Enamel Paint 

Ever wonder what the difference is between enamel and regular paint? Wonder no more. 

Man spraying enamel paint on to tiles | Construction Pro Tips

What is enamel paint?

Enamel is a slow drying paint that contains a resin of some kind. Traditionally, all enamel paints were oil-based, but that is no longer the case. There are no rules or regulations that determine what ingredients an enamel paint contains, so there can be significant differences between one manufacture’s enamel to another’s.

What’s the difference?

Yes, enamel paint is shiny, but there’s a big difference between a gallon of standard semigloss wall paint and a gallon of true enamel. Semigloss wall paint covers well, is easier to apply and dries quickly. Enamel does not cover as well, and is much more difficult to apply. It also may take up to an entire day to dry, depending on the base (oil, water or hybrid). But it’s not all bad.

Crown molding with enamel paint | Construction Pro Tips

The benefits of enamel paint

An enamel stays wet longer, allowing it to level out more. This leveling results in a smooth, sophisticated, and almost glass-like finish. The resin added to enamel paint will produce a much more durable surface than a semigloss wall paint, making it perfect for any surfaces that will get handled a lot like cabinet doors and furniture.

What are the different types of enamel paint?

So, you’ve decided to give enamel a try. Here are your options:

WaterBased Enamel:

  • Easier to apply
  • Dries quicker
  • Average Coverage
  • Low odor
  • Soap/Water clean up
  • Less durable than other enamels

OilBased Enamel:

  • May not be available (based on local environmental regulations)
  • Somewhat tricky to apply
  • Dries very slowly
  • Good Coverage
  • High Odor
  • Mineral Spirits/Paint thinner clean up
  • Very smooth, durable finish

Hybrid Enamel:

  • Newer to the market
  • The idea: an emulsion – essentially and oil enamel that uses a water vehicle
  • Easier to apply
  • Good Coverage
  • Dries faster than oil, slower than water-based enamel
  • Lower Odor
  • Soap/Water Clean up
  • Very durable, very beautiful finish

Painter spraying enamel paint | Construction Pro Tips

How to apply Enamel:

Pros prefer to apply enamel with a sprayer, but enamels can be applied with a brush as well.

Airless Spraying basics:

  • High capacity
  • Up to 5 gallons of finish – less refilling
  • Uses no compressed air – just pressurized paint
  • High production – high volume – a very fast process
  • Skill required to apply
  • No thinning of product (a more durable finish when not thinned)
  • Numerous tip options – can be confusing
  • Smooth, flawless finish – like a factory applied finish
  • Cost prohibitive to purchase a machine for one job

 HVLP Spraying basics: (High Volume Low Pressure):

  • Smaller units – low capacity – most commonly 1 quart – lots of refilling based on job size
  • Used high velocity air from a turbine fan
  • Slower process than airless spraying
  • Less skill required to use
  • Coatings might have to be thinned to use (possible degradation of the coating)
  • 1-5 tip options
  • Smooth, flawless finish- like a factory applied finish
  • Cost prohibitive to purchase a machine for one job


  • Slow process, but very user friendly – minimal skill required compared to spraying
  • Additives may be needed to keep enamel wet longer, reducing brush/roller marks
  • Cost effective – applicators are readily available
  • Finish will have brush marks/roller stipple

Paint additives:

Most paint manufacturers would prefer you use their products straight from the can and not thinned or added to.  But some manufacturers allow for some amending. Why would you add something to the enamel? Mainly to keep it wet longer so brush and roller marks have time to level out. Extenders can be purchased for water based, hybrid and oil-based enamels. Make sure you read the instructions for the additives closely and add the minimal amount to get the desired effect. There are many other additives available for enamels: hardeners, adhesion booster and even accelerated driers. I would recommend doing tests before you apply any of these enamels with additives to your cabinets, trim or furniture. When in question, search for the coating’s TDS (technical data sheet).  The TDS is available on all paint manufacturers websites and wealth of information: drying time, application recommendations, application thickness recommendations, acceptable uses, technical tests and ratings done on the coating and even ingredient lists.

Where to use Enamel?

The ideal use of an enamel is on trim, millwork, cabinets, decorative molding and furniture. Standard wall paint, however good it is, will not stand up to wear and tear like enamel. Doors, drawers, baseboards and chair rails come into contact and are handled at a higher frequency than walls and are great candidates for something longer lasting than wall paint.  Bedrooms can be repainted every 3-5 years, no problem.  But you’d rather not repaint all of your cabinets and trim at that same interval. A good enamel paint will cost about the same as a high-end wall paint.

Meet the Expert

Nick Slavik, proprietor of the Nick Slavik Painting & Restoration Company, adheres to the idea that simpler is often better. By using traditional finishing methods, methods proven by painters of the past, Nick creates the best finishes for all modern applications.

“I have found that many of the techniques used in historical structures and furniture finishing translate quite easily to many of the most common, modern applications.”

Nick believes that work done by hand will result in the best finish. These methods of finishing are not limited to historical homes, however. Whether painting the interior of one of the area’s newer homes or restoring the exterior of one of the many local, older houses, he will complete the project by hand. The product of hand-finishing is far better than many of the pre-finished products available to the homeowner.

Besides the selection and applications of finishes, Nick provides a complete design and color selection service. Using his many historical references, his experience placing color and a computer program that can manipulate digital images of your home, Nick will find the right colors for you and your home.