watercolor versus acrylic paints

Watercolor Versus Acrylic: 6 Facts You Should Know!

Watercolor and acrylic paints are both used in art, but there are some differences that you might not know about. One of the biggest is that watercolor paint has a more fine quality than acrylics. This means that when you use watercolors, your colors will mix, which allows for many different shades of color to be created. On the other hand, acrylics dry quickly and give off a thicker texture, making them challenging to work with if one isn’t accustomed to their consistency.


watercolor versus acrylic paints
Facts about watercolor versus acrylic paints

In this article, will discuss the various factors why watercolor versus acrylic paints are popular choice for beginners, which one is safer, easy to use, cheap, ideal for canvas painting, and more. Plus, we will check famous artists who used watercolors and acrylics for their artworks too. Read along and discover the beauty of these painting medium today.


A Quick Summary Between Acrylics And Watercolors


Watercolor and acrylics are two popular painting mediums used in art. They are used for various mediums and styles, including realism, abstract paintings, paint-by-number kits, portraits, and more. They are both water-soluble, meaning they are both dissolved in water.


Acrylic paint was first created in the 1940s as a fast-drying, opaque paint. It is made from pigment, resin, and plasticizer combined and then heated. This creates a thick consistency that can be easily spread on canvas or other surfaces. Acrylics dry quickly and are usually used for painting on canvas or other supports.

watercolor versus acrylic paints
Acrylic paints – watercolor versus acrylic paints

Watercolor was first created in the 1700s and is made from pigment, gum arabic, and water. It has a much more transparent quality than acrylic paint and can be challenging to use because it is easily affected by changes in humidity. Watercolors are generally used on paper or other supports that can absorb water.


The main difference between acrylics and watercolors is the drying time. Acrylics dry quickly, usually within minutes, while watercolors take hours to dry. This means that acrylics are better for painting on canvas because you don’t have to wait as long to dry, while watercolors are better for painting on paper because the paper can absorb the water.


Both acrylics and watercolors have unique benefits and drawbacks that make them a good or bad choice for different projects. Overall, it is up to the artist to decide which medium they prefer and what type of project they are working on.


Some artists prefer to use acrylics because they are more opaque and effortlessly blended. They also dry quickly, which is helpful when working on a large painting. Watercolors have a much more transparent quality and can be challenging to control, but they create beautiful washes of color that acrylics cannot match.

watercolor versus acrylic
Gum arabic – watercolor versus acrylic paints




Watercolors are probably one of the most popular and easy to work with painting mediums. They come in a lot of different colors, they are cheap, and you get good results relatively quickly after only a little practice. The biggest downside is that you can not keep them for very long or transport them easily.


You also need to use special brushes designed especially for watercolors, and you have to be careful with how much water you add because if it is too much, the paint will run.




  • Easy to work with
  • Cheap
  • Many colors to choose from
  • Quick results




  • Can’t keep them for long or transport them easily
  • Need special brushes designed especially for watercolors
  • Careful with how much water you add because the paint will run if it is too much.


watercolor versus acrylic paints
Different types of acrylics – watercolor versus acrylic paints



On the other hand, acrylic paints are very versatile and can be used for many different purposes. They come in various colors, but they usually need to be mixed to get the right shade.


They are also not transparent, which can be good or bad, depending on what you want to achieve with your painting. Acrylics are also not as light-sensitive as watercolors to be transported and kept without any problems.


The downside is that they dry relatively quickly, so you need to work fast and cover the canvas entirely with paint, or it will dry before you finish.




  • It can be mixed to get the right shade
  • Not transparent, which can be good or bad, depending on what you want to achieve with your painting
  • It dries relatively quickly, so you need to work fast




  • You need to cover the canvas entirely with paint, or it will dry before you finish
  • Can be transported and kept without any problems.



watercolor versus acrylic paints
adding water on watercolors – watercolor versus acrylic paints

With watercolors, you need to be very careful with how much water you add because the paint will run if it is too much. It might ruin your whole piece if this happens while painting on paper or cardboard instead of a canvas. So make sure that as soon as there are any runs in the paint or drips from the brush, you immediately wipe the paint off.


It might ruin your whole piece if this happens while painting on paper or cardboard instead of a canvas. So make sure that as soon as there are any runs in the paint or drips from the brush, you immediately wipe the paint off. It is also essential to have good watercolor paper. Cheap, thin, and non-absorbent papers will make it challenging to get the paint off without runs or streaks left behind.


You can use watercolors for almost any painting you want because they come in so many different colors that no matter what shade your main color is, there will be a watercolor that will match it.


You need to be careful not to mix too many colors with acrylics because they can start looking muddy very quickly. If you are having trouble getting the color you want, start by adding a tiny bit of white paint to lighten it up, and then add more color until you reach the shade you want.


Always use high-quality acrylic paints to mix better and give you a more consistent paint color for the best results. Low-quality paints might start to crack or peel over time.


FAQs About Watercolor Versus Acrylic Paints


Which is Safer To Use?


The two types of paints have different ingredients, and some are more harmful than others. Acrylic paint contains toxic chemicals such as xylene and toluene, which can cause skin irritation, headaches, and nausea. Watercolor paint is made with natural pigments and does not contain harmful chemicals.

watercolor versus acrylic paints
painting with watercolors – watercolor versus acrylic paints

Which is More Durable?


Watercolor paints are more durable than acrylic paint and can be used on almost any surface. Acrylics tend to crack or flake off, especially when exposed to humidity over long periods.


Which is Easier To Use?


Watercolors take a little practice to master because you need good brush control for the paint to flow smoothly. Acrylics are easier to use and don’t require as much skill.


Which is More Affordable?


Watercolor paints tend to be more affordable than acrylic paints, although some high-quality acrylic paints can be expensive.


Which is More Vibrant?


Watercolors are more vibrant and can create more realistic-looking paintings. Acrylics are less subtle and have a more matte finish.


Which Surface Works Best For Watercolors and Acrylics?

watercolor versus acrylic paints
Painting on canvas – watercolor versus acrylic paints

Watercolors and acrylic paints come in different textures, so it’s essential to find a surface that works best for you. Watercolor paper is ideal because the texture allows the paint to flow smoothly across the page as soon as you apply it. It also absorbs water quickly, which makes blending easier.


Some artists choose canvas or wood panels over paper for acrylic paintings because the surface is less absorbent and allows for a thicker paint application. This can create a more textured look, similar to oil paints.


Quick Summary:


  • Watercolor paints are the better choice for most artists. They are safer to use, more durable, easier to use, and more affordable. Acrylic paints are best for artists who want a bolder look.


watercolor versus acrylic paints
Stonehenge (John Constable) – Famous watercolor paintings

What Paint Professional Artists Used?


While the answer to this question may depend on the individual artist’s preferences, watercolor and acrylic paints have unique benefits and drawbacks. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of each type of paint:


Watercolors Pros:


  • Watercolors are generally very translucent, creating beautiful effects when used correctly.
  • Watercolors are very easy to blend.
  • Some watercolor paints allow for the use of a brush, which creates beautiful and intricate effects that can be difficult or impossible with acrylics.


Watercolors Cons: 


  • Even highly pigmented watercolors tend to fade over time when exposed to sunlight and other forms of ultraviolet light.
  • Watercolors are not ideal for covering large areas of a canvas or paper and can only be used to create tiny details.


Watercolor paints, in particular, have been around since the Medieval period, but acrylics were invented much more recently (in 1927). Acrylic paint is generally considered more straightforward than watercolor, as it dries faster and is less prone to fading.


Acrylic Pros:

  • Acrylics are very opaque, meaning they can be used to cover large areas of a canvas or paper quickly and easily.
  • Acrylic paints come in a wider variety of colors than watercolors.
  • Unlike watercolor paints, acrylics do not fade in sunlight.


Acrylic Cons: 

watercolor versus acrylic paints
Lanterns (April Rimpo) Famous acrylic paintings

Acrylic paints are generally more expensive than watercolors and cannot be used with a brush due to the oily consistency of most acrylics. This means they must either be applied using an applicator such as a paintbrush or palette knife or poured directly onto a canvas or paper.


Acrylics are less translucent than watercolors, and therefore cannot be blended as easily. This can create a challenge for artists who prefer to layer their paints on top of one another rather than applying them all at once.

Acrylic paints were invented in 1927 but did not see widespread use until the 1960s.


Famous Artists Who Used Watercolors


Knowing a few famous painters who used watercolors is a great way to inspire you when beginning a new painting.


Here are some of the most famous artists throughout history who used watercolor paints:


  • Vincent van Gogh – One of his most famous watercolors is “Starry Night.”
  • John Constable – One of his most well-known paintings is the Hay Wagon.
  • J.M.W Turner – His painting The Fighting Temeraire was voted the best in a public poll and now hangs in the National Gallery in London.
  • Georgia O’Keefe – She is best known for her flower paintings.
  • Claude Monet – He was the founder of French Impressionism, and his most famous painting, “Water Lilies,” hangs in a museum in Paris.
  • Edgar Degas – His works are often ballerinas or women on horseback with an exciting twist; they weren’t always painted accurately.
  • William Blake is known for his illuminated books, such as the Songs of Innocence and Experience.
  • George Seurat is best known for his painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, which took him two years to complete.
  • Salvador Dali – One of his most famous paintings is The Persistence of Memory, which features melting clocks.
  • Henri Matisse – He was a French artist considered the leader of the Fauvist movement.
  • Wassily Kandinsky – He was a Russian painter credited with being the founder of abstract art.
  • Jackson Pollock – One of his most famous paintings is Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), which was created by dripping paint onto a canvas laid on the floor.
Watercolor versus acrylic paints
Jackson Pollock artworks – acrylic paints

These painters used watercolors in unique ways that have inspired other artists over time. If you’re looking for a little bit of creative inspiration, studying the work of these famous painters is a great place to start. Who knows, maybe your next masterpiece will be in watercolor.


They were all inspired by nature and painted landscapes using the fine quality of watercolors.


Many of them used washes to create a sense of light and shadow. Some experimented with the paint, creating unique textures and effects. Others used watercolor combined with other media, such as charcoal or ink. But they all share one thing in common: they could all create beautiful and unique watercolor paintings.


Famous Artists Who Used Acrylics


As acrylics are relatively new to the art scene, it can be difficult for artists to find famous works created with acrylics. However, many notable pieces of artwork and sculptures have been made using these paints.


The most famous example is probably Jackson Pollock’s ‘No Title (1953)’ painting: This painting is the first large-scale drip painting ever made, and it was created in front of a live audience on Feb 11th, 1943. One year later, this style became widely popularized as “action paintings” when another famous artist named Willem de Kooning created his ‘Woman series #52’ painting.

watercolor versus acrylic paints
Willem de Kooning

This was the first work of art that used action paintings, characterized by drips, splashes, and other patterns formed on a canvas as the paint is poured or spread across it with quick movements.


Jackson Pollock noted that he had decided to use acrylics because he wanted his artwork to last long. As it turns out, this was indeed a wise decision – as most of Pollock’s paintings are still in excellent condition today due to the durability of acrylic paints:


However, just like with any other type of paint, some of these famous artists can be criticized for their use of acrylics. For example, some feel that Pollock’s work was not nearly as good when he switched to using acrylic paints – and this is a debate that has been going on for many years now.


Nonetheless, the fact remains that acrylic painting is a very versatile medium that many famous artists have used over the years. Whether you’re a beginner or a professional, it’s definitely worth giving these paints a try!


Some famous artworks made from acrylics include:


  • Willem de Kooning’s “Woman-series #52” (1953)
  • Jackson Pollock’s “No Title (1953)” painting (1943)
  • Yoko Ono’s Painting, titled “Sky Piece” 1970. This piece was created by Yoko Ono when she was a student at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music.


In addition to famous artists, many notable sculptures have been made using acrylic paint:

watercolor versus acrylic paints
LOVE Sculpture in Paris
  • Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture in Paris (1996)
  • Aonishiki’s “Scream” Sculpture 1971 – This is a famous sculpture made in Japan, and it’s often considered one of the most iconic pieces of art from that country.


As you can see, acrylic painting is a medium worth exploring – whether you’re a beginner or an experienced artist!


Watercolor can be more challenging. With watercolor you can build up layers of colors while painting, but you work in a different order than you do with acrylic paint. Watercolor is translucent and unlike acrylic, you can not cover up your mistakes. If you want to preserve areas of light color, then you must plan ahead in your painting. In class, I teach little tricks of the trade on how you can preserve the white space on your paper and how you can delicately “fix” some overly saturated areas of color. Watercolor is a patient process. It is a dance of learning the right amount of water to pigment and applying it on a absorbent paper. The key is timing, and it’s comes with experience and a lot of painting. You can work with watercolors as wet on wet or wet on dry. Once you learn the balance of how much water to use, it will completely take your painting to a higher level, and allow you to establish real color. Rayeoflightstudio

Can You Mix Watercolors With Acrylics?


Mixed media is a style of art that mixes different mediums — such as watercolor and acrylic paints. It is trendy among artists because it allows you to use the benefits of both media while getting rid of their drawbacks.


Some painters mix paint into thickened gesso or white glue for additional texture (Elaine Wilson). This technique is often used to create a resist, then painted over with transparent watercolor. The thicker paint will repel the watercolor and create exciting areas of contrast.


But you don’t have to be an experienced artist to enjoy mixed media paintings! You can mix two colors of acrylic paint on your palette and start painting. In the end, you’ll have a unique piece of art that nobody else will be able to replicate.


You can mix acrylic paints with watercolors or oils (for instance). The process is very different from mixing paint within the same medium because paints behave differently when mixed. When using watercolor and oil, it’s best not to mix the pigments but rather to paint them on top of each other.


Acrylic and watercolor paints look very different from one another, so many artists want to know if they can be mixed with acrylics. Even though both types are considered transparent media (meaning that you cannot see the substrate through the wet paint), the transparency of watercolor is much greater.


Watercolors tend to be more diffuse and less intense than acrylics, so they are often used for washes (layers of thin paint). Acrylics can be mixed with other media such as pastels, charcoal, and ink; this extends the range of colors that you can use.


Watercolors are transparent when wet, but they become opaque and semi-transparent once dry. This means that you should use them to paint light colors over dark underpainting — otherwise, the painting will look dull or muddy (Fettner). To create different values of gray in your watercolor paintings, add varying amounts of water to the pigments.


Zenart supplies also talk about the difference between watercolors and acrylics on one of their article including the various ingredients about these painting mediums.


Should A Beginner Start With Acrylics or Watercolors?

watercolor versus acrylic paints
Peach Tree in Blossom – Van Gogh

Beginners tend to ask this question a lot. And there’s no easy answer because it depends on your individual preferences and goals. But we can give you some factors to consider when making your decision.


Watercolor is typically more translucent than acrylic paint, making it harder to cover up mistakes and achieve opacity. However, many artists prefer the delicate, ethereal quality of watercolor washes.


Acrylic paint is more versatile than watercolor because it can be used in various ways: thick and textured, thin and transparent, or anywhere in between. It dries quickly so you can work on multiple layers at once, which is excellent for beginners who are still learning how to mix colors and blend them seamlessly.


You can also check PaintTopics article about watercolor vs acrylics: The main difference between watercolor and acrylic paints is how you use them. Acrylic is quick-drying paint with excellent coverage, while watercolors are transparent and easy to blend with water. They have many differences. However, they are both water-soluble paints.


Final Words


In the end, it all comes down to personal preference. So try out both media and see which one you prefer. Experiment with different techniques and applications until you find your groove. And most importantly, have fun with it!



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