Enamel vs. Clear Coat – Main Differences and Features

Painting a surface breathes life to it, and it might be all you need to transform spaces and cars or refurbish an item. Before undertaking a painting job, you need to know the colors to work with, the brand, the cost, and the expected outcome. Most people prefer enamel paints or a clear coat for their jobs.

Without prior knowledge or professional skills, you will likely walk into a store to pick a can or color, depending on what is available. The shock on you when you are slapped with the reality that there are many brands and types that are meant to do the same job.

Inquiries from the store might get you all the answers you want, but that is not guaranteed. To avoid making the wrong choice, here are some aspects that we will touch on that might come in handy:

  • Feature of both enamel and clear coat
  • Their main differences
  • Ideal surfaces to apply top coat and enamel
  • How to apply enamel and clear coat
  • The duration each takes to cure

Features of Enamel

  • Composition

Enamel contains a base coat, colorant, binding acetates, and resinous materials such as acid and water. The components are varied to develop a range of color and glossiness. When dry, the elements form a chemical bond, creating a hard glass-like coat.

Depending on the solvents used, you can have an oil-based or water-based enamel paint. Oil-based paints have a much higher sheen than water-based paints. Only oil-based enamel paints were manufactured in the past, but water-based ones are currently more popular.

  • Compatible Surfaces to Apply it on

Enamel paint can be applied to all surfaces. However, the option depends on the surface material, location, use, and functionality. Consider the fast dry enamel when working on appliances and for industrial use. However, it only stands the test of time when applied through melting in a kiln mechanism.

When working with wood or metals rich in zinc, use oil-based enamel as water-based enamel is resistant to alkalis. Other types of enamel include floor, model, nail, and Epoxy.

It is advisable to use high-temperature, water-based enamel paint for surfaces that come in contact with extreme heat, UV rays, and high traffic. Oil-based enamel contains volatile components that can burn or crack in extreme temperatures. The gloss is also prone to fading when exposed to extreme heat over time.

However, an oil-based enamel works like a charm when all you want is a sleek finish on surfaces such as cars.

  • Application Process

First, get quality paint and brushes for your project. Painting appears easy, but it takes prepping and a little technique to achieve optimum results. Low-quality brushes leave strokes, smudges, and noticeable imperfections.

Clean the surface you are to work on. This helps remove dust and other particles. Water, soap, grease remover, or a wet rag can be used. You can also sand or use a paint remover to remove existing paint and smoothen its imperfections.

Apply a primer as it helps set the surface. It also highlights irregularities you must take care of before the actual painting takes place.

Once done, mix the paint in the can to ensure that all the components are thoroughly mixed and form a balanced consistency.

When painting or dusting the surfaces, wear protective gear. You will likely be exposed to dust, lead, and debris, which can affect your health negatively.

Features of Clear Coat

  • Composition

Just as the name suggests, a clear coat has no pigments. It is a resin that can be applied on surfaces to maintain their appearance or protect the base coat. A clear coat contains solvents and other components such as polymers and additives. They are bound together through a cross-linking process that increases their bonding capabilities and durability. Depending on the surfaces used, the component’s weight is varied.

  • Types of Clear Coat

The difference in the clear coat is brought about by solvents used, purpose, and surface to be applied on. A high gloss clear coat is meant to give a shiny and reflective appearance, while a matte or satin one is intended to offer low reflection.

Solvents also determine the outcome of the clear coats. Those with a high opacity have two or three coats, while those with low opacity have one layer coat only.

  • Compatible Surfaces

Clear paint can be applied on automotive parts, furniture, crafts, appliances, and stained surfaces. However, this is not a one fits all occurrence. Despite using the same material, the clear coat for each surface depends on the purpose and usability. A clear polyurethane coat is ideal for wood exposed to weather extremities or high traffic. The clear coat on these surfaces should withstand and remain stable in extreme weather. However, a clear acrylic coat is ideal for wooden crafts.

  • Application Process

Before you can work on your surface, you must have it prepped. Sand and clean the surface to eliminate dirt, dust, and imperfections. Next, apply a primer first and give it time to cure. Get appropriate tools for the job depending on the type of clear coat to use.

When using a clear spray coat, shake the bottle first before use. Confirm the nozzle is in place before spraying and where possible, test it on a different surface first. This helps reduce mishaps. When applying, use the back-and-forth motions to ensure you do not miss a spot. However, be careful, as this can add an extra layer to the existing one.

When using brushes, ensure they are clean to avoid scratches and inconsistency due to debris. Stir the contents in the container to achieve a consistent viscosity. This makes it easy to spread out the coat.

Give enough curing time before applying the next layer. The most appropriate time would be 24hrs after application. However, surfaces such as automotive metal have a short curing span of around 3 hours.

Differences Between Clear Coat and Enamel

  • Durability

Enamel is far more durable than a clear coat. Enamel can last up to 10 years or even more with only a slight change since its application. However, this can only be achieved using quality brands and the right enamel paint for the specific surface.

Clear coats increase the durability of enamel and the surface by sealing it. It forms a thick cover over the enamel and surface, protecting it from external elements. Clear coat should be reapplied from time to time as it wears off much faster.

Quality clear coat takes a longer time yellowing. However, it turns yellow when applied to light colors. Additionally, waxing and avoiding scratches are alternatives to prolong the life of a clear coat. Scratches dent the general appearance of clear skin. They also expose the surfaces to oxidation and water damage for porous surfaces.

To avoid this, avoid physically causing damage to the surface, using sharp objects, abrasives, and some polishing agents. After use, the remaining clear coat cannot be stored for long as it clumps together, rendering it useless. However, with enamel, you simply need to seal the can properly to avoid air from seeping and store it for future use.

  • Cost

The cost incurred when using enamel or clear coat varies depending on the brand, quality, and size of the surface it has to be applied on as well as the frequency. High-end brands are likely to sell their products at a higher price. Enamel is more costly compared to a clear coat at the purchase price. Metallic and high gloss enamel can be expensive due to the solvents used. Special tools required when painting also makes this a costly affair.

The gun, turpentine, and brushes are used to dilute some of them. Some clear coats come in the form of a spray; all you need is to break the seal and spray your way to a clear coat. Additionally, they come in small quantities, and you might save on this when looking to paint a small surface. Some enamel paints do not have small denomination paints, and you end up purchasing paint you might never use again, leading to losses.

  • Application Process

Enamel is applied as a base coat, while a clear coat is used as a top coat. The clear coat can be applied over enamel without altering its appearance. Using enamel over a clear coat might ruin the final color expected, as some top coats contain thinners. Additionally, enamel paint might appear bumpy over the scratched top coat. This should only happen when the enamel coat is dry to avoid streaks.

Clear coat dries faster than enamel and does not require special treatment during the curing process. However, oil-based enamel paint takes a much longer time to dry. It also requires unique curing spaces to avoid attracting dirt and debris before it is fully cured.

In conclusion, we can agree that both paints work best when matched with suitable surfaces. It is also apparent that you can use both enamel and a clear coat for an exquisite finish. However, know which surface would take on both. Finally, do not be afraid to ask to avoid losses and realize value for your money.