Watercolor vs Acrylic Paint: Know the Differences in 2023!

Randy Charles
Professional Painter

Randy Charles is the owner of PaintCentric.com, a website dedicated to providing information, tips, tricks, and news about all things paint. With over 10 years...Read more

Watercolor and acrylic paints have a range of colors and textures, making them popular amongst artists. It’s important to know the differences between the two. To help, we’ll give an overview of their compositions and application methods. After reading this article, you’ll know which paint to use for your project and any other art projects in the future!


What is Watercolor Paint?

Watercolor paint is special. It mixes pigments with a binder that is water soluble. This paint is often used in the arts and crafts industry, especially for painting paper. It’s known for making art pieces look unpredictable and fun.

Let’s learn more about what makes it unique compared to acrylic paint.

Types of Watercolor Paint

Regarding watercolor paints, there are two main types: Student-Grade and Artist-Grade. Student grade is often cheaper but lacks strong granulation and staining properties. Artist grade is pricier but yields brighter colors and is more permanent. It also contains pigments with great granulation and staining properties.

Watercolors come in many forms. Tubes, pans, liquids, droppers, and mixtures are all available. Particle size influences the intensity of the color washes and finer detail work.

Tubes are packaged with gum arabic and sometimes glycerin or honey. Tube size affects the price. 5ml and 6ml tubes cost about $4 each. 12ml and 15ml tubes usually cost around $7 or higher, depending on pigment quality and brand.

Prices vary depending on where you buy. Art material stores may be more expensive than online suppliers. Research is key!

How to Use Watercolor Paint

Watercolor paint is a popular and affordable form of art. It’s made from pigment mixed with water and is applied straight onto paper. This lets the artist create vivid art or more subdued, delicate pieces.

Prepare the paper surface with a brush or sponge and warm water. This prevents the paper from soaking up too much paint, which can cause cracking or bubbling.

Pan Watercolor
Pan watercolor

Choose the paints and begin creating washes of color. Mix pigments with varying intensities for a greater range in your work. Light washes create crisp lines, while heavy washes create smooth edges between colors.

You can also create more traditional looks with thicker paint applications, like oil painting or pastels. Be mindful of how much pigment you use not to overwhelm the watery effect. You can also control opacity by slow drying. This allows the pigment-filled moisture to sink into paper fibers and create a strong color deposit. Finally, remember that watercolors will always return to their wet state once dry. So, let your artwork properly dry before applying additional layers!

What is Acrylic Paint?

Tube Watercolors
Tube watercolors

Acrylic paint is the go-to for modern painters. It dries quickly and is durable. Plus, it’s water-based – so thinning and cleaning are a breeze. And it’s relatively cheap compared to other paints. Perfect for beginner artists!

Let’s dive deeper into acrylic paint and how it compares to watercolor paint.

Types of Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paints come in 3 types: student-grade, professional-grade, and heavy-body or artist’s quality.

  • Student-grade are the cheapest but have lower pigment concentration. This means less color brilliance and white clay seen when applied. Student-grade acrylics are brittle when dry and can crack when applied thickly.
  • Professional-grade paints contain more pigment particles, plus polymers, for increased durability. They are great for small art projects and practice paintings.
  • Heavy-body acrylics have higher viscosity and are ideal for larger art projects, like murals or frescos. They contain a lot of binders, which helps them keep their shape once dry. They are also reliable for exact performance.

How to Use Acrylic Paint

Pencil Watercolors
Pencil watercolors

Acrylic paint is quite simple to use, but mastering it can be a challenge. It has a short drying time so you can finish your art quickly. Acrylic paint comes in many sizes and dries on non-porous surfaces like wood and canvas.

When you paint with acrylics, know that the results will differ on different surfaces. You can also cover up background paintings by layering. Pressure affects the details of your brush strokes—lighter strokes create thinner lines than heavier strokes. To blend and merge shades, use quick motions. Wet paint over dry paint creates hard edges.

It’s best to practice these techniques on small canvases first. Try blending, stippling, dry brushing, drizzling, splatter painting, and impasto brushing. That way, you can figure out what works best for your style and master those techniques through practice.

Watercolor Vs. Acrylic Paint

Watercolor and acrylics? Artistic options both! But knowing the differences can help you pick your favorite. Let’s have a look. Watercolor? Acrylics? How do they compare? Characteristics, that’s what we need to know! To make sure we choose the right paint for our artwork.


Watercolor and acrylic paints have different textures. Watercolors come as powder or paste and must be mixed with water. Acrylics are liquids, pastes, or thick gels, and the pigment is ready to use.

Watercolor is easily washed away with water, but acrylic is resilient.

  • Watercolor has a smoother look as it blends into each other with no brushstrokes. It’s also delicate and airy.
  • Acrylics can be blended but dry fast, so brushstrokes are more visible. It has a harder look than watercolor.


Watercolor and acrylic paint has a primary difference: transparency. Watercolor is made with color pigments dissolved in a binder like gum arabic or dextrin. These pigments stay transparent when dried. Acrylics are made with color pigments suspended in a synthetic resin. This allows for more control over opacity and coverage.

With practice, you can master both paints’ transparency abilities!

  • You can control watercolor’s opacity with glazing and layering coats of pigment. The light application gives subtle gradations and contrast. Heavier application results in bolder color with less transparency but still differ due to their semi-transparency.
  • With practice, you can use both paints to create the desired look!


The lifetime of your art also called its longevity, is an important factor to consider when choosing a medium. Watercolor and acrylic paints differ in their durability.

  • Watercolor paint is water-soluble, so that it can be smudged, smeared, and faded over time. Reframing and transferring it to other surfaces is not often possible, limiting its preservation.
  • Acrylic paint, on the other hand, has a much longer lifespan. The pigment is suspended in a binder that seals the colors in the painting, making them less prone to fading or discoloring. The colors stay vibrant. Proper framing under glass or plexiglass can protect them from dust and light damage for many years.


The cost of watercolor and acrylic paints differs greatly. Artist-grade watercolors often cost more than student ones. Acrylic paints usually cost less due to their bulk pigment, binder for even color flow, and unlimited dilution. However, using dyes instead of products can reduce the cost. Both artist-grade acrylic paint and costly ones exist, depending on the materials.

Aclyric Paint
Aclyric paint


Watercolor and acrylic paints have their special properties. Watercolor is great for creating luminous pieces, like landscapes. Acrylics dry fast and are good for drawings and paintings. Both are rewarding to use. It’s up to the artist to decide which suits their needs best.

  • Watercolors let you blend colors and tones easily.
  • Acrylics provide a dependable, quick-drying outcome that’s compatible with many surfaces.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between watercolor and acrylic paint?

Watercolor paint is made of pigments suspended in a water-soluble binder, while acrylic paint is composed of pigments suspended in a water-based acrylic polymer emulsion. Watercolor paints are usually translucent and have a more delicate, luminous quality than acrylic paints, which are opaque and matte.

What surfaces can you use watercolor paint on?

Watercolor paint can be used on paper, watercolor boards, and other surfaces such as wood, fabric, and canvas. A “gesso” primer is recommended to prepare your surface for watercolor painting.

Are acrylic paints permanent?

Yes, when dry, acrylic paint is permanent and does not require any special care. However, it is important to note that it is water-resistant and not waterproof and may become damaged if immersed in water.

Randy CharlesProfessional Painter

Randy Charles is the owner of PaintCentric.com, a website dedicated to providing information, tips, tricks, and news about all things paint. With over 10 years of experience in the painting industry, Randy has become an expert in the field and is passionate about helping others learn more about painting. He has written numerous articles on the subject and is committed to providing accurate and up-to-date information to his readers.

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