Acrylic Paint vs Gouache Compared: Differences and Similarities


If you have ever wondered about acrylics and gouache paints and wondered about their differences, well you’ve come to the right post. Whether your interest is in comparing these mediums or combining them perhaps I can shed some light .

It first starts with understanding the chemical makeup of each, so you know what to expect if you choose to experiment.

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acrylics vs gouache

What is Gouache?

First of all, what is gouache exactly? I’m finally learning how to spell it and pronounce it correctly (“gwash”) I used to say it wrong: “Goo-aush”. What it is, is a type of paint that has been around for awhile that is characterized by its water based quality, it has the consistency of watercolors but without the transparency of them.

I like to refer to this paint medium as “opaque watercolor” because that’s what it is, in a nutshell. That’s a little simplistic an answer so I’ll be elaborating further throughout this article. However, like acrylics, gouache is water-based, water soluble and have a certain level of color pigmentation that gives it a level of vibrancy.

Gouache is formulated from water, color pigment and gum arabic which acts as a binding agent. In some instances, yellow dextrin is used, as it costs less. It’s a paint media that’s been around the block for awhile – centuries, to be exact. If you are studying the work of various modern (and not so modern) artists, you may come across a few of their works made with it.

tubes of gouache paint
This is my own gouache paint set. They come in small tubes just like watercolors

In contemporary times, it’s used in a lot of comic book illustration work, posters and graphic novels.

Gouache paints can be re-moistened when working and dries to a matte finish. There are also other fillers that give it its opacity such as the presence of chalk. The color pigment ratio to binder is greater.. If you’ve ever worked in watercolors (its closest cousin) you know them to be translucent in color.

Here’s a little demo I did with my own paint sets, I used my gouache set to do a simple piece of illustration work to provide an idea of the level of color vibrancy you can expect. I was always taken with historical fashion which inspired this illustration – costume of an aristocratic lady in 17th/18th century Europe;

whats the difference between gouache and acrylic paint

You can see where I used a mixing tray which was designed for use with watercolors; it worked very well for this.

Then I replicated the same illustration (well…close) with my acrylics.  I do want to mention that this isn’t the most refined work I’ve done; it is more like a “thumbnail” approach,  But it’s enough to demonstrate color depth, vibrancy, opacity and so on.


As you may already know, you cannot re-dampen acrylics. If you “goof” you will have to paint over it after it dries. Another thing is that acrylics are not always matte looking.

acrylic paint vs gouache

One thing that is tricky to master about gouaches is the fact that there isn’t much consistency with color values. Light colors (e.g. yellow) dry darker upon drying and dark colors appear lighter. Acrylics as a rule, always appear darker when dry regardless of color.

So if you attempt to mix them together, this is something to be aware of. Maybe it’s the brand I was using, but I didn’t notice that with this example work I did.

What is an “Acrylic Gouache”?

Have you ever heard of something called an “acrylic gouache”? If not that’s okay, as this is a medium that’s a relatively new development. It involves the traditional formula of gouache as we know it, combined with an acrylic based binder. Once dry, it takes on a matte finish. It is water resistant and opaque looking.

So if you’d like to get the best of both worlds, this is something to look into.

To Sum Up…

So…after reading this article, which medium do you think you like better?  Hopefully I have clarified some things and made things easier for you to make an informed decision. Happy painting!


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