Watercolor vs. Gouache: Their Similarities and Differences

Sep 4, 2021 | 1 comment

Gouache and watercolor seem very similar at first glance, and if you won’t dive into getting to know both mediums, you’ll just assume that both don’t have much difference. But if you’re someone like me who obsesses over even the smallest details to improve their knowledge and skills, you’ll want to know what’s the difference between watercolor vs. gouache. And this article is made just for that. 

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Watercolor: A Quick Overview

Watercolor is a painting medium that is made from water-soluble pigments and binders. The unique thing about watercolor is you can water it down to play with its color transparency.

This medium is popular among landscape and still life artists as it can work well with other mediums like graphite, ink, and colored pencils

How to use watercolor

To use watercolor, you’ll need watercolor paints, a mixing palette, paintbrushes, and watercolor paper.

Read these to know what art supplies we recommend for watercolor painting:

To learn how to paint with watercolor, you’ll have to understand how the amount of water affects your paints. You need to learn how to adjust the amount of water in your paint and control your brushstrokes. Read How to Paint with Watercolors for Beginners.

Gouache: A Quick Overview

Gouache, pronounced as “gwash”, is basically an opaque watercolor paint. It’s a painting medium that’s made with the same ingredients as watercolors but the only difference is it gives a flat and matte result, even when it’s thinned out with water.

It is a versatile paint that offers the opaqueness of acrylic paints yet has some of the characteristics of watercolors. It’s generally used to cover large areas with bold colors.

How to use gouache paints

To use gouache, you’ll need gouache paints, a mixing palette, paint brushes, and paper. You can learn so many techniques to level up your paintings and create the art composition you desire. The more you practice, the more you’ll get better at executing the gouache painting techniques. 

Differences Between Watercolor vs. Gouache

While in general gouache is a type of watercolor, there are several differences that create a fine line between the two mediums. And while both are made with the same ingredients, gouache has more pigments which makes it thicker and heavier than watercolor.

Paint Thickness

As already stated, gouache is thicker and watercolor is more transparent. Watercolor will change the apparent color of the surface when applied to a white surface while gouache won’t. Gouache can be painted over a white surface and it will not change its color.

Lightening of the Colors

With watercolor, you can adjust its transparency or the lightness of your color by the amount of water you add to your paint. With gouache, you can just simply add a white pigment to lighten a certain color.

The Use of White Paint

When working with watercolor, artists tend to leave the white spaces of the paper blank to preserve the highlights of their paintings. This is why white pigments on watercolor are rarely used.

With gouache, you can use your white pigments and paint then on top of the dried surface you just worked on to add your highlights.

Paper Absorption

Watercolor paints are absorbed into the surface of the paper and that’s precisely why you need specialized paper when you decided to practice watercolor.

Gouache, on the other hand, does not get absorbed by the paper. The paint just sits on top and deposits a layer of paint on the paper creating textures with your various brushstrokes.

Painting Method

With gouache, the painting method is more direct. If you want a dark background, you can start with painting the background first and then just paint over it with your centerpiece. You can start with dark to light colors or vice versa, the rules are not that strict.

With watercolor, it’s more complex. The white space needs to be kept blank to preserve your highlights. And when working with a darker background, you’ll need to work on the lighter colors first before moving on to the darker shades. When painting with watercolor, you always start with the lighter colors and then slowly moving on to the darker colors, not the other way around.

Textural Effects

With watercolors, you get a vibrant and more luminous effect and you cannot achieve this with gouache paints.

Watercolor’s transparency allows you to play with different techniques and textural effects. You can add gradients, washes, lifting, and more.

With gouache, textural effects are limited.


Watercolor is more fluid and its effects are a bit more unpredictable than gouache. Watercolor also takes longer to dry so you’ll need to have patience before moving on to the next layer if you don’t want your colors to get molded together.

Gouache dried quickly and a thick layer forms on top of the paint, so if you make a mistake, it’s simpler to cover it up compared to watercolor.


Gouache, when dried, is resistant to water, pretty much like acrylic paints. Although the consistency of gouache paints change when water is applied making it lighter. Unlike watercolor, which easily loses its shape and composition when applied with water.

Why Choose Gouache

Choose gouache if you want an easier and more forgiving painting medium. Like watercolor, gouache is an easy-to-carry palette, but you can still paint light on dark, unlike watercolor. It is also water-based so it’s easy to clean up.

Why Choose Watercolor

If you like to tackle a challenge, watercolor can be a great medium to learn. Watercolors are highly technical but when you do learn even just the basics of how to use them, the results are beautiful.

Final Thoughts on Watercolor vs. Gouache

Between watercolor vs. gouache, nothing is really concrete if you are asking which is better and which is worse. It all boils down to personal preference because each medium has its pros and cons (which we’ll tackle next time, so stay tuned!).

Although both mediums have vast differences, they can be so much fun to practice with. And the best part is you can mix and use both in your artwork. As both mediums are re-wettable, both are easy to reactivate when the paints dry and are easy to clean up after working on them.

To learn the difference between watercolor and acrylic, click here.

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