Enamel vs Latex Paint: What Are The Differences?

Last Updated on November 18, 2021 by Kimberly Crawford

DIY painting jobs for home improvement can be overwhelming especially if you have little knowledge about the various types of paints, what they are made of, and how they are used.

Enamel and latex paint are often confused with each other. But what is the difference between enamel and latex paint?? Well, enamel is oil-based while latex paint is water based. And it does not stop here. 

In this post, we will talk about enamel vs latex paint. If you find the difference between these two paints useful for your next painting job, read on.  

enamel vs latex

What is enamel paint?

behr alkyd semi gloss enamel

Enamel paint is an oil-based paint. Its distinct characteristics would be, it easily dries and then hardens. The outcome of enamel paint is a glossy finish to any surface. Enamel paints are usually used for outdoor painting jobs. Some variants of enamel paint have added resin in them while others have varnish. 

What is latex paint?

latex paint

Latex paint is also called acrylic paint. It is water-based, which means that the paint is carried by water with glycol ethers as its solvent. The term latex does not mean that it has a rubber component. The latex in latex paint refers to the resin that is used to bind the paint. 

Latex paints are often used as primer for drywall, brick, or stone wall. It can also be used for surfaces that have been painted with latex paints before. 

Related: Can I Use Exterior Paint Inside The House?

What is the difference between latex and enamel paint?

To know more about the difference between latex and enamel paint, here is a table for your reference: 

Glossy finishx
Large portion of a wallx
Decorative/artistic wall paintingx
Longer hold on a wall’s surfacex
For glass, porcelain, aluminum, etc.x
Light colors for DIY painting jobx
After painting cleanupx
Odor and riskx
Quality finishx
Drying timex
More weatherproofx

Latex paint has a limited application range compared to enamel. Aside from this, latex has a tendency for smudging and might require re-application. It also peels easily compared to enamel. As such, there is greater preference for enamel paint especially in outdoor walls because it is hardier, and the paint just holds better on surfaces.

Is enamel paint more durable?

Yes. Because it is easier to dry and because it hardens as it dries, enamel paint is more resistant to cracks and peeling. It is also more durable in changing outdoor conditions as well as changing temperatures.

Walls with latex paints need to be recoated twice or thrice to achieve almost the same durability as that of enamel paint. The known durability of enamel paint is also the reason why it is still the most preferred outdoor paint for walls and other concrete structures. 

Is oil-based enamel better than water-based enamel?

The main difference between oil-based enamel and water-based enamel is how fast they dry and how hardy they are to wear and tear. Oil-based enamel takes more time to dry but is commendable for its hardiness to wear and tear. However, its elasticity is not guaranteed and may be vulnerable to cracking at some point. 

Nowadays, water-based enamel paint is now made with the same drying rate of oil-based enamel. At the same time, they have become harder when it comes to wear and tear. They are now also designed to contract and become flexible to changing weather conditions and outdoor situations. Other than this, water-based enamel does not give off bad odor as it dries. With this, water-based enamel has become better than oil-based ones. 

Can you paint over latex with enamel?

The answer is no but with some exceptions. Directly overlaying oil-based enamel on latex paint can become a problem in the long run. The different compositions of the paint can result in cracking or peeling and uneven paint texture or blistering. But of course, there are some exceptions and sometimes you can overlay latex with enamel. 

One, you can do this as long as enamel is only applied for the glossy finish. This means that you have to paint the surface with a latex primer and then a latex paint after.

Allow it to dry and then apply the enamel paint for a glossy finish. Two, you can apply enamel on latex if the latex paint is now very old. Three, apply enamel on latex if the latex is done curing. Normally, latex paint cures for at least two years. 

Can you paint latex over water-based enamel?

Since both are water-based, the answer is yes. But of course, there are some needed preparations before you could do this or else, you risk cracking or peeling of the paint in just a few months. The steps are easy though. You just have to clean, dull the latex, dry, and then prime the surface with the water-based enamel before applying the latex paint.

Related: Can You Use Latex Paint over an Oil-Based Primer? – The Definitive Guide 

Is enamel paint oil-based or latex?

Clearly, enamel refers to all oil-based coverings including paint. This makes them distinct because the oil-based label means that they offer glossy finish. But nowadays, latex and other water-based paints have adopted the term enamel to refer to their paint types that offer a glossy finish. 

Is acrylic latex enamel the same as acrylic enamel?

Yes. These two are one and the same. But contrary to the latex label in the name, acrylic latex enamel really does not have real latex in it. It is a high-grade water-based paint that comes in semi-gloss and glossy variants.

Acrylic latex has the highest content of acrylic resin making it hold better than other water-based paints. It is usually used in wood trims or as coating for windows as well as doors. 

Is high gloss the same as enamel paint? 

Yes. As a matter of fact, you can choose between semi-gloss and high gloss enamel. High gloss is recommended for interior painting especially in cabinets because it gives a mirror-like finish. This means that it is not susceptible to grime and does not collect dirt. As such, cabinets with high gloss finish are easier to clean and they can maintain their pristine look for a long time. 

Is oil-based enamel paint waterproof?

Yes. When oil-based paints dry, they form a protective oil layer that makes them waterproof. However, without good preparation, waterproof oil-based enamel can only stick to specific surfaces. A good step is to put primer on the surface first before applying oil-based enamel paint. They might not need a topcoat but they sure need a primer for them to stick well. 

What is latex paint used for?

If you are wondering about the types of surfaces which you can paint with latex paint, here is a list of where you should use your latex paint on: 

It is the best choice for indoor painting jobs because it does not have a foul odor, it can be cleaned with water, it has a faster drying time, will not yellow with age and is non-combustible.

What is enamel paint used for?

As have been mentioned, enamel paint is the pro choice for a range of painting jobs. It can be used for outdoor surfaces. This includes painting surfaces of cars, boats, and even planes. For small scale painting, enamel can also be used for ceramics, aluminum, metal, as well as wood. Enamel paint is almost always used for signages as well as metal posts. 

In indoor painting, enamel paint is used for entry ways, as well as in cabinets and furniture. 

When should I use high gloss enamel? 

Since enamel paints are used for both indoor and outdoor surfaces, it is but proper to know the basics as to when to use high gloss enamel. Well, with its smooth and shiny finish, high gloss enamel is perfect for living rooms, libraries, dining rooms, and if you have wainscoting. It is also good to use for accent trims. Just a word of caution though, high gloss enamel is the hardest enamel paint variant to apply. 

Does enamel paint need primer?

Yes, and most especially when it is used for interior painting like in indoor walls, cabinets, trims, and furniture. Primer before enamel painting is needed for the paint to have a greater hold on the surface. For this, you have to check the best primers that are recommended for enamel paints. You also have to check your enamel paint because some come with pre-mixed primers in them. 

Why can’t I use latex paint for metal? 

Latex is water-based and water or moisture is a rusting element for metals. If you need to paint metal posts or other metal-based objects, always opt for oil-based enamel. 

Is enamel paint good for cabinets?

Yes. As a matter of fact, it is one of the most recommended paints for cabinets, especially kitchen cabinets. The main reason is that it offers more durability to cabinets because of its glossy finish.

Having a smoother surface means that the cabinets would not collect dirt and will be more resistant to scratches, dents, and marring. Enamel paint will preserve the pristine, glossy look of your cabinets.  

What is the best enamel paint?

If you are convinced that enamel paint is the best paint for you given your painting jobs at home, you should the following top-rated enamel paints:


There is so much fuss about confusing enamel with latex paint when the difference between the two is straightforward; enamel is oil-based while latex is water-based. The only time it gets confusing is when you have water-based enamel or when you must know when to apply primers and when you don’t. 

From a general perspective, enamel paint is more versatile to use than latex paint. It is also more weather-proof and functional too when it comes to its range of surfaces to cover. With all things considered, you now have a firm understanding of when to use enamel and latex paint and of course, a clear view of how they are different as paints.