Watercolor Vs Acrylic For Beginners

Watercolor Vs Acrylic For Beginners

“What exactly is the difference between watercolor and acrylic?” is a question I get asked almost all the time from newbies in the painting world.

Today, I’ve finally decided to treat the topic watercolor vs acrylic for beginners, on a much broader scale – pinpointing and exposing even the tiniest shred of difference between these two mediums.

And after going through this article, your craft will benefit from it because you can tell even at first glance, which is which, and the one suitable for each project.

Watercolor Vs Acrylic For Beginners

Watercolor Vs Acrylic For Beginners

If you take a closer look at a well-painted portrait, it is hard to believe every professional artist was once a beginner.

Everyone has to start somewhere, so it is perfectly okay if you are a bit lost on what medium to use on your first canvas.

Besides, it’s easy to mistake one for another as they share a common similarity. However, there are a lot of differences between these two ranging from the way they were made to the way you can use them.

And, I’m afraid we are not putting these two mediums into a debate, where you have the opposing and proposing team. We aren’t condemning one for another.

However, We are casting light on their uniqueness and flaws to help you better understand both for any creative work. So don’t be misled by the title of this post.

But what are watercolor and acrylic paints?

Watercolor is a painting medium where there are color pigments suspended in a water-based solution.

They are artists’ paint that comprises color pigments, a binder (usually gum Arabic or synthetic glycol). And when thinned with water, it gives a transparent color.

On the other hand, acrylic paint is a fast-drying paint made of pigment suspended in acrylic polymer emulsion.

It contains particles of plastic acrylic resin, a binder (Acrylic polymer emulsion), and a pigment. Despite its water-soluble nature, it becomes water-resistant when it dries.

Also, depending on how much water you use in thinning, or modified with acrylic gels, pastes, or mediums, it can resemble a watercolor, an oil painting, or a gouache finish.

Similarities of Acrylic Paints Vs Watercolor

Differences Between Watercolor And Acrylic Paints

They are both Water-soluble paints

If they are water-soluble, it means they are thinnable with water. And the same thing goes for the tools.

Secondly, you can use both mediums without putting on a protective suit. It is because neither watercolors nor acrylic contains harsh chemicals.

They are both safe for our kids to toy with – suppose they aren’t old enough to know what not to put in their mouth.

They are Relatively Cheap

Unlike oil paints, watercolor and acrylic are both pocket friendly, as you can get them for only a few bucks.

Easy to Clean

Both watercolor and acrylic paints are pretty simple to clean using water. The paintbrush or roller you are using can be rinsed clean with water during the painting sessions.

Although you can use only water to clean the watercolor paintbrush, while acrylic brush requires soap and water.

The next section is where things start to get swirling, so hang up tighter.

Differences Between Watercolor And Acrylic Paints

First and foremost, the striking difference is that watercolor is translucent, whereas acrylic is opaque.

Opaque paint (acrylic) is more reflective (not shiny), and they hide or cover the surface.

As for translucent paint, they allow more light to pass through them, which means you can see what is underneath them.

Secondly, acrylic paint often comes in tubes, bottles, and jars. Whereas, watercolor in tubes and pans.

In terms of their drying times, acrylic dries much faster than the watercolor paint. Although the sun, temperature, and weather play a significant role in the drying process, though.

Read Also: Difference Between Latex and Acrylic Paint

Advantage Of Watercolor Paint

Advantage Of Watercolor Paint

Using watercolor results in less waste

The most significant benefit of using Watercolor is it conserves paint.

You don’t have to worry about excess waste because you can retrieve dry paints on the palette by adding water to it.

Disadvantages Of Watercolor

But don’t get your hopes up with all the goodies because watercolor has its drawback with pigmentation and more. They are as followed:

Limitation of Materials [surfaces]

This painting method won’t work on every material. It only works on surfaces that can absorb liquids due to its nature.

However, if you don’t use a material that absorbs liquid paint, the watercolor will slide out and will be very difficult to control.

And with the look of things, your options are either paper or cardboard. Both of these materials can absorb water, although they are fragile and require care.

As for the paper material, it comes in many different forms, thickness, rough or smooth, and hot or cold-pressed, which is a good thing. But, you will often encounter obstacles likes cracks and leaks.

For this reason, you need to protect the work from the light else it will turn yellow. So keep it with a glass and a frame to help prevent color loss.

Water Prone

Being soluble water, they are prone to water damage as time tick past. A single drop of water on your craft can dissolve the paint and ruin the entire finish.

And preservation can be challenging too.

They are complicated to work with

Most people claim they feel comfortable with watercolors, but that’s not the issue.

People are often drawn to their pigment because they look vibrant and happy. However, watercolor can be a pain in the ass for you (if you are a beginner) as there are learning curves.

You need to be conversant with the proper amount of water to pigment and how to apply it on an absorbent paper.

It is imperative to learn the balance of how much water is needed before you could have keen control of the colors to avoid a muddy appearance.

It requires timing, a lot of practices, along with painting experiences.

Because watercolor is translucent, you can’t cover up your mistakes. If, however, you want to preserve areas with light colors, you have to plan ahead of time when painting.

Furthermore, it’s quite hard to paint on vast dimensions of paper because of its limitations. It’ll be a lot easier to craft on separate pieces and put them together later.

Read Also: How to Thin Acrylic Paint

Advantages Of Acrylic Paint

Advantages Of Acrylic Paint

Beginner Friendly

Unlike watercolor (that has a steep learning curve), acrylic paints are relatively easy to master. They are forgiving, which makes it perfect for learning.

I highly recommend learning acrylic painting first because, in the long run, you will discover some principles that will assist you in learning watercolor.

If you can work with acrylic paint very well, you will have a comfortable relationship with watercolor.

Suitable on Different Surfaces

While you are limited to using paper for watercolor art, acrylic is dynamic on a wide variety of surfaces such as canvas, medium-density fibreboard, high-quality archival paper, Hardboard/ hardwood Panels, and even watercolor paper.


If you’re working with traditional acrylic paints, you don’t have to wait for the layers to dry between each painting session. It is because they dry rapidly. Your crafts will be ready to ship safely within a day or so.


Acrylic paints are more flexible than oil paints, which means there is no need to follow “fat over lean” rules because they won’t crack easily.

Disadvantages Of Acrylic Paint

Some are Toxic

Most acrylic paints are non-toxic to humans. The color pigments might contain toxins –just like some oil paints do.

This type of acrylic is usually labeled cadmium, manganese, lead, chromium, and cobalt, and could be dangerous when sanded or used for airbrushing.

Also, using retarder to slow the drying time often introduces toxins, as well.

Drying Time

Their fast-drying time also has a boomerang effect. The solution will dry faster, but you can’t blend them to achieve a wet-in-wet technique. It is what gives an acrylic painting that harsher look.

Additionally, they dry quickly on a palette, making it quite challenging for slower painters.

It is rigid!

One of the major issues of using acrylic paint is once it dries, it can be challenging to alter or remove.

Read Also: How to Paint Wood Texture with Acrylics

Is watercolor or acrylic easier?

Acrylics are much simpler to use than watercolors. They are much more forgiving of mistakes. Watercolor has the reputation of being the hardest to learn of all the mediums. It has more elements to learn and handle than acrylic paint.

What is the easiest paint to start with?

Acrylic is typically the easiest for beginners, while watercolor is the hardest. However, if you hate working with acrylic, don’t force yourself to paint it just because it’s easier.

Is watercolor a beginner?

Watercolor sets are great for beginners because you can immediately start painting. However, they do have downsides, like including certain colors you will not need (black) or that are not so great for mixing (cadmium pigments).

Can you use acrylics as watercolors?

You can make your acrylic colors behave like watercolors, simply by thinning with a professional medium. Our Soft Body Acrylics and Acrylic Inks have a fluid consistency that build like traditional watercolors and due to the permanent nature of acrylics, you can build them without dissolving the layers.

Is watercolor better than acrylic?

Acrylic dries fast and covers well because it is opaque. You work the paint from dark to light colors. With watercolor you can build up layers of colors while painting, but you work in a different order than you do with acrylic paint. Watercolor is translucent and unlike acrylic, you can not cover up your mistakes.

Do I need to learn to draw before painting?

So should you learn to draw before painting? Yes, you should. Learning to draw is paramount to your journey as an artist. It not only provides a strong foundation as you identify your style but also enlightens you on critical aspects such as shape, form, light, and shadow.

Can I learn painting on my own?

Painting from real objects is a great way to learn for two reasons. Photo references are already flat, so copying them requires much less problem-solving, and you’ll learn less as a result. Second, painting from life helps you hone your observational skills and teaches you to see the world the way that artists do.

How do you use watercolor paint for beginners?

First, start with a palette of watercolors. Next, use a small spray bottle, a blunt syringe, or a spoon to hydrate the colors you wish to use. Then, dip your brush in water to moisten it, dab the brush onto a pigment, and put the pigment-rich brush on paper. That’s it!

What does a beginner watercolor painter need?

To get started with watercolor painting, you will need these 6 essential watercolor painting supplies: paints, paintbrushes, watercolor paper, a palette, a container of water, and soap.

How do you teach a beginner watercolor?

Below are 5 ideas that can take your watercolor teaching to the next level.

  • Use watercolor to get kids out of their comfort zones.
  • Show the kids you’re learning, too.
  • Allow kids to experiment and explore.
  • Bring In Smaller Projects (and More Opportunities)
  • Do Something Special to Make it Enjoyable.


The purpose of this post is to give you a detailed understanding of watercolor vs acrylic for beginners. How both paints work, their advantages, and their limitations – so your creativity won’t suffer.

And, I believe with what you’ve read so far, you can tell which one is the best for you.

Remember, both paints have what it takes to create a beautiful masterpiece. Therefore, there is a need to get a feel of both mediums practically to know the right one suitable for your next art.