The ultimate differences between watercolor and gouache

Gouache and watercolors are very similar mediums to work with… It can be confusing when trying to decipher what makes them different.¬†

In this post, you’ll read all about the differences between watercolor and gouache!

Let’s get into it…

Table of Contents

Difference between gouache and watercolor

The main difference between gouache and watercolor is that gouache is far more opaque than watercolor. Additionally, gouache is thicker in consistency and dries more quickly. On the other hand, watercolors are more transparent, meaning light can travel through the paint layers and reflect off the white paper to create a luminous effect.

Both gouache and watercolor are made similarly, with a water-soluble binder. Watercolors are made using finer pigments, while gouache is made with the additional ingredient of white chalk that makes it thicker and opaque.

Similarities and differences

The table below highlights the main similarities and differences between gouache and watercolor:

Gouache
Watercolor
Opaque
Transparent
Matte finish
Translucent finish
Dries faster than watercolor
Takes longer to dry (more time to make adjustments)
You can paint from both dark to light and light to dark
You can only paint from light to dark
Water soluble
Water soluble
Thick and dense
Lightweight (made with finer pigments)
Dark colors dry lighter, Light colors dry darker
All colors dry lighter in value
Doesn't require thick watercolor paper
Requires thick paper to handle many washes

The image below shows the differences in transparency between the two mediums. I drew three vertical lines with a permanent marker. The first one to the left shows the difference between white gouache and white watercolor.

The second one shows four swatches of gouache after gradually adding small amounts of water. The last line shows four swatches of watercolor paint slowly being diluted. If you look closely at the swatches of gouache, you’ll see some of the pigment on the last swatch, even though I mixed more water and very little gouache.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Gouache

Pros:

  1.  Easier to control
  2. Matte finish
  3. Although thick watercolor paper is recommended, you can still use it on lighter paper, which is less expensive.
  4. You can paint from dark to light or light to dark depending on your personal preferences.
  5. Mistakes are much easier to correct because the medium is opaque so the light colors are visible when painted over dark colors.
 
Cons
  1. Difficult to blend edges
  2. Dries quickly. However, this can be seen as an advantage for illustrators who paint solid shapes.
  3. The darker colors dry lighter and lighter colors dry darker. This can be frustrating.
  4. The paint can sometimes crack or leave a chalky residue after it’s dried.
 

Watercolor advantages and disadvantages

Pros:

  1.  Easy to blend colors and edges
  2. Luminocity, you can create stunning sunset paintings!
  3. You can create spontaneous paintings.
  4. Takes longer to dry so you have more time to work.
 
Cons
  1. Hard to control
  2. Difficult to correct mistakes. This is because, with watercolor, you can only work from light values to dark.
  3. Requires thick paper which can be expensive

Can you mix watercolor and gouache?

Yes, you absolutely can! Some artists use white gouache to add highlights to their watercolor paintings. A good example of this is painting white foam on beach waves using white gouache.

Both mediums are very closely related, so what would happen if you mixed the two directly? The watercolor paint would become more opaque and turn into gouache. You could use it in this way, however, once you mix your watercolors with gouache there’s no going back. That is why it is recommended to keep them separated on the palette even if you are using both on the same painting

Another way to mix the two is to start your painting with watercolor, let it dry, and then paint over the dried layers with gouache.

Can gouache be used as watercolor?

Gouache can definitely be used as watercolor! Gouache is water soluble, so you can mix it with water and dilute it. As I mentioned before, you can also paint from light to dark, the same way you would with watercolors. However, it won’t be as transparent, luminous, and spontaneous.

On the bright side, mistakes are much easier to correct with gouache because you can also paint starting with dark colors to light.

That’s it for this post! Hopefully, you have found this post useful and understand the differences between the two mediums. If you want to learn more about watercolor painting and get access to free resources sign up for my email newsletter below! I would also love to hear from you!!

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