The biggest difference between lacquer and enamel paint is that lacquer is a coating and enamel paint is a paint meant for coloring. Now, however, both lacquer and enamel paint can be used interchangeably.
Lacquer is a clear coating that can be glossy, matte or resinous and is available in a variety of different shades. The general purpose of lacquer, other than to bring out a brilliant shine on a project, is to keep out oils and dirt. Oils from hands, damage from water, molds and mildews and sunlight can be damaging to certain woods and surfaces. Lacquer can help to protect these surfaces by sealing the outer layer and preventing these outside forces from ever reaching the actual item. Lacquer dries very quickly and provides a durable product with a nitrocellulose resin.
Historically, the term "enamel paint" referred to anything that was created from an oil base and had a glossy finish with the purpose of protecting something. Today, enamel paint can be water and latex based, and generally means a hard surface paint with a glossy finish. Enamel paint is one of the top choices for artists to use to preserve artwork with a gloss. Enamel paints are known for their long-lasting durability and the ability to wash them after they have been painted and dried. Enamel paints dry very hard and are generally the one of choice for protection.