Gouache vs. Watercolor: Understanding the Differences

Have you ever gotten confused about choosing the best water-based medium for you? You're not alone! Between gouache and watercolors, it can be difficult to know the differences between the two, especially when their formulas are alike. 

A beautiful crab painting made with water-based markers

Zanzibar Dual Tip Pens (Water-based)

While both are celebrated for their unique qualities and breathtaking results, they possess distinctive characteristics that set them apart. Today, we'll gloss over and compare gouache vs. watercolors in terms of their application, techniques, color vibrancy, and many more. So if you're a beginner trying to figure out which paint you should start with or a seasoned artist trying to lean toward a certain medium, then this guide is for you!

What Is Gouache?

Gouache is a medium that combines the properties of two paints: the opacity of acrylics and the delicate translucency of watercolors. It's made from a mixture of pigment, water, and a binding agent like gum Arabic or dextrin. What sets gouache apart is its high pigment concentration, giving it a rich, vibrant color quality.

Besides watercolors, gouache is also often compared to acrylics. When it comes to gouache vs. acrylics, the former stands as a champion of opacity. Gouache pigments, finely ground and often with a chalky texture, grant it the ability to cover surfaces with a solid, matte finish. Acrylics, in contrast, offer a wide spectrum of opacity. Acrylic paints can be transparent, semi-transparent, or opaque, depending on the formulation and application.

Shop for the Best Gouache Paint Set for Beginners! 

What Is Watercolor? 

Watercolor is a captivating and versatile painting medium renowned for its delicate transparency and fluidity. Unlike traditional opaque paints, watercolors utilize pigments suspended in a water-based solution, allowing artists to create luminous, ethereal, and often unpredictable effects on paper. This unique quality makes watercolor a favorite among artists seeking to capture the interplay of light and color in their creations.

A watercolor swatch of vibrant colors on a palette

Artists' Watercolor 24 Pan Set

Gouache vs. Watercolor: A Side-By-Side Comparison

If you are an artist wondering about the differences between the two mediums, refer to this gouache vs. watercolor table to truly understand their similarities and differences and help you make informed decisions for your creative endeavors.

Application Techniques

Gouache Watercolor
Comes in tubes - applied to a palette for color mixing
Soft and transparent blends and washes
Uses water as a thinner; watercolor brushes for application Uses water as a thinner; watercolor brushes for application
Applied in small amounts, a little goes a long way Depending on the type of watercolor, it may require layering for more pigmented hues
Can be applied on a variety of surfaces, including paper, illustration boards, canvas, bristol boards, dark-colored paper, and more Can be applied on hot-pressed and cold-pressed watercolor paper, and a special watercolor canvas

Color Vibrancy, Mixing, and Lightfastness

Gouache Watercolor
Has a velvety, matte, and vibrant finish
Soft and transparent blends and washes
Darker colors turn lighter, and lighter colors turn dark when dry Depending on the lightfastness, some watercolor paints undergo a subtle color shift when dry
Use white gouache to blend and mix colors together Use water to produce lighter blends and less water for darker shades

A swatch of gouache colors on a palette

Artists' Gouache Set - Strolling Through New York

Discover Essential Gouache Painting Tips and Techniques! 

Drying Time and Layering

Gouache Watercolor
Relatively quick drying time compared to mediums like oils, but gouache dries slower than acrylic
Slow-drying paint, depending on the amount of water used
You can layer colors and build intricate details without long waiting periods Drying process is often accompanied by subtle shifts in color and texture
Build up colors upon dry layers without fear of muddiness Needs more patience and delicacy since underlying layers can show through
You can layer light colors over dark colors You must paint from light to dark colors

Artwork Preservation and Storage

Gouache Watercolor
Keep away from direct sunlight to avoid fading
High-quality watercolors have excellent lightfastness, meaning their colors will stay the same for a long time
Does not need any heavy glaze or special finishes, more durable than watercolor artwork Susceptible to moisture; this is optional, but you can use a varnish or fixative to make it waterproof
Proper framing is a must to preserve a gouache painting and prevent discoloration Watercolor artworks are more delicate, so use proper matting and framing techniques

A gorgeous gouache painting of some flowers against a brown background

Watercolor Paper Set (A2 loose sheets)

Cost and Accessibility

Gouache Watercolor
For some brands, gouache is more expensive than watercolors since they require more pigments to create an opaque effect
Depending on the watercolor type, pans are generally more affordable, making them perfect for beginners, while tubes are more on the costly side due to their vibrant pigments

Suitable for both beginners and experienced artists Suitable for both beginners and experienced artists
Easy to clean after painting and easy to set-up Easy to clean after painting and easy to set-up

Both gouache and watercolor are popular paint mediums, with each offering its own set of advantages. With its vibrant opacity, gouache paint is more beginner-friendly, offering immediate coverage and easy correction of mistakes. Its forgiving nature encourages experimentation, making it an excellent medium for those new to painting. 

A gorgeous watercolor painting of a rose

Fine Watercolor Brushes

On the other hand, learning how to use watercolors requires a delicate dance with transparency. It's about harnessing the luminous effects of layering and understanding the nuanced interaction between pigments and water. While watercolors demand a bit more finesse, their unique flowing textures and surprising results can help you create one-of-a-kind masterpieces. 

Pros and Cons of Gouache

Gouache paint shines for its vibrancy and versatility. Its opaque nature simplifies color mixing, allowing you to layer and correct mistakes as you go. This feature is a plus for beginners, as mistakes can be easily covered without compromising your artwork's integrity. If you want bold colors and want to work with a larger variety of surfaces, then 

On the other hand, the opacity that makes gouache beginner-friendly can also limit its capacity for creating the more luminous effects found in transparent watercolors. Plus, unlike watercolors which easily blend, gouache needs more mixing and blending techniques to create smooth color transitions. 

A gouache painting of a rabbit in a whimsical grass background

Watercolor Palette - Medium

Pros and Cons of Watercolors

Watercolors, often seen as more challenging due to their unpredictable nature, beckon artists with their captivating transparency. While mastering the techniques may require a learning curve, the rewards are well worth the effort. Watercolors result in rich, enchanting artworks that you just cannot simply replicate with other mediums. Plus, unlike gouache, you can get away with not using white paint in watercoloring! 

Find the Best Art Supplies for Watercoloring Here!

Watercolors have a magical way of capturing light and atmosphere, enabling you to create delicate washes and subtle gradations that evoke emotions and moods. However, achieving seamless blends and gradients with watercolors demands more practice and patience. There is also a slower drying time since colors can get unwanted, muddy colors if you layer too early. 

Choose the Best Paint Medium That Works for You!

Overall, watercolor and gouache have much to offer you regarding colors, transparency, artwork results, and application techniques. While both are water-based, each medium has its own distinct advantages and disadvantages. However, if you still find it hard to choose just one - why not try both? 

We hope this guide has given you the confidence and knowledge that you need to decide on using gouache vs. watercolors. Whatever medium you choose, we are sure that you will come up with impressive artwork! If you'd like to learn more about watercoloring techniques and gouache painting techniques, you can browse our other articles on the subject. Happy painting!