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A relative of watercolor, gouache differs most clearly in its depth. This popular, water-soluble medium is more opaque than watercolor. Because it keeps light from hitting and reflecting off paper, gouache also has a flatter, more matte finish than watercolor. An advantage of painting with gouache is that this medium dries quite quickly—one reason why it’s used by many illustrators. Being less fluid, it’s also easier to control. Pick up some gouache and start creating quick studies today—whether with gouache alone or mixed with watercolors to fun, expressive effect. Peruse our roundup of favorites to get an idea of which brand is best for you.
M. Graham Artists’ Gouache
Developed for artists who are keen on customizing their own palettes and mixing their own colors, M. Graham’s gouache comes out on top. This line offers mostly pure, single-pigment colors (versus hues) made with a small amount of gum arabic as the binder, so they showcase an intense and impressive pigment load. The prime ingredient, however, is honey, which makes the paint moist and free-flowing. The sweet stuff also prevents cracking during the drying process and enables artists to rewet paints more easily than gouache without honey. This paint lays down smoothly, blends with ease, and can be thinned out to achieve light, translucent washes.
Purchase: M. Graham Artists’ Gouache, $6.33–$39.51 on Dick Blick
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Winsor & Newton Designers Gouache
This gouache, as its name indicates, caters less to fine artists and more to illustrators and commercial artists who seek solid swatches of vibrant color, but that’s not to say fine artists won’t enjoy using them. The difference between these paints and artist-focused lines is in the pigments: The majority of the 80-plus colors are produced—to excellent color accuracy—using premixed pigments; there’s less of an emphasis on the individual characteristics of raw ingredients. Used out of the tube, these colors are super-opaque and creamy, and they dry to a flat matte finish, making it easy to achieve consistent, bold coverage.
Purchase: Winsor & Newton Designers Gouache, $6.59–$54.00 on Dick Blick
Utrecht Designers Gouache and Sets
This line is geared toward students or hobbyists in terms of both working characteristics and price. There are just 24 colors to choose from, and many are blended hues, but in their formulation Utrecht has attempted to bring out the characteristics of single-pigment colors. In addition to gum arabic, pigments are mixed with wetting agents, plasticizers, and antimicrobials, which help achieve lower cost while maintaining performance. These water-soluble paints showcase more variation in opacity, which makes them a particularly good paint for those learning color mixing.
Purchase: Utrecht Designers Gouache and Sets, $5.93–$46.34 on Dick Blick
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Holbein Artists’ Gouache
From Japan comes this fantastic line of gouaches to satisfy professionals. Made without talc, calcium carbonate, titanium dioxide, and other common additives to gouache, these paints are very vivid, move without streaking, and don’t dry to a chalky finish. The formula does include a lubricant to increase flow, so it’s smooth to use right out of the tube, and little dollops go a long way. This paint is also easily thinned with water and will not lose its opacity when less viscous. Our only gripe is that it doesn’t reconstitute as easily as M. Graham’s gouache.
Purchase: Holbein Artists’ Gouache, $7.61–$715.00 on Dick Blick
TOP OF THE LINE
Schmincke Horadam Artist Gouache
The absolute best in our books, the Horadam line from this enduring German company outshines all others in terms of coverage, color, and performance. These are pricey paints, but you’re paying for carefully sourced and finely ground pigments with outstanding lightfastness. All but 8 of the 48 colors are single-pigment, and when mixed, they yield clean and crisp blends. The stunning opacity of these concentrated paints is totally natural and retains powerful shades when spread.
Purchase: Schmincke Horadam Artist Gouache, $15.94–$189.99 on Dick Blick