Gouache vs watercolor: Why both paints are worth the love

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If watercolor had a cousin, it would be gouache.

Both gouache and watercolor are water-based paints consisting of the same elements. On the other hand, they have distinct features and produce unique aesthetics.

But since watercolor usually steals the spotlight, I have to ask: have you ever painted with gouache? If not, my take is that it definitely deserves a seat at the (craft) table!

I’ll explain why in this sweet and simple gouache vs watercolor guide for beginners and curious crafters. If you’re new to both mediums, check out our guide to watercolor for beginners.

Oh, and before I continue — it’s pronounced “gwaash”!

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Gouache vs watercolor: What to know

Gouache vs Watercolor_FEATURE
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

As much as I love watercolor, the truth is that it usually gets all the attention. But what about gouache?

This guide outlines what you need to know and why both paints are worth your precious time.

For more deets, scroll down for a side-by-side chart comparing both mediums!

Gouache

Gouache paint tube_Gouache vs watercolor
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

In my opinion, gouache is an underrated medium; it’s kind of the underdog of paints!

But while it isn’t as popular as watercolor and acrylics or doesn’t have the artiste appeal of oil paints, I think it’s a fascinating medium.

Gouache comprises the same gum Arabic binder found in watercolor but contains a higher pigment load, making it opaque and dense.

This translates into bolder colors and flat, chalky finishes.

Gouache unicorn_Gourache vs watercolor
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

Gouache can be diluted with water, but it doesn’t present the same flowy consistency of watercolor. In fact, this is why it’s often confused with matte acrylic paint.

You can water down gouache to achieve more translucent outcomes, but one of the main features of gouache vs watercolor is that it doesn’t bleed!

On another note, a big plus in my book is that gouache is more versatile regarding surfaces. Contrary to watercolor, you can paint on a variety of paper, including mixed-media, watercolor, and sketchbook paper.

Fun fact: gouache paper is not a thing (just in case you’ve been looking!).

Colored paper is another fun option to explore with gouache since its opaque pigments remain visible. This isn’t something you can achieve with watercolor.

Gouache tubes and palette_Gouache vs watercolor
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

Gouache can also be used on canvas, although I only recommend this if you’re using this paint in its most opaque form. Canvases aren’t absorbent enough to support water-blended gouache.

Speaking of opacity, gouache is available in various consistencies, from thicker formulas to extra-fine paint. This will impact how you work through projects, so consider this when purchasing products.

There is also a distinct process for mixing and blending with gouache vs watercolor. For instance, instead of creating lighter hues by adding water, as is the case of watercolor, this is done by adding white paint.

You can also layer light colors on dark colors and vice versa with gouache, which isn’t really possible with watercolor due to its transparency.

However, adding too many thick layers of gouache can lead to cracking when dried. So remember this when shifting gears from watercolor to gouache!

Watercolor

Watercolor blue paint_Gouache vs watercolor
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

Watercolor paint is easy to spot for its delicate, transparent finishes.

Like gouache, this paint is held together by gum Arabic, which enables pigments to disperse when in contact with water.

However, since it’s not as heavily pigmented as gouache, watercolor bleeds and blends more effortlessly (many times in ways you don’t want it to!).

This is why painting with watercolor is often considered more challenging to master. Achieving the ideal water: pigment ratio requires skill and practice!

Watercolor unicorn_Gouache vs watercolor
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

But despite its challenges, painting with watercolors has many cool advantages. For example, you can revive dry pigment with a wet paintbrush, allowing you to edit your work during different stages!

Gouache, on the other hand, is less forgiving when it comes to making changes. While possible, you’ll need a good understanding of how this opaque paint performs to achieve clean, streak-free finishes.

Also, when watercoloring, stick to watercolor sketchbooks, pads, and blocks. Mixed-media paper is a good alternative, but watercolor paper is always the safest bet.

Remember, the whole premise of watercolor is that it needs to be wet; therefore, paper must be absorbent.

Watercolor sets_Gouache vs watercolor
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

If you’re a watercolor beginner, note that this paint dries quickly, so you’ll need to practice working swiftly when experimenting with blending techniques and effects.

Lastly, note that watercolors aren’t lightfast. If exposed to direct sunlight for long periods, paint will begin to fade. I get that this is a bit of a bummer if you enjoy displaying your work.

Luckily, there are workarounds! A popular solution is to spray watercolor varnish on your art to make it last longer.

Gouache vs watercolor: Top features compared

Comparison gouache vs watercolor
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

Review the main features of gouache vs watercolor in this side-by-side comparison chart!

Gouache Watercolor
Binders/formulaWater-based/gum Arabic binder Water-based/gum Arabic binder
FinishOpaque, chalky, matteTranslucid/transparent
Paint variationsTubes, pansWatercolor sets, watercolor pans, watercolor markers, tubes, watercolor pencils
Drying timesUp to 30 minutes Under 10-15 minutes
LightfastnessCan be more lightfast vs watercolor if opting for high-quality gouacheNot very UV resistant. Prone to fading over time
SurfacesWatercolor paper, mixed-media paper, canvas, cardstockWatercolor sketchbooks and watercolor blocks
Cleaning/maintenanceWater should be enough, but soap can be used without damaging toolsEasily cleaned with water
Skill levelThis is a beginner medium but requires specific skills, like incorporating white paint to alter colors/add vibrancy Suitable for all ages and skill sets, although acquiring technique can be more challenging
CostGenerally more expensive than watercolor Available for different values. Easy to find generic and pro-grade sets for different prices

Remember that you don’t have to choose gouache over watercolor or vice versa.

This shouldn’t be a “The Beatles or The Stones” scenario!

(I happen to adore both. OK, maybe The Beatles a little more).

Ultimately, there are plenty of projects you can explore to incorporate both mediums, so get painting and see where your creativity takes you!


That’s it for this beginner’s guide to gouache vs watercolor. Which of these mediums do you prefer? Feel free to drop questions or suggestions in the comments below.

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