Gouache vs. Acrylic

Gouache vs. Acrylic – How Gouache and Acrylic Paints Compare

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Beyond the pure delight of creating a painting, there is a body of knowledge in the creation of the medium itself. We might consider the creation of paints to hold a certain science behind the painting practice. What really is the difference between gouache and acrylic? Although they may seem similar in many ways – especially in the beginning stages of working with both materials – they have rather unique performance characteristics and qualities. Understanding the difference between gouache and acrylic might just help define your own unique way of painting.



What Is the Key Difference Between Gouache and Acrylic?

On the surface, the primary difference between gouache and acrylic is that gouache remains water-soluble when dry and acrylic is insoluble once the layers of paint have dried. This means you can apply water to gouache to re-activate your layers and continue working on your painting. Gouache paints use gum Arabic as a binder which is a fiber that can dissolve easily in water. This is the same binder that holds the pigments together in watercolor paints. While acrylic paints are plastic-based and made by dispersing pigments and mixed with polymer emulsion, which is water-soluble during the process of painting. Here, acrylic layers become water-resistant once dry and cannot be re-activated.

Pigments for Producing Gouache and Acrylic


Which Medium Is More Affordable?

Gouache is effectively more expensive than acrylic paint. The properties of gouache paints, such as the gum Arabic binder and natural pigments, are what make them slightly less commonly produced in factories. The paints go through a complicated process which makes them rather costly. Gouache paints are presented in small tubes, whereas acrylic paints are usually contained in larger tubes. Both paints can be spread with water, however, gouache can be diluted significantly more than acrylic paints could undergo.

Cost Comparison of Gouache vs. Acrylic


What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Gouache vs. Acrylic?

With this basic understanding of how to work with gouache and acrylic paints, artists can now compare these characteristics to define their way of working with both mediums. To expand our knowledge of both paints’ qualities, we can start to look at their advantages and disadvantages.


Advantages and Disadvantages of Gouache Paint

  • Affordable
  • Versatile
  • Water-soluble
  • Denser than watercolors
  • Temporary and flexible
  • Quick drying
  • Various techniques of application and removal
  • Long-term performance (earliest 16th century)
  • Prone to crack
  • Colors tend to dry dark and flat
  • Difficulties scraping back dry layers
  • Less glossy effect

Gouache Paint Attributes


Advantages and Disadvantages of Acrylic Paint

  • Affordable
  • Quick-drying, convenient, and versatile
  • Thick layers do not crack
  • Can imitate other paint types and techniques
  • Paint can be thinned with water
  • Brilliant colors
  • Precise performance qualities
  • Insoluble when dry
  • De-saturates with age
  • Rubbery/plastic effect on layers once dry
  • Brushes prone to damage
  • Recent invention (earliest 1950)

Acrylic Paint Texture


What Is Gouache Paint Used For?

Gouache could be considered opaque watercolor paint; however, it is much denser in consistency than watercolors. Gouache comes in tubs, jars, and tubes and can be used in modest amounts by adding different dilutions of water. This allows artists to achieve various levels of opacities and transparencies, as well as to assist in the application of color layers – working from either light to dark – or dark to light.

Gouache Color Opacity

But exactly what is gouache paint used for? It is especially popular with designers, illustrators, and multimedia artists. The flat, matte effect it forms once dry creates striking contrasts between shapes and elements. Its quick-drying qualities make it flexible and easy to work with, although artists have the option to rework a painting by re-activating the surface with water. And hence the question is often asked: Is gouache watercolor? Clearly it may be the closest medium to watercolor based on its solubility with water.

Gouache Can Resemble Watercolor


What Is Acrylic Paint Used For?

The main attraction artists have to acrylic paints is their convenience and speed. They can imitate a range of techniques normally performed with other types of paint. Acrylic paints are usually presented in tubes or containers. They can be thinned with water and applied in abundance, but dry rather quickly. This makes acrylic compatible with materials such as canvas, and many other larger surfaces. It is for this reason that acrylic paint has grown in popularity with large-scale painters, muralists, designers, and illustrators. It is also a great alternative to oil painting without having to work with all the potentially harmful chemicals.

Why to Use Acrylic Paint



Materials Needed for Using Gouache and Acrylic

Both gouache and acrylic paintings do not require a wide range of materials to create, which makes them great options for artists. Arts and craft stores stock a variety of these paints, which are widely available for beginners to professional artists.

Gouache vs. Acrylic Paints


What Do You Need to Create a Gouache Painting?

  • Selection of brushes
  • A jar or container
  • Clean water
  • Tubes or tubs of gouache
  • Any paper of your choice (recommended weight of 200 – 300gsm)

Once you have gathered all your materials, you can begin creating your composition and discover how to use gouache. It can be applied with a paintbrush in thin layers or applied slightly thicker with more body. However, if layers are applied too densely the paint can crack once dried. At the right consistency, gouache can create bright, dazzling colors with a wonderful matte finish.

It is also quite important to be aware of your color choice when using gouache, as the lighter colors tend to darken, and darker colors are likely to lighten. Artists have the option to return to paintings to re-activate the previous layers of paint by spraying the surface with a light mist of water.

Gouache in Tubs


What Do You Need to Create an Acrylic Painting?

  • Selection of brushes
  • A jar or container
  • Water and jar for cleaning brushes
  • Tubes for acrylics
  • Canvas, any textured surface, or thick paper pad (recommended weight of at least 300 gsm)

Once you have gathered your materials you can begin your composition and mix your paints. Acrylic paints can be thinned with small dilutions of water and dry very quickly. This is great for artists who like working faster and in layers without activating the previous layers of paint. Acrylics can be applied in thick layers to create texture and dimension while presenting true and brilliant color with a glossy finish once dry.

Brushes should be washed immediately with warm water and mixtures of paint should be kept in airtight containers. Artists have the option of varnishing their final painting to enhance colors and gloss.

Quality of Acrylic Paint


The Types of Surfaces You Can Work On: Gouache and Acrylic

One of the common qualities between gouache and acrylic is their shared suitability for being able to work with each medium onto most creative surfaces, such as canvas, thick paper, card, and multimedia.

Gouache and Acrylic Painting Substrates


What Surface Is Best to Paint With Gouache?

The ideal painting surface for gouache would be watercolor paper, or any kind of thick paper. The matte effect of gouache compliments well-textured watercolor paper, without any crinkles, warping, or distortion. Gouache is, however, limited to common creative working surfaces. Beyond being able to work onto smooth canvases, any other materials or fabrics might not be able to withhold heavy dilutions of water, especially if the material’s fibers are not primed.

Gouache Paint on Paper


What Surface Is Best to Paint With Acrylic?

As we know, acrylic paint is fantastic for its affordability, sustainability, and accuracy. You can paint onto almost anything with acrylic paint. This includes canvas, wood, walls and murals, fabrics, plastics, and even glass. However, there is one catch with acrylic paint – it does not always work well on paper and soft materials. It often requires a larger surface area to cover and when attempted on paper, the fibers will shrink and distort the paper, especially if applied in thick layers.

Canvas for Acrylic Paint



Gouache vs. Acrylic: What Are Their Characteristics?

It is often best to test and experiment with your paints before going ahead and starting a working masterpiece. The best way to understand your medium would be to put your brushes and paints into action. With a basic knowledge of the difference between gouache and acrylics, as well as their advantages and disadvantages, we can start to look towards their physical performance qualities and characteristics once applied to the surface:

Water Resistance
BinderGum ArabicPolymer emulsion
Materials and SurfacesPaper, smooth canvasPaper, canvas, metal, wood, glass, fabric, walls
Blending and Varied TechniquesEasyDifficult
Prone to Cracking
Color VibrancyFlat, matte colorBrilliant and bright
Ability to Reactivate Layers
Affordability/Sustainability Modest to costlyAffordable to costly


The Act of Making and Practicing Is Also Key

Through experimentation, you might discover some different results with your painting. If you are working with multimedia, for example, you might discover some other forms of magic that happen during the process of combining media and mediums. It is always encouraged to create some space for yourself to play – we are in a constant state of learning along the way!

Gouache Compared to Acrylic



Can Gouache and Acrylic Be Combined?

Gouache and acrylic paints generally can be mixed together. It is recommended that you apply a transparent gesso to the surface that you are working onto, before working in layers of paint. Artists have also found that the mixing of both paints together essentially combines their characteristics. Gouache becomes slightly glossy and dries even faster but cannot be reworked or reactivated. Acrylic layers have a somewhat matte finish, and the drying process is slowed ever so slightly. Often these two mediums can be combined as a product. And so we arrive at the next big question: what is acrylic gouache?


What Is Acrylic Gouache Paint?

Acrylic gouache is matte, opaque acrylic paint, without the heavy gloss. The plastic binder within acrylic paint makes acrylic gouache waterproof once dry, which allows artists to work in layers without reactivating the previous layers. What is acrylic gouache combined? The ‘gouache’ in ‘acrylic gouache’ is entirely based on the matte effect created by traditional gouache, as well as its durability to be able to endure multiple washes of water.

Use Water with Gouache

There is also the opportunity to slow your stride if you are normally used to working at a fast pace with acrylics. Or, if you are normally used to working with gouache, you can speed up your process in small steps by experimenting with acrylic gouache paints.


How to Care for Your Paintbrushes Properly

Most of the time, you can simply clean your brushes with soapy, warm water. Gouache paints are again rather forgiving to the artist here. Paintbrushes can often be preserved if left to dry out with remnants of gouache paint on the bristles. However, if brushes that have acrylic paint on them are not cared for properly and are left to dry out before going through a wash of water – they might be unsalvageable.

Acrylic and Gouache Paintbrushes



Which Medium Is Better for Beginners?

Gouache is an ideal option for the beginner, especially if you are new to the world of painting. It can be a very forgiving medium to work with, as it is water-soluble, which means that mistakes are relatively easy to fix, and it dries quickly. Beginners should be aware of how easy it might be to reactivate gouache when more layers are applied. Although it dries quickly, new layers will blend everything together with the previous layers. Another great characteristic about gouache is that it is completely natural and non-toxic, which makes it a fantastic option for young artists.



It really is important to know the differences and similarities between your paints. This will help you understand when to use paints both separately and combined. Gouache and acrylic paints are clearly great options for the beginner to the working professional. The possibilities and techniques that can be achieved with both gouache and acrylics can be explored through experimentation. The true qualities and characteristics of gouache and acrylic paints, as well as the science behind painting, can be discovered within the contents of the tube.



Frequently Asked Questions


Do Professional Artists Use Gouache or Acrylic?

Paint preference is generally determined by an artist’s style and technique. Some artists favor gouache for its versatile characteristics, and having the option of being able to return to a painting even once it dries. Others use acrylic for the speed at which you can work and produce artworks and the ability to use acrylic to produce thick impasto and textures. Acrylics are also more sustainable when working across a larger surface area.


Is Gouache Watercolor?

The primary difference between gouache and watercolor is the variation in finishes once dry. Watercolor paintings are slightly more transparent while gouache is slightly matte. Gouache is considered a watercolor because it is highly water-soluble, and dilutions of paint layers work similarly to that of watercolor paints. Unlike watercolor, gouache can be reactivated with water and it can also be applied in near opaque layers.


Why Isn’t Gouache More Popular?

Gouache can sometimes be quite difficult to source in certain countries around the globe. It is made up of natural binders, ingredients, and pigments. It is therefore sometimes hard to source in certain countries. Many artists also eventually turn towards other types of painting once working with gouache as it does become limiting after some time. Once paintings age, gouache can easily crack if not framed, preserved, and cared for properly.


How to Make Gouache Waterproof?

There are a few ways to make gouache resistant to water. You have the option of varnishing the painting with an acrylic gloss, using a spray varnish or by adding a few layers of acrylic paint combined with gouache paint to preserve color and fragments.

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