Tempera Vs Acrylic Paint: The Real Difference (2023)

Tempera Vs Acrylic Paint: The Real Difference (1)

When we talk about art, painting is one of the first things that comes to mind. There are different types of paints that you can explore.

In this article, we will talk about two of the most commonly used mediums for painting, tempera and acrylic paints. How are they similar or different from each other?

To start with, here’s a brief summary comparing the characteristics of tempera vs acrylic paint. This will give you some points to help you decide which one is better for you.

CharacteristicsTempera PaintAcrylic Paint
IngredientsPigment, Calcium Carbonate, starch, cellulose, and waterPigment, polymer, and water
LastingNon-permanent, could be washablePermanent after drying
FinishMatteSemi-glossy to glossy
LightfastnessHas a tendency to fadeLightfast
MixabilityHighly mixableHighly mixable
Drying Time10 to 15 mins20 to 30 mins

Table of Contents

  • Tempera Paint
  • Acrylic Paint
  • What Makes Them Similar?
  • What Are the Differences?
    • 1. Ingredients
    • 2. Longevity, Lightfastness, and Mixability
    • 3. Finish and Consistency
    • 4. Drying Time
  • Pros and Cons
    • 1. Tempera Paint
    • 2. Acrylic Paint
  • Cost
    • Tempera Paint
    • Acrylic Paint
  • Frequently Asked Questions or Helpful Tips
  • Conclusion

Tempera Paint

This type of paint is often mistaken as egg tempera, an ancient medium of painting which uses egg yolks mixed with pigment and water.

Tempera Vs Acrylic Paint: The Real Difference (2)

The use of egg tempera dates back to the 1st century, when there were still few mediums for painting. It was popularly used to draw famous personalities during that era.

On the other hand, modern tempera paints do not contain egg and utilizes starches and cellulose to bind with pigments, Calcium Carbonate, and water.

Tempera paints are also known as poster paint and are typically used for school projects and fun art activities.

They are available in powder form and in ready-to-use squeeze bottles by gallons. Some brands like Crayola and Prang offer their tempera paints in color sets.

Acrylic Paint

This paint is available in two varieties:

Tempera Vs Acrylic Paint: The Real Difference (3)

  • Artist-grade acrylic paint
  • Student-grade acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint is made with pigments, polymer that serves as the binder, and water. However, an artist’s grade formulation is, of course, more pricey than the student-grade acrylic paint.

But with artist-grade acrylic paint, you can get a more saturated pigment, and the range of colors are more extensive.

Students’ grade acrylic paint may have less coverage and fewer color options but could be the best option for newbies and artists on a low budget.

(Video) Tempera Paint Vs Acrylic Paint: Which Is More Effective? [2023]

You can buy acrylic paint in a handy tube or in jars. If you are working on a large project, it is more practical to buy it in jars, but if you are still trying the paints out, a 2 oz. tube would be a good start.

What Makes Them Similar?

Tempera paint and acrylic paint are somewhat similar, since they are both water-based. This quality gives both paints the capability to be watered down or diluted with water.

Both types dry fast and have excellent mixability. These paints are good for beginners who are still finding their way to painting or for any type of school art projects.

What Are the Differences?

The tempera paint vs acrylic paint comparison chart shows that these options are different in many ways, starting from their ingredients, to longevity, finish, lightfastness, viscosity, and drying time.

1. Ingredients

The tempera paint definition emphasizes that it uses starch and cellulose as binders while acrylic paint, on the other hand, uses polymer. That alone makes both formulations different.

The difference in the formulas also says a lot about the actual usage, appearance, quality of the output, and more.

Tempera paint in modern times is mostly used for kids because its formulation is safe and non toxic. Acrylic paints with complex colors may be made with hazardous pigments, though acrylics in basic colors are usually non toxic.

2. Longevity, Lightfastness, and Mixability

Tempera Vs Acrylic Paint: The Real Difference (4)

The first two characteristics to consider are durability and longevity after application. Longevity refers to how the paint itself stays on the surface, and lightfastness refers to how the color resists fading when exposed to various sources of light.

Lightfastness classification is usually declared on the label. Paints with AA or ASTM I are rated as highly lightfast, while C or ASTM III is the poorest or an indication that the colors are highly fugitive.

Acrylic paints are highly mixable and soluble with water, but once dry, they become permanent or hard to remove. This type of paint is also known to retain its color for a longer period and is considered lightfast.

Tempera paints are absolutely mixable too but are less durable and less permanent. They can be scraped or washed after application. Tempera paint also tends to fade and lose its color intensity over time.

3. Finish and Consistency

Tempera paint produces an opaque matte finish that could be associated with the presence of Calcium Carbonate powder in its formulation. It also has a creamy and less viscous consistency.

Acrylic paint generally produces a semi-glossy to glossy finish, but in case you want your finish to be different, you can also use varnish to create your desired texture.

4. Drying Time

Tempera Vs Acrylic Paint: The Real Difference (5)

Both tempera and acrylic paint are known to dry quickly. However, tempera paint can dry a bit faster than acrylic. Tempera paint can dry within 10 to 15 minutes, while acrylic paint would take 20 minutes or longer.

How long does tempera paint take to dry in actual settings will also depend on the paint composition and brand. Some brands dry faster or longer than others regardless of the paint type.

Other factors like the surface of application, environmental condition, and how watery the paint is can also affect the drying time.

Pros and Cons

1. Tempera Paint

Dries quicklyToo watery
Highly mixableLess pigmented
WashableFewer color options
AffordableLess permanent
Non toxic
(Video) Tempera vs acrylic paint

2. Acrylic Paint

Dries quicklyLess time to work with since the paint sets in quick
Highly mixableColor shifts to darker shades after drying
You can use water to clean-up brushesHard to clean once the paint is dried out
Can be used on a wide range of surfacesCould be more expensive
Can use varnish and other mediums to achieve the desired finish
Durable and lightfast
Wide color options


Tempera paint generally costs cheaper compared to acrylic paint. Check out the table below to see the actual prices according to different brands and sizes.

Tempera Paint

Prang Ready-to-use assorted colors16 Oz, 12 bottles$30.79
Crayola Premier16 Oz.$13.77 – $19.02
Sargent Art Washable16 Oz.$1.98
Crayola Washable (Artista II)32 Oz.$7.45 – $19.35
Crayola Washable1 Gal.$19.89 – $25.49
Colorations Washable1 Gal.$15.99
Prang128 Oz$15.89 – $30.57
Sargent Art1 Gal.$13.23 – 23.84

Note: Price may vary per color

Acrylic Paint

Student Grade Acrylic Paint
Crayola2 fl Oz., 6 bottles.$8.76
Crayola Portfolio Series16 Oz.$9.99
Sargent Art16 fl Oz.$3.88
64 Oz. (Half Gal.)$22.11
Blickrylic16 Oz.$6.97
32 Oz.$11.24
64 Oz.$18.97
Artist Grade Acrylic Paint
Golden Heavy Body2 Oz., 6 tubes$39.89
2 Oz. tube$11.93
16 Oz. jar$56.75
Liquitex Prof Heavy Body2 Oz. tube$6.95
16 Oz. jar$28.07
32 Oz. jar$47.87
2 Oz., 6 tubes$47.87

Note: Price may vary per color

Frequently Asked Questions or Helpful Tips

Tempera Vs Acrylic Paint: The Real Difference (6)

Is tempera paint the same as acrylic paint?

No, although they are water-based, tempera paint and acrylic paint are totally different.

As mentioned in the table above, they do differ in a lot of things. This is mainly because they are made of different ingredients and therefore behave and perform differently.

They also have different appearance after drying. Tempera paint dries into a matte finish while acrylic paint dries into a glossy or waxy finish.

Why do artists use tempera paint?

Tempera paint is affordable. Users can also mix and thicken it as they want, so it’s a great tool for budding artists.

In terms of composition, there are allergen-free tempera paints which suit people who are concerned about safety.

Can you paint acrylic over tempera?

Yes, but it is not generally advised. Again, these paints have different compositions that could affect compatibility.

However, if you must paint acrylic over tempera paint, apply the general rule, which is to make sure the first layer of paint is dry before applying any coloring.

Can you mix tempera and acrylic paint?

Yes, since both paints are water-based, it’s possible to mix them. But because their overall composition is still different, mixing tempera with acrylic might pose some issues. It is still better to use each paint separately.

(Video) Tempera vs. Acrylic

Is tempera paint permanent? Is tempera paint washable?

Yes, it is washable and non-permanent. It is also simpler to wash off than acrylic paint that readily solidifies after drying.

However, regular tempera might still be a challenge to wash, especially on clothing and other porous surfaces.

Fortunately, you can always opt for washable versions, which are designed for kids and are readily available in the market.

Where can I use tempera paint?

Tempera paint can be used on different types of paper and cardboards. It is also suitable for poster making, paper mache, finger and sponge painting activities.

It can be used on plastic, but the surface has to be prepared first to ensure that the paint will stick on the surface. This includes sanding and adding a primer.

You may also use tempera paint on wood, on windows, and other surfaces, but it is limited to indoor set-up since it’s not waterproof.

Can you use tempera paint on canvas?

Yes. But using it on canvas is not common and may require additional technique or pre-treatment, such as adding talcum powder to it. Acrylic paints are far more suitable for canvas than tempera paint.

Can you make tempera paint into acrylic paint?

No. You can’t make tempera paint acrylic, but you can change the consistency of tempera to add texture or to make it buildable like acrylic. Some of the ways to do this is by adding starch or a bit of flour.


As both are excellent mediums for painting, when choosing between tempera vs acrylic paint, it is best to consider your purpose or the output that you want to achieve and the surface you want to work on.

For example, if you want to paint on canvas or want a more permanent result, then you’d better go with acrylic paint.

Meanwhile, if you are looking for a paint for school work and other children’s activities, tempera paint fits you best. It is cheap, safe, and washable.

Related: Steps to Use Acrylic Paint on Shrinky Dinks

(Video) WHAT IS TEMPERA PAINT? let's give a try to this strange medium

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Tempera Vs Acrylic Paint: The Real Difference (7)

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(Video) Master Class Tempera vs Gouache


Do professional artists use tempera? ›

The paint is still in use by some professional painters today, but it is very difficult to obtain, which is why many artists prefer to make their very own egg tempera paint.

What are the disadvantages of tempera? ›

It dries rapidly, and when dry it produces a smooth matte finish. The main disadvantage - apart from the time-consuming need to apply it in thin layers - is that tempera paintings cannot usually attain the deep colour saturation that oil paintings are able to manage.

Why did artists use tempera? ›

Tempera is more transparent than oil and holds less pigment, which allows light to penetrate through it and reflect off the white surface of the gesso below. Another advantage of egg tempera is that, unlike oil paintings, it is resistant to light, and its colours do not darken or change with age.

Is acrylic or tempera paint better for canvas? ›

Acrylic paint is the best option when it comes to painting on a canvas. Tempera paint is meant for paper, paper-mâché, and cardboard.

Is tempera still used today? ›

Because the pigment doesn't mix well with other paints, it is less popular than acrylics, watercolor and oil-based paints, but it's still used by artists to this day.

Does tempera paint last on canvas? ›

Additionally, tempera paint is typically not permanent or archival, so while it is a great and inexpensive medium to explore painting with, it is not an ideal medium for painting on canvas in the long term.

Can you make tempera paint permanent? ›

Although tempera paint is not designed to be permanent and lightfast like acrylic and oil paints have been, it can last for a year or so on paper and similar surfaces although the colors will probably have started fading by then. However, you can prevent this by applying a fixative to the painting.

Is tempera paint good quality? ›

Also known as poster board paint, tempera paint is great for crafts and art projects because it's fast drying, long lasting, and easy to clean. It's also not likely to flake, streak, or crack. Tempera paint is water-soluble, and the majority of tempera paint available is non-toxic.

Why do artists use oil paint over tempera paint? ›

Oil paint seemed to have clear advantages over tempera – deeper intensity of colors and much slower drying times. The slow drying time meant less waste. An artist could prepare paint and use it for several days. Egg tempera, on the other hand, must be mixed each day since the egg-based vehicle dries quickly.

Did Da Vinci use tempera? ›

Leonardo used an experimental technique- applying tempera paint and mixed media directly to the stone wall. This technique attributed to the severe deterioration that occurred to the painting within di Vinci's own lifetime.

What is special about tempera paint? ›

Tempera (Italian: [ˈtɛmpera]), also known as egg tempera, is a permanent, fast-drying painting medium consisting of colored pigments mixed with a water-soluble binder medium, usually glutinous material such as egg yolk. Tempera also refers to the paintings done in this medium.

Why does tempera paint crack? ›

Tempera initially dries through relatively rapid evaporation of its water content, so if too dense a layer is applied it can crack as it shrinks (akin to a dried-out lake bed).

What paint do professional painters use on canvas? ›

Two of the most commonly used paints for canvas art are oil and acrylic paint. Acrylic comes in as an all-time favourite with its favourable qualities; it's easy to work with and dries quickly. Oil paint is another winner with its thick, gluey consistency it is the perfect paint recipe paired beautifully with canvas.

What acrylic paint do professional artists use? ›

Our top pick for the best acrylic paint brand is Liquitex. This brand makes professional-grade paints that are ideal for beginners and professionals alike. The paints have excellent consistency, pigment, and lightfastness, too.

Why is it called tempera paint? ›

tempera painting, painting executed with pigment ground in a water-miscible medium. The word tempera originally came from the verb temper, “to bring to a desired consistency.” Dry pigments are made usable by “tempering” them with a binding and adhesive vehicle.

What type of paint did Bob Ross use? ›

In 'The Joy of Painting' Bob Ross uses rather thick oil paints. Please be careful not to get acrylic based paints, as these will not work for Bob's wet-on-wet-technique.

Why does acrylic paint peel off canvas? ›

The binder is what makes the paint stick to the surface - in your case, the board. If you dilute the acrylic paint too much with water, it may weaken the binder. This means that the paint may form a weak bond to the surface and lift off the next time you go over it.

What paint does Bob Ross use? ›

The formula used by Bob has today been branded and is available for purchase as Bob Ross Liquid White Oil Paint - 250ml.

Does tempera paint wash off easily? ›

The tempera poster paint is the type that is temporary and washable, so it easily washes off clothes by doing the usual laundry method. And there is the natural tempera paint that is permanent. This one does not easily wash off clothes, but there are tricks you can use to get rid of the stain.

Will rain wash off tempera paint? ›

A: We wouldn't recommend temera paint for outdoor use. Rain will wash off the tempera paint.

Can you use tempera paint like acrylic? ›

Both acrylic paint and tempera paint are water-soluble and can be thinned with a little bit of water. Kids can work with either acrylic paint or tempera paint, but because acrylic paint is permanent, you'll probably feel a lot more at ease if they worked with tempera paint.

Why do artists choose not to use acrylic paint? ›

Disadvantages: because acrylic paints dry quickly they cannot be easily blended to create the 'wet in wet' technique that is popular with oil paints. For this reason, a finished acrylic painting can look harsh compared to a finished oil painting.

What oil paints did Van Gogh use? ›

Chemical analysis of the binding media of Van Gogh's paints identified poppyseed oil in zinc white and lead white paints and linseed oil in cochineal and geranium lake paints, with some paraffin wax added to the latter as well [2, 17].

Why do oil paintings look better than acrylic? ›

If you want to work on a large piece of art and continue to have the ability to blend, oil is the more flexible choice because it retains moisture much longer than acrylic. Working with oil paint will ensure you have a smooth, easy-to-glide texture for a long period of time.

What medium was the Last Supper painted in? ›

The Last Supper

Is the Mona Lisa a tempera painting? ›

Leonardo painted the Mona Lisa in oil paint. Nowadays, although oil paint and vinyl paint are much more common, some artists paint in tempera.

What was used to paint the Last Supper? ›

The Last Supper was executed not in traditional fresco, but in tempera and oil paint on a dry wall.

Does tempera paint dry shiny? ›

Tempera paint dries very matte – it will not be shiny. You can coat it with a layer of Mod Podge after it is dry to give it a shiny look.

Why do artists paint canvas red first? ›

The medium tint of red allows to work on light colours and dark colours, so that's the primary reason. – The second reason is that it is a primer with pigment and oil, so the canvas is not absorbent at all anymore and you can get more slippery layers very quickly, the colour becomes more covering.

What brand of paint do professional painters prefer? ›

When painting contractors seek out quality paint for their jobs, they often choose Benjamin Moore and Sherwin-Williams – two of the best selling brands on the market. Professional painters the world over have used these paints to great success for many years.

What is the best paint for beginners on canvas? ›

Acrylic is a favored painting medium for both beginners and professionals alike for its easy setup, quick-drying properties, and malleable nature. Made out of pigments suspended in acrylic polymer, acrylic paint is water soluble but becomes water resistant when dry.

Does Van Gogh use acrylic? ›

Van Gogh exclusively used oil paints, however with the Mont Marte Dimension series acrylic paint you can achieve the same impasto effects due to the ultra-thick consistency of the paint.

What paint do fine artists use? ›

Professional grade acrylic paints are designed with the artist in mind. You will be able to thin them down (through water or polymers) and still get good pigmentation. They mix well and won't create mud too easily. They are both highly pigmented and highly saturated.

Do real artists use acrylic? ›

Acrylic paint is well accepted by professional artists because it is easy to use, easy to clean up, dry quickly, and non-toxic. But some artists do not prefer the fast-drying nature of acrylic paint, because it does not give enough time to blend colors. Many famous or professional artists use acrylic paint.

What do professional artists use to paint? ›

Professional artists use highly pigmented acrylic paint made from quality binders and lightfast pigments.

What is tempera paint best used for? ›

You can use it with thin brushes, thick brushes, sponges, fingers, and even feathers. Use tempera on art projects that involve paper (heavy paper will be best for absorbing the paint), cardboard, poster board, and paper towel tubes.

What do professional artists paint on? ›

Canvas. Stretched cotton canvas is the surface used most often by professional artists, for its cloth weave and spring. When you use acrylics you can paint straight onto canvas, as they will not sink into the material like oils.

What paint did Bob Ross use? ›

What kind of paint does Bob Ross use? Magic white or liquid white is a key ingredient. It is white paint made thinner with oil and solvent and directly and thinly coated on your canvas.

Do famous painters use oil or acrylic? ›

Famous Painters

Both oil and acrylic paints have been used to create some of the most memorable artistic works in the world. Some famous artists who have worked with oil paint include Rembrandt, Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet.

Does tempera paint crack? ›

Tempera initially dries through relatively rapid evaporation of its water content, so if too dense a layer is applied it can crack as it shrinks (akin to a dried-out lake bed).

Do real artists use acrylic paint? ›

David Hockney was one of the first prominent artists to pick up on acrylics, along with Helen Frankenthaler and Mark Rothko. Contemporary artists like Lubaina Himid and Katherine Bernhardt still rely on the medium today.

How can you tell a good paint job? ›

How to Spot a Great Interior Paint Job
  1. Joints and Edges. One of the quickest ways to tell a quality paint job from a budget job is the straightness of the lines at joints and edges. ...
  2. Knobs, Fixtures and Faceplates. ...
  3. Smooth, Consistent Walls. ...
  4. Even Color Coverage.


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