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Enamel VS Acrylic VS Lacquer

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  • Member since
    August 2011
  • From: People's Socialist Republik of Kalifornia
Enamel VS Acrylic VS Lacquer
Posted by Michigan_Duck_Slayer on Wednesday, August 3, 2011 6:11 PM

After an almost 30 yr hiatus from building military models, I've got back into the swing of things. When I was really into it 30 yrs ago, I went to the "dime" store & bought a tank or airplane and four or five bottles of the Testors paints that I planned on using. I don't recall having a choice, as a kid, when it came to model paints like we do now. That doesn't mean choices didn't exist, I just don't remember hearing the terms "enamel", "acrylic"  & "Lacquer" when it came to model paint.   Its been a LONG time since I last built and painted anything, so be gentle!

Not having any "artistic" background, my question is this...
What are the differences and when should one type be used/not used, rather than the other?!?!
(I'm sure to have a boatload of other questions coming up soon, so bear with me!)


Any info is greatly appreciated and THANKS in advance!!

--JIM--

cml
  • Member since
    March 2007
  • From: Brisbane, Australia
Posted by cml on Wednesday, August 3, 2011 6:35 PM

Hi Jim,

Welcome back to the hobby and to the forum! 

If you have questions, this is the place to ask.

Ok, I'm no expert on paint (but hopefully somebody who is will come along and elaborate further), but my understanding is the terms acrylic, enamel and lacquer refer to the carrier medium used within the paint and, consequently, affects how to clean up after use.

It can also be an indicator of affects on the plastic - ie, i've heard that some hardware store lacquers are considered "hot" and will melt styrene if used on them.  I'm not sure which lacquers these are, so i just tend to only buy paints and their proprietary thinners from hobby stores assuming they are all ok for styrene.

Acrylic: is generally "water based", and, theoretically, can be airbrushed and cleaned up with water.  In reality, i've never had success using water as a thinning agent and always use acrylic thinner for airbrushing.

For clean up, i use windex and water. 

I use acrylics for pretty much all my major painting and exclusive airbrush acrylics. 

Enamels: i think these are classed as oil based.  To clean up, you need to use enamel thinner or mineral turpentine.  I generally use these for detail painting only, as they tend not to dry as fast as acrylics.

I hate airbrushing enamels as they're a bit of a pain to clean up and require slightly more toxic substances to do so, rather than acrylic.

As for lacquer...sorry, i'm not 100% sure on what the carrier base is.  I only use them for clear and gloss overcoats.  I presume they can be used for other purposes, but i'm a bit unsure.

Generally, if you airbrush, you can use one over the other.  However, if you use a wash/pin wash, it's best to use a paint of one carriers which is different to that of the base coat.

eg: when i do a pin wash in rivets, i'll use an enamel - because i use acrylics for the base coat.

Ultimately though, it's really up to your personal preference as to whether you prefer acrylic or enamel and whichever gets you the best results (and which colours you can find in each to suit your needs).

Hope this helps.

Chris.

Chris

  • Member since
    January 2003
  • From: Washington, DC
Posted by TomZ2 on Wednesday, August 3, 2011 8:26 PM

Short compatibility matrix (thanks to Masataka Narita)

____________ Over coat
Under Coat___________
 Acrylic  Enamel 
 Lacquer
                 Acrylic      OK   Maybe      NO
                 Enamel      OK      OK      NO
                 Lacquer      OK      OK      OK

The L E A (Lacquer Enamel Acrylic) Rule: Lacquers, enamels & acrylics can safety cover base lacquers. Enamels & acrylics can cover enamels (but not lacquers!). Base coat acrylics can only be covered by more acrylics. Take this rule with a grain of NaCl as all untried paints (and combinations) are suspect. (So says a victim…)

Oh, and I nearly forgot… WELCOME and post pictures.

Occasional factual, grammatical, or spelling variations are inherent to this thesis and should not be considered as defects, as they enhance the individuality and character of this document.

  • Member since
    August 2005
  • From: Sydney, Australia
Posted by Phil_H on Thursday, August 4, 2011 1:54 AM

Once upon a time (let's say up to 1980 or so) all we had was "model paint".  Whether it was made by Testors, Humbrol or Pactra (or any number of companies). it was an oil-based animal and we thinned it and washed out our paintbrushes with ordinary paint thinner (or something similar).

Then, around 1980 or some manufacturers started introducing "acrylic" model paints. These paints were less toxic than the oil-based paints and (arguably) easier to clean up because many can be washed up with water (before the paint dries). Note: Though many acrylic paints can be cleaned up with water, the term Acrylic refers to the chemical composition of the base. It does not simply mean "water-based". There are some acrylics which use a water/alcohol blend as a solvent (notably Tamiya, Gunze Aqueous and ModelMaster) and some which use a lacquer-thinner-like solvent (Gunze MrColor). Sometimes these are described as not being "true" acrylics, but using that criteria as a determinant is not correct.    

So now we had our "traditional" oil-based paints and the newfangled acrylics. In their wisdom, the marketing people decided that they needed to label the traditional paints "enamels" to differentiate them from the acrylics. "Enamels" are still the  traditional paints we grew up with.

You may find some more "light reading" on this subject here: /forums/p/125865/1265976.aspx#1265976

PS: Remember that not all acrylics are created equally and in many cases, are not cross-brand compatible. This means that the thinner for brand "A" may not work with brand "B" (but may work with brand "C")

PPS: Tamiya's acrylics are a peculiar animal. Though ostensiblly water/alcohol based, they can be thinned with some types of lacquer thinners. Further (relating to the "general" guide above), even when used with regular acrylic thinner, Tamiya's acrylics can be overpainted with "normal" enamels with no apparent ill effects.  

Confusing isn't it?

  • Member since
    August 2011
  • From: People's Socialist Republik of Kalifornia
Posted by Michigan_Duck_Slayer on Thursday, August 4, 2011 11:41 AM

WOW!!

THANKS-A-MILLION, you guys!

I had no idea there was that much to it- all the alcohol/water/oil base stuff!!  Confused I will keep attempting to search the forums here for more info, but I think you three have shed a huge light on it for me!!  I have a few other questions regarding "pigments" & weathering techniques coming shortly.

THANKS, again!! Big Smile

  • Member since
    February 2011
  • From: Monterey Bay,CA-Fort Bragg, NC
Posted by randypandy831 on Thursday, August 4, 2011 8:14 PM

im a acrylic lover. never really had good results with enamels even though i have a load of model master ones. wish they would offer after all colors in their acrylic line. 

acrylic wise i use model master,tamiya,and now trying gunze mr. color. they are mr.hobby products. japanese company like tamiya. easy to find online. hard to find in the local shops here in the us. some cary gunze products but most don't.

tamiya 1/48 P-47D $25 + shipping

tamiya 1/48 mosquito $20+ shipping

hobby boss 1/48 F-105G. wings and fuselage cut from sprue. $40+ shipping. 

  • Member since
    August 2011
Posted by Darkskies on Saturday, August 6, 2011 4:33 AM

Hi all, new here.

Here's my prob....I've just moved to Oz from the UK. I mainly used humbrol acrylic sprays for the painting of my aircraft kits with enamal tins for the finer details.

Sadly when I sent all my stuff to Oz, I wasn't allowed to ship all my acrylic sprays (fire risk etc), and as humbrol sprays are about as common as unicorn droppings here, I'm not sure what I can use. Tamiya sprays (laquer) are very popular here as well as testors enamal sprays.

The main prob is I've a partly completed 767 which is ready for the decals, I need to know if it's safe to spray over the decals with tamiya clear laquer? I don't want to risk damaging the acrylic base (which has had several fine coats of clear acrylic gloss sprayed over) or dissolve the decals. Which by the way are the silk DRAW decals.

Any thoughts or any experience with these kinds of paints together?

Cheers,

Phil

  • Member since
    November 2009
  • From: Twin Cities of Minnesota
Posted by Don Stauffer on Monday, August 8, 2011 9:34 AM

I've been modeling for sixty years.  No acrylic paints when I started, but both lacquers and enamels existed.  When plastic models came along, the popular paints for plastic models were enamels.  Only lacquers I remember from back then were in model railroad department.  But, some modelers I knew did use auto lacquers for their model cars (many still do).

Then waterbased paints came along (enamels and real lacquers are solvent based).

Now, things are complicated because there are also "acrylic enamels" and "acrylic lacquers".  I have no idea how these are different than just plain acrylic paints, nor the difference between acrylic enamel and acrylic lacquer :-(

Don Stauffer in Minnesota

  • Member since
    September 2010
  • From: DFW, Texas
Posted by NervousEnergy on Tuesday, August 9, 2011 3:59 PM

As others have noted, you have to look at the relative 'heat' (solvent power) of the paints to determine what can go over what.  You don't want to put something hot over something not as hot, as it might eat through it and ruin the underlying paint job.  Acrylics tend to be the easiest to work with, as they don't stink the place up and are easy to clean.  But they're also pretty delicate, may not tend to stick as well, and may have more issues airbrushing them.

Water based acryls have a pigment suspended in water, whereas solvent based paints are more like a solution (AFAIK).  They also dry very quickly.  Those two elements can make them a trick to airbrush, as they tend to dry on the tip and clog things up, go on pebbly due to drying 'mid air' before landing on the model, etc.  People use water, alcohol, flow-aid, retarder, and voodoo magic when mixing acrylics for airbrushing.  They consult the weather, the almanac, the hydrometer, and Nostradamus to determine the best time to airbrush.  

Others just throw some Vallejo into the paint cup and get perfect results without even trying.  It's frustrating.

If you plan on airbrushing and can stand the smell (and the Earth screaming a little every time you clean the brush), enamels / lacquers have the best consistency and ease of use, especially in tricky work like faded mottling on German armor and planes.  HUGE 'IMHO' here, of course.

  • Member since
    May 2017
Posted by CMMX on Monday, August 27, 2018 8:18 PM

I've been using lacquer over acrylic and acrylic over lacquer without difficulties, except -

I spray lacquer clear coats over acrylics carefully (at a distance) on initial passes because it can lift the acrylic and blow it over other colors. Once a light coat has settled and dried, subsequent coats can go on normally.

If I need to touch-up some of the acrylic, it goes on fine over the lacquer. My approach is to paint with acrylics and top coat with either clear acrylic or clear lacquer. The downside about lacquer is it always slightly darkens the acrylic colors.

Using a lacquer gloss coat allows detail washes to flow easily and be wiped away. I finish with a coat of matte (e.g., military) or gloss (e.g., race car) to seal-in the detailing. I have not tried this with gloss acrylic.

  • Member since
    September 2012
Posted by GMorrison on Monday, August 27, 2018 10:08 PM

Nothing easier than to test it.

  • Member since
    July 2013
  • From: Chicago area
Posted by modelmaker66 on Tuesday, August 28, 2018 1:03 AM

Why is this zombie post ressurected? I thought that was not allowed.

  • Member since
    March 2003
  • From: Western North Carolina
Posted by Tojo72 on Tuesday, August 28, 2018 5:31 AM

modelmaker66

Why is this zombie post ressurected? I thought that was not allowed.

 

There are no rules against it,sometimes it can be ridiculous trying to answer the OP's 7 year old question as if he is still looking for the info.In this case CMMX offered some good info,so whats the harm,do we really need more rules ?Just chill and deal with it.

  • Member since
    September 2006
  • From: Bethlehem PA
Posted by the Baron on Tuesday, August 28, 2018 4:59 PM

modelmaker66

Why is this zombie post ressurected? I thought that was not allowed.

 
Nope.  No rule against it.  Just some folks get exercised when it happens, is all.

The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen.

 

 

  • Member since
    September 2006
  • From: Bethlehem PA
Posted by the Baron on Tuesday, August 28, 2018 5:02 PM

Tojo72
modelmaker66

Why is this zombie post ressurected? I thought that was not allowed.

There are no rules against it,sometimes it can be ridiculous trying to answer the OP's 7 year old question as if he is still looking for the info.In this case CMMX offered some good info...

I agree, it's still a valid discussion, regardless of the age of the post.  And an alternative is having multiple threads about the same question or topic, which makes it harder to keep track of things, I think.

The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen.

 

 

  • Member since
    September 2012
Posted by GMorrison on Tuesday, August 28, 2018 5:28 PM

modelmaker66

Why is this zombie post ressurected? I thought that was not allowed.

 

That's a frightening thought. Anyways, the question remains relevant, why I  tossed in my two bits.

Some of the worst compatibility problems I've encountered have been enamel over enamel. Humbrol and MM don't always seem to get along.

  • Member since
    January 2014
Posted by Silver on Friday, September 14, 2018 3:33 PM

Enamels brought more 1st place awards to my house.

  • Member since
    December 2002
  • From: Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, England
Posted by Bish on Friday, September 14, 2018 3:46 PM

I have found issues spraying lacquers primers over enamel paints. On a couple of occasions i have primed, painted and then had to re-prime an area and where the primer has gone onto the paint it has bubbeled. But i use lacquer clear coats with no issues.

''I am a Norfolk man and i glory in being so''

On the bench: Fujim 1/72nd Ju 87R-2/AMT STAP/ Youngs Miniatures 1/10th Templar Bust/Accurate Armour 1/35th SNATCH

  • Member since
    December 2002
  • From: Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, England
Posted by Bish on Friday, September 14, 2018 3:46 PM

Silver

Enamels brought more 1st place awards to my house.

 

Thats nice.

''I am a Norfolk man and i glory in being so''

On the bench: Fujim 1/72nd Ju 87R-2/AMT STAP/ Youngs Miniatures 1/10th Templar Bust/Accurate Armour 1/35th SNATCH

  • Member since
    September 2018
Posted by Mike from Sac on Saturday, September 15, 2018 8:39 AM
I'm just getting back into model building after 40 years and found this thread very helpful. Growing up in San Francisco in the 60's, all I remember having was Testors and Patra. So many options now ... - thanks!
  • Member since
    October 2018
Posted by Eddie Poe from San Ho on Thursday, October 11, 2018 9:09 AM

Mike from Sac
I'm just getting back into model building after 40 years and found this thread very helpful. Growing up in San Francisco in the 60's, all I remember having was Testors and Patra. So many options now ... - thanks!
 

 

Same here. I'm not usually a fan of the Internet being a permanenet place for people's musings, but in this case it's totally appreciated.

  • Member since
    October 2008
Posted by Snacko911 on Wednesday, February 12, 2020 8:31 AM

TomZ2

Short compatibility matrix (thanks to Masataka Narita)

____________ Over coat
Under Coat___________
 Acrylic  Enamel   Lacquer
                 Acrylic      OK   Maybe      NO
                 Enamel      OK      OK      NO
                 Lacquer      OK      OK      OK

 The L E A (Lacquer Enamel Acrylic) Rule: Lacquers, enamels & acrylics can safety cover base lacquers. Enamels & acrylics can cover enamels (but not lacquers!). Base coat acrylics can only be covered by more acrylics. Take this rule with a grain of NaCl as all untried paints (and combinations) are suspect. (So says a victim…)

Oh, and I nearly forgot… WELCOME and post pictures.

 

I'm new to modeling as well.  I know this is an old post, but it has a lot of good information.

So, according to this chart, I should mostly never base coat with an Acrylic since you should't put anything but Acrylic over it?  In general is this true?

What is a good process of paint type layer order that you normaly use?
Do you start with a Base of Enamel, then put Enamel/Acrylic over that?  Then if you used Acrylic and you want a Gloss Coat you should only put Clear Acrylic over that?

Just trying to understand 'Best Practices'....  I recently started a new model, and when I pulled off some masking tape it pulled up some of the paint.  It was a black flat acrylic paint with no clear coat.  So I thnk being flat I should have put a gloss coat on it to help the tape from pulling it up??  or maybe I should have used an Enamel??

Thanks for any responses,

Snacko

  • Member since
    May 2013
  • From: Indiana, USA
Posted by Greg on Wednesday, February 12, 2020 9:00 AM

I can hardly wait to hear what others have to say, but in my opinion whomever created that chart is full of beans. (no disrepect intended)

Snacko911
So, according to this chart, I should mostly never base coat with an Acrylic since you should't put anything but Acrylic over it? In general is this true?

No. I'm afraid I cannot speak for enamels as I use them so infrequently, but I routinely put laquers over acrylics.

I subscrbe to the theory that one can paint almost anything over almost anything so long as the latter is completely cured. There are probably exceptions that I'm not aware of or have forgotten.

-Greg

  • Member since
    November 2018
Posted by oldermodelguy on Wednesday, February 12, 2020 9:14 AM

I put multi layers of acrylic down all the time. It more depends what you're doing with it, like weathering over acrylic I use oil wash or stains. But recently I did up a car with stynylrez primer ( acrylic poly), rose gold craft paint ( acrylic) and top coated with 3 full wet coats of Tamiya clear red and blue mixed to a kind of burgundy red. That sucker shines and I haven't polished it. But the point being it's all acrylic over acrylic but different brands. Then did the chrome strips and chrome around the windows with a Molotow pen which is some kind of alcohol paint (reluctantly thinking the alcohol might get to the Tamiya top coat), but it too went well. I did the engine with craft paint, then a light oil wash just added some depth, not so much for dirt. The fire wall too. Next will be a quick shot of Model Master metalizer sealer ( lacquer) over the wash parts and I think the paint is done except maybe a little buffing on the body and wheel detail. The interior is craft paint over stynylrez. The under pinnings is black stynylrez. I'm getting there, gotta get some kind of magnesium paint on the wheel spokes and I can put it together ( 1949 Ford I'm sort of duplicating from a build I did nearly 60 years ago).

Just sayin.

Edit: just happened to think, I've put clear lacquer over acrylic many times with no issue and various types of lacquer. I would be leery of lacquer over fresh enamel, I've seen that go bonkers in 1/1.

  • Member since
    April 2006
  • From: ON, Canada
Posted by jgeratic on Wednesday, February 12, 2020 9:20 AM

The problem with the linked chart is that 'acrylics' is a bit too generalized.  Normally when acrylics is mentioned, we tend to think it's water based - but no, you can have Lacquer acrylic, Enamel acrylic, etc.   Acrylic really just indicates one of the four main components of paint, that being the Binder (Pigment, Additive and Solvent being the other three).

If you plan on using tape over paint, preparation is key.  The usual process of washing the plastic in mild soap, and avoid skin contact as oils will transfer to the model surface. 

The type of paint (or primer) you choose to first hit the plastic is important.  I'm not familiar with enamels, but lacquers will etch themselves into the plastic, making them quite resilient to lifting.  Water based acylics are the worst, as they essentially just sit on top of the plastic.  Adding a clear protective coat won't help in the matter - if that first layer isn't anchored down into the plastic, chances are, it will lift.  It would be like trying to peel a piece of tape off of another, both will come off.

 

regards,

Jack

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