Gouache vs Oil Paint: An In-Depth Comparison for Artists

gouache vs oil

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Do you want to compare Gouache and Oil paint and find out which is better for you?

Below, you’ll find out the pros with cons and fundamental differences between these two paints. We’ll compare essential aspects like safety, cost, and quality to help you decide which option is better.

What is Gouache?

Pronounced as “gw-ash,” traditional Gouache paint is an opaque water-based paint that usually consists of pigment, water, and a gum arabic binder. Some brands add chalk to it to add density.

gouache paint vs oil

Gouache Pros

  • Most gouache paints are non-toxic.
  • You can work and blend them over time since water reactivates the paint.
  • They’re opaque or solid in color because their pigments are mixed with white, giving you bold and bright colors.
  • It has a higher viscosity than watercolor, giving it a fluid, cream-like thickness.
  • Gouache dries quickly, so you don’t have to wait long between your layers.

Possible Gouache Cons

  • Its matte finish can be a con if you prefer a shiny finish.
  • Fast drying can be a con if you need time to get your layers down.
  • It’s hard to color match because it dries to a different shade. As a result, darker tones may dry lighter, and lighter shades may dry darker.

What are Oil paints?

Traditional Oil Paints consist of both opaque and transparent pigments that are ground into a drying oil, typically linseed oil.

gouache vs oil paint

Oil Painting Pros

  • Oil paints are rich in their pigmentation, creating eye-catching paintings.
  • They’re workable and blendable, for soft lines, and hard edges
  • They dry naturally to a semi-gloss finish.
  • They have a creamy viscosity with a wide range for painting in thin layers (washing or glazing) or applying thickly to exaggerate your brush strokes (impasto)
  • Oils are a slow-drying paint, so you’ll have more time to work.

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Possible Oil Painting Cons

  • The slow drying times can be frustrating if you need to add a layer or in a pinch for time.
  • Oil paint comes with slightly more hassle with the extra tools, processing, and fumes.
  • They can become very expensive depending on the quality.

Price of Paint: Which is More Expensive?

Cost of Gouache Paints

The average cost of Gouache at the time this article was written was $4.77 per fluid ounce, but there is a wide range for different budgets.

Some factors to note:

  • Gouache comes in small tubes and lasts only five years.
  • You don’t need many supplies, and you can paint on a wide array of surface materials, including watercolor paper, which costs less than canvas.
  • Student-grade gouache, like the Daler Rowney Simply Gouache, is typically inexpensive but less opaque. You may also notice a chalkier finish in some brands.
  • Artist-grade Gouache, like Holbein Gouache, is much more expensive but high in quality. They’re also more durable if you plan on selling your gouache paintings.

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Cost of Oil Paints

Oil paints cost an average of $3.60 per fluid ounce. But, again, prices vary greatly.

  • Oils come in large tubes and small tubes. They are also one of the longest-lasting materials, having a shelf life of over 40 years.
  • A little goes a long way with oils, so you’ll work out of the same tubes for a while.
    A tip if you only use primary colors: Add purple to your set. I find it can be the hardest to replicate.
  • Oil paints require a lot of extra supplies. Cleaner, linseed oil, canvas, and varnish can add up costs quickly.
  • Student-grade and Artist-grade oils vary in price and quality. Student-grade oils like Winsor & Newton Winton Oil Paints are more affordable for getting started.
  • On the other hand, specialized oil paints like Michael Harding provide silky consistencies and awesome lightfastness. And options like Gamblin offer an overall balance of good quality at a reasonable price.

Safety Concerns of Gouache and Oil

Painting Safely With Gouache

Most gouache paints are non-toxic, green, and organic. Non-toxic Gouache is made of natural pigment, water, and a safe binding agent.

oil vs gouache

However, some brands may add harmful chemicals. To ensure your medium isn’t harmful, look for brands labelled “Non-toxic” like HIMI, and Winsor & Newton, so you won’t have to worry when you accidentally dip your paintbrush in your beverage. (I still wouldn’t drink it, though!)

Painting Safely With Oils

Traditional Oil paints may contain toxic heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and cobalt which are often used in pigments. Inhaling fumes from burning dried paint, or ingesting the paint can be harmful.

Some brands, like Gamblin, and Zen Art, have formulated pigments that are less toxic and safer to use.

While some are less toxic, cleaning solvents create the biggest health risk due to their harmful hydrocarbon fumes. So if you’re using them, always work in a well-ventilated space.

Oils like linseed oil, lavender Oil, safflower oil, or Gamsol, can be used as safer alternatives to solvents, and dish soap and hot water also work well.

Oil and solvent-soaked towels are flammable. Keep them in an airtight container when you aren’t using them to reduce evaporation and exposure to sparks.

Drying time

Within the mediums themselves, the times can vary. But there are some tricks to manipulate them a little.

Gouache Paint Drying Time

Gouache is a fast-drying paint and takes only 10 to 30 minutes to dry on your surface material and palette.

Unlike acrylics, however, they can be reactivated. You only need a wet brush to blend something out or grab more paint from your palette.

Oil Paint Drying Time

Oil paints, unlike Gouache and other water-based media, will stay workable for 24 to 48 hours, depending on your location’s sunlight, temperature, and humidity.

Although permanent after 48 hours, it may take up to 2 weeks for your painting to dry entirely. It’s common for thick layers to take 3 or 4 weeks to dry.

Learn more about Oil paint drying times in our guide: How Long Does Oil Paint Take to Dry? 

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How to Influence Drying Times

To slow down the Gouache’s drying time, you can use a blending medium like the Winsor & Newton Watercolor Blending Medium.

If you’re painting with Oils, especially using the glazing technique, and you’d like to speed up the drying times of your layers, quick-drying paint thinners like Gamblin Galkyd work well.

Natural ways of speeding up your drying times are putting your paintings in a warm place, like direct sunlight.

Gouache vs. Oil Messes

Which makes the bigger mess? And which is easier to clean up?

Gouache Messes

With Gouache you might splatter, but because it’s non-permanent and water-soluble, it’s reasonably easy to clean off your skin, clothes, and any other surface with soap and water!

Oil Paint Messes and What to do About Them

Oil paints smear easily, and since oil and water don’t mix well, they can be harder to clean up.

If you have the choice, don’t let it dry. It’s much harder to clean once it has.

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Baby oil and even vegetable oil can soften the paint and wipe it up if it hasn’t dried.

If you’re trying to get it out of your clothes or carpets, try blotting it with a clean rag and rubbing alcohol. Patience is key.

Cleaning Brushes

Cleaning your brushes properly is essential because dry paint can damage your brush bristles. Or you could accidentally transfer old paint onto your new project.

How you tend to them depends on the brush and medium.

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Cleaning Gouache Brushes

Gouache and watercolor brushes are soft and delicate, so it’s important to be gentle when using and cleaning them.

Gently rinse your brush in a jar of water using a swirling motion and repeatedly dab into a clean paper towel or cloth rag until color ceases to come out of the brush.

Note: Don’t leave your brushes sitting in water because it can deteriorate the brush fibers.

oil paint vs gouache

Cleaning Oil Brushes

There are several ways to clean oil brushes.

Cleaning Solvents are the easiest, but many artists prefer Dawn dish soap.

Oil paint brushes have hardier bristles, so you can be a little rougher in scrubbing them clean. Scrub dish soap into the bristles and then rinse with warm water. You’ll need to do this multiple times until the soap suds are clear of color.

how to tell gouache vs oil

Opacity and Vibrancy

Opacity and Vibrancy of Gouache

Gouache’s opacity sets it apart. Unlike watercolor paints, a single layer of Gouache won’t allow the surface of the watercolor paper to show through.

The pigments in Gouache tend to be less vibrant compared to oil paints and acrylic paints. While bold in color, Gouache isn’t as intense.

Although less vibrant, Gouache’s matte finish and rich velvet tones make it an ideal choice for painting shadowed subjects.

how to tell gouache vs oil
Left: Thin layer of Gouache. Right: Thin layer of Watercolors.

Color Quality of Traditional Oil Paints

Like acrylic paint and watercolor, Oils can be a transparent medium, meaning that light can refract through them. Adding white or black paint can add opacity, and adding a thinner can make it more transparent.

You can also vary the transparency by using different techniques. For example, the Scumbling paint technique uses a soft, dry brush to add thin layers of see-through paint. But a style like Alla Prima (Wet-on-Wet), builds layers of paint up quickly in one sitting, producing a more opaque painting style.

Oil paints have vibrant colors that don’t change as they dry. Drying with a subtle sheen makes it an excellent choice for painting subjects that emit, or reflect light.

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What makes a painting durable?

Aspects like how a painting’s age and its lightfastness, or resistance to light and moisture play a crucial part in its durability.

Durability of Gouache

Although it’s non-permanent, you can use a varnish or a watercolor seal to protect your artwork. This is an excellent option since Gouache will turn into liquid again with a touch of water.

Gouache doesn’t have the best lightfastness, so it’s best to keep your gouache painting out of direct sunlight to prevent fading. It also tends to be more sensitive when used on paper. Otherwise, it can last well and long when properly cared for.

Durability of Oil Paints

Oil paintings last for centuries!

However, they are bound to age, fade, crack, and yellow. Why?

Oil paints dry under the influence of light and oxygen. Although there are ways to slow the oxidation process, they NEVER STOP DRYING.

To slow this process and avoid any cracking, you can paint on artist-quality stretched linen, use the “Fat-to-Lean” rule by increasing the ratio of oil-to-pigment in each subsequent layer, and use a gloss varnish 6 months after completing your painting.

oil vs gouache

Mixing Gouache

Because it’s water-based, Gouache mixes well with other water-based media like acrylic paint, the less opaque watercolor, and even ink and colored pencil.

It has great texture, and yet, its surface is still smooth. This allows collaboration with a wide array of tools to create beautiful multimedia illustrations!

Oil Paint’s Versatility

Oil painting is incredibly versatile compared to gouache and acrylic painting..

Oil paint’s flexibility, transparency, and drying qualities allow various techniques and styles, from thick, impasto layers to rich, to hyper-realistic contrasts between shadows and light.

Can Gouache and Oil be Mixed?

No, Gouache and Oil cannot be mixed.

Oil paints are made with pigment suspended in oil, and Gouache is made with pigment suspended in water with a water-soluble binder.

Oil and water don’t share the same molecules needed to combine so Gouache paint and Oil paint cannot be mixed. They would ruin each other.

gouache vs oil paint

Do Professional Artists Use Gouache?

Yes, professional artists and notable painters, including Toulouse-Latrec and Henri Matisse, have favored Gouache as their medium of choice.

Best Gouache Paint Sets

The Daler Rowney Gouache Set of 6 provides basic colors at a reasonable price and good quality.

The Holbein Artists’ Gouache Set of 12 is highly renowned by artists for its pigment, texture, and application.

Best Oil Paint Sets

The Winsor & Newton Oil Color Starter Set of 10 is ideal for beginners and students.

The Gamblin Artist Oils Introductory Set of 9 balances quality at a reasonable price.

You can see more great paint sets for oil painting here.

gouache paint vs oil

Where Can I Go to Learn Gouache Painting?

You can take Gouache lessons at Domestika. My personal favorite is Gouache Techniques for Sketchbook Illustration by artist Emma Block.

It covers everything from tools, types of paint and materials, painting techniques, and how to approach different styles and subject matter. By the end of the course, you’ll be super confident with Gouache (and your sketchbook will be a piece of art itself!)

Where Can I Go to Learn Oil Painting?

If you’re serious about it, I recommend learning with Evolve Artist.

Evolve is an in-depth, guided online course that helps students go from drawing stick figures to a professional level of oil painting. Materials are delivered to your doorstep, and instructors are provided for 1-on-1 training.

It’s like art school delivered to your home (but without the huge costs!)

To learn more, check out our Evolve Artist Review.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why is Gouache Unpopular?

Gouache isn’t unpopular. It’s just underrated compared to acrylic paint and oils. But Gouache’s popularity is on the rise!

Is Gouache a Watercolor or an Acrylic Paint?

Gouache is most similar to watercolor. It’s often called an ‘Opaque Watercolor.’

However, there is an Acrylic Gouache, which is a different medium.

Is Oil Better Than Acrylic?

An acrylic painting will be more resistant to yellowing, and oils will last longer.

If you want more flexibility and pigment, Oil is a good choice. But if you want faster drying times with a similar texture to Oil, then Acrylic paint is for you.

You can find out more in our article: Acrylic vs. Oil.

What Materials Can You Use Oil Paints On?

Oil paints can be used on:

  • Canvas
  • Wood
  • Metal
  • Plastic
  • Linen

Gouache vs. Oil: Which is Better for You?

Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and each is unique.

Ultimately, it depends on the artist and their preference. It depends on YOU.

If you prefer:

  • Faster drying times
  • Easy cleanup
  • Minimal tools
  • And Illustrative storybook styles of artwork…

Then Gouache is perfect for you! You can learn how to use gouache at Domestika.

If you prefer:

  • Working at your own pace
  • With vibrant colors
  • and the ability to try any style and technique you please…

Then Oil paints seem like your jam! You can learn more about using oil colors at Evolve Artist.

Whichever you choose, Gouache vs. Oil, have fun with it!

gouache vs oil

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