes quicker curing times and a more durable cover. Higher gloss paints will show more surface defects, so be sure to sand and polish the surface properly adding any paint.

Drying Methods

Oil-based enamel dries between eight to 24 hours depending on drying conditions, so try to keep optimal ventilation and low humidity while it sits. Moreover, the oil-based type dries from the inside out so when they feel completely dry to the touch, they are fully cured. Unfortunately, water-based enamel paints take longer to completely dry and are easier to mar until the process is complete. This type of enamel paint also dries from the outside in, forming a skin on the surface first even though the inside is still wet.

These are the basics of enamel paint. Different types and methods of application depend on the final finish desired and on the actual surface of application, so keep in mind to always read the directions label before attempting to use any enamel paint.