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Gouache vs Watercolor vs Acrylic

gouache vs watercolor vs acrylic

Are you a beginner at painting and you are currently at a crossroads because you cannot choose from gouache vs watercolor vs acrylic? Ideally, artists should be knowledgeable about all kinds of paint types. However, since you are just starting, it is best to master one paint before heading to another.

This article will teach you the differences between these types of artists’ paints. Once you finish reading, you should know enough about these paints that you can choose which one to first practice with.

A Comparison Between Gouache Vs Watercolor Vs Acrylic

To learn about the differences between gouache vs watercolor vs acrylic, we need to discuss each paint type first.

What is Gouache Paint?

For something that has been around for more than 700 years, it is surprising that not that many people know about gouache paints. If compared to watercolors and acrylics, you could say that gouache is somewhat in-between them.

On its own, gouache is opaque. However, if you mix it with water, it becomes translucent. When you are using gouache, you have the choice to water it down or increase its consistency. This makes watercolors and gouache almost like cousins in the sense that you need to add water before use.

However, when you compare gouache paint vs watercolor, it is more pigmented. This makes it, in a way, closer to acrylics in appearance.

What is Watercolor Paint?

This is probably the most popular type of artist’s paint ever. You may even have fond memories of using watercolors when you were in kindergarten. You can even go to any thrift store and find a pallet of watercolors for less than a dollar.

Watercolors have been used since time immemorial. Even the Ancient Egyptians used them. While watercolors are pretty inexpensive, in the right hands, you can use them to create stunning paintings. Because of their translucence, you can layer watercolors on top of each other to create vibrant images.

However, because you have to use a lot of water, watercolors need a special type of paper. One that has just the right amount of absorbency to let the colors seep in, but not bleed through the sheet.

What is Acrylic Paint?

Of the three paints mentioned, acrylics are more forgiving. The reason is that they are deeper in color and have a thicker consistency. Acrylic paints are more on the opaque side even though it is also water-based like gouache and watercolors.

Unlike watercolors, which you can only use on paper, acrylics can go on canvas, wood, metal, and many other surfaces. Also, you can use acrylic paints with little to no water added.

Acrylic paints dry quite fast, too. If you are thinking of using acrylics, be prepared to work fast and with increased mindfulness of what you are doing. However, since they dry quickly, you do not have the option of reworking the paint once dried, unlike with gouache and watercolors where you only need to add a bit more water.

How Can You Differentiate the Three?

Now, let’s discuss as many of the significant differences that these three paint mediums have. You can do so with the help of these factors:

Painting Surfaces

Acrylic paints are the clear winner in terms of surfaces that you can use. You can use acrylics on paper, canvas, and other fabrics, and even on non-porous surfaces like metals or glass.

Watercolor and gouache require water for proper application. This is the reason why you also have to use special watercolor paper only. This type of paper has a rough texture. It is thick enough that watercolors will not bleed through the fibers.

Amount of Pigments

Acrylics have the most pigments among the three paints, and obviously, watercolors have the least. Having more pigments means that acrylic paints leave a brighter finish. However, watercolors and gouache paints have a softer, somewhat pastel effect. If you compare gouache paint vs watercolor, the watercolor has brighter yet softer colors.


Again, acrylic paints are the winner here. Even though water can still damage acrylic paints, the extent of the damage is not as extreme as what would happen to watercolors and gouache. Even a single drop of water will be enough to ruin an unsealed watercolor or gouache painting.


In addition, acrylic paints are more lightfast compared to watercolors and gouaches. Even when exposed to direct sunlight, acrylic paints tend to fade significantly slower than the two other paints.

Ease of Use

When it comes to which of these three paints are easier to master, it seems like acrylics win again. Even though watercolors are the paint of choice in kindergartens all over the world, it is incredibly difficult to master the use of watercolors. It takes years of practice before you can consider calling yourself a master at watercolors.

Aside from worrying about the paint, you should also consider the amount of water you will be using. You have to use a special type of paper to keep the watercolor from blotching and bleeding through the paper.

The same goes with gouache paints but not to the same extent. You can actually use gouache paints like you would acrylics. You are also allowed to layer the colors if you want. However, acrylics are still the most beginner-friendly of the bunch.

Is Gouache More Similar to Watercolors or Acrylic Paints?

gouache vs acrylic-paint

Gouache is a type of watercolor, but it is more heavily pigmented. Also, the pigments contained in gouache paints do not get absorbed into the paper. They stay on the surface once the water dries, instead. In this manner, gouache is more similar to acrylics.

Moreover, by adding more water, gouache can look like watercolor. However, if you use less water, the finish looks quite similar to acrylic. This is why you can use only gouache paints and yet the painting can look like you used mixed media.


In the battle between gouache vs watercolor vs acrylic, acrylic paints seem to be the most convenient and easier to learn and use. However, that does not necessarily mean that acrylics are the best. It will still depend on the artist holding the brush. Acrylics are just more beginner-friendly compared to the other two.

Even though acrylic paints are easier to use, you still have to practice quite a lot before you can get to a certain level that you can say you mastered the medium.

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