Enamel Vs Acrylic Vs Lacquer Model Paint Compatibility
Different types of model paint are compatible to an extent however must be applied in certain orders of application, and importantly, if this order of application is incorrect or the wrong paints layered then you can irretrievably ruin your model extremely quickly.
Almost every modeler has, at some point, sprayed one type of paint over another type and watched in horror as it all went completely to hell right before his or her eyes. 😮🤬
This is common when different paint types are layered on top of each other in certain combinations, but it’s easy to forget which combinations are forgiving, and which will ruin your model and leave you wanting to projectile hurl it down the street.
Model Paint Compatibility “Never Stuff It Up Acronym” 😎
Here’s a good model paint rule of thumb to help you remember what you can layer on top of what successfully…
Remember the acronym “LEA”.
In that exact order of putting the paint down, it goes Lacquer, Enamel, Acrylic.
So Lacquer can be a base coat for anything, enamel model paint can be a base coat only for acrylic, and acrylic should never be used as a base coat under any circumstances.
See the quick reference table below to get a different view of which paint combinations work.
NOTE: The general consensus is that the information in this table is consistent across virtually all paint brands, and I have found this information to be accurate (annoyingly, more often than I care to admit… 😬) with regards to the most common brand of model paints I use, Tamiya.
What About Other Brands Of Paint? (non-Tamiya)
There are so many slightly different chemical make-ups of paint these days it can be a minefield trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to mixing and layering different types of paints on top of each other.
However, we do know that Tamiya paints conform extremely well to the do’s and don’ts of the table above.
So, here’s how you should approach using other paints…
If you have a brand of paint that you would use interchangeably with Tamiya paint, then it will conform to the information in the table and can essentially use it without fear.
Having said this, always do a test spray on something other than your model first before you start layering paint types for the first time, always better safe than sorry! 👍
An example of this is Mr Hobby Aqueous Hobby Color.
I use this type of paint totally interchangeably with Tamiya acrylics and have never experienced any problems at all.
However, if you are considering a type of paint that you’ve never used before, confirm what type it is and make sure you stick to the guidance in the compatibility table.
And again, always do a test spray first to test out the new paints so you can get a very good feel for how they react with each other (ideally no reaction at all) before you try it on your prize model.
Lacquer Model Paints Over Acrylics And Enamels
Spray paint and airbrushing a lacquer top coat over an acrylic or enamel base coat is never a good idea.
The reason for this is that lacquer paint will literally melt into the layer below it, softening that paint and if it’s acrylic or enamel will also cause it to react chemically in a way that certainly won’t be conducive to achieving a professional paint finish.
In short, only put a lacquer top coat over a lacquer base coat or primer. 👍
For a base coat, however, lacquer is perfectly acceptable in virtually all cases.
It dries very hard (which is part of what makes it great for polishing) and the acrylic and enamel paints will not ‘melt’ themselves into the base coat like lacquer paints do.
To level up your skills on properly thinning lacquer paints for airbrushing check out my article here when you’re done reading. (will open in a new window)
Using Enamel And Acrylic Model Paint Together
Acrylic is a very forgiving paint (at least the water based Tamiya version is) and will work well as a top coat on any base coat.
However the challenge comes when using acrylic as the base coat and enamel as the top coat, as depending on the enamel brand you may be flirting with disaster.
Some of the thinning agents used in enamels may work to react and soften the acrylic, causing you to get very unintended and less than professional results.
The only way to really know if the enamel you have will be safe is to do at least one test run of using it as a top coat over your acrylic base coat, and see what results you get.
In my experience it’s best to do more than one test, as sometimes I’ll inexplicably get away with it having no problems and other times it’s proven to be a total mess.
Model Paint Compatibility With Primer
In all my years of building and painting models I have never had any issue with modeling paints being incompatible with any type of primer.
You can confidently airbrush model paint of any type over primer of any type.
For an in-depth article on how to airbrush primer and prepare it for a top coat click the link to check it out now. 👍
Final Thoughts On Enamel Vs Acrylic Vs Lacquer…
Maybe you’ve been lucky up to this point and layered paints in different orders to what is recommended in this article, or perhaps you’ve found a brand of paint that bucks the trend and allows you to switch the layers around successfully (good luck with that by the way 😬)…
…but ultimately it’s better to play it safe and stick to the LEA acronym across the board.
After all, it’s probably best if you don’t have any more situations that result in you hurling that half finished model down the street… 😎