Art-making is a wonderful activity to engage your senses, bond with others, and reconnect with our inner child. Maybe you're thinking of art projects to do with kids! Well, you can't go wrong with tempera paint and acrylic paint. Both types of paint are easy to use as they're both water-based and quick-drying, and they can give way to many vibrant and colorful artworks.
But how do you know which one to use? Is one medium better than the other? The short answer: consider your workspace and your upcoming creative project. Generally, tempera paint nowadays is washable and non-toxic while still giving you opaque and vibrant color. Whereas acrylic paint is known for being permanent, with a wide variety of colors and finishes to choose from.
Let's get into both to find out what's the difference between tempera vs. acrylic paint!
Why do artists use tempera paint?
There's something about tempera paint that sparks a nostalgia. Think: those finger-painting classes you enjoyed as a child. But it wasn't always this way. Tempera paint was in vogue during the medieval era up to the early Renaissance period. It was used in wood panel painting, particularly for religious icons.
One famous tempera painting you might know is The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli. That translucent effect you see on Venus's skin just goes to show how detailed you can get with tempera paint. Artists layered tempera paint thinly-also known as glazing-on surfaces to build color, create detail, and mimic the effect of light and shadow.
When we refer to tempera paint today, we think of the inexpensive paint most kids use in school and art class. After the invention of oil paint in the Renaissance era, and then acrylic paints in the 1950s, tempera paint fell out of style. But just because tempera paint is mostly used by kids nowadays doesn't make it less of an art medium.
Tempera paint vs. Acrylic Paint: What makes them similar?
These two types of paint are vastly different. But the main thing they have in common is that they're water-based and quick-drying. You can easily water down these paints to the consistency you like. For example, you can dilute tempera paint in water to finger paint, and you can dilute acrylic paint to create a pouring medium.
You can definitely paint and layer with both acrylic and tempera paint. But you'll want thinner layers for tempera paint as it can crack. You won't get cracking from acrylic paint, which stays flexible when dried due to the polymer binder.
But can you mix tempera paint with acrylic paint? Probably not. You likely won't get the right consistency that you want since they're made up of different binding ingredients.
Acrylic vs. Tempera Paint: What's the big difference?
While both acrylic and tempera paint are water-based, that's as much as they have in common.
The main difference is how permanent they are when they dry. Tempera paint is washable and can be reactivated with water, so at most it's semi-permanent. Whereas acrylic paint dries permanently and is known for its lightfast qualities. Let's compare and contrast the two.
Paint is made with a combination of pigment powders and something to bind them together. This binder helps the paint stick to a surface like canvas or paper.
Notice when acrylic paint dries, it's similar to rubber or plastic? That's because acrylic paint is made with pigment suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion.
Now what is tempera paint? This kind of paint is traditionally made up of color pigment, water, and egg. Sometimes it's also made with a milk-based product called casein. Today, the ingredients depend per brand. Generally, tempera contains non-toxic pigments, a binder like starch or cellulose, and preservatives. Because of its organic makeup tempera paint is easy to work with, non-toxic, and washable-must-haves for working with kids whose hands can and will get everywhere.
Permanence and Drying Time
Tempera paint dries quickly because it's water-based and water-activated. As mentioned, it's totally washable. So no worries if you've gotten it accidentally on a surface.
Acrylic paint dries quite rapidly, more so than tempera paint. But once it's dry, it's dry.
So if you're wondering: Is acrylic paint washable? Not entirely. Again, acrylic is water soluble, but once dry it resists water or solvents. It sort of turns into a hardened plastic-like state. You'd best make sure to clean your acrylic paint brushes right away else the paint dries and hardens on your acrylic brush.
Tempera paint commonly comes in two forms: in a tube or cup or as a paint cake-kind of like panned watercolor. In terms of consistency, tempera paint becomes creamy in liquid form and is semi-opaque.
Meanwhile, acrylic paint is thicker yet still creamy and can be watered down with other mediums, solvents, and retardants. You might also come across fluid acrylic paint, which is thinner and more viscous and great to use for acrylic pouring projects.
Tempera paint dries down to a matte, sometimes chalky finish. Acrylic paint, on the other hand, dries semi-glossy. If you're not a fan of the shine, you can get other mediums to create a different varnish for your acrylic paint. An advantage of acrylic paint is your variety of paint finishes and textures. You can find matte acrylic paint, even metallic and iridescent ones!
Will tempera paint stay on canvas? While old tempera paintings have lasted this long with colors that didn't deteriorate much over time, you might not get this same result with tempera paints out on the market right now. These variations are mostly formulated for kids' use. Tempera paint can easily wash off a canvas since the paint reactivates with water. That and it can fade over time, especially when exposed to sunlight.
Still, tempera paint is wonderful for craftwork. You can paint on paper or board, cardstock, and even papier-mâché.
Acrylic paint, on the other hand, is extremely durable and it can stick to many different surfaces. It's a great option for working on wood, metal, fabric, and ceramics besides the usual paper or canvas.
This refers to how well your colors resist fading over time. Generally, tempera paint is less lightfast than acrylic paint due to its semi-permanent nature. With acrylics, lightfastness varies by paint and brand. You can sometimes see how lightfast an acrylic paint is on the tube or can's packaging. You'll see an "ASTM" label or rating.
Tempera vs. Acrylic: Which one should you use?
At the end of the day-or rather, at the beginning of your creative process-the medium you choose all depends on the surface you're working on as well as the level of permanence you're looking for.
Tempera paint can be used on a variety of craft projects, like papier-mâché or finger-painting. Acrylic paint, on the other hand, is an easy and accessible medium for painting on canvas or paper. Acrylic pouring is also another super fun project you can get into if you don't mind getting your hands dirty.
Many artists and educators love using tempera paint with kids because of its food-grade or organic ingredients and non-toxic makeup. Plus, the benefit of being easy to wash or wipe off surfaces. Tempera paint can also be reactivated with water.
There are also non-toxic acrylic paints available on the market. If you want your artwork to last a long-time we recommend using acrylic paint over tempera paint. The polymer in the acrylic paint keeps it flexible even when dry so your work won't crack. It's also more lightfast and resistant to fading over time.
Whatever your choice, we'd love to hear more from you as you go along your creative journey! Which medium do you prefer? Let us know in the comments below!
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- MEET THE AUTHOR-
BelleO. Mapa is a writer and artist based in Manila, Philippines. She believes that everyone is born with an inner creative spirit—we just need to nurture and discover it on the blank page. Currently, she lives out her passion: writing stories, hosting journaling workshops, and advocating for mental health awareness.
What are the main differences between tempera and acrylic paint? ›
The main difference is how permanent they are when they dry. Tempera paint is washable and can be reactivated with water, so at most it's semi-permanent. Whereas acrylic paint dries permanently and is known for its lightfast qualities.What's tempera paint used for? ›
Tempera paint is used for craft projects, school classroom projects, posters, theatre props, painting windows, color mixing exercises, and much more, but the best results can be found when used on paper, cardboard, and poster board.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.What makes acrylic paint different? ›
Acrylic paint is paint made of pigment that's suspended in acrylic emulation. It is water-soluble and fast-drying and becomes water-resistant once dry. Acrylic paint is extremely versatile.What kind of paper do you use with tempera paint? ›
Most art teachers will agree that this smooth, white paper is their go-to paper. If using it for water media such as tempera paint, don't choose anything less than 80lb or 90lb or the paper will curl and rip. Sulphite paper is perfect for oil and chalk pastels, markers, tempera and watercolor paint.
Tempera can be used on canvas, but it's not always an ideal medium. Like fluid acrylic, tempera paint is not extremely thick, so it can drip downward if applied to a canvas on an easel.What are the pros and cons of tempera paint? ›
Unlike oil paint, tempera cannot be applied too thickly, and thus lacks the deep colouration of oils. But tempera paintings are very long lasting and colours do not deteriorate over time, unlike oil paints which tend to darken or lose colour with age. It dries rapidly, and when dry it produces a smooth matte finish.What is acrylic paint used for? ›
Acrylic paint can colour practically anything. It is resilient and flexible and can be applied to all kinds of surfaces. While used by artists on stretched prepared canvas, paper or board, acrylics can also be applied to wood, leather, paper-mache, fabric, cement, glass, brick, pottery – almost any non-greasy surface.What artists use tempera paint? ›
Unfortunately, few artists use this medium today. The most notable American artists using egg tempera in recent history are Andrew Wyeth, Paul Cadmus, Thomas Hart Benton and Robert Vickery.Do you have to mix tempera paint with water? ›
You must add water and glue to the tempera paint before starting your paint pouring. This dilutes the paint so it flows on the canvas. We recommend using easy squeeze bottles for kids so they don't spill. The color you squeeze into the paint cup first will likely be the most dominant on your canvas.
Do artists use tempera paint? ›
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.What is something acrylic paint should not be used for? ›
Are Acrylic Paints Toxic? Acrylic paints are safe to use for everyday painting. This is because they are water-based. They only get toxic when you are sanding a surface, if it is consumed in large amounts, or when the paint is used for airbrushing.What is the weakness of 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. This is what can give a “harsher” look to acrylic paintings when compared to oils. Acrylic paint also dries quickly on the palette.Is Dollar Store acrylic paint good? ›
Even though these dollar store acrylic paints are decent enough for beginners to start acrylic pouring, I highly suggest to upgrade to a higher quality paint once you feel like you can invest a little bit more money on your supplies. A quality paint can make a world of a difference when it comes to color vibrancy.What paint is better than acrylic? ›
Because oil paints stay wet for a lot longer than acrylics, it gives you the flexibility to start a painting and then come back to it the next day and continue straight where you left off. The paint on the palette will still be wet and pliable; the colours on your canvas can still be blended together.What are 3 mediums required to make a tempera painting? ›
Tempera is traditionally created by hand-grinding dry powdered pigments into a binding agent or medium, such as egg yolk, milk (in the form of casein) and a variety of plant gums.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.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.Can I use tempera paint on glass? ›
The most common paint used for window painting is tempera paint, commonly called “poster paint”. Window chalk has been used but it is very difficult to clean off and, at times, requires power washing and extensive scraping. Tempera paint is frequently mixed with liquid soap or soap flakes to ease in cleanup.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 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 are the potential risks of tempera paint? ›
Paints: Water based paints, including latex, tempera and poster paints, may be very mild irritants to the skin or mouth. Swallowing very large amounts may cause stomach problems like vomiting. Oil-based paints may contain solvents and can cause poisoning.Why do artists choose oil over tempera? ›
Renaissance artists used oil paint instead of tempura because of its versatility and potential Oil paint had several properties that made it better for Renaissance artists. First, oil paint dried more slowly which allowed the artists to make corrections and changes.What surfaces can I use acrylic paint on? ›
The most popular surfaces for painting with acrylics are canvas, wood, or paper. But once primed with gesso, acrylics can be painted on almost any surface, such as fabric, clay, or even your old vinyl records!What surfaces are acrylic paint good for? ›
Acrylics straight from the tube are the most flexible medium, so can be painted on anything – paper, canvas, cardboard, metal… literally anything. 2. Oils are more tricky, so have to be painted onto a properly prepared surface (see: The Trouble with Oil) I recommend a prepared canvas or prepared board.Do you need to use water with acrylic paint? ›
Acrylic medium minimizes the need for the addition of water and allows the paint to sit on top of the surface, maintaining a rich, glossy appearance. The amount of water you add depends on the desired effect and the surface. Adding up to 30 percent water to acrylic paint thins it but still allows it to coat a surface.Why was tempera so popular? ›
Perhaps the greatest appeal of egg tempera is the glowing quality that it provides. 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.Does tempera paint dry hard? ›
You can always paint whatever you want onto your clothes or fabric of your choice. But, the fabric is a very flexible and soft thing, so it will need flexible paint. Tempera dries quite hard so it will most likely crack if you paint it on fabric that will be tousled a lot.What surfaces can you use tempera paint on? ›
Often used to teach school children how to paint, tempera can adhere to many surfaces including canvas, wood, fabric, paper, paper mache, poster board and temporarily on glass. Water can be mixed with the paint to extend drying time. Once it is dry, it cannot be reconstituted.Why is tempera paint not good for blending? ›
Tempera does not have the sticking power to stay on surfaces long-term. Generally, tempera colors are not designed to blend together. Tempera paint is a much better choice if you are looking for paint that is washable, and not permanent.
Do you wet the brush before using acrylic paint? ›
Acrylic Paint Instructions and Tips. You don't 'need' to start with a wet brush, but if you want your paint to glide smoothly then it's best to have the bristles wet. I just quickly dip my brush in water, it doesn't have to be soaking wet.What are 3 benefits of using acrylic paint? ›
Acrylic paint is first invented as a fast-drying alternative to slow-drying oil paint. It also comes with other benefits such as being non-toxic, water-soluble, permanent, and a very versatile medium.How do you blend acrylic paint after it's dried? ›
Use broad strokes to work the wet paint up the dried paint, without adding more paint to your brush. As you move up, you'll have less and less paint on your brush, creating a gradient from light to dark. Continue this until you see your desired effect.What makes tempera paint different? ›
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.What is the advantage of tempera paints? ›
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.What are the advantages and disadvantages of tempera painting? ›
Unlike oil paint, tempera cannot be applied too thickly, and thus lacks the deep colouration of oils. But tempera paintings are very long lasting and colours do not deteriorate over time, unlike oil paints which tend to darken or lose colour with age. It dries rapidly, and when dry it produces a smooth matte finish.What are some advantages to using acrylic paints rather than oil tempera or watercolor? ›
Acrylic paint is better for people who want their paint to dry faster. Where oil paint can take a very long time to dry, acrylic paint can be dry within hours. It's also resistant to water more than watercolor or oil paint, meaning that it's less likely to get damaged by moisture in the short term.What is one of the main properties of tempera paint? ›
Other characteristic qualities of a tempera painting, resulting from its fast-drying property and disciplined technique, are its steely lines and crisp edges, its meticulous detail and rich linear textures, and its overall emphasis upon a decorative flat pattern of bold colour masses.Do artists use tempera? ›
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. So, what made tempera reign supreme among the Renaissance giants?What is the weakness of tempera? ›
Tempera had a greater luminosity and depth of tone than fresco but less radiance and intensity than oil painting. Its main disadvantage, however, was its quick drying time which made the smooth blending of tones very difficult.
Is tempera paint very long lasting? ›
Tempera is a bright, fast-drying type of paint. Paintings done in tempera are extremely long-lasting—some as old as the first century CE have been found. Traditionally, tempera paints were mixed with egg yolk, which is why this type of paint is commonly called egg tempera.What is the most difficult paint to work with? ›
Some say watercolor painting by far is the most difficult medium.What is acrylic paint usually used for? ›
Acrylic paint can colour practically anything. It is resilient and flexible and can be applied to all kinds of surfaces. While used by artists on stretched prepared canvas, paper or board, acrylics can also be applied to wood, leather, paper-mache, fabric, cement, glass, brick, pottery – almost any non-greasy surface.