Gouache Vs Watercolor: What’s the Difference?

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Gouache vs watercolor: which is the best? If you’re looking to get started painting, you might be wondering what the difference is between gouache and watercolor.

Learn more about using gouache and watercolor.

gouache vs watercolor

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You might also like these posts on my favorite watercolor paint and the best gouache for beginners.

Gouache Vs Watercolor


Gouache is also known as opaque watercolors because they work very similar to watercolors. They’re known for their opaque finish when dry, but can also be used in a transparent manner.

As with all art supplies, buy the best you can afford. Gouache has a particularly hard learning curve that can be made harder with cheap paint. I recommend this starter set of gouache.

Gouache comes in tubes and is mixed in a palette.

Like watercolor, gouache is made of pigment and gum arabic binder. Except that it uses a lot more pigment. Cheap brands skimp on pigments so it can be harder to get a nice solid finish.

Gouache is often used in paintings with more details than watercolors, which tend to be loose.

Want to learn more about painting with gouache? Read here.

For this comparison, I’ll be referring to traditional gouache and not acrylic gouache.

gouache tubes

Pros of Gouache:

  • Beautiful matte finish. The matte, chalky finish is perfect for solid shapes.
  • Opaque. Which means that the paint can be layered.
  • Mistakes are easier to correct. Since paint can be layered, it’s easy to paint over mistakes to perfect them.
  • Can be used on thinner papers. Gouache uses less water, so you can get away with sketchbook paper or mixed media paper
  • Can be used on colored paper. Since the paint is opaque, you can paint over colored paper easier.
  • Dry much faster than watercolor. With less water, the dry time is much faster.
  • Colors have a harder time bleeding together if they touch.
  • Order of colors doesn’t matter. You can paint light to dark or dark to light.

Cons of Gouache:

  • More difficult to learn. I find gouache to be much harder to learn.
  • Can be more difficult to blend. Since the colors don’t bleed when they touch, it can be harder to blend colors.
  • Uses white to lighten colors. Gouache uses white to make lighter colors which feels very different that watercolor. Watercolor uses more water to make lighter colors.


Watercolors are known for their translucence. The colors mix and create beautiful textures on the paper.

Watercolor comes in tubes, pan sets, and liquids. Read more about watercolor types here.

watercolor tubes

Pros of Watercolors:

  • Beautiful translucent finish. Watercolors use the white of the paper to give the appearance of light.
  • Easy to blend. The water does all the work and the colors blend effortlessly.
  • Paint is fluid and easy to work with. It flows on the brush much easier than say acrylics.
  • Pretty easy to learn. I find watercolor easier to work with because I like working with water.

Cons of Watercolors:

  • Long drying time. Watercolors use a lot of water, so they take forever to dry.
  • Longer working time. Since the dry time is so long, if you want layers, you need to wait until the first layers dry or the color will bleed together.
  • Can only be used on white watercolor paper. Thinner paper will bucker. Dark paper won’t show the paint since it’s too translucent.
  • Mistakes can be difficult or impossible to correct. Too much paint can be removed with a dry brush or paper towel, but if you paint something in the wrong spot, there’s no correcting that.
  • Order of color matters when painting. You must paint light to dark and leave the white spots white.
  • Colors can bleed together. This is also a pro for me, since I love the way it looks when the colors bleed together.
a comparison of watercolors and gouache
Top Row: Gouache in a transparent finish, gouache in an opaque finish.
Bottom Row: Watercolor

Conclusion: Gouache VS Watercolor

It sounds like I like gouache more, but in actuality, I like both of them for different purposes. In fact, I even like to use them together.

Gouache is great for solid shapes and watercolor is great for translucent shapes.

Experiment with both and see what you like best.

paintings of vintage pyrex using watercolors and gouache
Watercolor version and gouache version

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difference between gouache and watercolors

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