Which Paint and Primers Can I Use on Aluminum?

Painting aluminum comes with its own set of challenges. Luckily, there are now thousands of paints you can use for this material.

Still, you should learn which paints especially adhere to aluminum as this material is part of the non-ferrous genus.

Aluminum is a non-ferrous metal. It has a malleable nature which is why it has diverse uses from pipes, to sidings, or trim. Its non-ferrous profile is part of the same category as copper and zinc.

This being said, aluminum can be painted properly just as ferrous metals.

Non-ferrous acrylic metal paint is best for aluminum. 100% acrylic paints are considered a better choice than alkyd paints for aluminum. Acrylic paint is applied directly on aluminum surfaces or together with an aluminum primer such as a universal metal primer or a water-based primer.

Non-ferrous metal paint (aluminum, copper, stainless steel, and zinc)

Non-ferrous metal paint is the recommended type of paint for aluminum. Its formulation is suitable for a surface without imperfections such as aluminum.

There are many types of non-ferrous metal paints such as acrylic, latex, interior, exterior, and universal.

All of these types of paints are suitable for aluminum

Non-ferrous metal paint shows good aluminum adherence when combined with a primer also made for non-ferrous materials.

100% acrylic

100% acrylic paint tends to be the most recommended type of paint for aluminum.

Gloss and semi-gloss finishes for aluminum acrylic paints are highly common.

Acrylic paint is applied both on galvanized and aluminum metal.

Direct to metal waterborne paint

Direct to metal paint is often used on aluminum. This is a type of paint that can be applied without a primer or which may adhere to primed aluminum as well.

Direct to metal aluminum paint is often found in spray cans which makes for easier application.

Pro tip: choose an enamel waterborne acrylic paint for non-ferrous metal for aluminum application. This type of paint is ideal for various aluminum panels, pipes, handrails, gutters, and other accessories.

Primers that work best on aluminum

Aluminum primers are just as important as aluminum paint. Good primers help your paint last longer and this can be important on large surfaces which are expensive to frequently re-paint.

Multiple types of primers are suitable for aluminum. The type of resin is what sets them apart.

Water-based primers or acrylic primers are the most common type of primer used on aluminum. Applying these primers protects the surface but it mainly helps the finishing paint last longer.

Universal metal primers are sometimes successfully used even on aluminum. Universal metal primers are ideal for indoor applications while more specific waterbased, epoxy, or even oil-based primers are better suited for outdoor use.

Epoxy resin non-ferrous primers are often used on aluminum for a high-quality finish. Epoxy primers are used on all types of non-ferrous and ferrous materials asides from aluminum such as steel.

Enamel primers and enamel paints are highly recommended for aluminum. You can consider shellac primers for enamel aluminum paints as a viable alternative.

Alkyd primers aren’t typically used on most aluminum surfaces. These types of primers work best on areas with stains but they might be considered for aluminum that’s in contact with grease.

Acrylic primers work well with acrylic paint on aluminum. You may consider acrylic primers for their cost-to-benefit ratio compared to other primers as well.

When to use latex paint on aluminum?

Latex paint is often used on aluminum. Unlike acrylic paint, latex paint works best on stiff or fixed aluminum pipes or panels as it doesn’t expand as much as acrylic paint. This means you should not use latex paint on gutters made from thin aluminum which might move with rainwater or with the wing.

As acrylic aluminum paint, latex also comes with indoor, outdoor, or universal applications. Make sure to go for an exterior latex paint whenever you paint any outdoor aluminum surface which may or may not be exposed to sunlight and rain.

Can I use oil-based paint on aluminum instead?

Oil-based paint is sometimes used on aluminum for exterior application. You may find this type of paint has a thick coat which isn’t too good for details and interior use.

Oil-based paint is successfully used on high-traffic areas of outdoor aluminum or on panels that constantly face the elements such as rain, heat, and direct sunlight.

As a result, oil-based paint is sometimes successfully used on aluminum boat panels where the thick coat of paint protects the boat better.

Does it matter when you paint aluminum?

Aluminum is considered more forgiving than wood or other materials. Regardless of the paint you choose, there’s still a good time to paint aluminum and a bad time to paint aluminum.

Temperature is key for painting aluminum

You should only consider enamel acrylic paint and primers for aluminum in temperatures between 50 and 90 degrees F. Painting outside these temperatures leads to a prolonged drying time which limits the effectiveness of the aluminum paint and primer.

Summary

Most types of aluminum are painted with non-ferrous paint, not with paint made for steel and other metals. Non-ferrous paint bonds best to aluminum and it may last even longer when you apply non-ferrous primer as well.

General purpose non-ferrous water-based paints and primers offer ideal applicability and durability. Oil-based paints aren’t recommended on aluminum but some people use these thick paints on exterior aluminum successfully regardless.

When it comes to the paints you shouldn’t use on aluminum you should generally stay away from alkyd paints. Alkyd primers aren’t recommended for aluminum either.

Waterborne aluminum paints can be sprayed or applied with synthetic brushes.

Sources

How to paint Metal – Benjamin Moore

Rust-Oleum Enamel Sprays – Technical Data

Behr Premium – Direct to Metal Semi-Gloss Paint