Watercolor vs Acrylic: Strengths, Weaknesses, Techniques
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 10 min read


  1. What are watercolor paints?
  2. Strengths of watercolor paints
  3. Weaknesses of watercolor paints
  4. Techniques for using watercolor paints
  5. What are acrylic paints?
  6. Strengths of acrylic paints
  7. Weaknesses of acrylic paints
  8. Techniques for using acrylic paints
  9. Watercolor vs Acrylic: A comparison

Welcome to our exploration of the wide and wonderful world of art! Today, we're focusing on the strengths and weaknesses of watercolor vs acrylic painting. Whether you're a seasoned artist, a budding hobbyist, or just someone with an interest in art, this article will provide you with valuable insights into these two popular mediums. We will delve into their unique characteristics, practical techniques, and, most importantly, help you understand their strengths and weaknesses. So, let's dive right in!

What are watercolor paints?

Let's begin our journey with watercolor paints. Watercolor, which has a history dating back to ancient times, is a type of paint that is made by mixing pigments with a binder, usually gum arabic. This binder gives the paint its creamy consistency. But here's the twist: watercolor paints are water-soluble. What does this mean for you as an artist?

Well, when you add water to these paints, they become transparent and allow light to reflect off the paper beneath. This creates a beautiful, luminous effect that is distinct to watercolors. You've probably noticed this if you've ever admired a watercolor painting with a soft, dreamy quality—that's the watercolor magic at work!

The transparency of watercolor paints is both a strength and a weakness, depending on how you look at it. But we'll delve deeper into that later. For now, let's focus on the basics. Watercolors come in two forms: tubes and pans. Tube watercolors are more fluid, while pan watercolors, which come in small, solid blocks, need to be moistened with water before use.

Some popular brands of watercolor paints include Winsor & Newton, Daniel Smith, and Schmincke. Each brand has its own unique qualities, so I encourage you to experiment and find the one that suits your artistic style best. Remember, art is a journey of discovery, so don't be afraid to try new things!

Now that we've covered the basics of what watercolor paints are, we can move on to their strengths and weaknesses, as well as some handy techniques for using them. So, let's continue our exploration of the strengths and weaknesses of watercolor vs acrylic painting. Stay tuned!

Strengths of watercolor paints

Watercolors are like the quiet, thoughtful friend who always surprises you with their depth. Their strength lies in their transparency and fluidity, which gives your painting a luminous, ethereal quality that's hard to replicate with other mediums.

One of the strengths of watercolor painting is that it's easy to correct your mistakes. Don't like the way something looks? Simply take a damp brush, lift off the color, and start again. This forgiving nature makes watercolors a great choice for beginners.

Another strength is their versatility. You can use them in a variety of ways, from creating detailed botanical illustrations to loose, expressive landscapes. And because they are water-based, you can easily mix them, dilute them for a softer effect, or use them straight from the tube for intense, vibrant color.

Traveling with watercolors is a breeze, too. They're lightweight, easy to carry, and you don't need a bunch of supplies—just your paints, a brush, and a water container. So if you're the kind of artist who likes to paint en plein air, watercolors might be your perfect companion!

Finally, watercolors dry quickly. This can be a strength if you're eager to see your final result or if you want to build layers quickly. And it's a great excuse if you're like me and have a hard time waiting for paint to dry!

So, those are some of the strengths of watercolor painting. It's a medium that's as versatile as it is beautiful, and that's why it's loved by artists all over the world. But like all things, it's not without its weaknesses. But don't fret—we'll discuss those next!

Weaknesses of watercolor paints

Now, let's chat about the other side of the coin—the weaknesses of watercolor paints. No medium is perfect, and understanding these drawbacks can help you decide if watercolor is the right fit for your art.

Firstly, watercolors can be unpredictable. Their fluid nature often results in the colors bleeding into each other, creating unexpected effects. While this can sometimes lead to beautiful, spontaneous results, it can also be a source of frustration, especially if you're aiming for precision.

Another challenge with watercolors is their transparency. This is a double-edged sword—while it gives watercolors their unique, luminous quality, it also means that any errors or pencil lines underneath can show through. White is particularly tricky to maintain as you cannot paint over mistakes like you can with acrylics.

Then there's the issue of fading. Some watercolors—especially cheaper ones—can fade over time, especially when exposed to sunlight. If longevity of your artwork is important, you'll need to invest in artist-grade paints and take steps to protect your work, like framing it behind UV-resistant glass.

Watercolors also require patience and planning. Since you can't easily paint over your mistakes, you need to think about your composition and color choices ahead of time. If you're the spontaneous type who likes to dive in without a plan, you might find watercolors a bit restrictive.

Finally, watercolor paper can be pricey. Good quality watercolor paper is essential as it can handle the water without warping, but this can add to your art expenses.

That's a brief look at the weaknesses of watercolor paints. Keep in mind these are not deal-breakers—just things to be aware of as you explore this beautiful medium. But hey, every rose has its thorns, right?

Techniques for using watercolor paints

Let's move to the fun part—using watercolor paints! Here are some techniques that can help you make the most out of this medium.

Wet on Wet: This is a classic watercolor technique. As the name suggests, you apply wet paint onto a wet surface. It can create beautiful, soft edges and interesting blends. It's a bit like making a sandwich, you're layering the bread (water) and the fillings (paint) all at once.

Dry Brush: In contrast to the wet on wet technique, dry brush involves using a brush with very little water and more pigment. This technique is fantastic for creating texture and detail. Think of it like drawing with a crayon.

Glazing: Glazing is all about layering thin, transparent washes of color on top of each other once they are dry. It can create a stunning luminous effect. Imagine it as a stained glass window, each layer adding to the richness of the color.

Graded Wash: This technique involves creating a smooth transition from a dark to a light shade of the same color. It's a bit like watching the sky at dawn, with the color gradually lightening.

Lifting: This technique involves removing wet or dry paint to lighten an area. It's like using an eraser, but for paint.

The best way to get comfortable with these techniques is to practice, practice, practice. Experiment with different effects and see what you can create. Remember, every artist has their own style—what matters most is that you enjoy the process. Now, go roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty—or rather, colorful!

What are acrylic paints?

Alright, let's switch gears and talk about acrylic paints. Acrylics are a type of paint made by suspending pigment in a polymer emulsion. It's like mixing colored dust with a sort of plastic soup. This might sound a bit strange, but the result is a versatile and resilient paint.

As they dry, acrylic paints become water-resistant and form a protective layer. This means you can layer different colors without them mixing together—kind of like putting stickers on top of each other. Also, once they're dry, you don't have to worry about a sudden rain shower ruining your masterpiece!

Acrylics are a relatively recent addition to the artist's toolkit. They were only developed in the mid-20th century, but they quickly gained popularity due to their versatility and ease of use. It's no wonder they're a favorite among both beginners and seasoned artists!

One of the great things about acrylics is their fast drying time. This can be a real game-changer if you're the impatient type who can't wait to see the final result. But remember, this also means you need to work quickly and decisively. No time for dilly-dallying around here!

So, now that we've covered the basics of what acrylic paints are, let's dive into the strengths and weaknesses of this popular medium in the next sections.

Strengths of acrylic paints

Now, let's talk about the strengths of acrylic paints. First off, acrylics are incredibly versatile. They can be used thickly, like oil paints, or thinned down with water to resemble watercolors. This gives you a lot of flexibility when deciding how to approach your painting.

Another strength is their fast drying time. Unlike oils, which can take days or even weeks to fully dry, acrylics are usually dry to the touch within hours. This allows you to add new layers without having to wait around, speeding up the creation process. So if you're someone who gets a thrill from seeing your work come together quickly, acrylics might be your best bet.

Acrylics also have excellent lightfastness, which means they resist fading even when exposed to light for long periods. Your vibrant sunset painting will stay vibrant, even after years of display. Now that's a strength worth mentioning!

Finally, acrylic paints are pretty forgiving. Made a mistake? No problem! Once an acrylic layer is dry, you can paint right over it. So if you're the type who likes to experiment—or if you just tend to change your mind a lot—acrylics give you the freedom to try different things without fear of ruining your canvas.

In conclusion, the strengths of acrylic paints lie in their versatility, quick drying time, lightfastness, and ability to cover mistakes. These characteristics make them a popular choice for many artists, from those just starting out to experienced professionals.

Weaknesses of Acrylic Paints

While acrylic paints certainly have their strengths, it's also important to consider their drawbacks. One of the most common criticisms is that they dry too quickly. Sometimes, this speed can be a hindrance rather than a help, especially if you're trying to blend colors directly on the canvas. You may find that your paints are drying before you've finished blending, which can lead to a less smooth transition of colors.

Another weakness of acrylic paints is related to their texture. Unlike oil paints, which maintain their texture once dry, acrylics will flatten out, losing any brushstroke texture. This might not matter to some artists, but if you love the textured look of brushstrokes, this could be a downside for you.

Also, keep in mind that acrylic paints are water-soluble. This means they can be diluted with water, but it also means that they can be accidentally reactivated and smeared if water or a wet brush comes into contact with a dried acrylic painting. So, if you're a bit clumsy with your water jar—like I sometimes am—this could pose a potential problem.

Lastly, acrylics, once dried, have a plastic-like finish that some artists find less appealing than the finish of oils or watercolors. If you're attracted to the glossy sheen of oil or the delicate transparency of watercolor, the matte finish of acrylic might not be your cup of tea.

In a nutshell, the weaknesses of acrylic paints include their quick drying time that can hinder blending, the loss of texture once dried, their reactivity to water even when dry, and their matte finish. It's essential to weigh these factors when choosing acrylics as your medium for painting.

Techniques for Using Acrylic Paints

Despite their weaknesses, acrylic paints can be incredibly versatile and enjoyable to use if you know the right techniques. Let's dive in.

Firstly, understanding the concept of 'underpainting' can be crucial. This involves creating a monochrome version of your painting and then adding color once it's dry. This technique is great for practicing your tonal values and it also allows you to paint quickly without worrying about the color just yet.

Next, there's the 'glazing' technique. This is where you apply a thin, semi-transparent layer of paint over a dried layer of paint. This technique can create stunning visual effects, as the layers of color interact with each other to create depth and luminosity.

Creating texture with acrylics is also possible, despite their tendency to flatten when dried. One way to do this is by using a palette knife to apply the paint, creating raised areas and sharp lines. You can also use additives or mediums that create texture when mixed with the paint—think sand or sawdust!

Lastly, don't forget about 'dry brushing.' This technique involves dipping your brush in paint, wiping off most of it, and then lightly brushing over your canvas. This results in a rough, textured look that can add an interesting dynamic to your painting.

So there you have it—some handy techniques for using acrylic paints. From underpainting and glazing to creating texture and dry brushing, these techniques can help you harness the strengths of acrylic painting while minimizing its weaknesses. Happy painting!

Watercolor vs Acrylic: A Comparison

And now, we've reached the part of the journey where we pit watercolor against acrylic. It's like an art boxing match, but instead of gloves, we've got brushes. So, let's weigh the strengths and weaknesses of watercolor vs acrylic painting.

When it comes to flexibility and versatility, acrylic paints take the crown. You can mix them with mediums to make them behave like oils or watercolors, apply them thickly or thinly, and even use them on just about any surface. Now that's what we call a jack of all trades!

But if it's a quiet charm you seek, watercolors might be your cup of tea. With their delicate transparency and unpredictability, watercolors can create effects that no other medium can. Plus, their easy setup and cleanup make them perfect for when you want to paint en plein air, or when you're just not in the mood for a big post-painting tidy-up.

Technique-wise, both have their unique points. Watercolor techniques like wet-on-wet or glazing can create dreamy, ethereal effects. On the other hand, acrylic techniques like dry brushing or creating texture can give your painting more structure and depth.

At the end of the day, whether watercolor or acrylic is 'better' really depends on what you're after in your artistic journey. It's like choosing between hiking and surfing—both are amazing in their own ways, it just depends on whether you prefer mountains or waves. So why not try both, and see which one speaks to your creative soul the most?

Remember, the strengths and weaknesses of watercolor vs acrylic painting are not rules set in stone. They're just guidelines to help you make an informed decision. Because in art, as in life, rules are made to be broken. Happy painting!

If you enjoyed exploring the differences between watercolor and acrylic paintings and want to improve your skills in acrylic painting, we highly recommend the workshop 'Improve Your Acrylic Painting Skills' by Rachel Christopoulos. This workshop will provide you with valuable techniques and expert advice to help you master acrylic painting and take your artwork to new heights.