How to choose between gouache and acrylic

How to choose between gouache and acrylic paint for beginners? Both are good for beginners, they seem to be less intimidating than oil painting, but which one to choose? 

What they have in common

Both are opaque medium, meaning that you have white paint covering a colored background (unless watercolor where the white is the paper itself).

They are diluted with water, water washable, have bright colors and can be found easily in art stores.

Binder, what holds the pigments together


A polymer is used, kind of magic if you think about it. In the tube it’s fresh and creamy, and once on the paper it’s solid and waterproof.


Arabic gum is used in gouache, as in watercolor. It’s a binder that allows the paint to be reactivated once dry. You can also use a drop or two of arabic gum in your dry gouache to make it creamy again.

Water resistance


Once it’s dry, it’s forever! Either on paper, on the palette or inside the brushes. So you’d better be quick when cleaning your stuff.


It can be reactivated once dry. Good for fixing mistakes on the paper for example, or cleaning your brushes and palette. But it’s also fragile, as any drop of water on the finished painting will leave a mark.

Dust resistance


The acrylic binder makes a protective surface on the paper. You can hang your acrylic painting without a glass, it will be okay for a long time. 


Due to the matte finish and the lack of polymer in the mix, the surface is subject to hold dust.

You’d better frame your art behind a glass to protect it.



You can get different thickness, add medium and gels for more texture. It can go from very thin, transparent to impasto, with strong brushstrokes.


You can dilute with water until you get watercolor. You can go thick. But too thick and the paint will crackle. You have to control the amount of water you use to get the right consistency.

Surface sheen


Anything, really. The classic acrylic is between shiny and glossy, depending on the brands. You can get matte finish too, this is called Acryla Gouache. A bit confusing as this is acrylic with a matte finish, not gouache!


Matte finish. This is great to take pictures of the finished painting as you won’t have any reflections on it.

You can apply a varnish on top to get a shiny effect though.

Substrates to paint on


Virtually anything: paper, cardboard, wood, glass, metal… it’s really endless.


Paper of all kind. Cardboard, wood with a layer of gesso behind and it will be fine.



Depending on the brands, and the time the paint is drying, it can be difficult. A medium may help the drying process, depending on how you paint. 


Quite easy if you have enough consistency to paint with. You may reactivate the layer below if you rub too much with your brush.



Perfect for fast painting. 

Can be layered forever.

Quite difficult to blend.

Bright colors.

Needs to be cleaned at once.

A lot of chemicals inside.


Can be rewet forever.

Limited number of layers.

Easy to blend.

Matte colors.

Water reactivated, so easy to clean.

Pigments, chalk and arabic gum mainly, very few chemicals.

So how to choose between gouache and acrylic paint is very personal, depending on your style, where you paint, if you can let your palette for a while before cleaning it, if you like blending a lot, if you want textures, if you’re sensitive to chemicals…

I’ll let you choose the one your prefer, my love goes for gouache.

Cecile Yadro

I believe that art can help you express yourself, find your voice, and discover who you are. And I want to help you do that. I've seen how powerful my classes can be for more than 20,000 students. In my classes, I focus on giving you the tools you need to express yourself and make your creativity take flight!

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