Art History Lab

Gouache vs. Acrylic Paint: Understanding the Differences and Uses

Gouache paint and acrylic paint are two popular mediums that artists use to create their artworks. While they might look similar at first glance, they have their own unique properties that set them apart.

In this article, we will explore the differences between gouache and acrylic paint, as well as their individual characteristics and how to effectively use them.


One of the most significant differences between gouache and acrylics is their durability. Gouache is water-soluble and can easily be reactivated with water.

This makes it more susceptible to moisture, dust, and UV light damage, which may lead to the paint cracking or fading over time. Therefore, if you choose to display your gouache painting, it is best to frame it behind glass with proper varnish to protect it from the elements.

On the other hand, acrylic paint is made with a plastic-based binder, which makes it waterproof, durable, and resistant to fading. Artists who use acrylics often paint on non-traditional surfaces such as plastic, metal, or fabric.

Acrylics have the most display options, as they can be shown without a frame and even be made waterproof by using a protective varnish.


Another difference between gouache and acrylic paint is the binder used. Gouache is made with gum arabic, which is a water-soluble gum crystallized from the sap of the acacia tree.

When in contact with water, the gum becomes sticky and binds the pigments together. Once the paint dries, the gum forms a waterproof film that locks in the pigment.

Acrylics use an acrylic polymer as a binder that creates a plastic-like film on the surface when dried. This provides a waterproof and non-yellowing finish similar to oil paint but with water-soluble properties.

The binder dries quickly, allowing artists to layer and rework the paint without waiting for an extended period.

Consistency, vibrancy, and finish

Gouache paint has a thicker consistency than watercolor, but it can be thinned down to a watercolor-like consistency.

Gouache paint is known for its liveliness due to the high pigment concentration, allowing for vibrant colors, opaque coverage, and soft textures. It dries to a matte, flat finish unless mixed with a gloss medium.

Acrylics have a larger color range and can achieve a vast range of finishes, from a high gloss to a dull matte. The paint also has a plastic-like quality that allows it to hold its shape and texture when dry.

Because the binder is plastic, acrylics dry to a glossy finish, but the finish can be altered by using a matte medium or other additives.

Paintable Surfaces

Gouache paint can be used on a wide range of surfaces such as paper, canvas, illustration board, and watercolor paper or canvas. It can also be painted over with other water-based mediums such as watercolor or ink.

Furthermore, gouache can be used to paint on dark surfaces as it has excellent coverage.

Acrylic paint can be used on most surfaces, including wood, metal, plastic, and fabric.

The paint adheres to surfaces well, but it might need a primer coat in some cases. Still, it is essential to note that acrylics tend to crack when painted on flexible surfaces.

Drying Time

Gouache is water-soluble and dries more slowly than acrylic paint. Gouache paint can be reworked once it is dry, provided the surface has not been saturated with water.

This can be achieved by using a mist bottle to moisten the surface, allowing the gouache paint to be lifted or blended.

Acrylics dry quickly, within minutes in some cases, and when the paint is dry, it becomes water-resistant.

This makes it difficult to blend colors or make changes without visibly impacting the underlying layers. However, special additives, called retarders, can slow the drying process, allowing for more blending and color shifting.

Rewetting and Reworking

When dry, gouache paint can be reworked by painting over it or lifting it off with a damp brush. This means that mistakes can be easily fixed by layering a new color on top of the old one or lifting the color with a damp brush.

Gouache can be used to blend colors, or lift color off the paper using a wet brush.

Acrylic paint cannot be easily lifted when dry, and adding more paint over it results in visible brushstrokes.

This means that mistakes are harder to correct once they are made. However, with a specific additive, called an open medium, acrylics can be reactivated after they dry, allowing artists to blend colors and make changes even after the paint has dried.

Display Options

Gouache paintings are delicate and require proper display to protect them from moisture, dust and UV light. The best way to display gouache paintings is by framing them behind glass to protect them from the elements.

Gouache on fabric can be sealed with varnish once it dries to make it waterproof and durable.

Acrylic paintings have the most display options.

Acrylic paintings can be displayed without a frame if the edges are painted or finished with a cradle board. Acrylic paintings can be protected from the elements by using varnishes that create a durable coating that resists scratches, dust and UV light.


While gouache and acrylic paint might look similar, they have unique properties that make them significant. Understanding these differences is critical when selecting specific paint for specific projects.

We hope this article helped you understand more about these distinctive paints and their uses. Happy painting!

Acrylic paint is a versatile medium that has become increasingly popular among artists due to its unique characteristics and various applications.

In this section, we will delve into the characteristics and uses of acrylic paint.

Characteristics of Acrylic Paint

One of the defining characteristics of acrylic paint is that it is made up of pigments suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion. The polymer emulsion is water-soluble, unlike oil paint, which requires solvents such as turpentine or mineral spirits.

Acrylic paint has a quick drying time, which allows artists to work quickly, creating multiple layers or overpainting without waiting long periods for the paint to dry. Its fast-drying time makes it a preferred medium for artists who want to create artworks efficiently.

Acrylic paint is also known for its versatility in terms of texture, finish, and color. Painters can add mediums or additives to the paint to alter its texture, from thick to thin, glossy to matte.

Uses of Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint can be used on a variety of surfaces, including paper, canvas, wood, plastic, and metal. This makes it an attractive medium for artists who like to experiment with texture and surfaces.

Acrylic paints are particularly well suited to abstract art, where artists can use the paint’s versatility to create a vast range of textures and finishes. Acrylics provide a level of control that oil paints lack due to their longer drying times, making them popular for creating fine details, tight compositions, and realistic effects.

Acrylic paint is also an excellent medium for mixed media artwork, where the combination of colors and textures from different mediums create dynamic visual effects. Artists can even embed additional materials within the paint, such as collage elements or found objects.

Comparison between gouache and acrylic paint

When comparing gouache and acrylic paint, each medium has its benefits and drawbacks. One of the most significant differences between the two is the binder used.

Gouache uses gum arabic as a binder, while acrylics use an acrylic polymer.

While gouache dries quickly, acrylics dry even faster, making them ideal for artists who want to create layers or overpainting without waiting for long periods.

Unlike gouache, acrylics are waterproof and non-yellowing, making them more durable and resistant to fading.

Another difference between the two mediums is in terms of handling and rewetting.

Gouache can be reactivated with water, allowing artists to blend colors and correct mistakes. Acrylic paint dries too fast once applied to the surface and cannot be reactivated with water.

Gouache has more opaque properties than acrylics, allowing for brighter colors and greater coverage with less paint. Acrylics, on the other hand, have a wide range of finishes, from matte to glossy, and can be used on more surfaces than gouache.

Is gouache paint or acrylic paint better? Choosing between gouache paint and acrylic paint depends on the artist’s preferences, project requirements, and desired outcome.

Gouache is a water-soluble medium that dries quickly and can be easily reworked or blended with water. It is an excellent option for artists who enjoy working with opaque colors and want to create soft textures with a matte finish.

Acrylic paint is a versatile medium that dries quickly, is waterproof, and can be used on many surfaces. It provides artists with a wide range of colors and finishes, enabling them to create detailed compositions with greater control.

It is an excellent option for artists who enjoy exploring texture and want to create artworks that last for years without fading or cracking.


In conclusion, choosing between gouache and acrylic paint depends on the desired outcome and the artist’s preferences. Both mediums have their benefits and drawbacks, making them suitable for different types of projects.

We hope this expansion has provided a more comprehensive understanding of acrylic paint, its characteristics, and uses, and the differences between gouache and acrylic. Keep exploring and experimenting with these paints to create unique and exciting artworks.

In conclusion, understanding the differences between gouache and acrylic paint, as well as the characteristics and uses of acrylic paint, is essential for artists looking to create unique and compelling artworks. Acrylic paint is a versatile medium that dries quickly, allowing artists to work efficiently and create different textures and finishes.

Gouache, on the other hand, is ideal for creating soft textures, blending colors, and correcting mistakes. Regardless of the chosen medium, it’s important to experiment and explore the possibilities each offers to find a personal artistic style and create lasting artworks.

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