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Painting is the expression of emotions and ideas in a way that holds certain aesthetic qualities. An example of the aesthetics that painting holds includes the style that the painter is conveying. There are many forms and styles of painting out there, and the result you get depends on the type of paint you use.
Two of the most common paints are acrylic and watercolor. However, these two types of paint are very different. You use them differently and they even have different ingredients. How exactly do watercolor and acrylic paints differ? What paint should you use for which type?
Main Differences Between Watercolor vs Acrylic Paint
The main differences between watercolor vs acrylic paint are:
- Watercolor paint is made of pigment, distilled water, and gum arabic, whereas Acrylic paint is made of pigment suspended in acrylic resin
- Watercolor paint is re-wettable after it dries, whereas acrylic isn’t re-wettable.
- Covering up your mistakes with watercolor paint is extremely difficult, whereas you can cover up your mistakes with acrylic paint
- You can paint with watercolors outside, whereas you should only paint with acrylics while inside.
Watercolor and acrylic paint has two different appearances, and that’s because of the ingredients they’re made of.
Watercolor paint is made of pigment, distilled water, gum arabic, and other ingredients. The main characteristic of most watercolor paints is how they’re natural.
While some watercolor paints have a synthetic binder, most are natural. Others may use animal products, such as honey and glycerin, as the binder (they do make vegan watercolor paint varieties).
Acrylic paints are man-made. They’re made of acrylic resin, pigment, and the binder that connects both together. Most acrylic paint is non-toxic, making it safe to use.
Another reason why both paints look different is the artist usually uses different techniques when painting with both paints.
Watercolor paint is meant to look rich but diluted. The artist uses a variety of techniques that call for water, either dipping the brush in water or spraying the canvas. Many artists also use gradient, layering, and color blending techniques to give the painting more depth. Like with acrylic paint, you can draw lines with watercolor paint and apply specific techniques such as splattering and stippling.
Acrylic paints are more versatile. You can use some similar techniques with acrylics as you can with watercolor, such as wet brush on a wet canvas. But some techniques, such as painting with hard edges, are better with acrylic paints. You can also apply other materials, such as glitter, to an acrylic painting.
Where to Use Them
Another important aspect about watercolors and acrylics is what type of canvas works best for these paints. With watercolor, you should only use these paints on watercolor paper. This material will absorb the water and will make your painting look radiant. In addition, you don’t prime the watercolor paper.
Acrylics can be used on just about any surface. You can use watercolor paper and you can also use canvas, wood, and more. Most painters use acrylic on canvas. Most canvases are pre-primed, though some painters choose to prime their own canvas anyway.
Light to Dark or Dark to Light
Another common technique that painters use is going from light to dark or dark to light. Which technique works best for which paint?
For watercolors, you always start light. Work towards the dark colors and make sure lots of water is mixed in with the pigment. Watercolors dry lighter, and you’ll learn how to avoid your colors turning practically invisible after they dry.
For acrylics, you work from dark to light. That’s because acrylics dry darker, especially light colors.
A common technique that painters use with acrylics is adding white paint. White paint changes the color slightly, either making it lighter or adding a highlight.
However, you don’t use white paint with watercolors. White paint makes the colors more opaque. If you want to add white to your painting, you can mix your colors into the white of the paper to create the desired effect or lift-off excess paint.
Transparent vs. Opaque
Watercolors vary by transparency and opaqueness. You can find watercolors in transparent, semi-transparent, and opaque hues. While watercolors are meant to be vibrant, they’re mainly meant to be transparent.
Acrylic paints also come in transparent, semi-transparent, and opaque options. However, they’re far more vivid than watercolors. However, they’re not meant to be used as a fully transparent medium.
You can find acrylics and watercolors at all different price points. But which is generally more expensive? Many painters say watercolors are more expensive and some will say the opposite. Many factors determine paint price, such as quality, size, and where you buy it.
The type of kit you buy also impacts the price. For example, beginner kits for both paints usually fall around the same price.
This is another factor where all artists say something different. One painter may say watercolors are easier while the next will say acrylics are easier.
It’s best to look at the pros and cons of both. Acrylics are far more forgiving for mistakes. You can easily paint over your errors or start over completely.
Watercolor works a bit differently. The most important thing is to learn the different techniques and get comfortable with them. It’s not necessarily more difficult, just comes with specific painting techniques.
How long will your work of art last? This depends on many factors, such as temperature, light, paint quality, humidity, and more.
For a simple answer, watercolor paintings don’t last as long as acrylic. That doesn’t mean your watercolor paintings will eventually wither and fade. A great watercolor painting made using high-quality paints can easily last 100 years! However, under most conditions, your watercolor portrait may fade after only a few years.
Acrylic paint can last centuries. But like watercolor, it ultimately depends on the quality of paint that you use.
Question: Can Acrylics Be Used as Watercolors?
Answer: You can make acrylics behave as watercolors, but you need to thin it out. Some artists use water, but you’ll need a lot of water to make this work. Most artists recommend you use a professional gel-based medium to make acrylics work like watercolors. Some manufacturers also make their acrylic paint fluid and buildable to easily achieve this.
Question: Do Professional Artists Use Acrylics?
Answer: We all know watercolor is a popular painting method for the pros. But what about acrylics? Do professional artists also dabble in acrylic painting? It depends. Some professionals use them frequently while others choose not to.
Question: Why Do Some Artists Struggle With Watercolor?
Answer: With that being said, many artists use acrylic because they think it’s easier to work with than acrylics. Watercolor is unpredictable because it’s extremely fluid. It’s difficult to control the paint and water. In addition, mistakes are difficult to correct.
Question: What Acrylic Paint Brands Are the Best?
Answer: Some of our recommended acrylic paint brands include:
• Winsor & Newton
• Castle Art Supplies
• Blick Artist
• Golden Artist Colors
• Utrecht Artist
Question: Which Brands Make Cheap Acrylic Paint?
Answer: If you’re new to acrylic paint, you likely won’t want to spend a lot of money on your paint. These brands are either affordable or have cheap acrylic paint options:
• Apple Barrel
• Color Technik
• Castle Art Supplies
Question: What Colors Should Be in Your Acrylic Kit?
Answer: The colors you need depend on you and your project. But all painters will likely need these colors:
Question: What Type of Canvas Is Best for Acrylic Painting?
Answer: Stretched canvas is one of the most popular options for acrylic painting. On a stretched canvas, the cotton canvas is stretched over a wooden frame, creating an ideal surface for painting. These are also the type of canvases used most frequently by professional artists.
Question: What Is the Most Popular Art Medium?
Answer: Painting is still the most popular medium of art. Sculpture ranks second.
Question: What Type of Paint Did Bob Ross Use?
Answer: For his show The Joy of Painting, Bob Ross mainly used oil paints and would use a wet-on-wet technique. Bob Ross never used watercolors and acrylic paint won’t imitate the oil painting style with his wet-on-wet technique.
Question: Should You Sketch Before Adding Watercolor Paint?
Answer: If you’re new to watercolor paint, sketching before painting is recommended. This will help you keep track as you apply several layers of washes. It will also help you plan your painting.
Question: Can You Mix Different Brands of Acrylic Paint?
Answer: Yes, you can mix different acrylic paint brands.
Watercolor vs Acrylic: A Conclusion
If you’re new to painting, you may not understand the difference between watercolor and acrylic paints. Acrylic paints are made of pigment suspended in acrylic resin and aren’t as thin as watercolors. They dry darker, making them ideal for a variety of painting projects.
Watercolors differ because they’re made of pigment in distilled water and gum arabic. They’re extremely thin and fluid, drying lighter. Watercolors are best for specific painting projects and require specialized skills, though beginners can learn watercolor painting as well as acrylic painting.
Do you want to try painting but are concerned you’ll make a mess? If so, try paint markers.