Five Steps to Making the Most of Enamel Paint

Enamel paint is the Tasmanian devil of the arts and crafts world. It’s tricky to use, unpredictable when drying, and might even present problems once it’s dried. More than one eager young painter has set out on a craft or modeling project meaning to use enamel paint and wound up bitterly disappointed.

Make no mistake: enamel paint has its advantages. It’s tough as nails, will last a lifetime, and offers a sleek translucent finish that ordinary acrylic paints largely cannot. If you’re willing to work with it, enamel provides incredible advantages, especially when working with metal and ceramics, for example some kinds of models and decorative lawn accessories and handmade enamel jewelry.

The five steps below aren’t presented in order, but following all of them will make the painting more fun and help you protect your project in the years to come.

Prime time is forever.

If your subject is made of metal, wood, or plastic, you should apply at least one coat of primer before even the first drop of enamel goes on. Priming helps prevent mildew, mold, rust and warping while making sure your enamel paint is lustrous and smooth atop the surface of the subject matter. It’ll also prevent stickiness once the enamel paint dries.

Primer is available in both spray-can and liquid formats at both hardware and arts and crafts stores.

Don’t brush off.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that all brushes are all the same. Because enamel paints are oil based, they’ll adhere to the brush you used to apply them just as much as they will the subject matter.

Enamel paints require brushes that can handle their thickness and density. Make sure you have several before beginning your project, and remember to get two of three of each kind of brush just in case.

Thinner is better.

Depending on the color, enamel paint can have the consistency of water or the thickness of molasses. You may need to apply a certain amount of paint thinner to the paint in order to make sure it evenly and smoothly spreads across the subject matter. Paint thinner, by the way, is also used to clean the brushes and to remove unwanted spots and stains on hands, clothing, and other surfaces. However, remember it’s extremely unhealthy if swallowed or put into contact with the eyes.

Good air quality helps.

Enamel dries best in conditions with little humidity and slight but not immense air circulation. You should also remember to practice good ventilation when working with enamel, as the fumes can cause dizziness.

Finish with a sealant.

Sealants help protect the enamel from chipping but also from help repel dust that the oil-based paint will otherwise surely attract and hold like flypaper. Sealants typically come in spray-can format, and can be applied in seconds.

Sealants are available in high-gloss and matte finishes, which can help amplify your finished project’s shine or just give it a realistic texture. Because enamel paint is naturally lustrous, a matte finish should be used when working on subject matter (jewelry, statuary, models) that shouldn’t have a “shine” appearance.


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