Enamel vs Emulsion Paint (What’s The Difference?)

When picking a paint type to cover walls, enamel and emulsion are on top of the list. Why? Because both paint types are durable, moisture-resistant, and when dry, produce a beautiful finish.

But, what’s the difference between enamel and emulsion paint? And how do you know which one to go for? The answers to these questions and more will be revealed in this article.

Let’s dive in. First, let’s check out Enamel paint and its uses.

What is Enamel Paint?

Enamel paint is an oil-based paint. Though there are a few water-based versions, they aren’t very common.

Enamel paint is also known as a slow-dry paint. Due to its oil-based nature, enamel paint takes a while to dry, and can remain tacky for several hours. 

When dry, enamel paint produces a glossy film as the top layer. This film makes the enamel finish reflective and shiny when exposed to light. 

The glossy film also makes enamel paint durable and moisture-resistant. Enamel paint can be cleaned easily because the dust and dirt slide off the glossy finish. Since the finish is durable, it protects the paint from scratches and damage. 

Enamel paint is used on building exteriors, walls, and outdoor furniture. The paint’s glossy layer makes it thrive in harsh conditions.

However, enamel paint has a flaw. The paint contains a high volume of VOCs (or volatile organic compounds) and paint chemicals that release an offensive odor when exposed to the atmosphere.

Now, let’s check out emulsion paint and its uses.

What is Emulsion?

What is Emulsion Paint?

Emulsion paint is a water-based paint. The paint when dry produces a dry textured matte finish that is very flexible. The finish can be sealed with any sealant.

Emulsion paint is used over building interior walls and plastered surfaces like ceilings. Due to its water-based nature, emulsion paint can stick to different surfaces, including concrete and metal.

Also, emulsion paint has low levels of VOCs and chemicals so it doesn’t produce any offensive odor or fume.

But, emulsion paint has one flaw — it’s not as water-resistant as oil-based paints. This is because of its water-based solvent. So, enamel paint isn’t washable, it can only be wiped and cleaned. If you wash enamel paint with water, you can blur the finish, 

Emulsion paint is a very bright and vibrant finish. But how good is the finish when compared to enamel paint? Let’s find out by comparing both paint types.

Enamel vs Emulsion Paint?

To compare both paints, we’ll use their features and finishes. Let’s start at the beginning, the paint base.

The Paint Base

The paint base refers to the solvent used in the paint. Every paint type has a solvent, paint pigment, and binder in the paint coating. The paint base or solvent is what makes it easy to apply the paint. The solvent also keeps the paint from curing inside the paint container.

For emulsion paint, the paint base or solvent is water. For enamel paints, it’s natural or synthetic oil.

Drying Time

The paint base determines how long it takes for the paint to dry. For paint to dry, the solvent must be completely evaporated from the paint coating. Since emulsion paints are water-based, it dries faster than enamel paints. This is because water evaporates faster than oils.

Enamel paint takes 8-24 hours to dry, while emulsion paint dries within 2 hours. 

Related Read: Enamel Dry Time and Speed Up Tips


Paint strength and durability determine how long the paint will last on the material. In terms of strength, enamel paints are stronger than emulsion paint. Again, this is because of the paint base.

Since enamel paints are oil-based, the paint coating dries to form a water-resistant thick and glossy layer. Enamel paints can last over 15 years if applied correctly.

Since emulsion is water-based, it doesn’t last more than 10 years, 12 years being the maximum. When emulsion paint dries, it’s not very durable. To make the paint waterproof and durable you have to seal it. 

Paint Preparation

Before you can apply paint, you need to prepare it first. Emulsion paints are easier and quicker to prep than enamel paint.

You have to thin enamel paint before applying it, especially if you want to spray the paint. However, emulsion paint doesn’t need thinning.

To thin enamel paint, use turpentine or mineral spirits.

The Paint Binder

The paint binder is what holds the paint pigments together. The binder also helps the paint coating adhere to the material. For enamel paints, the paint binder is usually oil. Most enamel paints use linseed oil, poppy oil, or nut oil.

Emulsion paints use acrylic resins as a paint binder. However, some enamel paints contain alkyd resins which improve the paint bonding. 

Paint Bonding

Enamel paint sticks to surfaces better than emulsion paint. Enamel paints contain oils, chemicals, and sometimes alkyd resins. All of which improve the enamel paint bonding.

The improved paint bonding also helps the enamel paint in terms of durability since the coating will be chip-resistant. However, enamel paints don’t bond to non-porous materials like plastic and glass. Emulsion bonds to all types of material.

Interior or Exterior Use

Both paints can be used on interior and exterior materials, but emulsion paints are better for interior use. This is because emulsion paint dries fast, and doesn’t have UV protection additives.

You can use enamel paint outdoors too, but the paint should be sealed with a topcoat such as polyurethane. If you don’t seal it, emulsion paint will be washed off if exposed to rain. 

Enamel paints are more suited for outdoor use. The glossy finish of enamel paint protects the finish from scratches and rain. The paint also has UV protection additives and it’s water-resistant.  Enamel paint can be sealed too, but it’s not mandatory. 


Emulsion paints require a water-based primer, while enamel paints require an oil-based primer. Also, you can paint emulsion over material without priming first.

Though the paint coating may not come out smooth, it will stick. Enamel paints however will need a primer, especially on porous materials.


Emulsion paints are more flexible than enamel paints. This is because the paint can expand or move based on temperature variations. Since emulsion paints are more flexible, the paint won’t crack or split.

Paint Cost

Emulsion paints are costlier than enamel paints.

Paint Coverage

One liter of enamel paint will cover about 130 square feet of material. One liter of emulsion paint will cover about 160 square feet of material.

So, with emulsion paints, you can cover more surfaces.

Paint Color

Emulsion paints are more colorful than enamel paints. This is because emulsion paints contain a high level of paint pigments or coloring materials. These pigments add more color and vibrancy to the finish.

Enamel paints are colorful too, but not as colorful as emulsion paints. However, you can mix enamel paint with acrylic paint power to give it more color and sheen. 

Which Paint Do You Need?

Here are a few factors to consider before making that decision:

Exterior or Interior Use

If you need a paint for outdoor use, choose enamel paint. The improved durability of enamel paint makes it ideal for outdoor use.

Emulsion paint is better for indoor use.

Material to Be Painted

Emulsion paints can be used on any material, including concrete, wood, and plaster. Enamel paint has limited application — it isn’t great on plastic and glass, but can be used on wood, concrete, and metal.

Your budget

Emulsion paint costs more than enamel paint. 

Final Words

Overall, enamel and emulsion are both good paints. The best one for you depends on your taste., and the material you need to paint.

I know firsthand how difficult it can be to pick one of the two paints, but I hope the comparison above has made your decision easier.

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