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Acrylic Painting vs. Watercolor

acrylic painting vs watercolor

In the so-called battle between acrylic painting vs watercolor, there is no real winner. Both painting mediums come with their own sets of advantages and disadvantages. It will be up to you to choose which one is a good fit for your art style.

This article will list a couple of the differences between acrylic and watercolor paints. If you don’t have room in your budget to try both mediums, which is ideal, you can start by picking one. Once you have finished reading, you will have an idea of which medium to choose first.

Acrylic Painting vs. Watercolor: What Makes the Two Different?

To make it easier for you to pick a medium to start practicing with, here are some of the biggest differences between acrylic and watercolor paint.

Natural and Synthetic Ingredients

Most watercolor brands use natural ingredients. However, some products do use synthetic binders. Most watercolors contain color pigment and binders (gum Arabic or glycol). Some watercolor products also contain glycerin, ox gall, and honey as preservatives and alter the colors a bit.

On the other hand, acrylic paints are almost purely synthetic. They are made using acrylic resins, binders, and synthetic pigments. In addition, acrylic paints are relatively new and have only been on the market for a little over 50 years.

Different Types of Paint

Both watercolors and acrylic paints have multiple types. Watercolors typically come in the form of tubes and pans. Acrylic paints, on the other hand, come in jars, bottles, and tubes.
In addition, there are also several types of acrylic paint, including:

  • Standard
  • Fluid
  • Thick, heavy-bodied paints
  • Slow-drying
  • Re-workable
  • Long-lasting

There are also two grades of acrylic paints – student and artist-quality. Artist-quality acrylics are the ones used by professionals. These contain more pigments and come in a huge variety of colors. Meanwhile, student-grade ones are a bit more affordable. They have a limited palette of colors and the vibrancy of the colors is significantly weaker.

The Types of Surfaces Painted

Watercolors can only work when applied on paper, specifically textured paper designed for watercolors. You will need to use paint that is thick enough to not let the colors bleed through.

Acrylic paints are a lot more versatile than watercolors because you can use them on lots of different surfaces. Most artists use acrylics on canvas, but you can also use them to paint on paper, wood, fabric, metal, plastic, glass, and more.


difference between acrylic and watercolor paint

Compared to watercolor, acrylic is definitely the more durable and longer-lasting medium. You can easily damage watercolor paintings just by accidentally splashing water over them.

Although acrylics are relatively new, their colors have not been seen to fade even after years have passed. Unlike watercolors that fade after a couple of years, acrylics retain their colors for years on end.

Resistance to Smudging

When you are painting, smudging allows you to create a shading effect. With watercolors, you can mix two colors on the paper by adding more water. Meanwhile, acrylic paints do not allow you to mix a dark color after you paint it over a lighter shade. The darker color will show through the lighter one.

Color Brightness and Vibrancy

Watercolors provide brighter colors. Their pigments are brighter and produce a slight, tinting effect. On the other hand, acrylics are a lot more vibrant. Also, because you can lay lighter colors over the darker tones, you can create highly contrasting artworks.


Watercolors are typically transparent, but they do come in different styles, even semi-transparent and opaque. Acrylic paints have more vibrant colors than watercolors. The main reason is the way you need to apply them.

However, they also come in semi-transparent styles but they are not quite as transparent as watercolors.

Drying Time

Acrylic paints are among the fastest drying paints that you can use. They will literally dry in minutes. Although this means you do not need to wait long for your artwork to dry, it also indicates that you must work fast.

The short drying time makes it difficult to blend colors. This makes it almost impossible to give an entire canvas a unified look. Also, acrylic paints dry flat.

Like acrylic, watercolors also dry fast. However, when watercolors dry in your palette, you can reuse them for your next projects. Also, even if watercolors dry up on the paper, you can still work them somewhat just by adding more water to the paper.

Ease of Cleaning

Because both acrylics and watercolors are water-based, you can just clean them up using plain soap and water. Watercolors are easier to clean, though. You also do not have to worry about watercolors staining your clothes. You just need to wash them immediately and the watercolors would just wash off.

Meanwhile, acrylics should not get on your good clothes. Fabric paints are acrylic-based because they leave permanent marks on the fabric. This is why you will need to clean your brushes and workstation immediately after every painting session to greatly reduce its staining.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can you use Acrylics like Watercolors?

The great thing about acrylics is that they are quite versatile enough that you can use them like you would watercolors. Because acrylic paints are water-based, you can thin them out using water. Thin them enough and they will behave like watercolors. However, unlike true watercolors, you cannot work with acrylics once dried on paper.

What kind of Paper is best for Watercolors?

There are two types of drawing papers – one is pulp-based and the other is cotton-based. For watercolors, you should use 100% cotton paper. This type of paper can absorb the pigments of the watercolors but it is still thick enough that the paints would not bleed through.

Do you need to Prime the Canvas for Acrylics?

It is not required but it is recommended that you prime the canvas before applying acrylic paints. This will make the acrylic paints adhere better to the surface. Also, applying a white paint primer on canvas will make the colors pop even more.


As you can see, in the battle between acrylic painting vs. watercolor, there is no clear-cut winner. Both painting mediums have their benefits and disadvantages. However, if you are a beginner, it might be better to choose acrylics. These paints are cheaper and they are a bit easier to use than watercolors.

Also, you can use acrylic paints as you would watercolors. However, keep in mind that the resulting effect will not be identical to real watercolors. Once you have mastered using acrylics, you can then head over to using watercolors if you wish.