Gouache, an opaque water-soluble paint with gum arabic or acrylic as its binder, is one of the best-kept secrets in painting. Want flat, opaque areas of color? You’ll need only one coat with gouache. Want strong tones? Gouache has a high pigment load, ensuring saturated color. Gouache is perfect for illustration and design work because it dries quite quickly and is great for digital scanning because it is nonreflective. It’s excellent for plein air painting too, since it’s both portable and easy to clean up. Traditional gouache paints may be reactivated with water after they dry, but note that those made with acrylic binders cannot. All gouache paints work best on premium watercolor papers; because they are opaque, they also work well on colored papers. Browse our roundup of the best gouache paints to find the one that fits you best.
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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.
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Winsor & Newton Designers Gouache
Designers, illustrators, and artists reach for Winsor & Newton’s designer gouache paints to create flat areas of vibrant color. The paint’s opacity is achieved via premium pigments and not with chalks or fillers. The ultra-high and ultra-fine pigment load provides excellent saturated color coverage that dries matte, ideal for digital reproduction. These traditional gum arabic gouache paints reactivate easily with water. If opacity and transparency are both desired, these paints pair well with watercolor paints. Calligraphers, paper marblers, and airbrush artists also use these gouache paints because of their opacity and excellent flow—the formula literally glides from the tube. Winsor & Newton’s gouache paints are available in 89 alluring colors, but just two sets: a set of six primary colors and a set of ten introductory colors.
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.
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Holbein Artists’ Gouache
This venerable Japanese paint manufacturer, in business for more than a century, produces one of the very best gouaches for professionals. Paints are made of finely ground pigment without common additives such as calcium carbonate, talc, or titanium dioxide. If you’ve ever worked with student-grade gouache, you might have noticed that it has a chalky, somewhat dull finish. You won’t experience that with Holbein’s, which presents rich and vivid colors that don’t get muddy when mixed. The pigments are naturally opaque, and while they maintain this opacity when spread, the paint can also be thinned to semi-transparency. Holbein offers a larger range of sets than any other brand on our list, each one featuring thoughtfully curated selections from among its 89 colors. Choose from sets with five, 12, 18, 24, or 84 tubes.
TOP OF THE LINE
Schmincke Horadam Artist Gouache
The first thing you’ll probably notice about Schmincke’s Horadam line is its eye-watering prices: Tubes go for about 50 percent more than you’ll pay for Holbein’s. But you truly get what you pay for in this case. The German company carefully sources its pigments: All but eight of its 48 colors are single-pigment, so they mix very easily and cleanly. They combine all the best properties of the competition, boasting a tremendously high pigment load, impressive opacity, outstanding lightfastness, ease of work, and excellent re-wettable qualities. Colors retain powerful shades when spread, and when mixed, they yield clean and crisp blends. One downside: Schmincke offers just one paint set, featuring 10 essential colors in 15-milliliter tubes, including titanium white, madder lake deep, heliogreen bluish, and burnt sienna.