Acrylics are such a wonderful medium for painting and crafting in general. They have a great color payoff, tend to be very durable and work on almost any surface. So, can you use acrylic paint on metal?
This time, we will answer this question and give you all the info you’ll need to make working on your project a breeze. Also, read on for recommendations for the best product to use in this situation.
Can You Use Acrylic Paint on Metal?
Yes, but not without some prep. At the very least, you will have to clean the surface, but it’s also recommended to remove any old paint and apply a primer.
Can acrylic paint be used on metal without a primer?
Yes, but it’s not recommended. If you skip the primer, chances are that your paint job will not be very long-lasting.
In essence, acrylics are spreadable plastic. Plastic is smooth, metal is smooth as well. So, what happens when you want to stick one smooth surface to another one? It eventually slips off.
Though this will not happen instantly, it will take only time and maybe some exposure to the elements or regular wear and tear for the paint to peel off.
In practical terms, though you may afford to not apply a primer to your Dungeons and Dragons figurines before painting them, the same cannot be said for your deck furniture and decorations.
How to Paint Metal with Acrylic Paints
Step 1 – Pick your products
It’s time to give a good thought to what type of paint you wish to use. You have so many options to choose from, and your choice can either make or break your project.
Acrylic paints come in two formulas: water-based and oil-based. Oil-based formulas are slightly better and often don’t require a primer when applied to metal. But, they are more expensive and it takes longer to dry. Water-based paints dry faster and are more affordable, but you can’t skip the primer and the sealer when using them.
Then, you have to think if you wish to go for a spray or a classic tube of paint. Sprays are convenient when you’re working with one color, but will find working with tubes and tubes easier if they are trying to execute a complex design. Plus, they allow you to mix your custom shades, whilst you are limited by the manufacturer’s palette when you pick up a spray can.
Step 2 – Clean and prep the surface
This is a whole topic that deserves that we dive a bit deeper into it. More details are below, but for now, you have to know that you can’t just go straight in before some clean-up and prep.
Step 3 – Apply a primer
As mentioned, you could skip this step in some cases and if you’re using oil-based acrylics, but it’s better to still go through it. A primer will ensure that the paint sticks to the surface and that the bond will last for a very long time.
Definitely, apply a primer if you’re painting furniture or garden decor that will be exposed to the elements.
Step 4 – Time to paint
This is the easy part since painting metal with acrylics doesn’t require a special technique of any kind. But, there are a few things to keep in mind.
If you plan on applying more than one coat of paint, make sure to allow it to completely dry first before doing so. Applying a new coat over the wet one may cause it to smear, even when you’re using spray paint. Depending on the paint you use and where you live, you may need to wait hours before applying each coat.
Though, this is good news if you’re painting a picture. Acrylics allow you to blend each color into another one, just like gouache or oil. But, you’re probably creating a thicker layer of paint, so make sure to allow the primer to dry properly before painting, and for your work to be completely dry before busting out a sealer.
Step 5 – Sealing acrylic paint on metal
This is a super important step if you want to make your work waterproof because, even though they are plastics, acrylics will get damaged by water. Also, a sealer will protect your work from scuffs, light scratches, and other minor physical damage.
Sealers also come in several formats and formulas, so you are bound to find one that works for you. A good all-rounder would be a product that is suitable for use on garden furniture and that comes in a spray for easy application. A recommendation for one is down below;
If you make a mistake while painting, you may be able to simply wipe it off if you catch it early enough. If the color got to dry a bit, you’ll need a solvent.
A standard-issue bottle of (oil-free 100% acetone) nail polish remover will do the trick. Soak a cotton ad in it and press for at least 10 to 20 seconds. This should loosen up the color enough so you can simply wipe it away.
Don’t use harsh chemicals to clean metal objects that are painted with acrylic paint. Some soapy water will be enough.
For regular clean-up, dissolve a few drops of dishwashing liquid in water. Pour into a spray bottle and use before dusting with a cloth. If the object needs a more thorough clean, you use a bit more dish soap (about a tablespoon in a quart of water) and don’t bother with a spray. Go in directly with a soaked cloth, and wipe the soap and dirt away with a dry one.
How to Prepare Metal Surfaces for Acrylic Paint
Okay, time to go into some detail on this one. The main reason why this is a separate section is that there are different things that you will have to do based on the condition of the item you’re trying to paint.
Even if the item is brand new, you still need to clean it. You’ll definitely have to wipe off any oils that were transferred from your hands, and quite possibly some fine dust and dirt as well. Rubbing alcohol and plain cloth are perfect for the job since they will not leave any residue behind. Even if you have to do other things as well, make sure to do this as the last step.
Since rust is the equivalent of metal suffering from an athlete’s foot, you will have to get rid of that fungus before painting.
Luckily, it’s superficial and you can simply scrub it off. Use a scouring pad or maybe a melamine sponge to do this job.
It may be a good idea to remove old paint before applying new coats. This will ensure that your paint job looks fresh for longer.
Depending on the paint that, you’ll have to use the appropriate kind of paint stripper. If possible, bring a “sample” with you to the hardware store (ie, any removable part of that table or chair you’re trying to paint) and ask the employees there to help you with choosing the right product.
Keep in mind that you will probably have to work with harsh chemicals, so make sure you have all protective gear on hand.
Nuts, bolts, etc
If the stuff that you are painting is detachable or foldable in any way, shape, or form, you should take it apart. Leaving it completely assembled will glue those nuts, bolts, joints, etc in place. Not only will this turn into a headache somewhere down the line, but it will prevent you from getting a perfect paint job.
The idea of taking each bolt and painting it separately may sound annoying and time-consuming, but it’s totally worth it. Your patience will be rewarded.
Protecting parts that you don’t want to paint
Obviously, if you can take the item apart, you can just remove the section you don’t wish to paint. But if that section is not detachable, you’ll have to cover it up.
The best way to do so is with masking tape. But, if you don’t have any on hand and are not willing to out and buy some, the regular tape will work as well. If you’re worried that it won’t come off after, you can lightly press the tape to your T-shirt before applying it to the item you’re painting. This is a cool trick that is often used for taping paper when there’s no scotch tape around.
Should You Use A Brush Or Spray Paint To Paint Acrylic Paint On Metal?
Depends on what effect you are trying to achieve, as well as your skill level. Some people can create thin and even coats of paint with brushes, while others create lumps with spray paint.
Though, when covering a large surface (ie you’re painting furniture), it may be wiser to use spray paint. It will make it easier to achieve a thin but evenly pigmented coat that will not peel off easily.
You can come back and deal with nooks, crannies, and other details with a brush later. However, don’t use regular furniture and wall painting brushes. Opt for something softer, like the brushes you would you for watercolors and guache.
However, if you’re feeling creative you can use rollers and sponges as well to apply acrylic paints on metal. Each tool has its benefits and downsides, as well as allows you to achieve different textures and effects.
The Best Paints, Primers, and Sealers for Metal
Best overall paint – Rust-Oleum Protective Enamel
This paint is the top pick amongst hobbyists and pros alike. It has a great color payoff, sprays even, and as the name suggests, helps keep rust at bay.
You have to use a primer with this one, and though the topcoat is not mandatory, it will produce glossy and long-lasting results. Also, know that this paint takes quite a while to dry, but considering how pigmented it is, chances are that you will need only one coat to get good coverage,
Best durable paint – Seymour High Solids Spray Paint
This is a great choice if you wish to skip a sealer or a topcoat. It creates an industrial-grade finish that will resist most physical damage. It also offers great protection against high humidity, but it’s not completely waterproof or water-resistant.
Still, if you use it over a good primer, it makes for a great choice for painting outdoor furniture ad decor.
Best tube paint – Vallejo Basic Paint Set
Vallejo specializes in making acrylic paints for metal models and miniatures. The texture of the paints is quite runny, but they are very pigmented. They are equally suitable for painting tiny objects as well as elaborate pictures.
You don’t have to prep miniatures when you’re using these paints, but you’ll need to prep the furniture and decor pieces. You can use them directly after a primer or after a coat of paint. Mix in a bit of a sealer into the paints for a long-lasting finish.
Best one-step paint – Krylon ColorMaster Paint and Primer
This is a great pick for indoor projects since you can be done with them with only one coat. Though you can use it outside as well.
If you do need to layer your coats, you can do it quickly since each layer will dry within 10 minutes. You also not only have a large palette of colors to choose from, but this paint is available in different finishes, including matte and flat.
Best primer – Rust-Oleum Clean Metal Primer
A great choice for pairing with the top pick, but it works great with any other paint as well. Again, as the name suggests, it’s going to prevent rust from ruining your project.
It’s suitable for surfaces that were previously painted, and it will help cover minor imperfections. Plus, the spray will ensure you achieve a thin and even coat.
Best sealer – Sargent Art Acrylic Gloss and Varnish
Thou it doesn’t come in a spray can, this product is worth the additional hassle of using and cleaning brushes. It’s one of the best sealers on the market, and it’s completely non-toxic and acid-free.
You can also mix it directly into the paint to skip a step, and it will still be 100% effective. This sealer is perfect for objects that will be outside and often in rain and snow.
Best spray sealer – Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch 2X Cover
And since rust is not fun, we’re going back to Rust-Oleum once more. They offer a nice range of sealers from their regular line, but this one is a great choice for anything that will see a lot of use or have to deal with the elements outside.