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The primary feature of gouache is its opacity. While these paints are similar to watercolor in the way they’re applied to paper, they are formulated so pigments remain near the surface of the paper rather than getting absorbed into its fibers. Like any other paint, gouache comes in a range of grades, and it can get pretty expensive. Pro-grade gouache is typically made with carefully sourced pigments with a low amount of binder; these paints often have a high lightfastness level as well. A good way to save a little money when going for these higher-end options is to purchase a set of tubes. While you can buy sets with dozens of colors, don’t write off smaller selections. Even with just five colors, you can create so many more with these beautifully blendable paints. Find your future favorite gouache set below.
Holbein Artists’ Gouache Sets
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 5, 12, 18, 24, or 84 tubes, each holding 15 milliliters of paint.
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M. Graham Gouache Primary Set
This is one of the best rewettable gouaches you can buy. M. Graham makes its paints using mostly pure, single-pigment colors and gum arabic, plus pure blackberry honey. The latter adds fluidity and moistness to the paint so it reconstitutes well with just a drop or two of water; it also prevents cracking as the paint dries. This gouache offers a slightly creamier consistency than Holbein’s, lays down smoothly, and blends with ease. M. Graham offers just one set of five—Azo Yellow, Naphthol Red, Cobalt Blue, Ivory Black, and Titanium White—a fantastic palette to introduce you to this superb line. (Just note that this gouache isn’t the best for plein air painting, as it can attract bees.)
ANOTHER GOOD CHOICE
Winsor & Newton Designers’ Gouache Introductory 10-Tube Set
If you use gouache primarily for illustrations or commercial art, consider Winsor & Newton’s Designers line. The company has formulated 80-plus paints that showcase extremely bold, consistent, and vibrant colors. Unlike gouache from, say, Holbein, these paints result from a less fussy selection of ingredients; they’re made with premixed pigments, which helps to keep the cost down. You can use them out of the tube, and they dry to a streak-free, flat matte finish. Winsor & Newton offers an “introductory” set for designers that features 10 colors in 14-milliliter tubes, including ultramarine and ivory black.
Royal & Langnickel Gouache Artist Paint Set, 24 Tubes
If you’re a newcomer to gouache and aren’t ready to splurge on top-tier lines but want high-quality paints, consider these from Royal & Langnickel. The gouache has a pleasantly smooth consistency, is easy to manipulate and blend, and can be rehydrated quite well. Just one layer of paint appears opaque and vibrant (although not as rich as pricier brands). Royal & Langnickel offers four sets to choose from, with selections of six to 24 colors. We recommend the last, but any of them make for a fantastic starter set for practice and experimentation.
TOP OF THE LINE
Schmincke Horadam Gouache Set
The first thing you’ll probably notice about Schmincke’s Horadam line is its eyewatering 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 rewettable qualities. Schmincke offers just one paint set: 10 essential colors in 15-milliliter tubes, including titanium white, madder lake deep, heliogreen bluish, and burnt sienna.