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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?! We got you, my friend, let’s find out together if acrylic paint will actually stick to metal or withstand rain, and if so, how shall we proceed?

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 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. 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
  • Foil 
  • Tin cans 
  • Galvanized metal
  • 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:

Can You Use Acrylic Enamel Paint On Metal?

Yes! You can use acrylic enamel paint on metal and it will require priming and sealing. Craft water-based acrylic enamel paints have low odor and are non-hazardous, and you can use them for small DIY projects, but they are more popular for glass and ceramics than for metal. Commercial acrylic enamel is most often used for exterior works and will be good for garage doors or painting outdoor metal. 

Water-based acrylic enamel isn’t waterproof and requires a top coat to seal the painted metal, but if you opt for oil or lacquer-based enamel paint, you will get a more durable paint that is water and rot-resistant.    

For painting metal with acrylic enamel, choose Majic paint for large projects or Rust-Oleum enamel spray paint

To learn how to paint metal with acrylics, check our 7-step guide below.

Can You Use Outdoor Acrylic Paint On Metal?

Outdoor acrylic paint works perfectly on metal. You can easily paint metal doors, toolboxes, metal mailboxes, metal stairs or railings, and other metal surfaces that need to withstand sun, rain, or snow. Acrylic paint is water-based and becomes water-resistant when it dries.

If you wish to paint a small outdoor metal item, you can buy regular acrylic paint for arts and crafts, like self-sealing Arteza Outdoor Paint

will acrylic paint stick to metal

If you need to cover a larger area, let’s say a door or a wall, or just a metal sheet, buy special outdoor acrylic paint in large cans or gallon jars, like Krylon ColorMaxxx acrylic latex paint.

However, the fair point is that oil-based paints will be more durable for exterior metal. Rust-Oleum is the leader paint for painting outdoor metal. 

Can You Use Acrylic Spray Paint On Metal?

Acrylic spray and acrylic enamel spray paints like Krylon, Rust-Oleum, or Dupli Color can be used on metal, especially cars and bikes. 

spray paint on metal

Acrylic spray paints are best for painting large surfaces and make the process faster and with no brush strokes. All three brands Rust-Oleum acrylic spray paint, Dupli Color and Krylon COLORmaxx combine primer and paint, comes in various colors and require no sanding. Easy to apply! Some spray paints also come with cool effects like glitter

Painting Different Metal Surfaces With Acrylic Paint

Ok, we got it – it is possible to paint metal with acrylics, but all metal is different: there is aluminum, steel, and stainless steel, iron, copper, and galvanized metal. Are they all the same in terms of applying acrylic? 

If you already have enough information, jump straight to How to paint metal with acrylic guide.

Can You Use Acrylic Paint On Aluminum?

Can You Use Acrylic Paint On Aluminum

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 Galvanized Metal?

You can use acrylic paint on only well-sanded and specially primed galvanized metal. Think of a simple metal bucket: galvanized metal is covered in zinc to prevent rust, but the same protective layer will not let the paint stick. If we want the acrylic to adhere to galvanized steel or iron, we need to sand it off. Be mindful that by doing that, we technically destroy the rust-resistant layer of the metal. You may consider using rust-inhibiting metal paint or primer to protect the metal from damage.

Before you paint galvanized metal with acrylic or any other paint, wash it with T Wash Mordant Solution (not that easy to buy), ammonia, or a vinegar-based solution. This acid will neutralize the protective layer clinging to the galvanized metal and the eventual rust. This is a must to prevent paint from premature chipping and peeling. Some old galvanized metal parts may need sanding with tough 240-grit sandpaper

Only after can we apply the primer. The best primer for acrylic on galvanized metal is this Zillser Bullseye. Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch and Rust-Oleum spray paints are good acrylic paint for galvanized metal. 

Can You Use Acrylic Paint On Metal Outside?

Acrylic paint is durable and good for painting metal outside. Exterior acrylic paint will last long on outdoor metal surfaces if you will properly prime and protect the metal from rust and peeling. Many factors affect paint durability outdoors, including dust, rain, snow, UV rays, heat, direct sunlight, and temperature. But, with proper priming and painting, you can surely use acrylic paint for painting metal outside.

Choose weatherproof acrylic paint suitable for painting outdoor metal surfaces (read the label), or acrylic latex exterior paint.

Plus, if you use a good seal coat or clear coat on your acrylic painted metal project, this will act as a varnish for added protection, giving a special gloss and avoiding tarnish, lasting for 10 years or more.

If you are planning to paint metal parts that must be heat-resistant, like radiators or stoves, or repair your bbq set, use special paints like this Rust-Oleum Bar-B-Que paint.

Can You Use Acrylic Paint On Stainless Steel?

Acrylic paint is great for customizing and painting your stainless steel tumbler or other stainless steel items but not optimal for large or outside stainless steel areas. Small craft projects and indoor stainless steel can be painted with acrylics but you will have to prime the surface, otherwise, the paint will peel off.

To paint your favorite tumbler, get a good primer, regular acrylic paint or Krylon / Rust-Oleum spray paint, and a dishwasher-safe sealer to make it waterproof and safe to wash. You can do acrylic pouring on tumblers with an epoxy base, even with cheap paints like Craft Smart or Apple Barrel. If you want to try it, follow this video:

However, if we are talking of a large area of stainless steel, especially outside, it is better not to paint it at all. Because stainless steel needs to “breath” and gets oxygen to maintain the layer protecting it from corrosion. Priming and painting the stainless steel, we damage this layer and alter this process. For the outside stainless steel, it is recommended to use etch primer and epoxy-based paint – they will help to protect the steel. 

7 Easy Steps To Paint Metal With Acrylic Paint To Make It Stick

Now that we are all sure that we can paint on metal with acrylics, let’s do it! This guide follows the general way to paint metal surfaces and the essential supplies you may need. In short, you need to clean, sand, and prime the metal with 2 coats of good primer before painting with acrylics, then apply a few coats of acrylic paint, and finally sealing acrylic paint it with a top coat. That’s it! 

Will acrylic paint stick to metal?

Acrylic paints will only stick to metal but if we prime it before painting. With proper preparation and following the 7 Easy Steps below, it will surely stick and last for 5 to 10 years.

It is recommended to use a primer to let acrylic paint stick to the metal effectively as the primer helps acrylic paint adhere to the non-porous metallic surface. 

What kind of paint do you use on metal?

When we do metal painting, it is very important to consider using formulated paint for the metal used to prevent rust, and weather and make the paint last longer and stick better to the metal. While acrylics are great for metal, what are other paint we can use on metal, and which one is the best? 

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

will acrylic paint stick to metal

How to paint metal with acrylic paint

*you can click on each step to jump directly to it*

  1. Step 1 – Prepare your supplies and working area
  2. Step 2 – Clean the metal surface
  3. Step 3 – Sand it off
  4. Step 4 – One more cleaning
  5. Step 5 – Prime
  6. Step 6 – Painting several coats
  7. Step 7 – Seal and let dry

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)Supplies for painting outdoors and large areas on metal with acrylic/latex or enamel paint:
– Regular acrylic paint, even Apple Barrel
– Brush or foam brush for smoother application
– Primer (gesso)
– Top sealant (regular or special wash-safe like Mod-Podge)
Metal paint of your choice
– Primer, like Zillser Bullseye
– Top coat sealer
– Sandpapers and wire brush to remove dust 
Masking tape (width depending on the project)
– Roller or brush and a tray, or use sprayer. 

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. 

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

Most experts recommend two coats of primer to prevent the process of oxidation that affects metal and to make sure the paint will stick to it for a long period. The primed metal surface is protected from deterioration, corrosion, and rust. 

Top-3 primers for acrylic paint on metal:

  1. Zillser Bullseye is a water-based primer that kills stains and dries fast, and two coats are enough. Best overall for metals.
  2. Rust-Oleum sandable primer. A popular choice is a spray primer that comes in 12 oz. It also comes in different colors so you can match the priming color with the painting and also pick a color that will cover some rusted areas. Thus, a great choice for repainting furniture or fixtures that have been painted or are rusty. 
  3. INSL-X Stix – multi-surface primer will work even with galvanized metal. Great for indoors and outdoors, and combines primer and sealer. It is too much for craft projects, but it is a perfect choice for a serious metal painting job.  
how to prime metal before painting

How to prime metal before painting in 3 steps

Step 1. 

Make sure the metal is dry and clean. Cover to protect or remove any unwanted material or fixtures you do not intend to paint. Secure it properly, using a masking tape is a big help to save time and effort and to eliminate unwanted smears, drips, or any mess to your fixtures and floor; this is also good for bordering and edging you don’t want to paint on.

Step 2.*

Only for galvanized metal. To remove the protective zinc layer, use T Wash Mordant Solution, ammonia, or a vinegar-based solution (even homemade) and let it dry.

If you are working with any other type of metal, skip this step.

Step 3. 

Apply the first coat of the primer and let it dry for a few hours. It is best to use a roller for smooth and even application. If you are working on a vertical surface, don’t load the roller too much to avoid dripping and streaks.  

If you use a brush, work in long strokes, but don’t over one spot many times. Follow one direction and don’t press hard on the brush; for spraying, the best distance is 1 foot away.

Once the first coat is dry, apply the second layer. By doing two coats of primer, you are preventing the oxidation process that affects metal and protecting metal and paint from deterioration, corrosion, and rust for a long period.

Related: How to Prime Wood for Acrylic Painting

Can You Use Acrylic Paint On Metal Without Primer?

No. 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. “What kind of outcome do you want?” Is it good and lasting or just a temporary like a project base only? 

You can skip the priming if you are fine with temporary and don’t mind acrylic peeling off. Acrylic paint without priming usually starts to chip off within a few days or weeks. You must use a primer if you need acrylic paint to be permanent on metal. 

Use a primer to let the acrylic paint stick to the metal well, eliminate chipping, peeling, and cracking, and withstand rough weather conditions and harsh environments. 

Step 6 – Apply acrylic paint on metal

Whether you choose acrylic, latex, or water-based enamel paint, the directions will be pretty much the same:

  • use a roller or sprayer for a smoother finish.
  • apply thin layers and let them dry in between. It is better for drying and preventing cracking. Usually, two coats will be enough, and some paints only require one like Rust-Oleum Combicolor.
  • 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 – Protective sealant

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 use acrylic spray or liquid seal (can be called coat seal, clear coat, top coat, or coat finisher). This will make your outdoor painting resistant and durable.

what do you use to seal acrylic paint on metal

The best sealer for acrylic paint on metal:

  1. 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. Krylon crystal clear sealer is also a spray sealer in an 11 oz can. Amazing quality works on any surface and dries within a few hours.
  3. For heavy projects, Gorilla Waterproof patch and seal liquid or POR-15 top coat may be the answer. They can equally work without any underpainting and will make sure the surfaces is dead sealed.  

Can You Bake Acrylic Paint On Metal?

You can seal acrylic paint on metal by baking it at 150+ degrees Fahrenheit (around 65C) in your oven. Do not exceed 300F (150C), though. Otherwise, acrylic will melt or burn. Baking painted metal speeds up the curing time, but it is only suitable for small items you can place in the oven, like Top Gun fighter plane miniature diecast model. 

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

Painting metal with acrylic FAQ

Can You Use Acrylic Paint On Painted Metal?

Yes! You can use acrylic paints on already painted metal. You can renovate your patio furniture, gutters, grills, gates, etc. 

Since it has existing paint already, make sure that the metal surface to be painted is free from any dirt, loose or old paint peeling, and rust. Use a steel brush and clean it properly and sandpaper as needed, then clean it with water with liquid soap, then let it dry. Then the general rule of painting metal applies two coats of primer, painting, and two coats of sealant. 

Can You Use Acrylic Paint On Tin Cans?

You can paint with acrylic paints on tin cans; as of today, many people are enjoying this decorative craft. This is fun and affordable! The secret key to painting tinware is to properly prime the surface so that your artwork will last for many years. Two coats of primer are best. The best acrylic paint to paint tin cans is Apple Barrel and Folk Art.

Can I Use Acrylic Paint On A Metal Mailbox?

You can paint and repaint the metal mailbox with acrylics, but you have to prime it first to make the paint stick to it and apply a top sealing coat to make it permanent and weatherproof.

Can You Use Apple Barrel Acrylic Paint On Metal?

Apple Barrel acrylic paints are the go-to choice for metal tumblers and cans and small metal craft projects! Matte finish works better for metal surfaces as it hides all imperfections. To be fair, Apple Barrel works on a variety of surfaces, including paper, styrofoam, plastic, clay, and many more.

These are non-toxic water-based paint and if you wish to protect the painted item, use an acrylic sealer over the dried paint. 

Related: Best Acrylic Paint: 21 Brands Reviewed for Beginners [From Cheap to Pro]

Can You Use Tamiya Acrylic Paint On Metal?

Both spray and acrylic paint from Tamiya Color can be used on metal and are great choices for metal models, even though the can says “for plastic”. The manufacturer confirms that primers and paints will work both on plastic and metal. These are formulated from water-soluble acrylic resins and are excellent for brush and airbrush painting. It still requires a primer before painting on metal.

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!