Tempera vs. Acrylic Paint | Which Is Best for Your Project?

A white palette filled with several different colors and a brush mixing an orange blend.

Tempera and acrylic paints are similar in that they are both opaque, liquid paints, but they were designed with different intentions.

If you’re looking to make the most out of a project, it’s important to use the proper paint.

What’s the difference between tempera and acrylic paints? While both paints are water based, tempera paints tend to be thinner and more fluid and are often used for children’s crafts and art projects, whereas acrylic paints can be used for a wide variety of artistic undertakings.

In this article we will go over the characteristics and uses of tempera and acrylic paints as well as their similarities and differences.

We will also show you how to make tempera paint more permanent, and even describe how to create your own paint pour masterpiece!

Tempera vs. Acrylic Paint: Similarities & Differences

Tempera paints and acrylic paints are both nontoxic, liquid paints used for a variety of projects.

Tempera paint was traditionally known as egg tempera and was a handmade, permanent paint created from water, pigment, and diluted egg yolks. 

Modern tempera paint, also known as poster paint, is made from water, starch, calcium carbonate, and pigments and is not permanent.

Acrylic paint is a permanent paint made from synthetic, inorganic or organic pigment, and an acrylic polymer emulsion binder.

Tempera Paint: Characteristics & Uses

Green, blue, yellow, red, and magenta tempera paint in cups with brushes.

Consistency

Tempera paint usually comes as a thin and liquid paint with a creamy consistency.

Tempera paint can also be bought in dry cake or stick form, to which you add water to create the paint. 

Ease of Use

Due to its fluid consistency and semi-permanent nature, tempera paint is very easy to use. Tempera paint is a popular option for children’s art classes and activities. 

Mixing

Tempera paint is easy to mix and is a great medium for demonstrating color theory to children. For a fun and easy lesson in color mixing, have kids make their own color wheel.

Permanency

Tempera paint is not permanent, but it can still be challenging to remove. Choose a washable tempera paint when working with children.

Applications

Ever popular for children’s art activities, tempera paint is a great choice when it comes to projects involving paper, newspaper print, cardboard, paper mache, poster boards, simple wooden objects, windows, or sponge painting.

Cleanup

Cleaning up tempera paint messes is relatively easy. Use soap and water to remove tempera paint from skin.

To get tempera paint off of windows, simply scrub the paint with a solution of vinegar and water.

To remove paint from clothing, use regular liquid laundry detergent, or add bleach to fight tougher stains.

Price

Tempera paint is an inexpensive option; 128 ounces can be purchased for under $15.

Tempera Pros & Cons

Pros Cons
Water based Not permanent 
Easy cleanup Not suitable for all surfaces
Fast drying time Thick layers may crack when drying
Inexpensive Stays water soluble even when dry
Easy to paint over or remove Colors may fade
Great for paper-based projects  
Wide variety of colors  
Allergen free  
Nontoxic  

Acrylic Paint: Characteristics & Uses

Yellow, blue, purple, red, orange, and green acrylic paint bottles with a brush resting on top.

Consistency

Acrylic paints come in a wide range of consistencies that can be used for different purposes. 

Heavy Body Consistency is a thick paint that can be applied with a palette knife or used as a fast-drying alternative to oil paints. 

Soft Body/Open Acrylics are a lower viscosity paint than Heavy Body acrylics and have a much longer drying time than other acrylics, making them a great choice for blending or wet-on-wet painting. 

Fluid Acrylics have a creamy consistency and are great for pouring or glazing.

High Flow Acrylics are the least viscous choice and have an inky consistency that can be combined with water to create watercolor-esque effects or can be used like an ink for lettering and thin lines. 

Ease of Use

Acrylic paints are fun and easy to use.

It can take a little while to get the hang of managing the different consistencies and understanding how to incorporate their drying times into the painting process, but experimentation and learning how they function is part of the appeal of painting!

Mixing

Color mixing with acrylics can be a surprising process for beginners.

Mixing red and blue might not result in the vibrant purple you were expecting, unless you are using the appropriate versions.

The primary colors can contain small amounts of each other, which means that if your goal is to make a bright purple you will want to use a red that has a strong color bias of blue and no yellow.

Make a Color Chart

For a fun and educational experiment, you can make your own color chart.

To make a color chart, simply start with a piece of mixed media or acrylic paper, a paintbrush of your choice, and a selection of primary colors (reds, yellows, and blues) as well as black and white.

  1. Using a ruler and a pencil, fill your paper with a series of 1 inch squares.
  2. Starting on the upper left-hand side of the paper, go down the paper and list the names of the colors you intend to mix.
  3. Then write the names of the colors you will be mixing them into across the top of the chart. 
  4. Paint a dot of the color next to the name of each color for reference.
  5. Then begin to fill each square with its proposed color. Use equal amounts of each color when mixing. 

Permanency

Acrylic paint is permanent once it is completely dry and can be quite challenging to remove. Learn about drying time here.

It is very important to clean acrylic paint from skin, clothing, and unintended surfaces as soon as you notice it as the longer it dries, the harder it becomes to remove.

Applications

Acrylic paint can be used on an array of different surfaces and materials, including canvas, wood, fabric, paper made for mixed media or specifically for acrylics, rocks, glass, ceramic, and even metal!

Cleanup

Because acrylic paint is permanent, it’s easier to clean it off of skin or clothing while it is still wet.

Use soap and water to remove damp paint from skin. If the paint is already dry, pour baby oil over the stain and use your fingers or a washcloth to gently scrub the paint away.

If paint still remains, apply rubbing alcohol to a cotton ball and rub it over the stained area to remove the dried paint. 

To clean acrylic paint off of clothing or fabric, you will want to remove it right away.

If the paint is already dried, you can try soaking the stain in isopropyl alcohol and then scraping the paint from the fabric. 

It is easiest to clean brushes after painting if you keep them clean while you paint. Rinse brushes often and store brushes tip down in your water cup as you paint.

You can use dish soap followed by a brush conditioner to clean brushes after painting.

Personally, I prefer this cleaner/preserver found on Amazon. My brushes come out looking brand new even after hard, prolonged use.

Cleaning acrylic paint off of surfaces can be a little bit more of a challenge. If at all possible, clean paint up with soap and water as soon as it spills.

Otherwise, you may need to use a professional grade paint remover or stripper to get rid of the dried acrylic paint.

Price

Depending on the quality and quantity of acrylic paint that you purchase, prices can range from affordable to costly.

You can get 128 ounces of budget-quality acrylic paint for around $70.00, or a 2 ounce tube of premium acrylic that starts at about $12.00.

Acrylic Pros & Cons

Pros Cons
Fast drying time Fast drying time
Versatile Can contain toxic chemicals
Permanent Permanent
Variety of vibrant colors Can be messy

How Tempera and Acrylics Are Alike

Tempera and acrylic paints are both water based, opaque, generally low-viscosity paints that come in a diverse assortment of colors.

However, that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

How Tempera and Acrylics Differ

Acrylic paints are permanent once dried, while tempera paints are semi-permanent and can be easily removed from most materials.

Tempera paints are nontoxic and allergen free, making them a good selection for children’s art activities.

Acrylic paints can sometimes contain harsh ingredients and are better suited for long-lasting projects.

Tempera paints generally come in a fluid format, but they can also come in cake or stick forms, to which you simply add water.

Acrylic paints are primarily liquid, but they can be purchased at varying degrees of viscosity.

Acrylic mediums (I explain in detail here) can also be added to acrylic paints to transform their consistency.

Tempera paints are best suited for use on paper projects, while acrylic paints can be used on a multitude of surfaces and materials.

Tempera vs. Acrylic Paint

Tempera

Acrylic

Semi-permanent Permanent once dry
Easy to clean up Can be difficult to remove
Nontoxic Can contain toxins
Typically milky consistency Available in different consistencies
Works well on paper projects Can be used on many surfaces

When To Use Tempera Paint

Use tempera paint for kids’ crafts, paper-based activities, and easy to remove window painting. 

When To Use Acrylic Paint

Use acrylic paint on canvases or most art projects involving hard surfaces. 

Can You Use Tempera Paint for Paint Pouring?

For a fun, cheap, and easy-to-clean-up art project, paint pouring with tempera paint can’t be beat!

Although most people use acrylic paint for paint pours, tempera paint offers the same vibrant effects at a fraction of the cost and is a great option for kids’ art classes.

Supplies Needed

To create your own tempera paint pour you will need:

  • A selection of different colors of tempera paint
  • Canvases suitable for acrylic paint of desired shapes and sizes
  • Disposable plastic cups
  • A tarp, lots of newspapers, or a large box lined with a heavy-duty garbage bag to protect the floor from paint
  • Disposable gloves

*Optional materials*

  • A blow dryer or straws to blow the paint in different directions on the canvas
  • Glitter
  • A paint scraper to pull paint across the canvas

Steps for Making a Tempera Paint Pour

  1. Simply fill an empty squeeze bottle ¼ of the way full with glue, add a few spoonfuls of water, and then fill it the rest of the way up with tempera paint.
  2. Shake the bottle up until it’s thoroughly mixed.
  3. You can either squeeze different colors directly onto the canvas, or fill a disposable cup with your choice of colors and then pour it onto the canvas to create the psychedelic paint pour effect.
  4. Try tilting the canvas in different directions to get interesting effects. 

Tempera paint pours can take at least 24 hours to dry, so be sure to leave the paintings somewhere inside where they won’t be disturbed when finished.

How Do You Make Tempera Paint Permanent?

To channel your inner painting master and make tempera paint permanent, the only ingredients you need are dry tempera pigments, water, linseed oil, and egg yolk.

  1. First grind the pigments down until they are a soft, fine powder.
  2. Mix the pigments and water into a paste.
  3. Put the pigments into small jars.
  4. Drop by drop, add one part linseed oil to three parts egg yolk.
  5. Add three parts water to the egg and oil combination.
  6. Stir the yolk, oil, and water together until well mixed.
  7. Add the pigment paste to the yolk medium until you have a smooth consistency.

You will want to work quickly when making your tempera paint permanent, as it still retains its quick drying qualities!

Related Questions:

Can Tempera and Acrylic Be Mixed?

One fun thing about art is that there are no real rules.

You can always mix tempera and acrylic paint to see what you come up with, but due to their differing ingredients and consistencies, you may not achieve your desired result.

Is Tempera or Acrylic Better for Canvas?

Due to its permanent nature, acrylic paint is the better choice when it comes to canvas.

Tempera paint can be applied to canvas, but it does have a tendency to drip, which can have a maddening effect on your painting.

Conclusion

Acrylic paint and tempera paint are two very different mediums.

While tempera paint has been around for centuries and was even used in cave paintings, the modern version is much less permanent.

Acrylic paint is great for long-lasting projects, while tempera is a perfect choice for kids’ crafts.

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Cara

Cara

I am a writer and an artist taking opportunities every day to transform my dreams into reality. I love learning new things and am always creating and innovating. I worked as an Art Instructor, teaching painting and art techniques to artists of all levels and ages. I have hosted countless paint parties and taught children’s art classes both in my home as well as an art teacher at a Montessori school.