When choosing a paint for your painting project, the first decision is usually whether you'll use a water-based paint or an oil-based paint. From there, you'll need to decide what type of paint you plan to use. In this blog post we'll explore some of the differences between different paint types and what those differences will mean in terms of finish and longevity.

To begin with, let's clarify some of the things we're talking about and some of the technical differences between various paint types. Then we'll explore some of the differences between paints and how they are used.

What is water-based paint and what is oil-based paint?

The solvent on which a paint is based makes it either water-based or oil-based. Solvent is the liquid component of paint, and it is the part that evaporates to allow paint to dry. Oil-based paints use mineral turpentine as a solvent, while water based paints use water as a solvent. There are other components, of course, but some paint manufacturers offer two product categories with similar products that differ only because of the solvent on which they are based.

Now that we understand that distinction, let's look at the difference between enamel paint and other types of paint.

What is enamel paint?

what is enamel paint


Enamel paint is paint that air-dries to a hard, usually glossy, finish, used for coating surfaces that are outdoors or otherwise subject to hard wear or tear.That means enamel paint is great for exterior walls, door frames, and window frames.

Enamel paints, also sometimes referred to as hard-surface paints, dry slow but hard, making them perfect for hard surfaces.

Historically, enamel paints have been used to paint hardwood and other similar surfaces because enamel paints create a smooth finish with a consistent sheen level.

Isn't enamel paint usually oil-based?

Yes, in many cases, enamel paint is oil-based, while acrylic paint and latex paint are water-based. But modern technology has allowed for the development of water-based enamel paints which can be thinned with water while still offering excellent resistance to water once dried.

How does enamel paint differ from other types of paint?

Oil-based paints are long-lasting and enamel paints are hard-wearing, making oil-based enamel paints ideal for high-traffic areas that people are likely to come into contact with like door frames, exterior doors, and outdoor furniture.

Acrylic paints offer a broader range of colours that are less likely to fade over time, and a gloss or semi-gloss finish. They are ideal for furniture, feature walls, and decorative finishes.

Enamel paints typically harden as they dry, which makes them ideal for already-hard surfaces like hardwood timber and metal surfaces. Latex paints, on the other hand, contain higher amounts of flexible rubber in the form of latex and so are ideal for applications where you need the paint to stick, like porous surfaces or tiles.

Each of these paints offers other differences in terms of drying times, levels of UV resistance, and application methods. Discuss your options with a professional painter and choose the right paint for your project.

Are there any disadvantages to using enamel paint?

disadvantages of enamel paint


There are a range of benefits to using enamel paint, but there are also a number of disadvantages. Acrylic paint retains its colour, but enamel paint can fade or turn yellowish over time.

Enamel paint usually produces a glossy finish, which you can also achieve from an acrylic gloss paint, but if you want a matte finish, enamel paint probably isn't the right choice for your paint job.

Some people experience skin irritation when exposed to the mineral turpentine solvent in oil-based paint, and some people have trouble with the strong smell of oil-based paint. While skin irritation means it might be best to avoid oil-based enamel, the smell can be resolved by using a paint respirator. 

Generally speaking, enamel paint takes longer to dry than other types of paint. If you need to complete a project quickly, choosing a paint with a short dry time is the way to go, which means enamel might not be the right choice.

So what are the big differences between water and oil based enamel?

Let's run through some of the most significant differences between enamels with a water base and enamels with an oil base.

Water-based enamel

Oil-based enamel


Oil-based paints can be flammable

Lower levels of volatile organic compounds (VOC)

Often includes higher levels of volatile organic compounds (VOC)


Can have a strong odour

Can be cleaned up with water

Usually needs to be cleaned up with mineral turpentine and paint thinner

Can sometimes be applied to damp surfaces

Generally needs to be applied to already-dry surfaces

Touch-dry in about 1/2 an hour, ready for next coat in 2 hours

Can take up to 8 hours to be touch-dry, and ready for next coat in 16 hours

As you can see, the differences between water-based enamel paint and oil-based enamel paint make each type of paint a great option for different applications.


Depending on the paint project you are trying to complete and the paint finish you want to achieve, there are a range of oil and water-based enamel paints to choose from. PaintAccess has a variety of water-based enamel products and our experts can give you advice about the best ways to use those products. Then make your choice from British Paints, Taubmans, Dulux or Zinsser products. PaintAccess has all the paint and paint accessories you need to complete your project successfully!