Choosing Paint for Metal Surfaces

Lead Image
What You'll Need
Appropriate respirator
Adequate ventilation

Metal paints are available on the market in wide varieties. And come in a wide variety of colors and sizes. Such as the 10-liter plastic container of classic liquid paint or can meant for spray paint application, you have a lot of different choices.

While applying paint to metal surfaces isn’t a tough thing to do, the sheer volume of choices can make it hard to know what option is best. One question you should ask yourself before setting out is which type of paint is best for your metal surface, latex-based paint, or oil-based paint?

Latex-based Paint -


Latex paint has been around for a long time. It is a smart choice for many paint jobs because its color pigments are dissolved by water and not by spirits or turpentine, which both have very strong fumes. To add to its durability and to help it dry faster, manufacturers add acrylics, vinyl, or rubber-based compounds to latex paint; such additives are typically disclosed on labels. Additionally, latex paint can be cleaned easily, although it’s recommended to wait at least 30 days after application before attempting to do so. Latex is also non-flammable, easy to retouch, and can be applied on most surfaces, at times even without a primer. Furthermore, you can choose between a flat, glossy, or satin finish.


When it comes to switching up the color of metal surfaces, there are bigger disadvantages to latex paint than there are advantages. For starters, it is not as durable as oil-based paint, and some can actually rust metal if applied directly. Moreover, it doesn’t clean as well as oil-based paint. It does not always adhere well to glossy, smooth surfaces, which is a problem because most metals are, glossy and smooth.

Oil-based Paint -


Oil-based paints are arguably the better choice for painting metal. Although it can take longer to dry, when it is dry, it’s durable enough to resist stains, chips, and marks. While it easily covers surface imperfections, it also offers an easy-to-clean coat. Moreover, it might not need a primer depending on the specific brand and type. Oil-based paints range from high gloss to flat finishes.


Unfortunately, oil-based paint does fade much faster than latex-based paint, which may mean more frequent upkeep. Additionally, it can be a bit more expensive because of the solvents involved. Because these paints consist of alkyd resins thinned with turpentine, they can also be seen as more labor-intensive and less easy-to-use than latex-based alternatives. Oil-based paints are also flammable with strong fumes during the application process.

Using Primer

While certain types of paints in both categories don't require a coat of primer, you should make the extra effort to use primer when working with metal surfaces. A primer coat will not only help encourage paint adhering, which is needed on smooth surfaces like metals but also work in tandem with paints with rust-deterring additives - which is always appreciated when working with metal.

Type of Finish

Since different finishes vary in durability and resistance, you should make your decision based on how often you’ll be cleaning the metal surface after it’s painted. If the surface does not need frequent or regular washing, you can use the flat or matte finish, but if the surface needs frequent cleaning, you should go for a glossier finish.

A semi-gloss finish allows for the safe use of water, soap, and sponges. In fact, this finish has the highest durability when applied in two or more coats.