Can I Use Lacquer Thinner for Enamel Paint

Yes, you can use lacquer thinner to thin enamel paints, provided that the paint you are using is compatible. Some model car builders even prefer to use it for its faster drying times and convenience.

Are you surprised? It’s understandable. After all, lacquer paints are quite different in composition from enamel. For instance, they are soft, whereas enamel paints have a tendency to dry hard.

But if you’re in a pinch or you don’t have nearby hobby shops that store the ideal solvents, you can get by with lacquer thinner. This is because some blends of this solvent are suitable for enamel paints, which makes them an effective universal cleaning agent.

Want to know how to use it? Read on below!

How to use lacquer thinner for enamel paint? 

When using lacquer thinner as a solvent for enamel, spray very fine coats of paint from a distance. So, that it doesn’t overspray and pool. Don’t lay on wet coats and allow each to dry before the next.

For a more detailed approach, we have created a guide.

Avoid Over-thinning

Lacquer thinners are generally stronger solvents than mineral spirits or turpentine. This means they do a better job of breaking up the binder polymer chains within the enamel.

If you use too much of it, your coating can become fragile as the polymers may not be able to fully cross-link. So, use fewer drops of thinner than you would with other solvents and mix it in thoroughly. Or, you’ll end up with a cottage cheese-like consistency.

Use Thin Coats

Heavy and wet coats will craze the plastic. This means they can ‘eat’ or melt through the plastic. So, use very fine coats. That way your paint will dry before it gets a chance to affect the surface.

Let Each Coat Dry

Allow each coat to dry before you spray another. This is to avoid crazing. 

Here, an important tip is to choose a lacquer thinner with a moderate drying time. Too fast will dry the paint before you can even lay it down. And too slow will craze your surface no matter how thin your coat is.

It usually only takes a few minutes for the coats to dry. So, you don’t have to wait too long.

Keep An Optimal Distance

Spraying too close to the body you are painting is a surefire way to lay on a wet coating.

As we mentioned, wet coats will pool and melt through the surface. To avoid this problem, spray it from a distance.

Use A Smaller Nozzle Size

Another thing you can do is use a smaller needle tip so less paint can get through. This will cut down on the pooling and give you smooth and fine finishes.

Make Sure Your Space is Breathable

Make sure you’re painting in an area with air circulation. Painters suggest you keep a window open or a fan going.

Your paint will dry faster and have a more even coating.

Use Scrap To Practice

As with any new methods, it’s a good idea to practice before you try it on the main body. Use scraps of cardboard or old model cars to get the hang of what you’re doing.

A good spraying technique, from an appropriate distance and fairly high-pressure settings, will result in a sleek and smooth coat.

Lacquer Thinner or Paint Thinner: What is the Difference? 

The job of all paint thinners is to reduce the viscosity of the paint. However, each has different chemical compositions which make them more or less suitable for your task.

Usually, for enamel paints, we use paint thinners like mineral spirits or turpentine. These thinners have slower evaporation rates and weaker solvent strength. This is ideal for enamel paints as the slower rates make for better leveling. And the lower strength means the polymers in the paint can set and bind together. This increases the durability of enamel paint.

Lacquer thinners, on the other hand, dry faster and are more volatile. They are also stronger solvents, which can sometimes delink the polymer binds in the paint. That’s why using it with enamel can result in it attacking the plastic. It’s ideal for lacquers as these paints dry after the thinner has evaporated, rather than cure. 

Why do some people use lacquer thinner for enamel paints?

Lacquer thinner is a preference of some airbrush painters because of its faster drying times and local availability.

Lacquer thinners are a good idea to use if:

  1. You are in an area where it’s hard to find hobby shops that sell enamel thinners. Your local hardware stores will most likely stock lacquer thinners.
  2. You need fast drying times. These solvents can cut your drying time by half. Some model car builders like to use it because it does not run or sag easily. You won’t have orange peel. And it leaves a shiny finish.
  3. You can get it at a lower cost. A gallon of this solvent will cost much less than the equivalent amount of hobby shop thinners. You can cut costs here and invest it in better kits.

Ideally, you should use the manufacturer brand thinner. However, these are expensive and hard to source. 

Tip: Don’t use lacquer thinners if you’re using acrylic single stage enamel or high-end paints. They won’t work. It’s better to go with the manufacturer’s recommended solvents.

Fun Fact: Lacquer thinners have other uses, too. They are great cleaners for paint! You can shoot some out of your airbrush to clean the nozzle tip from dried paint.

Final Verdict 

To brief, you CAN use lacquer thinners for enamels. However, it’s not the solvent that can give you the best results. But, it IS the solvent that can get your job done with more convenience!

If you want to use it instead of mineral spirits, make sure to get a lacquer thinner with suitable drying times. Mix in the thinner well and don’t use too much. Practice your technique from a distance that isn’t too far or too close. And then you will be on your way to a superfast drying finish!

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