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Alkyd Enamel: Everything You Need To Know

Enamel paint has a glossy and durable finish great for areas of your home such as trim, kitchen cabinets, and doors. Enamels stand up well to use since they have a hard and scratch-resistant
surface. They are often used in areas such as kitchens and bathrooms since they are water-
resistant and washable.

There are two different types of commonly used enamels: traditional alkyd enamels and hybrid enamels. Traditional enamels are oil-based and smooth. Hybrid enamels use waterborne alkyd technology. This gives them the finish of oil-based paint with the easy application of water-
based paint.

Either type will work for a DIY home painting project, but you should know the pros and cons of each variety. Here’s everything you need to know about what alkyd enamel paint is and how to use it.

Traditional Alkyd Enamel

Conventional alkyd enamel is known as oil-based paint. Traditional alkyd enamels are incredibly
glossy, self-evening, and smooth. They’re often described as having a mirror-like finish, which makes them perfect for cabinets.

However, the chemical solvents release high levels of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) which are toxic to people and contribute to carbon dioxide emissions. This makes them a less popular choice than some water-based enamel options.

Alkyd enamel is made of alkyd resins in a chemical solvent. It dries as the solvent base
evaporates, which leaves behind the alkyd resins. These resin s cure as they air dry and oxidize,
which leaves very durable and glossy finish to the paint.

Traditional alkyd enamels can be used anywhere that needs a durable and glossy paint.
Cabinets, doors, and trim are often painted with alkyd enamels. One good option for traditional alkyd enamel is Valspar Oil-Based Door and Trim Paint.

Pros of Conventional Alkyd Enamel:

  • Incredibly durable and resistant to wear
  • Glossy, mirror-like finish
  • Self-evening and smooth during the painting process
  • Washable and water-resistant once cured

Cons of Conventional Alkyd Enamel:

  • High levels of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) which contribute to carbon dioxide emissions
  • Can yellow with heat and age, like most oil-based paints
  • Requires paint thinner to clean up

Hybrid Alkyd Enamel

Hybrid alkyd enamels bring together the best of water-based paints with the best of oil-based
paints. They use waterborne alkyd technology, so that the alkyd resins are suspended in a
water base rather than a chemical solvent.

Hybrid alkyd enamels are usually odorless and can be cleaned with soap and water. They still have the popular characteristics of traditional alkyd enamels. They’re smooth and self-leveling
with a glossy and durable finish. Hybrid enamels have excellent adhesion and are washable.

Basically, all hybrid alkyd enamels have the advantages of both oil-based and water-based
formulas. They have similar application and appearance to oil-based enamel. However, they are
more environmentally friendly due to low VOC levels.

You’ll often find hybrid enamels with a blend of alkyd and acrylic or urethane resins. This
provides added hardness and reduced yellowing to the paint. It does not affect the application
process of the paint.

Hybrid enamels can be used just like traditional alkyd enamels. They are a good choice for trim,
cabinets, and doors. Some good hybrid enamels include ProClassic Acrylic Alkyd Enamel and
Hybrid Urethane Alkyd Enamel. Benjamin Moore Advance is a great option for painting kitchen

Pros of Hybrid Enamel

Durable and resistant to wear
Very hard and glossy finish
Self-evening and smooth during painting, just like conventional alkyd enamels
Washable and water-resistant when cured
Low VOCs compared to traditional alkyd enamels
Clean up with soap and water

Cons of Hybrid Enamel

Sometimes has a less hard finish than oil-based enamel
Some varieties are less glossy than oil-based enamel

What to Use Enamel Paint For

Modern Grey Cabinets Enameled using Alkyd Enamel

Enamel paints have a durable and glossy finish that is water-resistant. This makes them a great
choice to paint heavy-use areas of your home. Try using enamel paint for the following areas.

  • Kitchen and Bathrooms
  • Cabinets
  • Trim or baseboards
  • Windows and doors
  • Heavy-use furniture such as dressers or chairs
  • Metal furniture or appliances

How to Apply Alkyd Enamel Paint

Enamel paint is thicker and more viscous than most interior latex paints. It can be tricky to
apply if you’ve never used it before.

The same process can be used to apply traditional alkyd enamels and to apply hybrid enamel
paints. Both paints have a very similar feel during painting and finish, with the exception that
hybrid enamels are easier to clean up.

The Materials You’ll Need to Apply Alkyd Enamel Paint
You’ll want to select the right materials for applying enamel paint. Decide whether you want to
use a hybrid enamel or traditional alkyd enamel. Keep the following tips in mind as you choose
your materials.

  • Hybrid enamel paint has fewer VOCs and has come a long way, but alkyd enamel paint is
  • traditionally regarded as slightly more durable.
  • Choose a stiff-bristled paintbrush that can spread thick enamel paint. Be sure the brush
  • is clean.
  • Choose the right primer for the type of enamel you are applying. Oil-based primers tend
  • to work best with enamel paint because they seal the wood of cabinets and trim, so the
  • enamel can adhere well.

If you’re painting cabinets, doors, or trim with enamel paint, you’ll need the following materials.

  • Paintbrushes
  • Primer
  • Sandpaper or sanding sponges
  • Drop cloths or old sheets
  • Painter’s tape
  • Enamel paint: ProClassic Acrylic Alkyd Enamel, Urethane Alkyd Enamel, and Valspar Oil-Based Door and Trim Paint are good options.
  • Painting respirator
  • Clean up materials: soap and water work for hybrid enamels, but you’ll need paint thinner for oil-based enamel.

Applying Alkyd Enamel Paint

Whether you’re painting cabinets, doors, trim, or something else the process for applying
enamel paint remains relatively similar.

  • Find out how much paint you’ll need and gather all of your materials.
  • Choose a well-ventilated area to avoid inhaling chemicals and toxins. This is more important for traditional alkyd enamels than for hybrid enamels. Alkyd enamels have higher levels of VOCs, so you may want to use a painting respirator when applying them.
  • Lay down drop cloths or sheets to protect the area you are painting. Tape around trim and baseboards.
  • If whatever you are painting already has a coat of paint, remove it with a paint stripper.
  • Prep the surface you’ll be painting. Sand the surface, working up to finer grits. Clean and prime the surface.
  • For best results, you should usually apply two coats of enamel paint. If you can, give the enamel 24 hours to completely dry in between coats.
  • If any paint is splattered or spilled, clean it up as soon as you can. It is very difficult to remove when dried.
  • Be sure to properly dispose of any leftover paint.

Enamel paint usually requires 8-24 hours in between coats so it can dry completely. To be safe, wait the entire 24 hours. Water-based hybrid enamels may dry a little faster. Try to avoid heavy use until the paint is fully cured, within one or two weeks.

How to Avoid Brush Marks When Using Alkyd Enamel

If you’re new to using enamel paint, you may wonder how to avoid brush marks and make the paint level. There are a few ways to make this happen.

Because enamel paint has such a smooth and glossy finish, it can draw attention to imperfections in the surface you’ve painted. If you’re painting wood cabinets or trim, be sure to follow the natural grain of the wood. You may want to use a wood grain filler for a perfectly smooth finish.

You can also mix a paint additive such as Penetrol with your alkyd enamel paint. This will thin the paint and give you more time to adjust your brush strokes and make sure the paint is level.

Remember to tip off the paint on the last coat. Tilt the brush and drag it the entire length of the surface. This will help hide any imperfections and minimize brush marks. This is especially important when painting long surfaces such as doors.

Now you’ve learned everything you need to choose the right alkyd enamel paint for your painting project. Next time you’re using alkyd enamel, remember these tips for a perfect finish.

Ready To Learn More?

Check out our Painting Kitchen Cabinets hub page for everything you could want to know about cabinet painting including costs, how-tos, reviews, and more.


Friday 18th of February 2022

I’ve used Behr satin urethane alkyd enamel paint to redo a few dining chairs and table. I have few questions-

1. Can I varnish over the paint? 2. Should I wait for it to cure before varnishing? 3. How long does it take to cure? 4. Is ie even necessary to varnish?


Wednesday 23rd of February 2022

1 - Yes 2 - Yes 3 - Couple hours to dry, overnight is long enough to wait before going over it. 4 - No it is not necessary. This finish is made to be a top coat, you do not need to apply a top coat over it unless there is a specific reason for it.


Sunday 13th of February 2022

Has anyone tried the Zinsser SmartCoat? (The paint, not the primer)


Wednesday 23rd of February 2022

I have not tried out Smart Coat, but it is on my future review list.


Sunday 22nd of August 2021

Using Benjamin Moore Aura, which is self leveling, can I start cutting in one day and finish the walls the next, or best to do all in one shot to ensure everything blends well?


Tuesday 24th of August 2021

You'd probably be ok doing it over two days, but if you can do it the same day, you're likely better off.

Jeff McDonald

Friday 2nd of April 2021

Ryan: 1.) how often do you paint the interior of the cabinets in rather than just the doors,drawr facings, edges and facing? And2.) how much time would you budget per door (initial sanding, priming, sanding and cleaning between each coat with two top coats) i used to pAint professionally for about 12 years, but have never tackled kitchen cabinets. I have 28 cabinet doors. Just wondering if combined time is like a total of about 1 hour per door. I have a good garage workspace with sawhorses and 2x6’s to create a “factory” line and am in no rush to flip between coats.


Monday 5th of April 2021

Hi Jeff,

I probably paint the insides of the cabinets one in every 10-15 jobs. Personally, I hate painting the insides of the cabinets due to over-spray blow back. It all blows back in my face and there isn't a good way around this. But that's just a personal thing, there are no issues with painting the insides.

Time estimate per door. Probably 30 minutes on the low end and 60 on the high end. Should be somewhere in that range.


Tuesday 9th of February 2021

Hi, Ryan. Hope you can help. We have a good quality wooden toilet seat which we would like to repaint, i.e. the seat and lid. The American websites all say that, for this job, Alkyd Interior Enamel paint is perfect, as it sticks well to wood & provides a harder, more durable finish - perfect for a loo seat! Would you agree with that? (We shall prime it first with a Zinsser BIN stain blocking paint). Would love your advice.


Tuesday 9th of February 2021

Hi Marian, I can honestly say that I have never painted a toilet seat. But I don't see any reason why an Alkyd interior enamel wouldn't hold up well. Just clean the seat good, sand it down, prime it, and give it a couple of good top coats and I would think it would do just fine.