Easier to work with. Lacquers offer simple formulas in a single stage format which require less work for the painter to mix, maintain, and apply with consistency. This simplicity also makes custom paint work applications easier to perform.
Quicker drying time. This helps eliminate the problem of runs or sags developing while applying coats and lessens the chance that an airborne contaminant will attract and attach to the surface. If these problems do occur it isn't necessary to wait long before wiping or sanding imperfections away.
More economical. Lacquer materials are less expensive on a one to one basis compared to automotive acrylic enamels.
Availability of factory original colors. Most all original paint colors applied to cars before acrylic enamels were standardized are not currently available in anything except lacquer formulas.


Environmentally unfriendly. Up to 85% of a lacquer paint's chemical makeup may be released into the atmosphere through evaporation while spraying and drying.
Lacquer dulls while drying. Buffing and polishing are required to bring out the gloss qualities of lacquer unless a clearcoat is specifically used.
Susceptible to damage from environmental conditions. This refers to weathering and exposure to sunlight that can affect the appearance of a paint finish. For the typical display model, these conditions are not applicable.


Solvent base hobby enamels are formulated specifically for use with plastic. The formulations do not contain hot solvents that might otherwise be incompatible with plastics and other modeling materials and are also not as toxic or flammable as acrylic lacquer. These paints are good overall and are readily available. When compared to acrylic lacquer in applying a gloss finish, however, solvent hobby enamels fail to measure up in the following major areas:

Longer drying time. This can prove to be most noticeable and frustrating if you have problems with airborne contaminants being attracted to the surface you are spraying. The fact that the paint takes longer to dry increases your chances of contaminants getting onto the paint. It's also a longer wait if you wish to sand away surface imperfections before proceeding with further coats. Even if you apply a perfect finish with absolutely no orange peel you may have to wait up to a week before you can handle the material and proceed with assembling your model, and perhaps up to two weeks if you plan on rubbing out the finish with a polishing kit.

Lacquer's inherent rapid evaporation lessens the chance of airborne contaminants marring your surface while you are painting. If imperfections do occur they can be removed almost immediately from light coats of lacquer. For heavier coats it only takes about 15 - 20 minutes drying time before you can safely sand away imperfections and proceed with further coats. A similar dilemma with an enamel finish can have you waiting overnight or longer before you could attempt to sand the surface.

Consider just how many coats you usually apply to a finish under these circumstances. If you find yourself often having to remove surface imperfections or trying to avoid removing them by covering them up with more coats of paint you are probably spending a lot of time painting, or you are painting with less success than you are hoping to achieve. It would not be out of context to say that a successful painting and polishing process of an enamel finish on a car body can take up to a month or more. 6 - 8 coats of lacquer followed by 6 - 8 coats of clear can be applied in 2 days and handled the next day afterward. About 5 - 7 days later it can be rubbed out with a polishing kit. The time saving advantage of lacquer is dramatically apparent.

Poorer gloss quality. Personally, I have viewed many, many contest quality models that have been meticulously rubbed out with all orange peel removed and have been polished to a spectacular shine. Regardless of how well built the model is or how reputable the builder, I have never seen an enamel finish with a level of gloss quality comparable to a similarly treated lacquer finish - bar none. Photos in magazines may look convincing, but viewed side by side in person the differences in quality are clearly visible. Devotees of hobby enamels may disagree when they read this, especially if they've never worked with lacquer. I attend modeling events nationwide and welcome anyone who meets me to prove me wrong.

Wait! Don't change the channel! I do not at all intend for that statement to sound lofty. It's not a modeler's skill I'm referring to but rather the chemistry of the materials themselves. Simply stated, the resins and polymers in lacquer hold the edge over enamel by providing better gloss through its chemical component design. Any modeler could apply his skills equally to an enamel or lacquer finish and should readily be able to see the difference. Those modelers who are able to attain a level of quality with an enamel finish approaching that of lacquer would likely have spent a substantially greater amount of time and effort to do so, although in my experience I have yet to see any enamel finish surpass the quality of lacquer. 

Less durable. This is closely related to the reasons discussing enamel's poorer gloss quality. A harder, more durable surface allows polishing materials, whether they're sanding cloths or liquid polishes, to better and more evenly smooth the surface of a finish. Again, the very chemical advantages of lacquer's resins and polymers are what's responsible. This is also a factor to consider over the course of time. Repeated cleaning of dirt and dust and polishing can wear down and diminish the qualities of an enamel finish far quicker than a lacquer finish.
More expensive. The differences here are dramatic and apply across the board. Compared side by side on average, mainstream hobby enamel paints are currently retail priced about three to five times higher than their premium quality lacquer counterparts. Enamel thinners as much as six to eight times higher than lacquer thinners. Some of this has to do with the cost of packaging, but not nearly enough to be responsible for these wide gaps in pricing.


The term "lacquer" applied to the label of a hobby paint product rarely, if ever, refers to the contents being a true lacquer formula. These are typically enamels that have instead been modified by being formulated with a different, sometimes harsher solvent base, quite often toluene or a toluene variant. For purposes of this tutorial, hobby lacquers can be included in the above comparisons since their properties are essentially the same as those of any conventional solvent based hobby enamel.


Hopefully it's apparent: lacquer = better, faster performance for less cost and effort. This is not to say that hobby enamels do not have their uses. They do provide decent results. I use them often myself and recommend them for brush and detail painting as well as airbrushing flat, semi-gloss, and metal appearance finishes. But when it comes to applying the ultimate gloss finish, lacquer has no peer.