Photo of gouache paint tubes

Beginner's Guide to Buying Gouache

gouache Dec 21, 2023

Gouache has a really unique look and feel and can be more forgiving than traditional watercolour. But is it that much different from acrylic paint and what about traditional vs acrylic gouache?

In the video below, I'll cover the pros and cons of traditional gouache and acrylic gouache and give you some recommended brands if you're just starting out...




Traditional or Acrylic Gouache?

In summary, I prefer traditional gouache because I can be lazy and don't want to set up a stay-wet palette for quicker sketches (even though it only takes a minute or two). I also like the fact I can slightly disturb the paint underneath but it's a quality that can frustrate a lot of newcomers.

Acrylic gouache is a bit more forgiving and newcomer-friendly. It's also cheaper overall than good-quality traditional gouache and (depending on the brand) can give you a very similar finish.

  • If budget is a concern and you're not very confident with your painting skills yet, then go with a starter set of acrylic gouache (8-12 colours) from one of the brands below.
  • If budget is a concern but you want to go with traditional gouache, just get three primary colours and a white of a good-quality brand (see below).
  • If budget isn't so much of a concern then it comes down to whether you think the lack of permanence will bother you (it's not a big deal in my opinion but then I do this for a living!). 

Disclaimer: I haven't tried every brand of gouache (far from it) and I have no affiliation with the manufacturers I've suggested below. These are products I've tested and found they gave the unique matt, even look and feel unique to gouache paintings



Recommended Traditional Gouache  

I recommend avoiding cheap, student-quality gouache. I've tested a couple and found that the lack of pigment means you need at least a couple of layers to create that opaque appearance. It also makes it difficult to get a flat, even coverage.

So if you want to go traditional gouache but budget is an issue, buy four individual colours - a red, a blue, a yellow and a white (see the manufacturer's sets and go for a red, blue and yellow from those sets). 

1. Daler Rowney Designer Gouache

One of the most affordable artists' quality gouache. The starter set of 12 colours is ideal. Check your favourite online art stores or Amazon for the best price.

For a budget-friendly option buy one of the reds, one of the blues and the Spectrum Yellow from this set.

2. Winsor & Newton Designer Gouache

Similar in price to Daler-Rowney and also excellent opacity. The starter set of 10 colours is ideal. Check your favourite online art stores or Amazon for the best price.

For a budget-friendly option buy one of the reds, one of the blues and one of the yellows from this set.

3. Other Artist-Quality Gouache

If you can't get the above two brands, those in the list below are also very high-quality but may be a bit pricer:

  • Holbein Artists' Gouache
  • Schmincke Horadam Artist Gouache
  • M. Graham & Co. Artist’s Gouache 



Recommended ACRYLIC Gouache 

I've tried four different acrylic gouache sets. Two of those gave the distinct matt finish of traditional gouache. I'm sure there are others but I'd be guessing.

Here are the two I can recommend...

1. Turner Acrylic Gouache

This is a Japanese brand but seems to be available in both Europe and North America. The starter set of 12 is ideal.

2. Holbein Acrylic Gouache

Similar price to Turner for a set of 12 (check the tube size if the price looks different compared to Turner). Again, the set of 12 is all you need for now.



Other Bits You'll Need

1. Stay-Wet Palette

If you're opting for acrylic gouache, you'll need a stay-wet palette. It's also worth having one for traditional gouache paintings that take longer than a quick sketch Don't bother buying anything fancy - you can make your own like this:

- Get a large dinner plate or a flat oven tray
- Add three or four layers of kitchen paper to the plate or tray
- Soak the kitchen paper with water (completely soak it but don't have water pooling in the plate/tray)
- Add a sheet of greaseproof or parchment paper over the kitchen paper
- Squeeze out your colours onto the parchment paper
- Cover with cling film between painting sessions

A small spray mister bottle is also handy to give your palette a quick spritz of water from time to time. 

2. Brushes

You can use the same synthetic brushes for gouache paintings and sketches that you use for watercolour and/or acrylic paintings. 

If you only have round brushes, it's worth getting a set of flat or chisel-edge brushes. You can get a set of various sizes from Amazon for a very affordable price, and they'll do for starters. If you don't have any round brushes, get a set of mixed sizes as well as the flats. 

3. Paper

You can paint gouache onto a canvas or canvas board (and even acrylic paper) but the most popular surface is watercolour paper (any type of surface - rough, cold-pressed or hot-pressed). Mixed media paper is also a good choice, especially for smaller sketches. 

Thicker paper is less likely to buckle but unless you get very thick (300lbs) and expensive paper, you'll need to pre-stretch it to avoid any warping.   

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