When it comes to painting, there are a variety of different mediums that you can use. Tempera and acrylic paints are both popular choices for artists. Some people might prefer to work with tempera paint, while others might prefer to work with acrylic paint.
What’s the difference between tempera and acrylic paint? While both types of paint are water-based, non-toxic, and quick drying, the key difference is that tempera paint is washable, while acrylic paint will dry hard and become permanent.
In this article, we’ll discuss all of the differences between tempera and acrylic paint and help you decide which one is right for you.
What Is Acrylic Paint?
Acrylic paint is a type of water-based paint that has gained popularity in recent years for its versatility and ease of use. Acrylic paint is composed of paint pigments suspended in synthetic polymer compounds and gum arabic.
The water-based binder allows the paint to have a thick viscosity and can spread smoothly across the page. Because of this viscosity, artists can use a brush or a palette knife to create and build textures on the canvas.
When the water evaporates from the paint, the pigment will be strongly bonded with the canvas, creating a hard, durable painted surface with a semi-gloss finish.
Because acrylic paint is water-based, it’s also nontoxic and easy to clean up with soap and water. Acrylic paint can also be thinned using just distilled water, which makes it quite convenient for both hobbyists and professional artists alike.
Here’s a great beginner’s tutorial from Easy Painting Vered on YouTube.
What Is Tempera Paint?
Tempera paint is also a water-based paint that is commonly used in arts and crafts.
The type of tempera paint that you can often find in most craft stores is craft-grade paint that’s designed for use in the classroom. As a result, the composition is relatively simple, often containing just pigments, calcium carbonate (chalk), and water.
As a result, this type of tempera paint is relatively watery and doesn’t hold its shape very well. If the paint has a higher viscosity, it may contain cornstarch, which can thicken the paint. Even then, it can be quite difficult to build up layers and textures with craft tempera paint.
Because it’s designed for use in the classroom, it is non-toxic and very washable, even after the paint is dry. This makes the paint easy to clean up, but it also means the paint is not very durable.
If you want a more durable and versatile type of tempera paint, you should look for a professional-grade type of tempera, which usually contains an additional binder like egg or milk and a gum dispersant.
These additional elements help the paint consistency become more stable, and the paint will become more durable when it’s dry.
Here’s a great beginner’s tutorial from The Art of Education University on YouTube.
Acrylic Vs. Tempera Paint: Differences
Acrylic paint and tempera paint are both water-based, nontoxic, and are popular paint options for the classroom. However, there are some key differences that distinguish the two. Let’s take a look.
Both types of paint are water-based paints, which means they can be thinned and cleaned with just water.
However, the composition of acrylic paint is much more stable than tempera paint. Acrylic paint is always made up of pigments, a synthetic polymer additive, and a gum-arabic binder. The result is a thick paste with a consistent viscosity that’s very easy to work with.
The formula for tempera paint can vary depending on the type of tempera paint that you are using.
While the pigments are always the same, tempera paint can use various materials as a binder, from calcium carbonate (chalk) and cornstarch (craft tempera) to egg and milk products (professional tempera).
Acrylic paints are usually sold in tubes that you can squeeze onto a palette to use. This is because acrylic paint has quite a thick consistency, similar to toothpaste.
Even when it leaves the tube, acrylic paint can maintain its consistency and structure, which means you can easily build up layers on the canvas. Some artists even use a palette knife to add textures to the painting.
Tempera paint has a creamy consistency that makes it easy to spread smoothly across the page. However, because of the thin consistency, tempera paint will flatten easily on the page, which means it is more difficult to build up textures with this type of paint.
Mixing paint is necessary when you have a limited color range. Color mixing is relatively easy with both tempera paint and acrylic paint.
Since acrylic paint has a thick consistency, you can use a palette knife to pick up the paint and mix the colors using a color palette.
Tempera paint has a thinner consistency, so you usually need to use a bowl and a brush to mix your paint.
Additionally, if you want the paint to become more translucent, you can also thin it with distilled water. Since both types of paint are water-based, adding water is a simple way to add fluidity to the paint.
Both acrylic paint and tempera paint is considered dry when the water content in the paint has evaporated completely.
Since tempera paint has a thinner consistency, the water in the paint can evaporate more quickly. Craft tempera paint is especially quick drying, as it will dry to the touch in just 5 minutes. Egg tempera will take longer to dry, but the drying time is usually no more than 10 minutes.
In comparison, acrylic paint usually takes longer to dry due to its thick consistency. The paint will dry to the touch in about 20 minutes, but for it to harden and become water-resistant, it can take a few hours.
Both acrylic paint and tempera can offer excellent paint coverage for all types of surfaces.
Acrylic paint contains a high-viscosity binder and pigments, and the more pigments the paint contains, the more opaque the paint quality will be.
Student-grade acrylics usually contain fewer pigments compared to artist-grade acrylics, but you can still get excellent colors with all types of acrylic paints.
Tempera paint can also have great opacity, but that’s mainly because the paint contains calcium carbonate (chalk), which can add body to the pigments and can create good opacity using just a layer of paint.
It’s easier to create raised textures using acrylic paint because the paint has a thick consistency that allows it to remain stable on the canvas. This texture is also buildable, so you can add several layers of paint to build the texture and create depth for the painting.
In comparison, tempera paint is runnier and will flatten when it is left on a surface, which means the paint will dry flat and won’t create any textures on the page.
Because a key component of tempera paint is calcium carbonate (chalk), it always dries to have a chalky, matte finish.
In comparison, acrylic paint can dry to have a semi-glossy finish because of the synthetic polymer binder. Additionally, you can also add acrylic medium to change the finish of the paint to glossy, matte, or metallic. This makes acrylic paint much more versatile.
Both acrylic and tempera paints are water-based paints, but acrylic paint is much more durable in the long run.
As acrylic paint dries, the surface will harden and become water-resistant. The dry paint will be permanent and cannot be scraped or washed off of the canvas, and the colors won’t fade even after a few years.
In comparison, tempera paint, especially craft tempera paint, is not at all durable. Even when the paint is dry, it can still easily be scrubbed or scraped off from a surface. Professional tempera is a bit more durable, but it can still be scraped off with a little bit of effort.
Of course, this isn’t necessarily a bad feature because it makes tempera paint very easy to clean up. This means this type of paint is ideal for use in the classroom, where cleanability is desired.
Lightfastness indicates how long the colors will stay without fading.
Since acrylic paint will dry to become permanent and water-resistant, its lightfastness is definitely more guaranteed. Artist-grade acrylic paint will last for years without fading, while student-grade acrylic can fade over time.
On the other hand, tempera paint is mostly intended to be used in the classroom for small craft projects, so its lightfastness cannot compare to acrylic paint. Professional-grade tempera paint will last a bit longer than craft-grade, but it will still fade after a few months.
Both acrylic paint and temperature paints are water-based, which means the paint can be diluted with water when it’s still wet. This makes cleaning your brushes and working stations quite easy with both types of paint since you can just use water to clean up.
However, dry paint is another story.
Acrylic paint will become permanent and water-resistant when it is dry. The synthetic polymer binder will bond strongly to the canvas, which means dry acrylic paint will be very difficult to remove.
If the paint is dry, you will usually need to use a solvent like rubbing alcohol or acetone to remove it, as you won’t be able to scrub it away without these cleaning agents.
Dry tempera paint is a bit easier to clean because the binder is much weaker compared to acrylic paint. The dry paint can easily be scraped off of a surface, and you can also use water to rinse away the paint.
Egg tempera is a bit harder to remove compared to craft tempera, and it usually takes a bit more elbow grease to remove. However, it’s still relatively easy to clean up compared to acrylic paint.
Acrylic paint is preferred by artists because of its versatility. It can be applied on almost every porous surface, including paper, canvas, fabric, and even wood. With the right type of primer, it can also work on nonporous surfaces like ceramics, metal, and even plastic.
In addition, you can also add various types of mediums to enhance the strength or change the finish of acrylic paint.
For example, if you are working with fabric, you can add a fabric medium to make the paint waterproof and flexible, allowing the fabric to be washed without affecting the paint.
As mentioned above, there are also mediums you can add to acrylic paint to turn the finish into a matte, high gloss, metallic, and iridescent finish. The possibilities are really endless when it comes to using acrylic paint.
Craft tempera is definitely more limited in terms of application. Since the paint can easily be scraped off from almost every surface, the best application for it is paper and paper products like paper mache and cardboard.
Egg tempera is designed to be more durable, but it is still not as durable as acrylic paint. The paint is still not durable enough to use on canvas, and it can crack and peel from the canvas after it’s dry.
When To Use Tempera Vs. Acrylic Paint
The type of paint you choose will depend on the surface you’re working on as well as the level of permanence you’re looking for. If you’re painting on paper or cardstock, tempera paint is a good option. If you’re looking for a more durable finish, acrylic paint is a better choice.
Tempera Paint Is Better For Crafts
Tempera paint has many advantages that make it an ideal choice for crafts, especially classroom arts and crafts.
All of the ingredients in tempera paints are nontoxic, and some ingredients like cornstarch and egg whites are even food grade, so this type of paint is perfectly safe for children.
Since it’s also easy to wash off from almost every surface, it’s also very suitable for children. You can make a mess with your craft project and easily clean the paint from your clothes and working surface with ease.
Tempera Paint Is More Beginner/Child Friendly
If you’re just starting out, you might want to try tempera paint. Tempera paint is less durable than acrylic, but it’s easier to control and doesn’t require special equipment or techniques. Plus, it’s more forgiving if you make mistakes.
Since the paint dries faster, it will also be quicker to build up layers of paint on the page without having to wait a long time for each layer to dry.
Since tempera paint has a similar opacity to acrylic paint, the color quality will still be comparable, but your artwork will take less time to finish.
Acrylic Paint Is Better For Canvas
If you want to paint on a canvas, then acrylic paint is a much better option because tempera paint can easily be scraped off of a canvas surface.
The paint can adhere well to the porous canvas surface, but because of acrylic paint’s thick consistency, it won’t be totally absorbed by the canvas and won’t flatten on the surface, which makes it easy to build up the colors and textures for the paint.
Once dry, the synthetic polymer will maintain the paint’s durability while still retaining some flexibility that prevents the paint from cracking or peeling from the canvas.
Acrylic Paint Is Better For Artists
If you are a professional artist, then acrylic paint is definitely the better option. The paint is definitely more versatile in terms of application and can be mixed with different types of mediums, allowing you to experiment with different mediums and applications.
The result will also be more durable and lightfast compared to tempera paint, which means your artwork will retain its quality for a longer time.