Gouache‌ ‌vs‌ ‌Watercolor‌: What’s the Difference? (A Detailed Comparison)

Gouache‌ ‌vs‌ ‌Watercolor‌

Gouache and watercolor are two of the most popular water-soluble pigments and binders. And for beginners, it can be a little tricky to tell the two apart.

Gouache‌ ‌vs‌ ‌Watercolor‌: in a Nutshell

Despite their similarities, gouache and watercolor have very distinct differences that any aspiring painter (or hobbyist) should know about.


Gouache Watercolor
Opaque and has a matte finish Transparent and fluid
Contains more pigmentation Tends to seep into other colors
Dries quicker Easier to blend
Can be used on many types of paper Harder to fix mistakes/errors
Easier to cover up mistakes/errors Requires a specific type of paper
Is tougher to learn how to use and control Takes longer to dry
Tougher to blend It’s inexpensive and easy to find
Can be a little more expensive than watercolor Requires the use of softer brushes that hold a lot of water
Can be used with more brittle or hard brushes You use more water to create lighter colors
You use white paint to lighten colors Watercolor pigment particles are smaller


  • They are both waterbased paints, made of similar materials and pigments
  • They require similar preparation and clean up
  • They both can be bought in tubes
  • Both need plenty of practice and diligence to master

Let’s take a closer look at the differences and similarities between gouache and watercolor, and find out how each medium can be applied.

Gouache: A Short Overview

Despite having been around for over 700 years, gouache is surprisingly not as well-known or used as other paint media.

Unlike watercolors, gouache comes in tubes and is mixed in a palette.
Has a beautiful matte finish
Can produce vibrant, opaque colors
Mistakes are far easier to correct as opposed to watercolor
Can be used on thinner papers
Can be used on colored papers
Can dry much faster than watercolors
The order in which your paint won’t matter too much
It’s more difficult to learn
Can crack if applied too thickly
Depending on the brand you’re using, it can be a little difficult to blend


They’re sometimes called “opaque watercolors” because they hold a more solid shade compared to watercolors, but when added with water, they become translucent.

When you’re using gouache, you have the option of either watering it down or building up its consistency. The end result of a gouache painting should be a radiant art piece with a matte finish.


The pigments that are used in both gouache and watercolors are often the same. The only difference is that gouache may contain a lot more pigmentation than watercolors. This is essentially what contributes to its opacity, on top of larger pigment particles.

Particle size refers to the transparency and dispersibility of paint.

Drying Time and Finish

Gouache has a much shorter drying period compared to your typical watercolor. Once it’s dry, it has a beautiful matte finish that reduces surface reflectivity.

This is technically why it isn’t uncommon for illustrators and designers to use gouache because it makes it easier to photograph or scam those large, flat areas of color to create digital illustrations.

Lightfastness and Permanence

Lightfastness refers to the ability of paint to remain vivid under constant light or sunlight. Gouache has varying levels of lightfastness; Winsor & Newton describe them as:

  • AA – Extremely permanent
  • A – Permanent
  • B – Fades after time
  • C – Transient
It’s recommended that painters who require higher levels of permanence stick with AA- and A-rated gouache paints.
Credits: Winsor & Newton Testing for Lightfastness

Re-Workability and Flexibility

The best thing about gouache is that it’s a very flexible medium. So long as you’re working on a strong base (e.g., bristol paper, heavy-duty watercolor paper, canvas, or wood) gouache can be layered, thinned out, lifted, or even scrubbed out.

Brush Type

Seeing how gouache can be slightly thicker than most watercolors, it can be used with harder brushes.

This can help create more structure in your paintings, which is something you might want to play around with.
Credits: Nicholas Holman Art

Ease of Use

Gouache has quite a steep learning curve that can often get steeper if you buy cheap paint. So, it’s highly recommended that you don’t settle for the cheapest thing you find on the market.

Since Gouache is a versatile paint, there isn’t a standard recommendation for when or how to use them. Generally, gouache is ideal for making large, bold areas of color.

For instance, you can use it when you’re painting letters or filling in pencil drawings.

To learn how to use gouache, you first need a few simple materials:

  • Gouache paint
  • Paintbrushes
  • Paper
  • Mixing tray
  • Paper towel
  • Eyedropper
  • Scrap paper
  • 2 cups with water

When you finally have a handle on the basics, you can proceed to explore other gouache painting techniques, like:

  • Staining: When you create a large wash of color on your paper that could, for example, serve as the background of your painting.
  • Opaque layers: Adding in shapes and layers on top of your background.
  • Wet-on-wet: Dampening your paper and then adding gouache paint, creating blurred edges and shapes.
Opacity and Pigmentation:
Drying Time and Finish:
Ease of Use:
Gouache is perfect for both professionals and beginners who are looking to create vivid and stunning paintings on various types of surfaces. It’s flexible and has a high re-workability rate, making it easier for you to correct errors as you see fit. There may be a slight learning curve for most beginners, but if you’re dedicated enough, you’ll likely get the hang of it in no time! 


Watercolor: A Short Overview

Whether you’re an artist or just an everyday Joe, you probably have extensive experiences with watercolor, being that we’ve all used it as kids. Walk into any convenience store or department store and you can pick up a pallet at just 99 cents.

Watercolor is popular for being inexpensive but still able to produce a beautiful piece of art — when used the right way.
It’s inexpensive yet produces beautiful end results
It’s much easier to blend compared to gouache paints
It’s easier to work with, especially for beginners
It’s easier to learn
It has a longer drying time as opposed to gouache paints
You’ll likely spend longer hours layering colors if you want to produce a more vibrant image
Can only be used on white-colored paper
Mistakes are far more difficult to correct
Painting order matters a lot (light to dark colors)
Colors can easily bleed into each other

They’re often used by landscape and still-life artists, and work well with other mediums, like graphite, colored pencils, and ink for mixed media pieces.


As watercolor paints produce more wetness, paintings don’t often come out as opaque compared to if you were using gouache. Watercolor paintings come out transparent and require a specific type of paper (watercolor paper) for nicer results.

Finding the perfect water-to-paint ratio takes time and the product you choose will also matter. Therefore, you mustn’t buy cheap when choosing a watercolor pan set.


The pigmentation in watercolors is a lot less compact than in gouache, which causes that nice transparent effect that we’ve all come to love. The particle sizes in watercolors are also smaller.

Drying Time and Finish

Because watercolors use a lot more of (yup, you guessed it!) water, it takes longer to dry than gouache. This can pose a huge inconvenience for people who are short on time or just don’t have the patience to wait until everything is dry to paint on another layer.

Similar to gouache, it can also come in tubes but typically you’ll see them in pan sets.
Credits: makoccino

Watercolors produce a beautiful translucent finish, although some people might find it unattractive compared to the opaque colors that gouache offers.

Lightfastness and Permanence

Watercolors have varying levels of lightfastness, depending on the pigments used to create their colors. You can see a real difference when you buy cheaper watercolors and compare them with higher-end products.

Cheap watercolors (and gouache) tend to fade much quicker, with some paintings not even lasting a year!

Re-Workability and Flexibility

Because watercolors are very water-sensitive, it takes only a single stray drop to reactivate paint — even if it’s been dry for hours! This makes it much easier to ruin a great painting without meaning to.

Mistakes are also incredibly difficult to correct.

If you want to create smooth and even washes or gradients, you want to make sure that your wetness is always even to avoid any unwanted blotchiness or textured effects (e.g., the cauliflower effect, which is also called backruns).

Brush Type

As mentioned earlier, watercolors require a ton of water, which is why it’s recommended to use a brush that is soft and can hold more water. This makes it much easier to blend colors into other colors.

Another great idea to use with watercolors are brushes with water reservoirs. They come in varying shapes and sizes and are great for painting pictures on the go.

Ease of Use

Watercolor is often the go-to medium for some fashion designers and illustrators because the pain can be blended to depict a varied range of textures.

To learn how to use watercolor, you will need:

  • Watercolor paint
  • Soft-bristled brushes
  • A mixing tray
  • Watercolor paper
  • 2 cups with water
  • Paper towel

Focus on learning how to adjust the amount of water you use in your paint, to create different shades and translucencies.

Opacity and Pigmentation:
Drying Time and Finish:
Ease of Use:
Watercolor is great for those who are just getting into painting and want to start off easy. It’s incredibly easy to find and won’t ask you to sacrifice that much money and resources to start using. There may be a slight issue with drying time taking longer. There might also be instances where one color of paint may bleed into another. But once you learn how to properly balance your water-to-paint ratio, you’ll be all good!

What is best for beginners?

Although watercolor is more well-known than gouache, both are technically beginner mediums. Unlike acrylic or oil paints, gouache and watercolors leave more room for the artist to err.

If you’re unhappy with your initial outcome, you can simply rewet and reapply the paint you used and change it to your liking.

Rather than considering the skill level required for either gouache or watercolor, think about which type of finish you prefer: translucent or matte.

Can you mix gouache with watercolor?

Yes — but only if you do it right.

To create an exceptional piece of artwork, it’s important to have in mind a couple of considerations to ensure that you make the most out of both medium’s strengths.

Here’s a video showing different techniques you can use when combining gouache with watercolor:

The Bottom Line

As you might see, Gouache and Watercolors both have varying strengths and weaknesses.

If you’re a complete beginner, starting with watercolor might be the best thing. Because it’s easier to control and much more affordable compared to gouache, it’s the best option for those who are only starting out painting.

Alternatively, if you’ve been playing around with watercolor for a while now and are looking for a slight change of pace, then gouache might be the best option for you.

Ultimately, what you want to consider when choosing which medium to go for is whether you want a matte finish (such as the one you get from gouache) or a translucent finish (such as the one you get from watercolors).

We hope this guide helps you make the right choice about which medium to settle for.

If you enjoyed reading our article, be sure to share it with your friends and family!

Also, if there’s anything you think we missed out on, feel free to share it with us in the comments section below!

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