Watercolor vs Acrylic Paint: What Is the Difference?

Watercolor vs Acrylic Paint What Is the Difference

Generally, the primary distinction between watercolor and acrylic paint is how artists formulate the paints and apply them on surfaces. Many are familiar with the usual idea that acrylic paint is fast-drying and that watercolor comes naturally transparent.

In terms of comparison, both can be excellent quality paint types, no doubt. But there are other areas of comparison and contrasts between these two paint types. 

However, the question ‘watercolor vs. acrylic paint: what is the difference?’ can sometimes get a little trickier. Several artists and painters are often not entirely clear when identifying the essential similarities and differences between watercolor and acrylic paint. If you ask, for example, if you can use acrylic paint like watercolor, many artists might not offer a precise answer. First off, let’s examine the pros and downsides of each of these paints and painting techniques.

In this article, we’ll learn the difference between watercolor vs. acrylic paint. Stay connected and read to the end.

Watercolor vs Acrylic Paint: Pros and Cons

Pros and Cons of Watercolor Paints

Watercolor paint is an art formulation made of a water-soluble binder with colored pigment. This medium works perfectly on a paper surface. Especially textured watercolor paper. You will get watercolor paint by thinning gum Arabic, for instance, with water. Watercolor paint dissolves in water, making it a highly translucent medium.

Generally, watercolor carries a reputation for expressing life and being alive and versatile. But again, it’s been accused of being impulsive and unforgiving.

Here are the advantages and disadvantages of watercolor:


  • Clarity of color
  • Relatively affordable
  • Easy to clear out and quick-drying
  • Can cover wide areas at a time
  • Composed of less harmful chemicals
  • Reduces paint waste: reusable leftover
  • Water-soluble: allows you to add water to modify a dry painting
  • Creates naturally translucence


  • Can stain a paper surface
  • Applicable only on paper surfaces
  • Based on water solution: the material must soak up water
  • Apparently fragile

Pros and Cons of Acrylic Paint

Incredibly known for its non-toxicity, acrylic paint is a versatile medium that comes both in quick-drying and gentle-drying formulas. Acrylics can come in a thin or thick formula, depending on the textual effect you want to create. Besides, you can dilute acrylics with water. Alternatively, acrylics can mix with mediums or gels to make them look like oil paints or watercolor.

The pigments in acrylics make the paint dissolve in water. However, it becomes water-resistant when dry. Acrylics are usually opaque. This means you’ll need to apply the medium n layers, beginning from the obscure to bright colors. 

Acrylic paint has the following benefits and thumbs-down:


  • Non-toxic and safer to use
  • High water resistance
  • Perfect medium to apply when wet
  • Fast-drying and slow-drying formulas
  • Great formula on a wide range of surfaces
  • Highly durable, versatile
  • Vibrant and water-soluble


  • Not effective when dry: color loses hues in dry acrylics
  • Not easy to clean up from the surface when it’s dry
  • Relatively pricier 

Watercolor vs Acrylic Paint: Similarities

Despite the differences, there is a few areas both watercolor and acrylic paint compare. These similarities can be located both in the making and use of the two options.

Water solubility

Watercolor and acrylic paints are water-based. It means that they both rely on water for their formulation and application. They can dissolve in water, so artists can modify the visual output of each medium by simply adding water. Although acrylic dries fast, you can still use water to correct any anomaly noticed in the color effect.

Professional grade

It doesn’t matter if you’re going for watercolor or acrylics; both paints come as professional and top-grade options. They use high paint pigments in their formulation. Professional artists and crafters have a lot of soft spots for acrylic paint due to its versatility and flexibility. Watercolor is no less favored by artists who seek dynamic color effects.

Flexibility to Modification

You won’t have to fret upon the thought of dried paints. Both watercolor and acrylic paints show great flexibility when you need to modify. It doesn’t matter whether they are wet or dry.

You can modify painting from acrylic or watercolor.   No doubt, acrylic paint loses color hue when it becomes dry. Yet, you can still alter a few areas in the overall visual effect of your acrylic painting. 


Versatility is a distinctive feature common to both watercolor and acrylics. Although watercolor is more complex to apply than acrylics, it remains one of the most extremely versatile paint mediums out there. They’re made of colored pigment on the back burner of water solution. 


The feature that happens to be the icing on the cake for watercolor and acrylic is their non-toxicity. They do not contain any toxic or harmful chemical constituents. Hence, they are safe to use. However, watercolor contains some tinctures of cobalt and cadmium, which are harmful. But for most of its composition, it is non-toxic and harmless. 


Watercolor and acrylics are relatively cheap when compared to other paint types in the industry. This is mainly due to their water-based feature and capacity to dissolve in water readily.   

What is The Difference between Watercolor and Acrylic Paint?

Besides the mode of formulation and application, let’s look at other essential areas watercolor and acrylic paints differ. 

Chemical composition

Although the chemical components of watercolor and acrylics are safe, non-toxic, and non-combustible, the formulations are different. Watercolor paint comes from a high textured pigment, gum arabic, additives or preservatives, and evaporating water.

The gum arabic serves as the binder that suspends the pigments. The additives/preservatives consist of honey, ox gall, or glycerin, which helps ensure durability, modify the color of the pigment, hiding, or viscosity. The evaporating water solvent helps to thin out the paint before use.

On the other hand, acrylic paint doesn’t contain any explosive chemicals. These synthetic paints use acrylic plastic resins formed from synthetic pigments. The pigments are synthetic because they offer quality bonds for low energy absorption and more color brightness.


The color mixing for any paint depends on the kind of project on your hand. For beginner painters and artists, there is a wide range of color palettes professionals have identified. The starting point has to be the primary colors Red, Blue, and Yellow.

Specifically, both watercolor and acrylic can come in a wide variety of color palettes. The mode of mixing the colors is different for each paint type.


When it comes to durability and brightness, no paint type matches acrylics on the market. Under normal conditions, acrylics last longer than watercolors.

However, overall, the quality of the paint matters. Plus, we can also factor in the conditions of humidity, temperature, and light. While watercolor can last up to 100 years, acrylics will last far more and still shine brightly.


The way the paints are applied makes acrylic shine more brightly than watercolor. Generally, watercolor is more transparent than acrylics. They, however, can be exhibit semi-transparency and opaqueness. Unlike watercolor, acrylics aren’t meant for use on transparent objects.     


Watercolor paints are generally transparent due to the water-soluble pigment. They can also show shades of semi-translucency. On the other hand, acrylic paints can be delicately translucent like watercolor. However, some acrylic paints can also be semi-transparent or thickly opaque. Yet, acrylic cannot work on a transparent medium. 

Surfaces on

Acrylic paints are the most flexible and surface-friendly paints in the industry. That’s why they’re called all-surface paint. They’re perfect on any surface, including metal, leather, canvas, paper, and cardboard. However, watercolor is only ideal for the paper surface. It doesn’t matter whether it’s wood or cotton pulp. If you’re looking for incomparable stability, 100% cotton paper surface is perfect for watercolor.


Another difference between watercolor and acrylic paint is the former’s absence of waterproof power. Because it’s water-based, watercolor cannot hold out against water. This is unlike acrylic paint that has innate resistance against water penetration. However, you can make watercolor waterproof by sealing it with acrylic coating.


Relatively, both acrylics and watercolor are pretty affordable. However, acrylic paints are less expensive than watercolor. Apart from the low cost of materials, acrylics are more durable than watercolor. It means you’ll use these.   


Can I use acrylic paint on watercolor?

Yes, you can apply acrylics on watercolor paper. After all, acrylics are not water-based. Besides, their pigments are water-emulsified. That’s why acrylics are called waterborne paints. The only precaution you’ll have to take is to ensure the acrylic is as transparent and fluid as the watercolor. The good news is that you won’t have to prime or gesso the acrylic paint.

Will watercolor work on top of acrylic paint?

Ideally, it would help if you painted acrylic on watercolor and not the other way round. But if you know the process of preparing the underneath layer, you can be sure watercolor will work on acrylic paint. All you need is to prep a water-absorbent layer below the watercolor. Otherwise, you won’t get the desired result. 

Do watercolors work perfectly on canvas like acrylic paint?

Yes, watercolor can achieve the same result acrylic will offer you when applied on canvas. However, because it is solvent-based, watercolor will still retain its water sensitivity. In that case, you’ll have to avoid it drenching the surface of the canvas. Watercolor will stick pretty well and produce significant effects if you give the canvas a paper-like quality preparation.

Final Thoughts

Watercolor and acrylic paints are two of the best paints in the art and painting industry. They produce excellent output for artists and make painted surfaces look elegant.

Apart from the difference in the mode of their making and application, watercolor and acrylic paint share a lot of similarities.

Overall, your project will determine whether to go for watercolor or acrylic paints. You can also make your acrylics imitate and produce some features of the watercolor. 

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