Art History Lab

Unveiling the Differences: Watercolor vs. Acrylic Paint

Watercolor and Acrylic Paint: Understanding the Differences

Painting is an art form that has existed for centuries, and it continues to evolve with time. One of the most exciting aspects of painting is the variety of mediums available, each with its unique characteristics.

Two of the most popular mediums are watercolor and acrylic paint. Do you want to learn more about these two mediums and their differences?

If so, continue reading. In this article, we will be exploring the differences between watercolor and acrylic paint, as well as some of the aspects of watercolor paint in particular.

Pigment and Binding Medium

Before we delve into the specifics, let’s start by comparing the pigment and binding medium of these two mediums. Watercolor paint is a medium that contains fine, powdered pigments mixed with gum arabic and water.

The pigment and binding medium are mixed together giving the paint a transparent quality. This allows the white of the paper to show through and create luminosity.

On the other hand, acrylic paint is made of pigments that are suspended in acrylic polymer emulsion. The binding medium is primarily water, but it also contains various additives that manipulate the paint’s viscosity and drying time.

Watercolor paints will dry by evaporation of the water, leaving the pigment on the paper. Any mistakes made with watercolor paints can be tricky to rectify.

Conversely, acrylic paints dry faster due to the water they contain evaporating. Once dry, acrylic paints are quite resilient and can be painted over without disturbing the previously painted information.

Water-solubility and Cleaning Up

Another significant difference between watercolor and acrylic paint is their water-solubility. Watercolor paint is water-soluble, making it easy to clean up and use.

Artists can reactivate the paint after it has dried by wetting the paper or applying a clear water wash to the dried color. On the other hand, acrylic paint is water-resistant and has to be cleaned up with soap and water before it dries.

Furthermore, once the paint has dried, it cannot be reactivated with water. This means if your acrylic paint dries on your brush, you may need solvents or specialized brushes to get it off.

Types of Watercolor Paints

Watercolor paints come in two types – pans and tubes. Pan watercolors are solid cakes of paint that come in small plastic or metal containers.

Artists use a wet paintbrush to activate the paint and transfer it to paper. The good thing about pan watercolors is that they are convenient and easy to travel with since they are lightweight and compact.

Tube watercolors are a more liquid form of watercolor paint that artists use straight from the tube. When using tube watercolors, a little bit of paint goes a long way as it’s more concentrated than pan colors.

Tube watercolors are better for bigger projects because of their larger size. Paint Transparency, Drying Times, and Clean-Up

As previously mentioned, watercolor paint is highly transparent, and the white of the paper shows through the washed paint.

Watercolor paints, however, come in three forms; transparent, semi-opaque, and opaque. The degree of transparency varies from pigment to pigment.

In contrast, acrylic paint can have varying degrees of opacity or transparency, depending on the paint’s pigment. What sets acrylic paint apart is that it dries to a plastic-like finish, with a shiny or matte finish that artists appreciate.

Acrylic paint has a shorter drying time than watercolors since it dries by evaporation, whereas watercolors dry through absorption. This means that once you have applied acrylic paint, you have a small window to manipulate or change it.

With experience, artists learn how to adjust the drying time through the use of various additives. The clean-up of acrylic paint, as previously mentioned, requires soap and water but will become challenging to clean once dry.

With watercolor paint, all you have to do is rinse your equipment with water.


Painting is a deeply personal and individualistic art form, and learning about the variety of mediums available is crucial in expressing oneself. Both watercolor and acrylic paint have unique properties that artists can use to their advantage.

The transparency of watercolor, along with its ease of use, makes it a favorite amongst budding artists. The opacity and plastic-like quality of acrylic paint feel modern and can provide artists with experimentation opportunities they won’t find with watercolor.

We hope that this article has given you a better understanding of the differences between watercolor and acrylic paint and helped you with your next creation. Remember, the key to becoming an experienced artist is through exploration and practice.

Happy painting!

Watercolor Costs and Light Fastness

One essential factor to consider when selecting any medium to work with is the cost involved. Watercolor painting, like any art form, can be as affordable or as expensive as the artist wants it to be.

Cost and Affordability

It is possible to start watercolor painting with a very limited set of colors, which can be purchased at an affordable price. However, as the painter improves, the desire to experiment with new colors, techniques, and equipment may drive up costs.

In general, watercolor paint is more expensive than acrylic paint, and handmade paints tend to be more expensive than commercially available ones. Handmade watercolors differ in their composition with some having higher pigment loading, but the extra expense may not always be worth the difference in the end product.

New artists should consider purchasing student-grade watercolors as they are less expensive but still of decent quality. It is better to invest in a high-quality brush than high-quality paint, as a good brush can last many years and help create better watery effects.

Lightfastness and Color Fading

Another crucial aspect to consider when selecting watercolors, or any other painting medium, is the lightfastness of the paint. Simply put, lightfastness refers to the ability of a paint to resist fading when exposed to light.

Some watercolors tend to fade over time when exposed to natural or artificial light. Professional-grade watercolors have higher-stability pigments, unlike student-grade watercolors.

Artists should check the labeling of the watercolors before investing their time in a piece as some manufacturers will indicate the lightfastness of their colors. Also, it is wise to use archival paper and materials when experimenting or creating lasting pieces.

Watercolor Painting Techniques and Surfaces

Painting Approaches and Layering

Watercolor painting doesnt require a specific technique. Instead, it encourages a painter to experiment with new styles.

One popular watercolor technique is layering, which involves painting multiple transparent layers on top of each other. This approach creates depth, luminosity, and interesting color variations.

Another technique that is often used is washes, which involve applying a wet pigment across the paper surface using a large brush. Doing this creates a unified color field, causing an even tone throughout the painting and can establish an even color wash as the foundation for a specific piece.

Explore more techniques when creating newer pieces to determine what technique works best.

Suitable Surfaces and Paper Quality

An essential factor that affects the final product in watercolor paintings is the paper quality and surface used. Thick and heavy paper can absorb more water and paint compared to thinner paper.

It is recommended to use a paper that is specially designed for watercolor painting. Watercolor paper is available in different textures, each texture providing its unique effects: rough watercolor paper creating a very textured and uneven tone; Cold-pressed, or “NOT,” producing medium amounts of texture, and Hot-pressed or smooth paper, providing flat and even tones.

While watercolor paper is made for watercolor painting, an artist can also explore various painting surfaces such as yupo, Aquabord, or canvas. The surface a painter selects will create a unique look and feel of the painting.

Its best to test different materials and begin with varied experiments to create the desired effect.


Watercolor painting is a versatile and expressive medium that has captured the hearts and minds of artists for centuries. Understanding the techniques, materials, and surfaces available for use and their properties is essential for achieving quality work.

Also, keeping in mind the cost and lightfastness of paint can help determine which paint to use. Experimentation, practice, and continued exploration can help a painter find new and different ways of expressing one’s self through watercolor painting.

Acrylic Art Paints

Acrylic paints are a popular medium amongst artists who enjoy painting on surfaces such as canvas or paper. The versatility and drying speed of acrylic paint make it an attractive choice for experimenting with colors and techniques.

Types of Acrylic Paints

Acrylic paints come in various forms, including jars, tubes, and bottles. Jars are ideal for artists who frequently use large quantities of paint.

Tubes are popular for artists who need to control the amount of paint they use. Bottles are suitable for creating textured effects, as the thicker paint will slowly ooze out onto the painting surface.

Paint Transparency, Drying Times, and Clean-Up

Acrylic paint dries more quickly than other paint media like oil. Once dry, it creates a water-proof bond.

This quality reduces the risk of paintings being damaged during the transportation process. The quick drying times of acrylic paint also give artists more control over their paintings compared to other, more fluid media that may require drying times of many days.

Acrylic paint also has various levels of transparency. Some colors are opaque, meaning they will block the color below them, while others are transparent, allowing the color beneath them to show through.

Acrylic paint is known for its bright colors and vibrancy. With regards to clean-up and care, acrylics are water-based and require a simple cleanup method with water and mild soapy detergent.

Acrylic paint accidents can be corrected quickly with water but once the paint dries, it is no longer soluble. The use of thinners on acrylic paint is not recommended as they can compromise its uniformity and dry speed.

Acrylic Paint Costs and Lightfastness

Cost and Affordability

As with any art material, the cost of acrylic paints may vary depending on factors like quality, brand, and pigment concentration. Student-grade acrylic paints are affordable and are suitable for artists who want to experiment with color and texture without breaking the bank.

Professional-grade paints, on the other hand, are more expensive than student-grade paints and may provide a more extensive color range, higher pigment concentrations, and added benefits, such as faster drying times. In general, pre-mixed colors are more expensive than primary colors and will continue to rise with how unique the color shades are.

Lightfastness and Color Fading

Lightfastness is an essential aspect to consider when choosing art materials. Acrylic paints typically have good lightfastness, meaning they can resist fading under regular levels of exposure to ultraviolet light.

Lightfastness depends on the pigment used in creating the paint, and therefore, not all acrylic paints have the same level of lightfastness. When selecting colors, look for those that have higher lightfastness ratings to ensure the paintings you create last longer.

Lower quality or student-grade acrylic paints can have a lower concentration of pigments that may fade with time or exposure to UV light.


Acrylic paints are an excellent choice for artists who are looking to experiment with color, texture, and building layers. The quick drying times of acrylic paints lend themselves to a more versatile workflow for the artist.

They can be used straight from the tube and require little preparation. Understanding the different grades of paint, types of containers, and attributes like transparency and lightfastness are essential to creating quality work.

With careful selection of materials and a bit of experimentation, artists can produce vibrant acrylic paintings that will last for years to come.

Acrylic Painting Techniques and Surfaces

Acrylic paint offers artists a wide range of techniques and possibilities for creating stunning artworks. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced artist, understanding different painting approaches and surfaces can greatly enhance your acrylic painting experience.

Painting Approaches and Blending

Acrylic paint allows for versatility in terms of painting approaches and techniques. Artists can choose to paint in a realistic style or explore abstract and experimental methods.

Some common approaches to acrylic painting include:

1. Wet-on-wet: This approach involves applying wet paint onto a wet surface.

It allows for seamless blending and smooth transitions between colors. Artists can achieve beautiful gradients and soft, atmospheric effects with this technique.

2. Layering: Layering is the process of building up multiple layers of paint on top of each other.

This technique allows for depth and texture in the artwork. By adding transparent or translucent layers, artists can create luminosity and interesting visual effects.

3. Dry brushing: Dry brushing involves using a small amount of paint on a dry brush.

The brush is lightly dragged across the surface, creating texture and emphasizing surface details. This technique is especially effective for creating highlights and textured surfaces.

Blending is an important aspect of acrylic painting. Acrylic paints blend well with each other, allowing for smooth transitions and gradients.

One technique for blending colors is to use a wet brush to blend two or more colors directly on the painting surface. Another way to blend colors in acrylic painting is by using a glazing technique.

This involves applying a thin layer of translucent paint over a dry layer, creating a blended effect.

Suitable Surfaces and Priming

Acrylic paints can be used on a variety of surfaces, including canvas, wood panels, paper, and even metal. Selecting the right surface is crucial for achieving the desired effect in your artwork.

Canvas is a popular choice for acrylic painting. Stretched canvas offers a solid and stable surface that allows for easy stretching and framing.

It is available in a range of textures, including smooth, medium, and heavy textures. The texture of the canvas will influence the overall appearance of the artwork.

Wood panels can also be used as a painting surface for acrylics. They provide a smooth and rigid surface that is less susceptible to warping than canvas.

Wood panels can be primed with acrylic gesso for better paint adhesion and durability. Paper is another option for acrylic painting.

Heavyweight watercolor paper or acrylic paper can handle the weight and moisture of acrylic paints. However, it is important to prime the paper with acrylic gesso to prevent the paint from bleeding through or being absorbed too quickly.

Before painting on any surface, it is essential to properly prime it. Priming prepares the surface for paint application, improves paint adhesion, and prevents the paint from seeping into the support material.

Acrylic gesso is a common primer used for acrylic painting. It creates a smooth and absorbent surface that allows for better paint control and color vibrancy.

If you are painting on a canvas, it is recommended to apply at least two coats of gesso, allowing each coat to dry before applying the next. For other surfaces like wood panels or paper, one layer of gesso is usually sufficient.

Remember to let the gesso dry completely before starting your painting. This ensures that the surface is ready for paint application and provides a suitable working surface for your acrylic masterpiece.


Acrylic painting offers artists a wide range of techniques and possibilities. By exploring different painting approaches and blending techniques, artists can create unique and stunning effects.

Choosing the right surface for your acrylic paintings, whether it’s canvas, wood panels, or paper, can greatly impact the outcome of your artwork. Properly priming the surface with acrylic gesso ensures better paint adhesion and durability.

Experimentation and practice with different techniques and surfaces will allow you to develop your own style and create acrylic paintings that truly reflect your artistic vision. Acrylic painting offers a world of possibilities for artists, with a variety of techniques to explore and surfaces to paint on.

Understanding different painting approaches, such as wet-on-wet and layering, allows for creating stunning effects and blending colors seamlessly. Choosing the right surface, whether it’s canvas, wood panels, or paper, and priming it with acrylic gesso ensures better adhesion and durability.

The importance of these factors cannot be overstated, as they greatly influence the outcome of an artwork. By mastering acrylic painting techniques and selecting suitable surfaces, artists can unleash their creativity and create captivating acrylic paintings that truly express their artistic vision.

So grab your brushes, experiment with techniques, and explore different surfaces to embark on an exciting acrylic painting journey that will leave a lasting impression on both you and your audience.

Popular Posts