I got my hands on the majority of the most popular brands available today.
I’d love to say I have every single brand of gouache, but there were some that I couldn’t purchase this time around. For instance, I really wanted to try Maimeri but I can’t import it to the UK at the time I started this process. I will update this list as I try more brands.
In This Post
What is Gouache (and what makes it ‘good’)?
I place huge importance on opacity and consistency. In order to explain why, let me define what gouache is.
Typically gouache is described as ‘opaque watercolor.’ But it’s much more than that! They share this in common: pigment suspended in a water soluble binder.
In watercolor, pigments are ground into an extremely fine powder, and mixed with a binder usually made of gum arabic. They also often contain other modifiers such as honey, glycerin, ox gall, water, and even fluorescents.
In gouache, pigments are ground up, but not as finely as watercolor. The larger pigment particles are still very fine to a human eye but are larger than what is used in watercolor paint. The pigments are combined with a binder, typically gum arabic. More pigment is added, which is why it’s often referred to as a ‘heavy pigment load.’ So compared to watercolor, the paint is more densely packed with pigment. Sometimes other binder ingredients are used such as dextrin (starchy glue), and other fillers can be added such as ox gall, honey, calcium carbonate. I’ve asked each company I reviewed for information about their binders. Understandably, they didn’t give me the exact recipe, and all I can do is trust what they say. But I wanted to hear directly from the companies because there is a lot of misinformation online about what is inside gouache, and people make assumptions that every brand has the same recipe.
In high quality gouache, the pigment load of the paint is what makes it more opaque. This means every drop of it is packed with tons of pigment and it dries extremely vibrant with a velvety matte finish. Lower quality gouache contains less pigment and more ‘filler.’ But, some pigments are naturally more transparent like phthalos and quinacridones. Even in very high quality gouache, these colors will be slightly less opaque than others. But because they pack more pigment in, they will still be more opaque than cheaper student grade gouache.
Gouache Brand Comparisons (12 and counting!)
Now for the good stuff!
I’ve spent the last 6 weeks of my life swatching, mixing, and painting with 12 gouache brands in addition to writing detailed reviews of each. Why? I’m admittedly obsessed with gouache. Over the last few years I’ve made over 100 videos about it, and I get more and more requests for my thoughts on specific brands. So not only was this incredibly informative for me, but I feel it can be very beneficial to people who are new to the wonderful world of gouache.
I’ve been painting with gouache for about 5 years, during which I spent most of my time using Winsor & Newton Designer Gouache and Holbein Artists’ Gouache. It wasn’t until 2021 that I started using Schmincke Horadam and Shinhan Professional Designer Gouache too. Since then, my travel palette contains a few colors from each brand.
I use these brands because they are extremely opaque and have a beautiful consistency. But while doing these brand comparison tests, I found out there is a wide range of consistencies in gouache brands. If you like one of the brands I don’t like, it’s because we are used to different consistencies, and that’s OK! Honestly you can get used to anything with enough practice.
Going into this big Brand Comparison I wanted to keep an open mind and let the paint speak for itself. To make it fair, I’ve done the same tests for each brand and have written all my thoughts as I go.
Steps to my Tests/Reviews
- Lightfast Test Strips of each color including white tints – currently in the window. I’ll check them once a month, and update the notes in the Gouache Database.
- Mold tests – each brand is inside airtight palettes and has a special place in a dark corner of my room where it can grow if it wants to. I’ll check them regularly and keep notes in the Gouache Database.
- Swatches of each color on both white paper and toned beige paper. My swatches focus on the opacity of the paint, not dilution. All gouache can be diluted like watercolor, but not all gouache is equally opaque.
- A ‘quick’ color mixing card – this is to get a feel for how the paint behaves and how the colors mix before I do the test painting. Usually the mixing charts reveal a lot, it’s my ‘first impression’ of the gouache.
- A test painting – I mostly focused on coastal scenes, as that is something I’m very passionate about, but I didn’t paint the same scene every time. The test paintings are done on toned beige paper because I think that shows me how opaque the colors are better than white paper.
RANKINGS BY BRAND
I’ve separated the gouache into two main categories: professional and student level. The main difference is that the majority of the professional grade gouache pigments are considered lightfast, and they use high quality gum arabic binder.
It’s not so easy to rank these, because the top 5 or 6 are VERY close to being perfect. To be honest you could buy any of those and have a good experience.
The ranking is calculated based on the performance of three categories: price, opacity, consistency. So if the consistency and opacity are excellent, I’ve ranked the lower priced one higher because I believe in value for money.
For instance, Schmincke is the BEST gouache I’ve ever tried…so why is it ranked #5?? It’s so overpriced above the rest, and all colors contain animal biproducts which goes against my moral code.
Consistency is subjective, but can be a HUGE factor in enjoyment. My experience over the last 5 years has shaped how I view the ‘perfect’ consistency. To me, high opacity and creamy consistency are of the utmost importance in gouache. If it’s not highly opaque, it might as well be watercolor mixed with white. If you’ve watched my videos you know my style of painting. If yours is similar, you can trust my opinion! If you have a completely different style, you may want to do your own comparisons. In my individual reviews I discuss why I feel the way I do. For instance, Schmincke is probably the best gouache I’ve ever tried, but it contains ox gall, an animal derived substance that I no longer want to use or support, so I have to give it a lower ranking.
If you’d like to send me some gouache to test and include in my list, please contact me!
PROFESSIONAL ARTIST GRADE GOUACHE
|BRAND||PRICE (avg. per tube)||OPACITY||CONSISTENCY||RANKING |
(1 BEING BEST)
|Winsor & Newton Designer Gouache||$7.86||Excellent||Creamy||1 – Best Overall||Review||(USA),(UK), (EU)|
|M. Graham & Co. Artist’s Gouache (5 Color Basic Studio Set)||$10.81||Excellent||Creamy||2 – A joy to use||Review||(USA),|
|Shinhan Professional Designer Gouache||$6.64||Excellent||Creamy||3 – Incredible for the low price||Review||(UK)|
|Holbein Artists’ Gouache||$12.67||Excellent||Slightly Stiff||4 – Most Opaque||Review||(USA), (UK)|
|Schmincke Horadam Artist Gouache||$17.20||Excellent||Creamy||5 – The best gouache I’ve ever used but…||Review|
|Daler Rowney Designers Gouache||$5.95||Very Good||Creamy||6 – This one wow’ed me||Review||(UK)|
|Daniel Smith Extra Fine Gouache (Primary Mixing Set)||$11.18||Very Good||Slightly Sticky||7 – Wasn’t a fan||Review|
|Royal Talens Extra Fine Gouache (10 Tube Set)||$8.08||Good||Very Sticky||8 – Avoid||Review||(USA)|
This page contains affiliate links. If you decide to purchase something using my link, I get a tiny store credit so I can buy more art supplies, so thank you for your support! New Jacksons Art customers will receive a 10% discount on their first order if it is made through any of these links.
STUDENT GRADE GOUACHE
|BRAND||PRICE (avg. per tube)||OPACITY||CONSISTENCY||RANKING (1 BEING BEST)||REVIEW|
|Arteza (Earth Tones Set)||$0.74||Really Good||Creamy||1 – Shockingly good||Review|
|Caran D’Ache (5 Tube Studio Set)||$5.75||Poor||Gummy||2 – Transparent and gummy||Review|
|Caran D’Ache (Dried Pans Set of 15)||$2.20 per color||Poor||Dry & Grainy||3 – This is basically watercolor||Review|
|Miya HIMI (24 Set)||$1.24 per cup||Poor||Goopy||4 – Transparent and stinky||Review|
|Royal & Langnickel Essentials (24 Set)||$0.82||The worst||Like bad acrylics||5 – Do not buy! Horrible||N/A|
The Importance of Opacity in Gouache
Gouache is not inherently opaque. Opacity comes from the pigments. Some pigments are naturally more opaque than others. For instance, cadmiums are naturally very opaque, whereas quinacridones and phthalos are inherently transparent. Therefore regardless of brand, the same colors will be less opaque.
To combat this, some brands will add ingredients to specific colors to improve opacity, such as calcium carbonate. In my opinion, this doesn’t matter unless it effects performance or the lightfastness. Ultimately the paint will speak for itself!
So why does opacity matter that much? Here’s my take: If I wanted transparent color, I would just use watercolor. The reason I use gouache is for the ability to layer, the intense color, and the blendability. To me, it’s all about the layers!
Painting light on top of dark with high quality gouache is easy.
Save money: Skip the student grade
crap & buy a limited palette of HIGH quality Gouache
In the watercolor world, people say one of the biggest factors in learning proper technique is the quality of the paper. Even if you have the best watercolor in the world, using it on really crappy paper usually results in an awful experience. Yes the masters can create something good on the worst paper…but how many of us are masters?
In my opinion the same idea applies to gouache except instead of paper matering the most, it’s the opacity and consistency that truly matters. Water control is absolutely crucial in gouache technique, so if the paint is very transparent or sticky, you will be banging your head against the wall trying to get it to perform. Even if you use the best paper in the world.
Rather than spend $25-35 on a huge set of student gouache that performs poorly, you can buy 5 tubes of high quality gouache and mix any color you can think of. See my choices here. Does it take a bit of extra work? Yes, but after some practice it becomes completely intuitive to mix your own colors. We aren’t born with that skill. I learned it by practice. I can teach you. A hundred artists on YouTube can teach you. There are so many guides and tutorials out there to learn how to mix color. But you just have to start. Believe in your abilities. It is a LEARNED skill! Here’s my free YouTube video about getting started with gouache, including mixing your own colors.
So in conclusion, don’t waste your money on the cheap crap, buy a few tubes of high quality gouache and enjoy the experience as it is meant to be.
Video Reviews of Each Brand
6 thoughts on “Comparing all the Gouache Brands – MY RANKINGS | 2023”
Hi, this is a excellent post, very useful. I tried a couple of the gouache “buy” links. For W&N gouache, it redirects to JA’s home page, and a search there did not yield results. With Shinhan’s link I got a 404 error. I suggest adding some Amazon links. Cheers!
For some reason if you are in USA my Jacksons affiliate links redirect to the homepage, but I do still get credit for purchases through my links.
Luckily I was approved for affiliate status at Blick Arts so I’m in the process of updating my pages with US links. It takes a while as you can imagine. 😅
I avoid Amazon as much as possible.
I would be interested in knowing about the wet vs dry color constancy for the brands, meaning, to which degree does the paint dry lighter or darker than compared to the wet appearance.
Thanks. I was considering buying one of the brands you did not review well. 😳 Now I will get something else.
Thanks for your hard work! This info is so valuable
Thanks, this is very useful for my purchases