Can You Use Acrylic Primer with Enamel Paint? Our Investigation

Before we proceed, it is important that we properly understand what primers are and why we need to use them before applying paint.

Basically, if you have just started painting, primers are undercoats. Their primary function is to smooth out surfaces before applying paint. Also depending on the surface being painted and the type of paint used, primers are important to give the paint a surface to stick on.

There are various types of primer, the most popular being Alkyd primer and Acrylic primer. The Alkyd primer is used mainly in situations where the surface has been painted previously or the paint needs to be protected from serious stains or substances that are bound to diminish the quality of the paint. For example, when painting a wall previously covered with wallpaper, it is advisable to use Alkyd primer rather than Acrylic to prevent evaporation of the solvent because Acrylic is a lighter primer.

Acrylic primer, on the other hand, is best used when the surface being painted has not been previously painted. It is used to protect the paint from lighter stains.

What is Enamel Paint?

Enamel paint is basically a paint that is extremely durable, but gives a glossy, and smooth finish when dry.

There are basically two types of Enamel paint. They include Oil based enamel paint and Water-based enamel paint

  • Oil-based enamel paint. The vast majority of enamel paints are of this kind. It has oil as its base. They take a few hours to dry and due to their foul smell and toxic fumes it is advised to use them in a properly ventilated area.
  • Water-based enamel paint. As the name implies, water-based enamel paint has water as its base. It takes a shorter time to dry out as it’s lighter.

Now due to the nature of Enamel paint, it will not be able to stick to some surfaces including wood, plastic, metal, and so on. However, there are still instances where the enamel paint can be used without applying a primer. It all depends on the circumstance.

Enamel paint can provide a glossy finish on surfaces without a primer present, however, that painting will not last for long before it will need to be done again. For outer surfaces, where the paint will be prone to a lot of touch and moisture, and smoke, it is highly recommended that Enamel paints be used with both a primer and an overcoat.

Acrylic Primers vs Enamel Paints

Acrylic Primers are not singular in nature, that is, they vary. They can mainly be water-based or latex. However, the deal breaker would be that acrylic primers, when put in context with other primers are relatively light. Therefore, they cannot protect the enamel paint from all types of surfaces. This aside, acrylic primers are cheaper than the rest, so they provide a more economical solution.

The most common situations where acrylic primers can actually be used with enamel paints are:

  • When painting non-porous materials like plastic. Primers will be used in this situation to help the paint stick.
  • When the surface that is about to be painted is moist or wet. Painting over such surfaces will not allow the paint to stick. Primers are needed to assist the paint to glue to the surface.
  • If the surface being painted has a rough surface or holes in them, a primer is the best bet to even out that roughness and provide a smooth surface to be painted.
  • If the surface has been painted with oil paint or has a sealed texture that will not allow for any penetration, then a primer will be required to give the paint adherence to the surface.

It should be noted, however, that acrylic primers should be used with water-based enamel paints. This is because acrylic primers do not contain oil, they are made with fast-drying chemicals. Therefore, applying an oil-based enamel paint will be a gross mismatch.

This, therefore, goes to show that acrylic primers and enamel paints are not exactly a great match. This is primarily due to their nature, one being water-based, and the other being oil based for most of the time.

Therefore, the appropriate primer for enamel paints and the appropriate paints for acrylic primers need to be discussed.

Primers for Enamel Paints

The best primers suitable for enamel paints are about three, not that there are not more, however, these three are the most recommended. They are Alkyd primer, Acrylic primer, and Shellac primer.

  • Alkyd primer: Alkyd primer or oil base primer as it is often called has existed for the longest of the three and is known to be the core of painting. It can be used across a wide variety of surfaces and is known to dry very fast, allowing the finish paint to be applied quickly. It is known to accommodate a variety of paints including enamel paints. Examples of alkyd primers include Zinsser best primer, Rustoleum Alkyd primer and sealer, Xim Alkyd primer and sealer, Insix Alkyd primer and sealer, and so on.
  • Acrylic primer: Acrylic primers differ from water-based or oil-based primers. This is because they primarily consist of chemicals. They dry very quickly, more so than the alkyd primer. They are very great adhesives even though they are thin and they are resistant to water or moisture. Examples of Acrylic primers include Leyland Acrylic primer, Infinity Acrylic primer, and so on.
  • Shellac primer: Shellac primer is one of the best primers for dealing with tough stains and rough edges, bleeding knots in woods is also something it can solve. Its use also ranges to sealing smoke smells, and stains, and it is water-resistant. It’s best used for interior designing. It is the most recommended option amongst the three to be used with enamel paints. Examples of Shellac primers are Zinsser BIN Shellac-based primer, Coo-Var Shellac primer, and so on.


In conclusion, though the acrylic primer can indeed be used with enamel paints, it can only be used under special circumstances. It is not the best option available as better options like the shellac primer remain available and are highly recommended by professionals around the world than the acrylic primer.

That is not to say that the acrylic primer is not a good enough primer, however, it is not the best primer to be used with enamel paints. Acrylic primers have their advantages like their cheapness, lightness, and durability. It is advised that painters conduct proper research before using the various primers discussed in this article to select the one which suits their purpose the most.