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Watercolor vs Gouache

differences between watercolor and gouache
At first glance, you might not even notice the differences between watercolor vs gouache paintings, but I can assure you that there are plenty. You have to know what to look for, and once you are aware of what characteristics of watercolor and gouache make them distinct, they will be much more obvious the next time you see either one of them.

Even though watercolor and gouache have nearly the same makeup (pigments and water-soluble binders), certain things make them stand apart from each other. If you are interested in either of these painting media, this article will teach you about them, so you can distinguish one from the other.

A Quick Comparison Between Watercolor Vs Gouache

Points of Comparison Watercolor Gouache
Finish Translucent Opaque
Painting Process Light to dark only Can go both from light to dark colors and dark to light colors
Layering Not possible Easily layered
Paper Used Needs thick and absorbent paper Can use almost all kinds of paper
Ease of use Needs careful planning Very beginner-friendly

What Are the Differences Between Watercolor and Gouache?

watercolor vs gouache

It is time to start learning about the difference between watercolor and gouache. Although these two mediums look similar to each other, there are rather distinct details that you can use to tell them apart. Among them are the following:

Their Finishes

The most obvious difference between watercolor and gouache is the type of finish they leave behind. When watercolor dries, it leaves a rather translucent finish. This means you can see the paper underneath the dry paint.

You can use this handy quality of watercolors to your advantage by using them to make delicate details, like cloth, flower petals, and more. The translucency of watercolor also helps to accentuate the tooth of the paper used.

On the other hand, gouache leaves an opaque finish. In other words, you will not see through the paint once it dries completely. This makes gouache behave like acrylic paint. What this means is that you can layer colors easily, which you can use to create awesome effects.

In addition, this makes gouache more forgiving compared to watercolor as you can easily erase your mistakes.

The Painting Process

watercolor paintings
Watercolor paintings

When you are painting using watercolors, you need to work from light to dark. This is due to the translucency of watercolor. Because watercolor is so translucent, you cannot layer a light color over a dark color.

White watercolor is not typically used by itself, but rather for lightening the other colors. If you apply the white watercolor over other colors, you will find that the white is not even visible.

If you need to create highlights in watercolor paintings, you will need to plan your painting well ahead of time. So, when you are thinking of painting shiny metal pieces, you will need to plan your sketches and label the places you need to leave uncolored to act as the highlights.

Gouache is a lot more versatile and forgiving compared to watercolor. Just like watercolor, you can paint starting from light to dark, and you also have the option to go from dark to light. Because the gouache dries to an opaque finish, you can layer the colors on top of each other. This means you can apply lighter colors over dark, which makes adding highlights a lot easier.

Color blending

When it comes to blending colors, watercolors are the better option. If you need to blend watercolors, you can do so straight on the paper. You do not need to blend the colors on the palette. You can just lay the second color on top of the other and they will mix readily.

On the other hand, you will need to treat gouache paints like you would acrylics. For instance, if you need to blend colors, you should blend them first on the palette and layer them on top of the other colors.

Paper Used

gouache paintings
Gouache paintings

Gouache is a more versatile paint compared to watercolor. You can use gouache paints on almost any kind of paper. This means that you can use gouache on all kinds of paper that you can use with watercolors. However, you cannot use watercolors effectively on all kinds of paper used for gouache.

With watercolors, you have to use paper that is quite thick and absorbent. In addition, before using watercolor, you will need to prepare the paper by wetting and stretching it. This is needed to prevent the paper from warping. However, if you will be using gouache, there is no need to prepare the paper unless you will be diluting the paint heavily.

Ease of Use

If you are a beginner at painting, it is inadvisable to start with watercolors. If you want your watercolor paintings to look as close as you want them to, then you should do advanced planning. Because you cannot place light colors over dark colors, you need to know exactly where to put the colors on the paper.

Gouache is more beginner-friendly as you can easily correct mistakes by layering the paint over each other. In addition, you can make gouache semi-translucent by diluting it with a lot of water.  This means you can make gouache paintings that look similar to watercolors, so you can also use gouache to practice your watercolor techniques.


Which is the better choice – watercolor vs gouache? For most people, it may seem like gouache has the upper hand. Gouache is easier to use, more versatile, and does not need to use special paper. However, using watercolor will help train your patience. It will also improve your creativity and planning capabilities.

If you are an absolute beginner at painting, it would be better for you to start with gouache. However, it would be best to transition to watercolors as soon as you can.

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