What Thinner Should Be Used For Enamel Paint?

Enamel paint is a brilliant product that brings a nice shine and strong coat of paint to all kinds of projects. Perhaps you are keen to use enamel paint for model making or an alternative medium for fine art. Or, you may have plans to use it on a more industrial level, spraying larger items like furniture with an airbrushing gun. Whatever your intentions, you will soon find that this form of paint is a little on the thicker side. This can be an issue for fluid coats and especially for airbrushing. That is where you need the best enamel paint thinners for a better experience and result.

What Is Enamel Thinner?

Enamel paint thinners are solvents and other liquids that interact with the paint to create a thinner texture. It should then be much easier to spread the paint over the chosen surface or use the airbrush. However, you can’t just use any old liquid to thin enamel paint. It has to be able to react appropriately without any risk of damaging the surface or creating bad finishes. It is too easy to look at a solution and say “that will do”, and then get disappointed when it doesn’t work.

That is why I have compiled this quick guide to enamel paint thinners. The list of solutions below shows you what you should use, what you can use with caution in the right situations, and what to avoid. I have also included links to a few suitable products and brands I like.

What Thinner Should Be Used For Enamel Paint?

Let’s start with the best enamel paint thinners where there shouldn’t be too many problems. There are two options here. You can get a simple bottle of everyday mineral spirit or you can buy a dedicated paint thinner from a leading brand.

White Spirit/Mineral Spirit For Enamel Paints

White spirit and mineral spirit are pretty much the same thing with interchangeable names. The term can depend on your location and the manufacturer. This is the best option for thinning enamel paint because it doesn’t have any impact on the paint aside from the thickness. You get the same color and shine when the paint is dry and don’t have to worry about drying time.

How Much Mineral Spirit Should You Use?

Ratios can vary depending on the paint you use, the effect you want, and the product you buy. It is better to start with too little than too much as you can add but you can’t take away. Mix a little at a time to get the consistency you want and to keep the mixture even. Also, make sure to follow manufacturer instructions where applicable.

Finding The Best Enamel Paint Thinner From Leading Brands

The alternative here is to look for liquids deliberately sold as paint thinners from leading brands. You may find that the company that makes your enamel paint has something in their range to thin it. This should mean a greater chance of compatibility and better results. I have some quick suggestions for various products below where I discuss this further. Some people ask if a paint manufacturer’s own enamel thinners should be used exclusively with their paints. This doesn’t seem to be the case, but you may prefer to stick with one brand.

What Should You Use With Caution When Thinning Enamel Paints?

There are other options out there and you will no doubt find forum and blog posts with a host of recommendations. These suggestions are mostly made by those that have had positive personal experiences. However, the solution may not work in all cases. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the potential of these alternative enamel paint thinners but also when to avoid them.

1) Acetone

Many people will turn to acetone as paint thinner because they already have it on hand for cleaning brushes. You may also have some in the house for removing nail polish. This can work in some cases. However, acetone can also dissolve plastic, which can ruin some surfaces and paintbrushes. It has potential with other materials but isn’t your best option.

2) Turpentine

Turpentine is also effective when used correctly in the right rations and there are people that paint models that have success. However, there is the issue that turpentine can speed up drying times of oil-based enamel paints. This means it can be difficult to use and a bad idea for airbrushing.

3) Water

When it comes to water, this is the most cost-effective and accessible option around. The problem is that it only works with water-based paints. We can easily thin acrylic paint with water for thinner coats but the water will run off oil-based paints. So, success here depends on the type of enamel you use. You will probably find it is better to buy some mineral spirit instead.

What Thinners For Enamel Paint Should You Avoid?

Then there will be times where you find recommendations for products that are best avoided. Again, users may have had good success themselves, but the risks outweigh the potential benefits. Avoid the following.

1) Xylene

You may see recommendations for Xylene as a solvent and thinner where users have had success. The problem here is that it is pretty dangerous when handled incorrectly. Just a small amount of Xylene vapors can lead to side effects such as headache, dizziness, drowsiness, and nausea. It is best avoided when painting as a hobby.

2) Anything For Acrylic Paints

There is a chance that some of the acrylic paint thinners found online will work if you have water-based enamels. There are lots of these acrylic solutions online and it is easy to click on one by mistake. While there may be lots of people giving 5-star reviews for acrylic work, it isn’t worth the risk with enamels. Go for an enamel paint thinner instead.

Some Of The Best Enamel Paint Thinners Available Right Now

As mineral spirits and manufacturers-own paint thinners are the best way to go, I want to highlight some possible options. One of these could prove to be helpful for various applications or even lead you to other enamel-related products in their line.

1) AK Interactive – White Spirit 100ml

AK Interactive - White Spirit 100ml - (AK00047)
AK Interactive - White Spirit 100ml - (AK00047)

This first option is a pretty basic product for white spirit. It comes from a company that has a wide range of thinners and solvents so you can be sure of the right formula for your needs. One of the benefits of choosing this bottle is that you get quite a lot more than other providers. The company increased its range due to demand to provide a cost-effective solution. It seems to work well enough for enamels with no obvious negative effects.

2) Gamblin Gamsol Odorless Mineral Spirits Bottle

Gamblin Gamsol Odorless Mineral Spirits Bottle, 4.2oz
Gamblin Gamsol Odorless Mineral Spirits Bottle, 4.2oz

This bottle of mineral spirits from Gamblin is similar in terms of the simplicity of the solution and its effect on thinning paint. This is their 4.2oz bottle, which should be enough to get you started. But, it is worthwhile browsing the range for bigger bottles if needed. This is currently a best seller for paint thinners on Amazon, which shows its popularity for various uses. The petroleum distillate solution is odorless and evaporates well so there is no residue. It is also made in the USA.

3) U.S. Art Supply Odorless Mineral Spirits Thinner

U.S. Art Supply Odorless Mineral Spirits Thinner, 125ml / 4.2 Fluid Ounce Container
U.S. Art Supply Odorless Mineral Spirits Thinner, 125ml / 4.2 Fluid Ounce Container

I wanted to include this next option because it is less of a multipurpose product and more of an art material. It comes from U.S Art Supply, which is a company I have mentioned before when talking about painting supplies. So, you could pair this up with the brand’s own paints. You get a quality thinner for oil-based paints in a nice glass bottle, rather than an industrial-style container. There is the same amount as the Gamblin bottle, so no fears over running out too quickly.

4) Testors Enamel Plastic Model Paint Thinner & Brush Cleaner

Testor Corp. Testors Enamel Plastic Model Paint Thinner & Brush Cleaner, 1.75 oz (1.75 oz)
Testor Corp. Testors Enamel Plastic Model Paint Thinner & Brush Cleaner, 1.75 oz (1.75 oz)

Finally, there is this option from Testor Corp. Testors paint thinner is a common result on Amazon which lots of bottles and options to choose from. This is their small starter bottle of paint thinner/brush cleaner to get you started. If you find that this solution works well for you, you may benefit from one of Testors’ sets where you get the thinner, selected enamel colors, and some brushes.

What Thinner Should You Use For Enamel?

To summarize, the best option to take here is to get a good multipurpose bottle of mineral spirit or a manufacturers-own enamel thinner. The former is great for buying in larger amounts and can be used for other cleaning purposes to add value. The latter may be better for model painting when you stick with a trusted brand. Don’t gamble on alternative products for acrylic paint because they may not be suitable for your paints and avoid any dangerous chemicals. It is much better for your health and the look of the paint to pay a little more for something you know is suitable.