Gouache vs Watercolor: What’s the Difference?

Princeton Art Brush Co.Painting Techniques, Watercolor, What's New

gouache vs watercolor

At first glance, gouache vs watercolor might look very similar. They’re not entirely different after all. Both are made up of water-soluble pigments and binders (but the ratio is different). Both mediums are also used by beginners and experienced artists. So, what are the real differences?

gouache vs watercolor transparency
Opaque vs Transparent

The first difference is how each paint looks when it is used and when it dries. Gouache is more opaque than watercolor because it has a higher pigment content that is ground into larger particles. This is what prevents it from granulating, resulting in a matte finish. The pigment in watercolor is a lot less packed together, allowing more light to pass through. When using watercolor, light travels through the tiny particles, hits the white paper, and bounces back to create a luminous and transparent look.

Pictured: MaimeriBlu Watercolor and Maimeri Gouache

The Difference in Techniques for Gouache vs Watercolor

When using watercolor or gouache you must use different techniques to get your desired results. If you want a lighter color when painting with watercolor, you simply add more water. To make a lighter color with gouache you must add more paint. For example, if you want a light blue you will have to mix white and blue. However, you can make gouache more transparent by adding water to it as well.

gouache vs watercolor techniques

The layering of gouache vs watercolor is also different. When using watercolor, you paint your lighter, background shades first and then add darker shades in the negative space. Alternatively, you can paint a dark background and layer light colors on top when using gouache.

Although you use different techniques when painting with them, watercolor and gouache are water-soluble and can be mixed with water to create more diluted colors. Both mediums can also be reactivated with water after they have dried which allows you to lift, scrub, and blend the paint. If you’re wondering what type of paper to use, you can use watercolor paper or mixed media paper for both!

gouache vs watercolor

When to Use Gouache or Watercolor

Gouache is often used by illustrators because it dries quickly and allows you to paint large blocks of color. The bold, flat, poster-like finish makes it excellent for lettering and illustration.

Watercolor dries much slower than gouache depending on how much water is added to it. Landscape and still-life artists typically use watercolor as their medium because of the slower drying time that allows for easy blending.

Brushes for Each Medium

Princeton Watercolor Brushes

A few of our favorite brushes to use for watercolor are the Neptune, Aqua Elite, and Heritage brush series. Princeton watercolor brushes hold a lot of water and deliver oceans of color. They also provide an even release of color for easy and precise painting. These brushes can be used with gouache as well because it is also water-soluble.Mixed Media Princeton Brushes

We like to use our Velvetouch, Select Artiste, and Mini-Detailer brush series when painting with gouache. These brushes are the best quality for mixed media with great color holding capacity and a smooth application. Any brush in the Velvetouch, Mini-Detailer, and Select Artiste series is great for fine detailing and precise tasks with watercolor or gouache.

Overall, when looking at gouache vs watercolor it is easy to tell the two apart once you are aware of the differences. Their appearance, makeup, and technique differ enough to use each for a specific type of artwork. Your creative process and vision for your work will play a role in your decision to use one or the other—or both! Happy creating!