Gouache vs Watercolours; which to start with?

Both gouache and watercolour are known as great beginner mediums. So when you are starting with painting you might have been introduced to both. 

However, it might be a little bit complicated to know what the differences are between the two and which one you will want to use!

Both are used by mixing with water which makes them easier than for instance oil paint. They also dry relatively quick which is easier when mixing. 

The difference is that gouache is opaque, meaning you can’t see the paper through the paint. It is easy to make smooth plains in one colour. It is ideal for graphic design and has a great matte finish.

Watercolour is not opaque. The grain of the paper is seen through the paint. It is amazing for building layers, special watery textures and experimenting.

The pigments used in both are often the same.

For my experiments here I used the Winsor & Newton professional watercolour in tubes. The colours are amazing and I love using tubes for having the option to add cleaner colours.



The Gouache used is the Winsor & Newton designer gouache. I am using the same brand to compare to give them an equal chance.

(The gouache is a cheaper range than the watercolour. However, gouache is not as watered down when I use it which means I use more paint than when I am using watercolour.)


Gouache Watercolour
Opaque translucent
Dries lighter Dries neutral
Has a filler like chalk Has no filler


Lightfastness and permanence

Both watercolour and gouache have varying light fastness and permanence depending on the used pigments. This means that this varies per colour or tube.

For the Winsor & Newton tubes, you can find the lightfastness on the tubes. Both the designer gouache and the watercolour have a large variety of colours with good lightfastness.

You can find the entire overview for the professional watercolour pigments here. 

When you are starting to look at cheaper options this is where you can find a real difference. Cheap watercolours and gouache fade much faster. Some as fast as within the year.

In my experience cheaper gouache fades even faster than watercolours. But again this all depends on the brand and the used pigments within that brand.



Since white is a big issue in watercolours it might be to compare on this point as well!

Both Gouache and watercolour ranges have white paint. But gouache has a much brighter white than the watercolours do.

In watercolour, the white is amazing to add a little bit of an opaque feel to colours. You can also make wonderful pastels by mixing with white. But the white is definitely not as bright (or opaque) as a gouache white. If you want to add white to a painting in watercolour you either mask the paper in that place with tape or masking fluid or you need to add it later after the paint dries.


If you want to add highlights to a dried watercolour painting, Gouache is a great option. Because of its bright and opaque qualities, it creates flat white spots. Other options are gell pens or acrylics pens/paints.  

The paper that can be used for watercolour can also always be used for Gouache.



Mixed media

Since Gouache and Watercolours are so similar they are also great to use in the same painting. Furthermore, you can often mix your watercolours and gouache for unique effects and colours.

Both watercolour and gouache can be drawn on with a pencil. And of course, watercolour pencils can be used with both as well!

There are many more ways to use these paints. Especially since the ingredients are so simple there isn’t a big chance that you get chemical reactions.

Another one that is much used with both is ink (both as a liquid or as fineliners). The only thing to look out for is bleeding of the ink into your watercolours or gouache when using water.



Since gouache is a slightly thicker medium it can be used with more brittle or hard brushes. This can create structure in the painted surfaces which might be something you want to play around with.

Watercolour is almost always used in a very watered down manner. This means that the brushes used are often those with soft bristles and those which can hold a lot of water. They are not meant to create extra structure in the paint. The structure often comes from the paper used and the placement of the paint itself.

Another great tool for watercolours are the brushes with a water reservoir. They come from different brands and in different sizes. These are great for watercolour on the go. They do better with watercolours because the pigments are easily washed from the bristles with the water from the reservoir.

Here is an example of the Pentel one that I own!

This does not work quite the same with gouache.

Almost all watercolour brushes can be used with gouache as well. However, I would personally recommend thinning your paint if you are using very delicate watercolour brushes.


Cheaper options


For both watercolour and gouache, there are, of course, cheaper options than the ones I talked about here.

Instead of the Winsor & Newton professional watercolours, the Winsor & Newton Cotman watercolours can be used. While still a slightly more expensive brand it is definitely cheaper than some of the most prestigious watercolours. But the pigments in the Cotman range are still wonderful. The lightfastness and quality are very high.  

I have used these watercolours for quite some time myself until I switched to tubes.

The Cotman range permanence table is found here.

For a slightly cheaper version the Winsor & Newton designer gouache you might look at the royal talents gouache. These are cheaper in some instances and they also have a variety of high-quality paints. (Those with a +++ marking are good up till 100 years under museum circumstances)

You can find the entire colour chart for Royal Talen extra fine quality gouache here!

Want to get started with watercolours?;

  • 3 tips for getting started with watercolour portraits
  • Do I need professional art supplies to be a professional artist?


Personally, I find gouache a slightly more difficult medium. It dries quicker in my experience. But more so it is the fact that it always dries lighter meaning that it is quite difficult to mix the same colour twice. Of course, this can simply be solved by mixing enough paint in the first paint. Another solution is to invest in very particular colours so you can paint with the paint straight from the tube.

But as someone who is quite a spontaneous painter, I like being able to change things around. I find that this is slightly harder when using gouache.

It is, however, easier to paint bright colours in gouache. And creating even colour blocks is also easier to do in gouache.

Since gouache and watercolours are so similar it is totally possible to use them together in one piece. They also can be mixed and layered.


I have enjoyed using both and I hope this inspires you to try one (or both) in your art!

Gouache vs watercolours; what is the difference?


One Response to “Gouache vs Watercolours; which to start with?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: