Acrylic Versus Enamel: What To Use And Where You Should Use Them

Painting your scale model is one of the tasks that you’re going to take as you approach the completion of your project. Applying paint may sound easy but when it comes to the models that have small parts, it can be challenging. And what adds to the challenge is the choice that has to be made between enamel and acrylic paint.

Enamel has been around for quite some time, the more recent acrylic paint has been gaining popularity among scale modelers. But which one is really the better paint for use in scale modeling? In this article, you’ll be learning the pros and cons of each paint type with some useful tips and alternatives.

The Chemistry

There’s science in everything and the same is true even in both types of paint used in scale modeling. To understand what the paints really do when they are applied, looking into their individual chemistry is important. Most paints are a combination of four ingredients:

  • Solvent- The liquid medium that dissolves/disperses the additives like water or oil, the binder and the pigment itself.
  • Pigment- The powdery ingredient that gives a paint its color and opaque look
  • Additive- Acts to modify certain properties of the paint (flow control and driers)
  • Binder- Keeps the pigment particles together providing great adhesion

The main difference between an enamel and acrylic paint then boils down to the solvent that’s used in mixing the particles. Acrylic paint uses water while enamel uses oil. Now, let’s go to the tale of the tape for the main event!

The Speedy Option: Acrylic Paint



  • Dries quickly within 10-15 minutes
  • Easy to thin¬†and wash using water and alcohol
  • Non-toxic
  • No fumes
  • Dry brushed easily
  • Perfect for washes and glazes
  • Easily washes off from brushes
  • Variety of colors available
  • Needs more coating to get the desired color depth
  • Leaves unattractive brush strokes
  • Not easily removed
  • Does not adhere well- peels off at times
  • Problem adhering to smooth surfaces without primer

The Slow But Steady Enamel



  • Holds the color well giving a better covering even with only a few coatings
  • Leaves no sign of strokes from the brush
  • Easy to wash off and remove from models that use spirits
  • Capable of being applied even without a primer
  • Takes time to dry- at least 24 hours
  • Requires remixing after long storage since oil separates from other particles
  • Requires more thinning when used in airbrush applications
  • Less number of colors available
  • Gives off unpleasant fumes and is often toxic

As you can see, both types of paint have its own unique set of advantages and disadvantages. While acrylic is no doubt popular these days, enamel is also a winner in its own right because of the unique set of features that it has.

Paint Alternatives That You Can Try

If you’re looking for an alternative paint that you can play with, here are two options that you can try:

Ink Cartridges on Printers- Most printers have four colors of ink cartridges (cyan, magenta, yellow and black). Start mixing and matching any of these colors in a medium like a clear floor wax so you can see how transparent the mixture is. For instance, you can apply cyan and magenta to the clear plastic that the bar light sitting on top of a police car.

Color Pastels- Tints other liquids well. You just need to create a powdered pastel out of the scraped parts of your desired color then mix it with water. It works perfectly in enhancing detail simply by applying dabs of it onto the surface of the scale model you are painting then allow it to flow towards hard to reach crevices in order to add details to it.


Just like any other aspects of scale modeling, painting the project you’re working on doesn’t have strict guidelines. It just requires your creative and artistic side working with a little bit of experimentation plus different painting techniques so you achieve the looks that you want for your scale model. What’s great about painting is that you have the chance of wiping off mistakes and apply a new coat until you achieve the version of perfect that you want.

Have you started with a paint job on one of the projects that you’re working on? How was your experience? What challenges did you go through before achieving the perfect look? Share your experiences with us in the comments section below.