Acrylic Paint vs Watercolor Paint: Differences and Reflections

Acrylic paint has been around for a while, but watercolor paints are still being used by many artists. The two paints have many similarities but also some important differences, such as how they’re made and what they can be used to create.

So what are the differences between acrylic paint and watercolor paints? How do they compare to one another? And how can you use them in your own artwork? This article will answer these questions with a detailed comparison of acrylic vs watercolor painting techniques.

Acrylic Paint vs Watercolor Paint: Quick Summary

Watercolors have been used by artists for hundreds of years because they work well on porous surfaces such as paper and canvas. However, one disadvantage of these paints is that they’re not weather-resistant once dry, which means they will eventually fade when exposed to sunlight over time.

On the other hand, many types of acrylic paints are mixed with an adhesive called methyl methacrylate (MMA) which makes them more durable and weather-resistant once dry. This is why they’re also popular for outdoor murals, creating faux finishes, or making raised paintings with foam board.

However, acrylics may not work as well on porous surfaces because the paint dries too quickly—a common problem when using this type of paint is cracking which can occur from rapid changes in temperature or humidity levels.

Acrylic vs. Watercolor Comparison Table

Acrylic Paint Watercolor Paint
Easier for beginners More forgiving in terms of how much water is applied
Works best on larger pieces Great for smaller paintings
More opaque and thick More transparent
Ideal when using lots of different colors together Works best with light shades
Needs much surface prep Doesn’t need primer before use
Durable Flakes off over time
More affordable Tends to have more expensive prices
Dries faster Takes longer to dry

What is Watercolor Paint?

Watercolor paint is a type of water-soluble pigment that can be applied to paper or other surfaces with a brush. The pigments used in these paints are usually derived from natural sources such as plants, vegetables, and minerals, but synthetic pigments were also developed around the turn of the 20th century due to shortages during World War I.

The colors you see when using this type of paint come from both transparent and opaque pigments which do not contain fillers for changing value (darkness) as acrylics may have. Instead, they’re pressed into cakes containing different shades or tints along with gum Arabic as an adhesive medium. Watercolors work best on absorbent papers because it creates more color intensity than non-absorbent surfaces such as plastic.

Watercolor paint dries quickly. It’s also not weatherproof once dry, so the colors will fade if exposed to sunlight for extended periods of time. You should always use archival quality paper that won’t warp due to moisture when working with watercolors.

Read more about the best watercolor paints in our buyer’s guide.

What is Acrylic Paint?

Acrylic paint can be made from a variety of ingredients including acrylic polymer emulsions, pigments, and other additives depending on the brand you choose to use.

This type of paint typically requires visual mixing by shaking up the bottle before use due to how it’s designed because there are no mixed colors within each container like in oil paints or watercolors that need special preparation beforehand. However, some brands may contain pre-mixed colors if desired which changes the consistency without affecting performance once applied onto different surfaces such as paper, canvas, or wood boards.

Acrylics dry fast which causes problems when painting with water-based media because the paint will begin to dry in your brush before you have a chance to blend colors together. However, this is one of the main advantages when working on non-absorbent surfaces such as plastics or metals where it can sometimes take days for acrylic paints to fully cure and harden when applied thickly.

Most brands of acrylics are mixed with a polymer adhesive called methyl methacrylate which also makes them more durable than watercolors once they’re dry—but there’s no risk for fading over time due to sunlight exposure.

Many artists prefer using acrylic paints because of their ease in handling, but it’s also the least expensive type of paint available for painters who are just starting out or looking to do some experimenting without breaking the bank on more expensive media.

We also found The Best Acrylic Paint of 2021 for Beginners and Pros.

Watercolor vs Acrylic – Similarities

Both watercolor and acrylic paints have a wide range of their own unique properties, but there are also many similarities between the two mediums. For instance:

  • Both types require the same type of paintbrushes for application depending on whether you’re painting with heavy or fluid materials (ie: round vs flat).
  • Colors can be mixed together in either medium to create an endless color palette when using more than one brand/type at once; therefore, it may not matter which type of paint you choose if you plan to expand your equipment later on anyway.
  • Both types require that an underlayer of paint be applied first before adding details or highlights with lighter colors in order to make them stand out better due to how opaque they tend to look when applied thickly.

What Is the Difference Between Acrylic and Watercolor Paint?

There are several differences between acrylic paint and watercolor paints that will impact the way you approach your art depending on what type of work you prefer to do.

Paint Ingredients

The main difference between acrylic paint and watercolor paints is the ingredients used to create them.

Acrylic paint typically consists of pigments, a solvent (such as ethyl alcohol), additives like flow enhancers or thickeners depending on the brand/type, preservatives for longer shelf life, and then some form of binder that holds everything together.

Watercolors, on the other hand, typically use pigments that have been ground into a very fine powder form suspended in an adhesive liquid such as gum arabic—the liquid will make up anywhere from 30%-60% of your paint while everything else (pigment and solvent mixture) will make up the rest.

Watercolor paints are created with natural pigments while acrylics are made using synthetic ingredients that don’t require solvents or other chemicals to create the end result.
Many watercolors contain poisonous elements like arsenic, lead chromium, and cobalt in order to achieve their bright results—this is only true for certain brands/types of paint so make sure you’re buying from a trusted brand before purchasing this type of media.

Acrylic paint doesn’t generally have these harmful components unless it’s mixed with another substance which can cause problems when used incorrectly depending on your preferences (ie: toxic fumes).

Surfaces You Can Paint

Watercolors are best used for projects that require the paints to be applied on absorbent surfaces like paper, fabric, wood, etc. since they can soak up more of the product and produce brighter results overall compared to acrylics. This is because watercolors need a surface that will allow them to interact with other types of media while still drying properly so your piece doesn’t smudge or smear before everything’s completed correctly.

Acrylic paints can be applied onto non-absorbent surfaces like plastic or metal but the results will vary depending on what you’re trying to do. For instance, acrylics tend to produce brighter overall colors when used with watercolor objects (ie: paper) due to their ability to interact properly without damaging either media.

One reason why acrylic paints are often chosen over watercolors is due to their ability to comply with other mediums without causing problems such as clumping or smudging when used incorrectly—this allows artists more freedom while creating a specific type of project so your creativity isn’t restricted by the media itself but rather what it’s capable of doing once properly applied.

Uses of Paint and Style Differences

While most people assume that acrylic and watercolor paints serve the same purpose, they’re not always interchangeable. There’s a specific style that you’ll need to use when creating certain types of paintings depending on the media you choose.

Watercolor is typically used for smaller pieces where acrylic can be applied in several different ways but tends to work best with larger projects due to its ability to layer and blend colors together.

Acrylics offer several different advantages over traditional watercolors including quicker drying times (it only takes about 15 minutes on average), less frequent cleanup, and the ability to work with larger pieces.

If you’re struggling with which paint type is right for your project, then consider acrylics due to their versatility and wide range of uses!


Once dry, watercolors aren’t very durable since they’re known to flake off over time which may lead to loss of color pigments as well.

On the flip side, acrylic paints tend to stick around longer than watercolors regardless of climate changes.

Acrylic paint is best used for projects that will be prominently displayed or touched frequently. Watercolors should only be applied if it’s going to be kept in a closed container and out of the public eye.


Watercolors tend to be very watery and transparent while acrylics are much thicker in consistency so there’s a significant visual difference when looking at each type next to one another!

Acrylics can be brighter due to their ability to mix in a greater number of colors that will enhance the vibrancy and depth of your piece whereas watercolors are much more limited since they tend to produce either dull or vibrant results.

For this reason, acrylic paint is typically used by artists who want a large variety when it comes to options while working on paintings with darker color schemes.

Transparent Vs. Opaque

Artists tend to enjoy watercolor for its transparency because it allows the white of the paper to come through which gives everything a softer appearance; however, acrylic paint tends not to allow this effect due to its thickness and creamy consistency.

Acrylics are considered opaque in comparison since they cover up what’s underneath much easier than watercolors do (ie: you can’t see the colors below as easily).

The difference between acrylic paints vs watercolors often comes down simply to whether or not you prefer painting with either transparent or opaque medium!

The Difference In How The White Is Used

Watercolor will naturally allow the white of your paper to show through while acrylics tend to cover up what’s underneath more easily. This means if you enjoy painting with a lot of whites in your pieces then watercolors are going to be ideal for this!

Acrylics are often used for darker paintings because of their ability to block out the white background.

The Differences in Priming Your Surface

Watercolor paints are typically applied directly to your paper so you don’t have to prime it first whereas acrylics require a layer of gesso (or other primers) before they can be used since water-based paint won’t adhere properly.

Dry Time

Another difference between acrylic paints vs watercolor paint is that the former dries much faster!

Acrylics will take about 15 minutes on average to dry once applied whereas watercolors can take anywhere from 30 minutes up until several hours – even days in some cases.

This means if you’re looking for a quick turnaround time then acrylics are going to be your best bet since they allow for more frequent touchups without having to wait around all day long.

Watercolors require longer drying times due to how thinned out their consistency tends to be which makes it easier for pigment particles within them to dissolve rather quickly.

Clean Up

Watercolors are generally known for requiring more time or materials when it comes to cleaning up after use whereas acrylics will be easier on the brushes and surfaces you’re working with!

This difference between acrylic paint vs watercolor is due to the former’s thicker consistency which makes it much easier for cleanup since brushes can be cleaner with less effort needed.


Both options are fairly similar in terms of cost but if you’re trying to buy by individual shade then watercolors tend to have a higher price point simply because there are more options for each color!

Watercolor vs Acrylic for Beginners

Acrylics are better for beginners since they’re thicker and more opaque; however, watercolors can be easier once you get the hang of using them since their consistency is much more forgiving.

If you enjoy painting with a lot of different colors then go for acrylics but if you want something that’s mostly transparent with little ability to mix then watercolor paint is ideal!

Both options would actually make great choices depending on the size and scope of your project (ie: watercolors may be better for smaller paintings whereas acrylics would work best with larger ones).

Final Words

There isn’t one overall “best” choice when it comes to choosing between watercolor vs acrylic paints – each type has its own unique properties which makes them useful depending on how they’re going to be used; however, if you’re struggling between which paint type is right for your project then consider acrylics due to their versatility and wide range of uses!

With so many differences between these two types—including material compatibility, ease of use/drying time, durability, etc.—it’s important that you do thorough research before deciding what will be best suited for your next painting project!

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