Picking the Perfect First Gouache Paint Set

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Gouache paint may seem intriguing to new artists – with its opaque, matte finish and ability to be used more like watercolor or more like acrylic, it provides a ton of creative possibilities! But if you’re just starting out with gouache, choosing your first paint set can be overwhelming. Do you go for student or artist grade? Cool or warm primaries? A small starter set or a giant variety pack?

This post will walk you through all the factors to consider when selecting your intro gouache paint set. I’ll provide tips on comparing paint qualities, evaluating colors, figuring out essentials vs. extras, and getting the most versatility from even basic pan sets. Read on for a complete guide to confidently picking the ideal first set of gouache paints to start your artistic journey!

What Makes Gouache Paint Unique?

Before diving into what to look for in a gouache set, let’s quickly cover what makes this painting medium special. Gouache falls somewhere between watercolor and acrylic in form and function. Like watercolor, it is a quick-drying opaque paint that can be thinned with water and layered. But unlike true watercolor, the pigments used in gouache remain matte when dry. Gouache can also be blended and applied more thickly like acrylics. This versatility means you can achieve both flowing, watercolor-esque washes of color as well as dense, opaque coverage.

The matte, opaque nature of gouache makes it ideal for graphic painting styles. The colors sit brightly on the surface, allowing you to build vivid layers of tones. Gouache is frequently used for illustration, comics, acrylic underpainting, and more graphic arts. But with the right techniques, painters can also create blended, nuanced works rivaling watercolor and oil with gouache.

Overall, gouache offers beginners bright, accessible color mixing and painting options that feel familiar even if you’ve only worked with watercolors before. Starting out with a good beginner gouache set will let you experiment widely within this flexible medium.

Evaluating Different Gouache Set Options

When you begin browsing gouache paint selections, you’ll first notice you have two main options – buying an existing, premade set or assembling your own palette by selecting individual tubes of paint. Premade sets are great for trying out a balanced selection of colors and getting everything you need to start painting neatly in one package. Assembling your own bespoke palette can let you customize colors more specifically to your interests. But for most beginners, a thoughtfully curated premade set will provide the best value and variety.

The next decision is set size. Gouache studio sets aimed at newcomers typically range from 5-10 colors, while larger selections go up to 20 or even 50+ paints. I’d recommend starting with a smaller 5-10 color introductory set, even if you plan to expand your palette later. This gives you a manageable range to experiment with mixing and learning the basics of the medium without becoming overwhelmed. Most reputable gouache brands sell both travel-friendly mini sets with 5-8 colors and slightly larger 12-24 pan studio sets for not much more cost.

You can always add more individual colors to your core selection as your skills grow. But a compact starter set will cover the painting essentials at a reasonable price point.

Paying Attention to Paint Quality

Once you’ve settled on a set size, next comes the choice between student grade or artist/professional grade gouache. This decision affects the concentration of pigments, overall quality, and price point. Student grade contains less pigment and more filler compared to pro gouache. But student paints still offer strong, mixable color at an affordable price for learners.

Here are some of the key differences between student and artist grade gouache:

  • Pigment Concentration – Artist grade has a higher concentration of pure pigment, creating intense, opaque color. Student grade is formulated with less pigment, so the colors appear slightly more translucent.
  • Lightfastness – Professional gouache contains pigments rated for better lightfastness, meaning the colors will resist fading over time. Student sets feature less permanent pigments.
  • Mixing Ability – The high pigment content in artist paints produces vivid secondary blends when mixing. Student gouache has decent mixability, but colors blend to slightly more muted tones.
  • Longevity – Pro level gouache remains usable on your palette for many painting sessions before drying up. Student paints have a shorter working window once opened.
  • Price – Artist grade is significantly pricier, often costing $10-$15+ per individual tube vs. $5 or under for student paint. But starter sets even out costs.

For a beginner, it’s smart to start out with a budget-friendly student grade set from a reputable gouache brand. Winsor & Newton, Holbein, Reeves, and Daler-Rowney all make high-quality student gouache perfect for learning. You can upgrade to their respective artist lines as your skills advance once you better recognize the nuances between pro and student grade.

Picking Colors for Maximum Versatility

The most vital part of any gouache selection is the actual colors included. Even within a starter set, you want to look for specific shades that will offer maximum mixing potential. At a minimum, a versatile beginner gouache set should contain:

  • Warm and cool versions of the primary colors – Look for both a warmer cadmium or vermillion red paired with a cooler crimson. Include both cerulean or phthalo blue with ultramarine. And pick between cadmium yellow and lemon yellow.
  • White – Titanium or zinc white is essential for lightening and tinting other paints. Opaque white is a hallmark of gouache for achieving bold highlights.
  • Ivory black – A deeper carbon black works better for mixing dark shades. Ivory black with its brownish tint is preferred for gouache.

From there, it’s nice if a starter set includes convenient secondary colors like purple, green, and orange so you don’t have to mix every shade from primaries. Some key qualities to evaluate with set colors:

  • Temperature – Does the set have both warm and cool options for more flexible mixing?
  • Transparency – Do the paints seem dense and opaque when swatched, or thin and translucent?
  • Saturation – How bright and intense are the pigments – are they vibrant or more muted tones?
  • Complements – Does the set allow you to mix a wide range of shades by including complementaries?

You may come across gouache sets offering unique specialty colors like metallics, iridescents, or neons. While fun additions, basics like the primary triad, white, and black will provide the best starting mixing power. Build out with more trendy shades later.

Trying Student Grade Sets from Trusted Brands

We’ve covered the basics of what to include in your beginner gouache selection – primary colors, secondaries, black and white, with a preference for student grade for cost savings. Next comes selecting your preferred brand. There are no major variations between leading gouache manufacturers when it comes to quality at the student level. Winsor & Newton, Holbein, Daler Rowney, and Reeves all rate highly.

Whichever brand you choose, look for these markers of a good student set:

  • 5-12 color starter set for $15-30. Anything under $10 likely won’t be adequate pigment.
  • Colors appear rich and saturated when swatched. Avoid sets with chalky looking paint.
  • Sets advertised as “highly pigmented” or “high opacity.” Transparency indicates less pigment.
  • Look for lightfastness ratings of one star and up. More stars indicate better permanence.
  • Sets that can be intermixed with the brand’s artist line without issue. Good mixability.

Give a swipe test when purchasing in person to gauge opacity and vibrancy. For online purchases, reviews will provide helpful insight into a set’s quality and ease of use for learners. Aim for at least a 4 star average rating.

Maximizing Your Limited Palette

The biggest challenge beginning painters face when starting out with a basic gouache palette is probably mixability. It may seem limited at first when you’re used to squeezing out readymade colors directly from the tube. But there are tips and techniques you can use to get a wide variety of hues from even a primary based starter set:

  • Mix in a palette for brighter blends rather than muddying colors on the paper.
  • Add white to lighten and soften any color. Black will mute and darken tones.
  • Blend complementaries like red & green and blue & orange for vivid secondary shades.
  • Use opacity to layer more depth by letting underlying colors shine through.
  • Increase color variety by mixing in different ratios – more red than blue vs. less red for different purples.
  • Glaze over dry layers with thinned transparent paint to tint the color beneath.

Approaching your mix of colors as an ever-evolving palette instead of static paint blobs will reveal the possibilities. Be patient and take the time to really explore blending primary triads. Pay attention to warm vs. cool and transparency vs. opacity. A good starter gouache set allows for remarkable flexibility.

Storing and Maintaining Gouache Paint

To keep your investment in gouache looking and handling its best, it’s worth learning some basic storage and maintenance steps:

  • Seal pans or tubes tightly when not in use. Air exposure dries paint out over time.
  • Store paints in consistent, moderate conditions avoiding temperature extremes of hot or freezing.
  • Keep paints away from direct light to limit fading. A drawer or cabinet works better than a sunny windowsill.
  • Don’t let paint dry on your palette – it makes remixing colors very difficult. Seal back in the pan/tube.
  • Rinse brushes thoroughly between colors so they don’t get stained and muddled with old pigment.
  • Clean water jars frequently since gouache sediments will accumulate.
  • Revive stiff paint with a few drops of water – but avoid overthinning to compromised durability.

With proper care, your gouache can remain creamy and usable for a long time. Always seal pants or tubes before storing away and restock mixing water to limit cross-contamination.

Common Gouache Paint Questions Answered

If you’re new to the world of gouache, chances are you have some other burning questions about how it compares and handles vs. other paint types. Here are answers to some frequently asked beginner gouache questions:

How is gouache different from watercolor?

Gouache contains additional opaque pigments and binders that make it dry to a matte finish vs. the translucent look of watercolor. Gouache also sits on top of paper vs. absorbing in for bolder color.

Can gouache be used transparently like watercolor?

Yes! Thinning gouache with more water makes it act more like a transparent wash. But it will still dry to a matte finish instead of luminous like pure watercolor.

Does gouache need special paper like watercolor?

Gouache works on most paper types without bleeding like watercolor. But for best results, use thicker, smoother paper over very textured or porous surfaces.

Can you layer and rewet gouache after it dries?

One advantage of gouache is you can layer it after drying since it sits on the surface. Rewetting and blending is more limited than with fresh paint.

How does gouache differ from acrylic?

Gouache uses many of the same pigments as acrylic but also includes watercolor binders. It is thinner than heavy body acrylic. Gouache also dries to a flatter matte finish.

Pick Your Palette and Get Started Painting!

We’ve covered all the key considerations around choosing your first gouache set – from set sizes and color selections to quality and mixability factors. While it may feel daunting as a beginner, going with a trusted student grade starter palette of around 10 colors will give you an accessible introduction to this exciting medium.

Be patient, experiment freely, and take advantage of gouache’s versatile properties. Layer it thinly or apply it thickly. Use opaque tones or transparent washes. With the rightfoundational paint set and some practice discovering its dynamic blending abilities, you’ll be creating stunning works before you know it.

So don’t overthink it – pick a reputable brand, gravitate toward bold primaries and neutrals, and start swatching. Let your distinctive artistic voice shine through a uniquely personalized gouache palette. Selecting the perfect intro set is just the first step on your creative journey with this timeless painting medium.

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