How to choose between gouache and acrylic paint

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).

Both are diluted with water.

Both are water washable.

Both have bright colors and can be found easily in art stores.

Binder, what holds the pigments together

Acrylic

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.

 

Gouache

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

Acrylic

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.

Gouache

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

Acrylic

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. 

Gouache

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.

Application

Acrylic

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

Gouache

You can dilute with water until you get watercolor. You can go thick.

But too thick and the paint will crackle.

Surface sheen

Acrylic

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!

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

Acrylic

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

Gouache

Paper of all kind.

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

Blending

Acrylic

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. 

Gouache

Quite easy if you have enough consistency to paint with.

You may reactivate the layer below if you rub too much with your brush.

Conclusion

Acrylic

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.

Gouache

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.