How to Use Gouache Alone and With Watercolor

Every artist has a preference for the medium that they prefer working with. From sculpting to water media, there’s just something satisfying about finding the right type of art to release your imagination.

Gouache is water media paint similar to watercolors and acrylic, with a unique twist. It isn’t an everyday art medium. It’s not even a term most adults have heard of outside of the art world. But its products are seen everywhere.

Look around at artwork where you see watercolor that looks more opaque than it typically would be. Check out children’s books or posters or any secondary mediums supporting a primary piece. Chances are, you’re looking at gouache.

Artists dub this water media paint an “opaque watercolor.” It stands on its own, used historically for centuries by renowned artists. You can also mix it with watercolors for a dynamic effect.

Whether you’re an advanced hobbyist or a professional painter comfortable in your artist’s skin, you can experiment with gouache paint sets. 

Read on to discover how to use gouache as a standalone paint or with watercolors.

Defining Gouache

If you’ve never heard of gouache, it’s essential that you know what you’re about to be using before you start mixing it with your other paints.

To begin with, “gouache” isn’t pronounced the way it looks. You don’t want to ask for “goo-ash” (rhymes with goulash) art supplies at a craft store. It’s pronounced “gwash,” with one syllable.

Aside from this small but significant factor, there are a few other things you should know about gouache. Its similarities and differences to watercolor paints can make or break how you use this medium.

Gouache is quite similar to watercolor because they compose the same ingredients. But their unique qualities turn your end product into a completely different painting.

Why You Should Use Gouache By Itself

Many artists write gouache off as a supplementary medium. The paint has a lot of power when you use it alone, though.

Imagine using an undercolor as your first stroke on the canvas. If you aren’t careful with your watercolors, they won’t stick. It will absorb right into the paper, bleed, or disappear when you add another stroke.

But with gouache, that first coat stays. You can then add an overcolor and start playing with it until you create an entirely new third color.

You can reactivate traditional gouache paint with a little water. This is advantageous if you plan to alter your painting as you go, but the gouache painting is easily damaged when you finish painting. A little dust or a drop of water can destroy your hard work.

Unless you plan on storing your finished piece behind a glass frame, you might want to consider using acrylic gouache. This paint still gives you the opaque, matte finish with full coverage. But the binder is acrylic instead of water-soluble and is thus waterproof after it dries.

Acrylic gouache still allows you to paint in layers and make changes as you go. But once your painting is complete, you don’t have to worry about it getting damaged. And because it’s acrylic, you can use this type of paint on almost any surface.

Mixing Gouache With Watercolors

Mixing gouache and watercolor

So why should you mix gouache with watercolor paints? Doing so adds new dimensions. Though both mediums use a gum Arabic binder, gouache has more pigmentation than you get with watercolors alone. 

It also has an added ingredient of chalk or calcium carbonate. This extra touch makes it flat and opaque instead of glossy and transparent. 

Gouache and Watercolors: Step By Step

Using gouache with your watercolor paints lets you bring more colors and textures to your art. 

To get started with this mixed media, try this simple structure:

  1. Use your watercolors or preferred medium to create your focal area. 
  1. Begin adding from your gouache paint set as you go, choosing which areas to increase tone and intensity and which sections to cover or fade out. 
  1. If you’re using acrylic paint and don’t want to mix your layers, let them dry in between.
  1. Adjust your colors and design as needed using barely-there strokes with a damp paintbrush.

To Glaze or Not to Glaze?

If you decide to glaze over your gouache with watercolor, it’s possible. Be sure that the gouache is completely dry and use a damp, not wet, glaze. 

If you touch the glaze after you’ve lain it down, you may lift the previous layers of paint.

Storing Your Work

How you store your painting after it’s dry is very important when you use gouache. It can be damaged with the lightest touch unless you use acrylic gouache. 

You must keep dust, debris, and liquids away from your finished product. If you can keep it behind an enclosed glass case or frame, it will last.

Gouache and Watercolor Similarities and Differences

Gouache and watercolor may seem interchangeable on the surface. But in actuality, they are each unique, with different attributes that define them.


Watercolors are nearly transparent, letting the watercolor paper absorb the pigment and the drawings under the paint show. Gouache, on the other hand, is a more opaque color. It’s still slightly transparent, but less of the paper or initial drawings are visible.

Watercolor paints have a luminescent effect, too, because of the extra transparency. The paint appears to reflect off the surface, whereas gouache paint has more of a matte finish.

Dry Time

Gouache dries quickly and can add tiny details in a controlled manner, making it the water medium of choice for many illustrators. Water paint takes longer to dry, and you can’t manipulate it quite as well. 


Both types of paint have an almost identical chemical makeup, though. The pigments are water-soluble, so you can change the color by adding water, even after they are dry. However, gouache’s binder has a white pigment added to it that makes it less see-through.

Which You Should Choose

The choice of preference between watercolors and gouache, or both together, ends up coming down to your reason for painting. Both mediums are beneficial in distinct ways, and combining them has its own completed look.

Related: What You Need to Know About Acrylic Gouache

What You’ll Need to Get Started

Ready to jump on the gouache train? It can be confusing to head to a craft store and look for all the materials you need if you’ve never used this medium before.

Types of Gouache Paint

First, decide if you want ‘designer gouache’ or ‘artist quality gouache.’ Although the labels claim to be the best, the only major difference is that ‘designer gouache’ is frequently preferred by, you guessed it, designers and illustrators. 

If you plan to add fine details and need high-density pigmentation, the designer line is the way to go. However, the matte surface of these paints is easy to scratch or otherwise mar. 

‘Artist gouache’ works perfectly well for artists unconcerned with fine art details, like creating extra saturation and making it highly pigmented. 

Add to Cart Shopping List

Before you head out, use this list to guide you along your in-person shopping trip or as you add supplies to your online cart:

Gouache Paint Colors

You’re spoilt for choice in regards to professional gouache paint colors. Winsor & Newton Designers Gouache, M. Graham, Holbein, and Arteza paint tubes are some of the most recommended varieties. 

All gouache paints have strong colors and no bits in them. You know it’s high-quality paint if there is a lot of dry pigment and very little white pigment. You can perform color mixing with different brands, but the overall effect will be grainier if you use cheap paints.

You can add other mediums in very thin layers cautiously. Using a fixative or a matte varnish can strengthen the surface layer. But remember, it may also affect the opacity of the colors.

Watercolor Paper

With gouache, you need heavy-stock watercolor paper, so the paint saturates into the paper. 

Heavier stock is usually rougher, too, so it shows texture in your painting. Any lighter watercolor paper won’t absorb the paint, and it will sit on the surface and pool. 

Watercolor Brushes 

Any type of work using water-based paint is best using soft sable or synthetic brushes. Gouache is water-soluble and non-toxic, so clean-up is simple. No chemical products are necessary to care for the bristles. 


If you don’t already have one, you’ll need a palette. 

If you plan on using your regular watercolor paint, you can add white gouache to your choice of watercolor tint to create a custom paint.

Also, anything you need to prepare for any other mediums you plan to use should be added to your list, too.

Since you only need a few products, you’ll be ready to start painting fast!

Getting Started With Gouache Techniques

Getting started with gouache

Now that you’ve gotten your supplies and picked your style of paint, you’re ready to get started! These simple techniques are some of the best ways to play around and learn what gouache can do.

Layering Your Elements

Start with putting your basic foundation on the paper. Then, add paint and a tiny bit of water as you layer more color and designs to your painting.


The foundation of your painting can be a stain. To do this, you cover the paper with a layer of paint instead of a drawing or painted design. Mix the gouache with a bit of water until the consistency is thin enough to spread across the area, similar to what you’d do with watercolor paint.


To add texture to some aspects of your painting: 

  1. Use a dry brush to paint with damp gouache colors.
  2. Pick up the paint and brush a little over half of it off onto a paper towel. 
  3. Use any leftover gouache paint on the brush to texture the painting.


Recreate the abstract watercolor bloom effect with gouache using a lot of water and a little paint on your brush. 

Blot the brush onto your paper and let the resulting puddle spread on its own without trying to control it. This new bloom can be its own painting or an element for you to expand upon.

If you’re new to gouache, the goal is to try different techniques to see how it is applied, dries, and changes. After you’re comfortable with it alone, that’s the perfect time to mix it with watercolor paint and play around with other mediums like oil paints and tempera.

Interested in more techniques? Check out Mixing Quinacridone Colors for Amazing Effects!


It’s easy to fall in love with a new painting technique. With gouache, experimenting is simple because you can mix it with almost any medium.

However, there are nuances you should understand before you begin a painting using this paint. 

But now you know tricks like combining watercolor and gouache and the choice of acrylic or traditional.

Follow the steps of master artists as you mature. Or create your own style as you learn to use gouache by itself or as a secondary medium in your work.

And when you want the best gouache painting supplies, count on Rileystreet to bring you the best.