There is a lot of confusion out there about Gouache vs Acrylic paints. Both types are water-based, so they both have similar properties when it comes to drying time, mixing with other colors, etc. However, the two paints differ in many ways that you should know before deciding which one to use on your next painting project.
In this blog post we will explore why there is even a Gouache versus Acrylic conversation and look at over 9 differences between Gouache and Acrylic paint that will help you make an informed decision about which one is best for your needs!
What is Gouache paint?
Gouache is an opaque water-based paint that originated in the 16th century and was made from pigment, gum Arabic (a substance obtained from trees), and water. It has since become more popularly known as opaque watercolor because it can be used for both fine art painting projects and commercial uses such as children’s coloring books.
Gouache also typically comes in small watercolor like paint sets or tubes.
What is Acrylic paint?
Acrylic paint is a fast-drying paint that is water resistant and available in a range of finishes from matte to gloss. It can be applied with brushes, painting knives, rollers or spray guns. Acrylic paints began gaining popularity during the 1950s as an artist medium because it allowed artists to work quickly and easily and came in many vibrant colors.
Acrylic paint typically comes in larger tubes and bottles.
What are the similarities between Gouache and Acrylic paint?
Both Gouache and Acrylics are opaque watercolors, meaning they do not show any transparency or translucent effects. They can be applied to a range of surfaces from canvas to wood, paper products such as greeting cards and even metal objects.
What is the key difference between Gouache vs Acrylic?
There are a few differences between these two paints. Acrylics are made from pigments suspended in acrylic polymer emulsion.
Gouache paint is made from natural pigment, water, a binding agent (usually gum arabic or another agent such as dextrin), and sometimes additional inert material. It is a much more natural product than acrylic.
Gouache also dries matte whilst Acrylic tends to dry gloss or semi gloss.
Apart from these key differences it starts to look like that both paints are quite similar but their application is what sets them apart.
What surfaces can be used for painting with gouache and acrylic?
Most surfaces can be used for both paints, but a few things will change the way you use them.
Acrylic paint is much more suited to raw textile and clothing as it does not bleed through material like gouache does. Also if you try painting on fabric with gouache there is a strong possibility that your lines won’t come out clean.
The key thing to remember here is that gouache has a tendency to “bleed” with unprimed fabrics and materials.
You can use both paints on the same types of canvases, papers and boards.
You can also use Gouache and Acrylic paint on wood as a painting surface. I would recommend you prime the wood before painting on it though. I would also not recommend painting any surface that you plan to use as a high traffic surface such as a desktop.
If you do plan on using either paint for a high traffic surface I would then recommend coating the surface after the paint has dried in a resin.
What is the drying time for gouache vs acrylic?
Gouache and acrylic both dry very quickly, as both are water-based.
It all depends on how thick you apply the paint and what surface you apply the paint to as some surfaces are more likely to suck the moisture or water out of the paint.
They can vary between less than an hour for thinner layers of paint to over a day for thicker impastos.
Gouache wins if you like more time to paint before it dries but acrylic comes out on top if you prefer faster drying paint.
Which is more durable, gouache or acrylic?
Both are very durable and resistant to damage.
Acrylic paint is more durable than gouache, which makes it a popular choice among artists. Acrylic paint is also more light-fast, dust-resistant, and water-resistant than gouache.
Are both paints waterproof? Gouache is not waterproof, but does have a very good water resistance. In fact, gouache can be reactivated and worked on after it is dry by simply adding a little water to the dry paint.
Because of this ability to be reactivated you need to treat the finished work like a watercolor painting and have it framed behind glass to protect it from accidental splashes of water that can ruin the painting.
Acrylic paint can not be reactivated once it is dry.
Acrylics can withstand more than gouache. Acrylic paint will not chip off once it is dry unless you applied it to an unstable surface and it is unsealed.
Gouache paint is more sensitive to light and dust.
Is gouache easier than acrylic?
Applying both types of paint are the same, you can apply them with a brush or palette knife and work them and blend them the same way.
Where gouache wins compared to acrylics is that it dries a bit slower than acrylic, making it easier to work with. What bothers me most with acrylic since I have an oil painting background is that I can’t leave it for a whole day and come back and start using it as it is already dry.
Acrylic drying time can be slowed by adding an extender/retarder (like Liquitex Slow-Dri medium) to the paint and this slows the drying time.
Again, gouache can be reactivated even after it dry allowing you to modify a painting or rework it without seeming like a new layer.
I also found gouache more opaque than acrylic which means i need to apply less layers than acrylic.
Do professional artists use gouache?
We know that many professional artists use acrylic paints for various purposes but do they use gouache?
Gouache is an excellent choice for professional artists since it has a lot of flexibility. It can replicate the look and feel of acrylic, watercolor, and even oil paints!
The main application outside of fine art is in illustrations and cartooning when alcohol markers are not being used.
Can gouache be used with acrylic?
Gouache and acrylic paints can be used together if a clear gesso is applied to the surface. The acrylic paint will not take on any of the color from the gouache paint which means it won’t affect your painting process!
A little fun fact is if you do mix gouache paint with acrylic paint you end up making gouache waterproof! It takes on some of the properties of acrylic paint.
It also makes it faster drying.
Is gouache good for beginners?
Gouache is very forgiving because it has a nice matte finish. The paint can be thinned with water so if you make any mistakes, it’s easy to fix!
The main difference between gouache and acrylics are the drying time.
Gouache dries much quicker than oil paints which means that it allows artists to complete their works much faster while also applying layers without mixing the colors.
Gouache is also mostly non toxic so it is safe for most artists even young artists. Even acrylics are mostly non toxic so the score is even.
Why is gouache so expensive?
Gouache is quite expensive because of its properties. It uses natural pigments and has a higher concentration of pigment than acrylics. They also use larger paint pigments which add to the manufacturing process as more mulling time is needed (this is the process of grinding the pigment into a fine powder that is the mixed with a binder).
Artists tend to use it in their masterpieces or when they want something to look more professional or final.
They are also not as popular as acrylic paints and this means that the locations where they are made are also less likely be in third world countries.
What is the strength of gouache?
Pigments: they use natural pigments and have a higher concentration of pigment than acrylics.
Concentration: They also use larger paint pigments which add to the manufacturing process as more mulling time is needed (this is the process of grinding the pigment into a fine powder that is mixed with binder).
They are also not as well known and sound more exotic to non-artists. If you tell a buyer that your artwork is made of gouache instead of acrylic paint, you could possibly charge more.
Sadly, the use of acrylics in schools and in craft has cheapened the perception of acrylic paints.
How do I clean up with Gouache and Acrylic?
You can clean both acrylic and gouache from your skin, brushes and palettes with simple soap and water. Repeat until thoroughly cleaned.
Are Gouache paints flammable?
Both Gouache paints and acrylic paints are not flammable as they are water based using natural water based binders. This means they are also safe to take on a plane as part of carry on luggage.
Gouache vs Acrylic – Wrap up!
Gouache vs Acrylic: two distinct types of paint that have many similarities but also some very obvious differences.
If you come from an oil painting background or watercolor background, I would suggest you try gouache paint.
If you have an acrylic painting background you may enjoy the flexibility that gouache provides.
This doesn’t mean you have to give up on one medium but both are worth a try regardless of your background.
With all the wonderful mediums you can now purchase you can make one paint behave like another and you can have the best of both worlds.
I hope this article covered all your questions when it comes to gouache vs acrylics.
Joseph Colella (Joe Colella) is an Editor and Writer at WastedTalentInc. As a frustrated artist with over 40 years experience making art (who moonlights as a certified Business Analyst with over 20 years of experience in tech).
While Joseph holds a Diploma in Information Technology, in true wasted talent fashion he spent years applying for various Art degrees; from the Accademia di Belle Arti (Napoli), to failing to get into the Bachelor of Arts (Fine Arts) at the University of Western Sydney.
While he jokes about his failures at gaining formal art qualifications, as a self-taught artist he has had a fruitful career in business, technology and the arts making Art his full time source of income from the age of 18 until 25.
His goal is to attend the Julian Ashton School of Art at The Rocks Sydney when he retires from full time work. Joseph’s art has been sold to private collectors all over the world from the USA, Europe and Australasia.
He is a trusted source for reliable art advice and tutorials to copyright/fair use advice and is committed to helping his readers make informed decisions about making them a better artist.