Have some of the metal items around your home become tarnished, discolored, or rusted over the years? Do you wish your dull appliances or outdoor furniture could shine like new again? Metal wears out in time, but a fresh coat of paint could help you transform outdated metal fast. You’re probably wondering, “how can you use acrylic paint on metal surfaces?”
You can use acrylics for painting metal. But the steps you take may vary based on your project. Most metal painting experiences include priming and sealing the surface, depending on the metal. You also need to ensure you use the right paint type for your project.
In this article, we’ll explore what paints you can use on metal and dive into some of the variances. We’ll even explain the steps to prime, paint, and seal.
Can Acrylic Paint Be Used on Metal?
Acrylic is a multipurpose paint that you can apply to a wide array of surface types. You can use acrylic paints on metal for a variety of fun projects, including:
- Wall decor
- Scrap metal art
Some DIY projects around the home may also involve painting metal, such as:
- Bed posts
- Outdoor furniture
- Fences and railings
- Handles or door knockers
No matter which project you tackle first, painting metal involves a bit of upfront preparation. The steps you take to prime and seal the paint into the surface will vary based on the type of metal you use.
For example, many acrylic paints for outdoor items come in a spray can and already have a sealant built-in. In other words, they don’t require you to seal the paint. On the other hand, old metal items with rust may require a special primer layer.
What Kind of Paint Can You Use on Metal?
There are three main paint options for your metal project:
- Oil paint: Oils are great for covering outdoor metal surfaces without primer, but the paints cost much more than water-based paints.
- Acrylic paint: Water-based acrylics are ideal for painting indoor metal surfaces. They dry faster than other options but require priming and sealing the paint.
- Spray paint: Spray paint works well on metal and is great for beginners, but the paint does not last as long as other paint options.
Ordinary acrylic paint works for most metal projects. Although you don’t need acrylic paint specifically for metal, the sealant and primer should match your paint choice.
Acrylic paints come in oil or water bases and spray cans or regular containers. Some are for outdoor use or application with metal. Specialized varieties even fend off extreme heat. Check the paint container for the best use recommendations.
Can I Use Acrylic Paint on Metal without a Primer?
While you can apply oil paint directly to a metal surface, acrylic paints typically require you to prime the metal first. The primary reason revolves around moisture and rust. Primer also allows the paint to stick to the slick surface properly.
Acrylic paint is porous, which can sometimes have water-resistant elements, but overall is not waterproof. The water in the paint also means you must first prime the metal or risk rusting the material over-time. The water exposure eats away at the paint and causes rust problems.
However, some metals like stainless steel don’t require a primer. The material is created to prevent oxidation and rust, so there is no worry. Traditional metals with the surface exposed to the elements are the only ones that come with extra care.
Sealing Acrylic Paint on Metal
Acrylic paint is not waterproof, so you need a sealer to add water-resistance after painting metal. Varnishes or sealers are ideal for the task. They bring a waterproof and scruff-proof seal to the newly painted surface, protecting it for many years to come.
Most sealers come in a spray varnish or a sealer you paint on the metal.
How to Paint Metal with Acrylic
Before you paint with acrylics, prepare your work area. Safety requirements call for ventilation when you’re painting. You’ll also want to protect your surroundings by laying down a drop cloth or newspaper. Keep a cleaning rag nearby to wipe away any spills.
Protect yourself with gloves and wear an apron or protective clothing as well. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission warns that some of the ingredients in solvent-based acrylics are toxic to inhale. Make sure to wear a mask and work somewhere with proper ventilation, like outside or in a garage. If you have to paint inside, open a window.
Another safety concern is the metal itself. If there is a chance the item you want to paint could contain lead, you absolutely need to wear protective clothing and take precautions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says lead is absorbed into the human body whether you breathe, swallow, or absorb it, causing a range of negative health effects.
Using acrylic paint on metal may seem complicated, but the process is less intimidating than it seems. Use these step-by-step instructions to transform your metal project.
Step 1: Gather Your Materials
Start by collecting the materials you need. First, prepare your work area. Clean any dust or debris away and protect the surface. We’ll look at preparing the metal’s surface next.
Collect the following:
- Drop cloth
- Cleaning rags
- Painter’s tape
- Cleaning spray
- Face mask
- Wire brush
- 150-grit sandpaper
- Acrylic paint
You’ll also want to prepare the metal. Remove any fixtures you want to avoid painting.
Keep in mind that the acrylic paint you purchase may vary based on your project as well. Acrylic spray paints produce a smooth and even look easily. But if you’re painting an outdoor metal piece, you’ll need paint for exterior or outdoor use.
Step 2: Remove Old Paint and Rust
Once you have all the materials, use a wire brush to scrape the entire metal surface you plan to plaint. Remove any old paint, residue, or rust. The stiff bristles come in varying sizes, so the brush should take care of any hard-to-reach crevices. Pick the brush size best for your project.
Scrub the entire metal surface clean. Use a damp cloth to clean the particles as you work.
Step 3: Sand the Metal
When you cover the metal surface entirely with the metal brush, move on to smoothing it with the fine-grit sandpaper. 150-grit sandpaper removes any remaining rust or paint. You’re ready for the following step when the surface is smooth.
You could also trade in the wire brush and sandpaper for a cordless drill. If you have experience with power tools, look for a wire brush attachment to strip the paint from a large surface in less time. Wear ear protection with a drill.
Step 4: Clean the Metal
Next, clean the metal. You should see dust and debris from scraping and sanding the material. Clean this as thoroughly as possible with soap and water. A cleaning rag should be plenty for the freshly scraped surface. Allow the metal to completely dry.
Some people also like to clean the metal with alcohol wipes instead of a cloth with soapy water. Both are effective ways to clean before you paint.
If the metal is still dirty, you can use a cleaning solvent to break down stubborn residue, grease, or tiny dust particles. Look for a cleaning solvent for cleanup after painting for the best results.
Never skip this step, even if the metal appears clean to the naked eye. You want the surface as spotless as possible. If you fail to clean the metal enough, the paint job could come out looking lousy or peel off quickly.
Galvanized metal especially requires proper cleaning. The material’s surface tends to hold oils that you probably won’t notice by looking at it. The oils need to be fully removed with a detergent solution for new galvanized metal.
Step 5: Prime the Surface
When the metal is clean and dry, prime the surface. The steps you take may vary based on the primer you select. There are spray or liquid primers, so follow the instruction on the label for the steps you take to apply them. Shake spray cans for at least two minutes before use.
Make sure your primer is for use with acrylic paint and metals. A usual oil-based primer works well. Any primer products made for metal perform the best. When you know for sure the primer is safe, start applying it to the surface.
You’ll want to apply two even coats of the primer, allowing it to dry for at least two hours between coats. Two coats protect the metal from the oxidation process, corrosion, and damage from exposure to the elements over time. It also helps the paint stick.
Drying times may vary based on the product you use. Follow the information and instructions on the can for details on using it safely.
If the metal is full of rust, apply a zinc-chromate primer first, followed by a regular acrylic paint primer. This is only necessary with rust. Only start priming the surface with the zinc-chromate if you are ready to apply the full-body primer immediately after. The zinc-chromate should act as a first layer to better adhere to the primer.
Step 6: Apply the Acrylic Paint
After your metal is primed and fully dry, apply the paint. Painting indoors items works well with regular acrylic paint. But make sure to buy exterior paint for the outdoors.
Acrylic paint also comes in spray or liquid form. You may use a paintbrush to coat the metal or spray from a can following the bottle’s directions. If you use spray acrylic paint, check the label to see if it requires a sealant after painting.
Whichever you choose, use at least two even coats of paint and allow them to dry between coats completely. Spray paint may take up to seven thin coats. Double-check the dry time for your specific product.
If you use a paintbrush, be careful not to load the bristle with too much paint. Doing so may cause a messy and thick coat of paint.
You can use painter’s tape to mark off any part of the surface you don’t want to apply the paint. If you’re using multiple colors, tape out the sections and wait for the first color to dry before moving forward. You could also paint the first coat with one color and cover the second with another color, like applying a logo or lettering to a metal object.
When you’re done painting, set it in a safe place to dry. Wait at least 48 hours before you touch the newly painted item.
Step 7: Seal the Paint (Optional)
Sealing acrylic paint on metal is not always required. Traditional metals or those under constant exposure to the elements require a primer. However, exterior paints and some spray acrylic paints already have a sealer in them, so there’s no need to seal them again.
Whether your metal requires a sealer or not, you can also use it to add a glossy finish to your project. The sealer also provides longer-lasting protection.
There are many sealant types. They each come with a different formulation. Most options are clear, but some may offer stains in varying colors. Sealants for painted metal include sprays or liquids. Metal sealants typically work with:
Look for the sealant that’s right for the surface you want to paint. Check for the performance properties on the bottle.
Before sealing the metal, make sure the surface is free from dirt, oil, grease, or rust. Apply the sealant according to the directions on the label. Allow it to dry before utilizing the item.
The Best Paints, Primers, and Sealers for Metal
So which paints, primers, and sealants are worth your hard-earned money? Here are some of the best products for metal.
All the rules surrounding the paint type you use for your project can become confusing. But learning how to properly prime, paint, and seal acrylic paint to metal is worth the effort. Your newly painted objects are sure to last for years.
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