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Can You Use Acrylic Paint on Metal?

Is there a can of acrylic paint sitting in your garage?

This is that time of the year when a little home project sounds good; why don’t we paint a mailbox or garage door?

Acrylics are well-known for durability and nice colors on canvas and walls, but can you use acrylic paint on metal, or did you get excited all for nothing?!

Yes! You can use acrylic paints on metal, steel, aluminum, and metal furniture. To make sure acrylic sticks to metal, you must prime the cleaned metal surface and seal the painted area afterward. This way, acrylic paint will last long on metal indoors and outdoors.

You don’t need to be an expert on this; just follow our 7 steps on How To Use Acrylic Paint On Metal Properly. The process is beginner-friendly, and we will also include the supplies list for painting metal with acrylic. Let’s dive in! 

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can you use acrylic paint on metal

Can you use acrylic paint on metal?

You can paint metal with acrylics or acrylic enamel paints only if you properly primed the area you wish to paint.

Ordinary acrylic paint without priming won’t stick to metal and will peel off or crack as metal is a non-porous surface and acrylic simply doesn’t have room to penetrate.

If your project is temporary, then you can skip priming and just have fun 🙂 

To make acrylics permanent on metal, especially for outdoor projects, you must seal the acrylic-painted metal area with a top coat.

A protective finish guarantees that acrylic on metal will last, will be waterproof and weatherproof, as well as permanent, once dried. 

With proper priming, you can use acrylic paint on many metal projects:

  • Metal decorative and artworks
  • Metal stairs and railings
  • Outdoor metal tables and chairs for patio
  • Metal garage doors, gates, and fences
  • Metal shelves
  • Metal tumblers
  • Metal lids
  • Fixtures
  • Die-cast model
  • Aluminum frames
  • Foil 
  • Tin cans 
  • Stainless steel

And so much more.

You CAN NOT use acrylic paint on cast iron as there is a peeling and rust risk.

Related Posts:

What kind of acrylic paint do you use on metal?

  • Water-based paints, like acrylic enamel, acrylic, and latex paint, work well on metal, both indoor and outdoor, and are one of the most popular options. For small craft projects, you can use regular acrylic paint and craft paints. 

The best paint for metal crafts are Apple Barrel and Folk Art for indoors and Arteza Outdoor Paint for outdoor crafts.

I do not recommend trying to paint on galvanized metal with acrylics.

painting on metal with acrylic paint

Step 1 – Gathering Supplies

What do you need to use acrylic paint on metal:

Supplies for painting on metal just for crafts (metal tumbler, frames, small items)
– Regular acrylic paint, even Apple Barrel, but for outdoor projects choose Arteza Outdoor paint
– Brush or foam brush for smoother application
– Primer (gesso)
– Top sealant (regular or special wash-safe like Mod-Podge)

It is always a good idea to get some soapy water and cloth by your side in case you spill some paint.

If you have sensitive eyes or skin or working with materials labeled toxic, please wear eye goggles, gloves, and a mask or respirator. 

Prepare the working area, and cover the floors or walls if you don’t want them to be painted, as acrylics are hard to remove once dried.

For large spaces, you can use drop cloths. If you are working on walls or doors, gutters, and other delicate areas, use masking tape to get smooth lines and cover areas you don’t need to paint.

Step 2 – Cleaning

Remove all unwanted dirt, rust, and old paint from the metal surface using a steel brush or water and soap.

  • If you are working with galvanized or stainless steel you will have to use solvents here as we need something to break down the protective layer of such treated metals. 
  • If working with aluminum, it may also require etching with 5% lye solution (100 ml of water and add 5 grams of sodium hydroxide (caustic soda)).

But to be honest I paint aluminum without etching it and the acrylic paint sticks well.

Alcohol wipes help a lot with cleaning metal.

Let it dry completely. 

Step 3 – Sanding

Treated metals, like stainless steel or galvanized metal, need to be sanded.

If your metal surface is rough or rusty, you should also sand it before painting to make sure acrylic paint will stick to it. 

  • For rust and to break protective layers or get off old dried paint, use 220-240-grit sandpaper.
  • If you just want to achieve extra smoothness use fine grit sandpaper

Step 4 – Cleaning one more time

Clean the metal surface using the bucket with water and liquid soap, then let it dry.

Once it dried, ensure you get rid of all dirt and rough spots or rust. If not, repeat steps 2 and 3. 

 Step 5 – Priming

Note that you can’t use acrylic paint on metal without a primer, especially if you want to paint galvanized metal. Behind the question, there is a real and greater question.

The primed metal surface is protected from deterioration, corrosion, and rust.

Gesso is a universal primer for acrylic painting and for simple crafts, including those on metal.

Related: How to Prime Wood for Acrylic Painting

Step 6 – Apply acrylic paint on metal

Here are some tips for better application of acrylic paint on metal:

  • use a roller or sprayer for a smoother finish. Some acrylic colors cannot be sprayed, for ex., colors that are called Cadmium.
  • apply thin layers and let them dry in between. It is better for drying and preventing cracking.
  • if you are painting outdoors, rain and sun are not your friends. Wait for a rather cloudy day. 
  • if you are painting stainless steel tumbler, 3 coats of paint work best.
  • For painting small crafts, you can use stencils or work free-hand if you don’t want it to be just one color flat surface. 

Step 7 – Seal Acrylic Paint on Metal

When the paint is dry, apply 2 coats of sealant over acrylic paint on metal.

It will waterproof and weatherproof the paint on metal, making your project last for many years.

Avoid gloss finish as it highlights all imperfections.

What do you use to seal acrylic paint on metal?

To protect and waterproof paint on metal, you can:

  1. Use a spray sealer like Aleene’s sealer is an acrylic spray sealant that creates a clear protective layer and can work for indoor and outdoor craft projects because it is only a 6 oz spray can.
  2. Bake the item at 150+ degrees Fahrenheit (around 65C) in your oven.
  3. If you choose baking as your way to go, first, bake primed metal items for about 20 minutes BEFORE painting. Let it cool, paint it, and then bake again, maintaining the temperature between 150-200F (65C-90C). If it gets too hot, you will see bubbles, and the paint won’t dry. 

Related: Bakeable Acrylic Paint Guide for Ceramics and Glass & 4 Best Bakeable Paints

How Long Does Acrylic Paint Take To Dry On Metal?

Acrylic paint will dry on metal in an average of 24-48 hours, depending on the applications and environment, if there is direct sunlight and good ambient air. 

Thin applications of acrylic paint on metal and small craft projects may dry within 20-30 minutes or a couple of hours, whereas thicker applications and large areas will take up to 48 hours to dry. 

You can bake small painted metal items in the oven to speed up the process. 

Related post: How Long Does Acrylic Paint Take to Dry? 30 Brands Drying Time

I Tested Acrylic Paint On Aluminum – Results

Can You Use Acrylic Paint On Aluminum
I tested acrylic paint on a piece of aluminum window frame

Yes, you can paint aluminum with acrylic paint. Latex acrylic or acrylic paints with satin or matte finish stick well to aluminum and are often used to paint patio furniture.

Both liquid or spray acrylic paint will work for painting aluminum.

If the aluminum you need to paint is outside, don’t forget to apply at least two coats of good sealer – acrylic or enamel sealers work well over acrylic paint. 

Clean aluminum and prime it properly, so that acrylic paint will stick to it permanently and prevent it from being prematurely chipped or faded. 

Priming with gesso doesn’t really matter, I didn’t see a big difference in coverage and color vibrancy. Only for transparent colors maybe Gesso is better.

If you want to make a small craft on aluminum indoors, you can use regular acrylic paint and seal it with Mod Podge.

Without sealing you will be able to easily peel the paint off the aluminum.

Here the right part is not sealed, while the left part is sealed and intact after my attempt to scrape it:

can you use acrylic paint on aluminum
Sealed and not sealed areas of my test

Similarly, regular acrylic paint, even Apple Barrel, will work on tin cans and mailboxes. However, I would not rely on its durability because it is not very resistant to scratching.

Related: Best Acrylic Paint Reviewed for Beginners [From Cheap to Pro]

Final words

You probably thought that acrylic painting on metal projects is an impossible endeavor.

I hope, that following my simple guide on how to properly prepare, prime, and seal your acrylic paint on metal can simplify this overwhelming process and make this project a success, and might, later on, push you to paint your favorite tumbler or repaint your outdoor furniture.

And don’t forget to prime! 😉 If you have any questions pleas ask in the comments below.