What’s the Difference Between Watercolor vs Acrylic Paint?

Both acrylic and watercolor are some of the most common beginner-friendly paints. The reason is simple: these two are easy to use and water-soluble, which means they can be diluted with water or even washed in it.

But which one should you choose? You have to know some details about each of them to figure out the best option in the watercolor vs. acrylic paint battle.

Both are great choices, yet depending on your use case, one of these could be the best. In this guide, we’ll talk about all the major differences to help you choose your best one.

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A Briefing on Both Paints

Before we dive into the difference between these, let’s talk a little about each of them.


Watercolor is a combination of some color bases, pigments, and pure water. It’s cheap to produce and easily available everywhere, and these are some of the reasons behind its high popularity.

Watercolor quickly dries since water doesn’t take much time to evaporate. The color is only intended to be used with paper and canvas. It’s easy for beginners to learn but gets complicated while learning about color layering and mixing techniques.


Acrylic resin and the color pigment are mixed to create acrylic paint. There are some oil and other chemicals mixed into the paint to create a glossy, rich texture. However, once the paint dries up, the color loses its gloss and becomes a flattering shade.

Acrylic painting is somewhat simpler than watercolor painting to get started with. Newbies will be able to learn the basics of acrylic layering and mixing easily and make beautiful shades in no time.

Acrylic is versatile. You can use it on metal, plastic, paper and a few other things. This makes it quite a good choice for multiple tasks.

Differences Between Watercolor and Acrylic Paint

There are both similarities and differences between these paints. We will look at them in terms of practical uses. Once you’ve gone through the points that we’ll talk about here, you’ll have a clear idea of choosing the right paint.

Ease of Use

Both are simple to start with and get complicated as you try to master advanced painting techniques. However, acrylic is a much better option to choose while getting started as a new painter. There are a few reasons.

First of all, acrylic is water-soluble, meaning it can be thinned up with water. You can create a range of paint consistency just by adding varying amounts of water.

Although learning which color needs what consistency level takes some time, you can initially make mistakes, which won’t be a big deal.

Even if you make mistakes, you’ll easily be able to do acrylic paint layering. The colors won’t be great but won’t look bad either.

On the other hand, watercolor is more complicated to learn to layer and create color mixes. It is especially true for beginners.

You can follow some hacky ways to adjust colors if you don’t have enough ideas on color mixing and layering. But it’s overall more complicated to learn than it is with acrylic color.

But one should note that if the goal is to master the art of painting deeply, then none of the colors are easy in any way. Both get complicated with the inclusion of more techniques in work.


Watercolor is made mostly of water and some pigment. Naturally, it can’t last very long. The water mostly evaporates from the paint within a few years, and the colors gradually start to lose their sparkle.

You’ll hardly see a watercolor creation lasting for more than a few years in the best condition.

On the other hand, acrylic has a few ingredients in its composition other than water. The water does evaporate with time, but other materials keep their color and consistency right for many years.

You’ll see acrylic paintings that are more than a hundred years old that haven’t lost much of their colors.

However, both of these paints’ lasting times can be increased by controlling lighting, humidity, and temperature controls. These are costly to do and usually done in painting shows or decorative works.


Both colors come in opaque and transparent versions. Watercolor is mainly designed for transparent painting. Acrylic is more intended for opaque, deeply colored paintings.

For this reason, watercolor is mixed with a lot of water to make it thin and watery. Water is also combined with acrylic, but much less than it is with watercolor.

Use cases

Acrylic can be used on paper, canvas, metal, plastic, fabric, and other surfaces. Watercolor can be used with paper and canvas only. If you want to paint to work on various stuff, maybe acrylic would be the better choice for you.

Increasing the Level of White

Increasing white in watercolor is super easy. You just add some water to thin up the color even more, and since the surface (paper, canvas) is white, there’s no need to add extra white to it.

On the other hand, while using acrylic, you need to use white base acrylic and mix it with the color you want to whiten. Both are easy to work with, as a matter of fact. These are just differences in the application systems of each.


There isn’t much difference in costs of these two paints. The expenses are close, but the main difference is with the painting tools, especially brushes.

Depending on their quality and source material, the pricing can vary. For example, natural brushes are expensive, while synthetic ones are very affordable.


You don’t actually need to prime with any of these paints. Still, priming on a paper or canvas before using acrylic on it can give a massive boost to your work.

Priming helps acrylic stick on the surface deeply and helps to maintain a long-lasting life for the colors. It’s an optional step but surely never a bad idea to follow.

Drying Time

Watercolor dries blazingly fast. As long as there is proper airflow and lighting in the room that you’re painting in, your paint drying time will be a few minutes at most.

Acrylic also dries up quickly. But the problem is that its color changes. When you start applying acrylic on paper, it looks shiny and crisp. Give it a few minutes, and it’ll lose its gloss and become a deeper version of the crisp color instead.

For this reason, it’s hard to master the art of acrylic layering and to mix for beginners. You have to work very fast as you mix and apply the paint on the surface. If you take too long, the colors will change into something other than what you had in mind.

One important thing to know is that you can use dried watercolor even after it has dried up. You can add some water, and it’ll look like brand new paint. Acrylic, sadly, once dried, it’s gone. No chances of acrylic reuse like watercolor.

Cleaning Time

It’s unlikely that you won’t ruin your floor or your dress with the colors you paint. If you make a mess while working with any of these paints, don’t worry. Things aren’t going to get complicated if you take immediate action.

Acrylic stains are easy to remove as long as you take quick actions. Clean the cloth with warm soapy water, and the oils and paint residue will be gone.

Don’t let the colors dry because the stain will thicken and will be harder to remove with your hand as soon as that happens. That’s possible to remove too, but more time-consuming.

On the other hand, watercolor is easily water-soluble. Even if the stain dries up, you can soak the cloth in water, and it’ll go off immediately.

Learn more about acrylic paints:

Final Words

You probably aren’t confused about picking the right one in the watercolor vs. acrylic battle. Both are good and are suitable for different use cases. Once you figure out which type of project you’re going for, choosing the most practical paint will hopefully be easier for you now.

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