Getting Started with Gouache in 2023 (advice for beginners)

The question I get the most often on my YouTube channel is “what is the best gouache for beginners?” Followed closely by “what is your favorite gouache?”

It’s time to answer those questions!

Table of Contents

gouache coast

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What is the best gouache for beginners?

I could easily say the best gouache for beginners is Winsor & Newton Designer’s Gouache.

But maybe it’s Miya HIMI gouache (“jelly” cups).

Or maybe it’s Schmincke Horadam…

I can’t give one answer. Because the best gouache is the gouache you own. Seriously, just buy whatever you can afford at first. Try it before investing in one brand or a big expensive set. See if you like it before going insane over all the options out there. You probably love how gouache looks, but do you love to use it?

one of my first gouache paintings
One of my first sets of gouache was Holbein

Don’t Make This Mistake

But let me tell you a story. When I first discovered gouache I quickly became obsessed. Before ever even trying it, I went to the art store and dropped $300 on a set of Holbein Artist’s gouache, 15ml tubes. Although I did use it a lot, I was also learning watercolor, acrylic, and oil painting so my time was soon spread across many mediums. The gouache tubes sometimes sat unused for months on end.

A couple of years later, half of my tubes were rock solid. Some people say the old Holbein caps were faulty, but I know if I had just used it rather than let it collect dust on the shelf, I wouldn’t have wasted so much money. Now later in my journey, after trying many mediums, gouache is one of my favorites and I use it frequently. My tubes are never collecting dust.

So again, the best gouache is the gouache you own. But you have to use it.

It only takes a few tubes to discover the magic of gouache for yourself.

So no matter what brand you go with, you can afford a few high quality colors that will get you started.

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Gouache coastal painting

My Top Three Gouache Brands

BrandTube SizeLowest Price Per TubeHighest Price Per Tube
Winsor & Newton Designer’s Gouache14ml£5.00£8.40
Schmincke Horadam Gouache15ml£8.50£16.70
Shinhan Professional Designer’s Gouache15ml£4.00£10.50
(Prices based on search in January 2023 in the UK)

As you can see, prices vary drastically. But if you only need 4 tubes to get started, it’s not so bad. And each tube is going to last you a really long time because gouache is so highly pigmented.

But I know some of you are sitting there dying for me to tell you exactly what to buy.

I can easily recommend Winsor & Newton Designer’s Gouache to start, since it’s great quality for the price and I’ve enjoyed it for years. It is quite affordable here as well. The colors (below) are up to you.

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gouache color mixing chart

What Colors to Buy as a Gouache Beginner

At minimum, the BASICS are the primary colors (red/yellow/blue) plus white. My favorite combination is:

If you want to add a few more, my suggestions are (in order of when to buy them as money is available):

And if you really want a couple more…

Of course you can keep adding colors from there. But these are the basics to get started.

From my list, you can mix almost every color you’ll need. With the add-ons that increases exponentially.

Color is a very personal decisions and only you knows what you need.

Gouache primary color comparisons

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Does Your Gouache Fade in Sunlight?

There’s something many beginners don’t consider, and that is whether their gouache will fade in sunlight. If that sounds strange, don’t worry – it’s a common issue with pigment and something every industry has to deal with (car paint, house paint, clothing dye, etc.).

As artists, we live in a wonderful time because there is a lot of information about how fadeproof (or “lightfast”) our colors are. Many brands share the ‘Lightfast Rating’ on their tubes of paint, their brochures, or their websites. However. Are they accurate? Not always. Many people have been doing independent studies and discovering even some of the biggest brands have false claims.

Therefore if you are serious about the longevity of your art (and you should be if you plan on selling it), it is highly advised that you do your research. Luckily, there are some excellent databases out there that share their independent studies for free. Handprint is kind of the pigment-bible of the art world. Kim Crick has a great one that keeps growing. And if you google a color/brand you’re bound to discover all sorts of good stuff out there.

But nothing beats your own tests. Make two sets of swatches, label each one, and hang them in the sunniest window of your home. Keep the other set of swatches in a dark drawer. After 6 months, compare them. Some pigments fade more when diluted or mixed with white. So if you really want to learn the most, do a few versions of swatches to test.

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Paint Consistency

I’ve used Winsor & Newton Designer’s Gouache for almost 5 years. It’s my go to workhorse gouache. I stick with a set of basic colors that I can rely on. They are lightfast, opaque, and fun to paint with.

Two years ago I started branching out a little and tried some other brands. I tried Schmincke Horadam Gouache and fell head over heals. It has the best consistency of all the brands I’ve tried – but this is very personal!

Consistency: how wet or dry the paint is straight out of the tube. And how ‘well mixed’ the binder and pigment is in the tube.

In case you didn’t know, gouache is pigment mixed with gum arabic binder, just like watercolor. However it contains more pigment than watercolor, and the pigment is not ground as finely. The highest quality brands don’t add fillers, or if they do it’s necessary for opacity because some pigments are naturally transparent. Cheap student-grade brands add chalky fillers to all their paint and you end up with cloudy, less vibrant results.

But back to the consistency.

With Winsor & Newton and many other brands, sometimes you open the cap and some clear liquid pours out. That’s the binder which has separated from the pigment. It’s annoying but it happens. Some pigments tend to naturally separate from the binder while they sit. But with Schmincke Horadam gouache, I very rarely encounter that. In addition, Horadam offers unique colors like Titanium Gold Ochre and Delft Blue. Finally, it’s creamy. It’s got the perfect liquid-dry ratio. It flows nicely in water. It doesn’t crack apart as much after it dries in the palette. Overall it’s just a joy to work with.

That is why Schmincke Horadam Gouche is my favorite.

Despite the price, I rate Schmincke Horadam Gouache the highest for Consistency, color choice, lightfastness, behavior, look, and feel.

Last year I tried Shinhan Professional Designer’s Gouache for the first time and was honestly shocked. For how cheap it is, it performed surprisingly well. Many of their colors are identical to my other brands. So it is a great option for beginners on a really tight budget.

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My Favorite Gouache Palettes

Gouache travel palette

I use a travel palette which is airtight. The silicone lid keeps the colors from spilling into each other, even if it’s sideways in my bag.

Gouache travel palettes

It comes in blue or black.

The reason I keep my gouache in one of these is so that it’s always accessible and ready to go. I paint outside a lot, so having this step done and everything ready to go encourages me to do it. I even use this in the studio when I don’t feel like setting up my other palette. Just open it and start painting. Close it when you’re done.

I also use a Stay-Wet type palette in the studio. This is for when I want to keep my color mixes moist between sessions. This is my favorite Stay-Wet palette.

Redgrasse Palette V2

Redgrass Wet Palette
Redgrass Wet Palette

It comes with a sponge and palette paper. Everything you need to paint multiple sessions (works with gouache and acrylic).

The palette paper can be wiped down and reused multiple times. I tested it and was able to reuse the same piece for 5 months.

I find it’s the perfect size for what I do, it doesn’t take up too much space but it has a nice big mixing area.

Redgrass Wet Palette

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How to Clean and Restore Your Gouache Palette

Where there is water, there is life. AKA mold. I’ve been able to avoid it in my palette, but I’ve had many comments on my videos asking HOW!?

My best advice is to open your palette at least once a week and give each color a stir. If any colors look suspect, use a clean brush and remove the top layer, then drop a tiny drop of clove bud oil into it. This is antimicrobial and keeps anything from growing. Don’t add too much as it can change the consistency.

If any colors look dry, add a spritz of water and stir.

Using the gouache regularly helps avoid these issues, plus it means you’re practicing and improving!

This video shows closeups of my entire process for deep-cleaning my gouache palette.

Other Accessories

I use this brush bucket most of the time (in the studio) because it has three water sections. I can clean my brush off in each one depending on which colors I’m using, which helps lower the chance of cross-contaminating my colors. Plus, my water source is downstairs and I don’t want to constantly go down to replace it, so this bigger water bucket helps me stay focused.

When I’m outside, I use the water dish that comes with my travel palette (above).

You’ll also want a spray bottle. I buy them at my local B&M as a multipack which saves money.

How to Seal a Gouache Painting

I’ve shared this before, but the short answer is that I use cold wax to seal my gouache paintings. It makes them waterproof.

Varnish gouache with cold wax

How to Store Gouache

For long-term storage, keep your tubes inside a sealed plastic bag – remove excess air. Make sure each cap is tightly shut (not crooked). Some brands are notorious for bad cap design that lets air slowly seep in unless they are closed perfectly. I had a few of my tubes harden because the caps weren’t on correctly.

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I'm an independent artist living in Scotland. Always chasing the light, and painting the beautiful highlands.

One thought on “Getting Started with Gouache in 2023 (advice for beginners)

  1. Thanks for this, Sarah. I totally back you up on everything you’ve said. I now teach gouache painting (as well as drawing, acrylic painting and watercolour and mixed media classes). I always refer my students to your YouTube channel and your website, and now your blog. In spite of the great advice, many beginners try to save money by purchasing cheap supplies, which hampers their progress. Hope, by the way, that you get enough requests that you do another run on your gouache brushes. There’s lots out there that can benefit from having the right tools.

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