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What the Heck is the Difference Between Watercolor and Acrylic?



I’m going to take a wild guess and immediately assume that you think you have a pretty good idea of what watercolor paint looks like. I’m also going to guess that you’ve heard of acrylic, but aren’t exactly sure what it is or why it would look the way it does. Ok, one more guess: when it comes to weddings, you honestly didn’t think there were any other paints used other than watercolor! Don’t you worry one bit. You’re not at all alone. But, here’s the deal: give me the next few minutes of your time, and I’ll not only show you the difference between the two, but convert you into an acrylic lover for life! Sound good? Great! Now, let’s get started! What the heck is the difference between watercolor and acrylic?

The Science


Watercolor paint is slightly deceiving in terms of its name. The actual paint has a lot more to do with its binder as opposed to water itself. Watercolor paint is made by mixing pigments with gum arabic. Gum arabic is a watersoluble tree sap that is also often used on paint brushes to form the shape of the bristles. Remember your 3rd grade art teacher yelling at you to never leave brushes in the paint water overnight? Remember how you totally ignored her, and ended up with a brush that once had North to South bristles now heading East and West? Yep, that gum arabic dissolved away!

This is where the importance of your water comes in! When you paint with watercolors, you’re using water to break down that gum arabic and leave the colored pigment behind. That’s why using less water leaves a darker color, and more water leaves a lighter color. The less gum arabic you dissolve, the more tightly bound those pigments still are. Spread those pigments around, let the water evaporate and, voila! You have yourself some pretty watercolor strokes!

example of watercolor paint

Watercolor paint example. Image courtesy of art-is-fun.com


Acrylic paint is made when a plastic resin concoction is “suspended” in water (acrylic polymer emulsion) and mixed with colored pigment. Similar to working with watercolor paints, acrylic painting is dependent on that water in the mixture evaporating. Except, that water evaporating leads to the plastic resin particles fusing together. This is why many acrylic paints come out of the tube rather glossy and wet, but dry almost like a plastic!

example of acrylic paint

Example of acrylic paint. Image courtesy of thoughtco.com.

The Aesthetic


Watercolors are an absolute favorite in the wedding industry because they have a very soft and romantic feel to them. No matter how bold you get with your color or subject choices, you can’t escape how ethereal the paint looks!

custom watercolor wedding crest featuring florals

Example of wedding crest painted with watercolor paint. Crest By Brittany Branson.


Due to its plastic/resin base, acrylic paint can often look very bold and have a lot of “movement!” It can also have a bit more “depth” to it, as its a lot easier to place different colors on top of one another.

acrylic painting of peach and blue florals

Example of florals painted with acrylic paint. By Brittany Branson.

Why Do I Use Acrylic?

I finger paint

What’s crazy fun about the services and products I offer is that they range from really small paintings to really, really large ones! When it comes to tackling the larger pieces, I often find myself finger painting in order to achieve a more whimsical style. Finger painting is simply not possible with watercolor. But, perfect for acrylic! I usually end up using a base color paint, and then utilizing a heck of a ton of heavy body white paint to create those whimsical brushstrokes you know and love!

I create products that need to be more durable

Custom backdrops and alternative guestbooks are two of my most popular commissioned paintings. They’re very often used in both indoor and outdoor settings. When it comes to my backdrops, some couples choose to commission a length that serves as both a backdrop and an aisle runner! And so, guests need to be able to walk all over that part of the backdrop. Watercolor paper (and a watercolor painting) simply won’t do the job. It’s not very fun to have to constantly worry about a drop of excess water from the bouquets or moisture on the bottom of a guest’s shoe finding its way on to the painting and warping the design. However, acrylic can withstand all of that! Due to its plastic/resin nature, it’s incredibly durable and nearly waterproof after it has completely dried.

I believe it can be just as beautiful as watercolor

I love acrylic. I love how playful it is. I love how it responds. Most of all, I love how beautiful it can be. I think the wedding industry needs to embrace the fact that watercolor is not the only wedding-worthy paint. I think acrylic wedding art can capture a whimsical, fanciful, and even playful feeling that many couples may be looking for but can’t quite find with watercolor. In general, I just think it’s awesome.

acrylic painting of pippin hill winery

Acrylic painting of Pippin Hill Winery. Print available in my Etsy shop!

Are you ready to incorporate amazing acrylic art into your wedding? Send me an email today!

Interested in hearing me personally describe my love for acrylic paint? Tune in to my episode on Anchor.FM here!

Brittany Branson is a wedding paper and live painter serving Annapolis, Maryland, Washington, DC and destination weddings.



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