If you’re a beginner painter, going to an arts and crafts store and heading to the paint section can be overwhelming. With so many different types of paints, how do you know what type of paint to use for which project?
Once you figure out what the paint is made of, whether it’s oil-based or water-based, how it dries, and how it mixes, everything becomes a lot clearer.
So, what is tempera paint? Tempera paint is a non-toxic and water-based paint consisting of pigment, water, calcium carbonate, and a binder (either starch or cellulose). It’s commonly used in children’s art education, finger painting, theatre sets and props, posters, classroom projects, and more.
This article will be your ultimate guide to tempera paints. We’ll teach you all about what they’re made of, how they differ from other paints, how quickly they dry, and more. If you’re interested in using tempera paint for your next art project, then look no further.
What Is Tempera Paint Used For?
Tempera paints are loved for their versatility in bright colors and uses. They wash out fairly easily (not as easily as washable paints that are designed for this purpose, but still pretty easy with a bit of soap and water).
The primary use for tempera paints is in the classroom setting. Teachers often use this to teach children how to paint and instruct them on color-mixing.
While it’s common in preschools for finger painting, tempera paint is also used in kindergarten to teach children about mixing primary colors. Teachers are able to instruct their students to mix red and blue tempera paints together to show them with a real experience how these colors make purple.
You can’t quite get this same effect with crayons or markers, so tempera paints are a favorite among many art and early childhood teachers.
Even beyond young childhood, tempera paints make a great low-budget and easy-to-use paint for children in elementary, middle, and even high school for school projects and presentations. Students are often tasked with creating science or history fair projects like dioramas, and tempera paints can be a great help with that.
At this point you may be thinking, tempera paints are only for children. Why would I use them as an adult? Beyond classroom use, tempera paints are also fantastic for use in theatre props and sets. They have vibrant colors that stand out on stage.
Of course, you can always use tempera paints for a classic, simple painting, though you’ll want to look into egg tempera specifically for professional and realistic artwork. Although they make great craft paints, they can also be used to create a simple painting on paper, canvas, cardboard, or any absorbent surface.
What Is Tempera Paint Made From?
The basic ingredients in any paint are pigment and binder. Pigment is a powder form of the color, and binder is the sticky liquid (kind of like glue) that holds the pigment together in liquid form and helps it stick to the surface it’s applied to.
Tempera paint includes pigment and binder, just like any other paint. Usually, the binder in tempera paint is either starch or cellulose.
Sometimes cornstarch is used as the binder. This is indicated by a few clues, such as corn being listed as an allergen on the label and a warning that the paint will thicken if shaken up.
Aside from just the pigment and binder, tempera paints also include calcium carbonate and water. Generally, non-toxic pigments are used; however, if you’re getting artist-grade paints, you’ll need to double check the label, as these often contain toxic pigments.
Regular Tempera Paint Vs Egg Tempera
If you’re a seasoned painter, you’re probably already familiar with egg tempera. Regular tempera paint as we know it today is essentially the modernized version of egg tempera, which was used for centuries, dating back to before the 1500’s.
Egg tempera is made from powdered pigment, distilled water, and egg yolk. Prior to modern developments in paint, the egg yolk was used as the binder.
Although regular tempera paint no longer contains egg yolk, egg tempera paints are still used today by many artists. Generally, artists mix their own egg tempera paints, rather than buying them on the shelves.
The basic idea is the same, but regular tempera paints are considered safer thanks to the lack of egg mixed in. As we all know, raw egg can potentially contain a multitude of health risks if ingested or even if touched, as salmonella and other bacteria can spread this way.
Is Tempera Paint Acrylic?
No, tempera paint is not acrylic paint. Although both water-based paints, these two types of paint are very different.
Fundamentally, tempera paint is much more liquid than acrylic paint, making it more absorbent and better used on paper or cardboard projects. Acrylic paint is thicker and dries to a stiffer texture, meaning it can bind well on a variety of surfaces.
Tempera paint is different from acrylic paint in a variety of ways. The first is that acrylic paint is permanent, and tempera is not. Tempera paints wash off with soap and water, not just from clothes or bodies but from the paper or painted surface, too.
Acrylic paint is permanent. Once applied to a surface, it cannot be easily washed off with soap and water. You may even notice that if you get any acrylic paint on your hands while painting, it takes a few days to wash off. If you get it on your clothes, it will likely never come out.
Another difference is that acrylic paints can come in both transparent and opaque color options. The transparent options are used as a colorful glaze over an existing layer of paint. Tempera paints are only made in opaque colors and cannot be made transparent.
One of the drawbacks of tempera paint is that it fades over time. Even if you purchase a tempera paint that says it is lightfast, or resistant to fading or discoloration with prolonged light exposure, it will still degrade over time.
Acrylic paints are lightfast and will not fade with time. You can see this easily on display in any art museum, where there is no shortage of old paintings done in acrylic paint that still look colorful and vibrant today.
In terms of finish, tempera paints will dry with a very matte look to them. Acrylic paints dry with a gloss or semi-gloss finish, and have a much more stiff and almost plastic feel to them.
Finally, acrylic paints are safe to use in thick layers without worrying about cracking. This can be particularly helpful when working to create a textured look and feel to a painting. Tempera paints, on the other hand, are susceptible to cracking when applied in thick layers.
Is Tempera Paint Toxic?
Generally, tempera paints are certified as non-toxic. This is one of the reasons they’re a go-to choice for teachers and parents alike. There are toxic tempera paints, though, so always be sure to read the label.
An easy way to tell the difference is if your paint is artist-grade or craft paints. Many artist-grade paints are made using toxic pigments. Typically, artist-grade paints are only used by people old enough to not ingest them or use them for finger painting, so the likelihood of this being an issue is lower.
Craft paints, however, are usually intended for people of all ages – from young child to older adult. For this reason, craft paints are generally designed to be non-toxic so they’re safe for use with children.
This isn’t always the case, but it is a good rule of thumb. Always be sure to check the label for any warnings or explicit “non-toxic” statements so you know without a doubt whether your paint is toxic.
Tempera Paint For Kids
As we’ve mentioned, tempera paint is a popular option for children of all ages. For kids as young as two years old, non-toxic craft grade tempera paint is ideal for art projects including finger painting, color-mixing, and painting with a brush.
Tempera paint is also great for children who are older and want to explore their creativity a bit more. If you’re a parent and your child comes home with a big art, science, or history project to do, tempera paint is a great help in making these projects and dioramas come to life.
Paint anything from all the planets in our solar system to science fair volcanoes with these non-toxic and inexpensive paints!
How To Make Tempera Paint Permanent
The only way to make tempera paint permanent is to make your own egg tempera paints as artists have done throughout the ages.
Keep in mind this is not advised for children and we only recommend doing this for adults or children old enough to handle other toxic paints.
How to make your own permanent egg tempera paints:
- Select the pigment colors you want in fine powders. Ensure they are enduring pigments so that they last for a long time.
- Turn the pigment into a paste by combining the powder with distilled water, using a palette knife to stir and mix the paint.
- Once combined and turned into a paste, put the pigment mixture into a secure jar and screw the lid on.
- Make your egg yolk medium by combining egg yolk, distilled water, and linseed oil. There are specific proportions and steps to this process that we recommend you research based on your pigment and desired results.
- Combine the pigment paste into your yolk medium to create permanent tempera paint.
- Secure the jar of paint with an airtight lid when not in use.
Because you’re working with raw egg, we highly recommend only using this method if you are familiar with paint mixing and understand the safety precautions to ensure the paint doesn’t have any negative effects on your health.
How Long Does Tempera Paint Take To Dry?
Tempera paints can become dry to the touch after only 5-10 minutes but may still take days to dry fully underneath. Because tempera paints are water-based, they dry through the process of evaporation of the water in the paint.
Water evaporation is dependent on a variety of factors, so the actual drying time will vary based on specific circumstances. For instance, the paint will likely dry faster in a low humidity and warm environment than it would with high humidity and cool temperatures.
High air circulation can help the paint dry faster, so if you want to quickly dry your painting, try setting it outside or turning on a fan.
Another tip to help your painting dry faster is a hair dryer! This not only provides high heat, but lots of air circulation. Hair dryers are a great tool to aid in quick-drying of a painting.
Keep in mind that all these factors will also depend on the surface you’ve painted on. The more absorbent your surface is, the quicker your paint will dry, because the moisture will be absorbed into the surface, away from the paint.
What Are The Best Surfaces For Tempera Paint?
Certain paints are definitely better suited for certain surfaces. For instance, watercolor paints are best used on special watercolor paper, but acrylic paints are best used on canvas, wood, or ceramic.
Because tempera is water-based with a thin consistency, paper products are the best surfaces to use for tempera paint. This certainly is not a limitation. You can paint on construction paper, cardboard, cardstock paper, butcher paper, and even paper mâché projects.
You can use tempera paints on a traditional artist canvas, but it’s important to remember that tempera paints are not usually permanent. They will fade with time and wash away. If you’re looking to create an artwork to hang in your home, we recommend switching to a longer-lasting paint medium such as acrylic or oil-based paints.
Tempera paints can be used on wood, but because they’re washable, we don’t recommend using it on wood that will be displayed or kept outside. It’s safe for wood kept inside, but it will still wear and wash away over time.
Even though tempera paints can be applied to fabric and may seem a good choice for fabric projects, it will crack off over time as the fabric moves and will certainly wash away at the first touch of water.
A fun way to make use of the temporary and washable quality of tempera paint is to paint on windows. It will wash right off the glass when you’re done, but can give children a fun and different activity than sitting at the table painting on paper.
Overall, paper products are the best surface to use for tempera paints.
What Is The Best Brand Of Tempera Paint?
There are four well-known paint brands that we highly recommend when it comes to tempera paint.
The first is Colorations. This brand is fantastic for children or adults of any age, with bright colors sure to impress. It comes in a pack of 6, 11, or 19 colors.
Although all tempera paints are technically washable, some may not wash away as easily as others. The Colorations brand is specifically designed to be easily washable, making it the perfect choice for children.
Another great brand is Prang, which is a well-known artist brand loved by teachers and artists alike. This paint is also washable and comes with 12 different colors.
Our next brand is S&S Worldwide. On the lower end of the price spectrum, this 12-pack set is another fantastic option for both children and adults.
Of course, you can’t mention art supplies without adding Crayola into the mix. They always deliver with top quality paints in colors you’ll love.
All of these paint brands are non-toxic and washable, so any of them would make a great pick for your child’s art project.
Tempera Paint Techniques
Because tempera paint is washable and usually intended for use by children, many artists will choose other painting mediums to create their art.
However, there are a few painting techniques that you can use with tempera paint in real art pieces to elevate them to the next level.
Double-loading is a fun and creative way to blend colors together in a painting.
The idea is to dip your brush into one color, like blue, then take that brush with the blue still on it and dip it into another color, like green. With both colors sitting on top of each other at the end of your brush, put the brush to your paper and start painting.
With this technique, the colors may seem striped at first, but as you paint, the colors will blend to create a nice, smooth teal color. This idea can be applied to any two colors that you wish to blend in a smooth way while letting the core of each color shine.
It can be fun to play around with this technique, either letting the paints stay striped together or blending them completely on the paper.
Another cool way to work with this technique is to load three or four colors onto your brush. Tempera paint is smooth and easy to mix, so have fun experimenting with different colors to see how they’ll blend on your surface.
When painting with children, it’s common to see them paint with a certain quality of carelessness. They tend to shove the brush into the paint jar, throw it onto the canvas, and move onto the next color.
This ends up leaving their paintings with huge globs of paint in some areas, and very thin areas of coverage on other parts.
There’s a simple solution to fix this problem! After your child has painted and left a few large globs around their paper, let the paint dry a little bit. Don’t let it dry completely, but give it a few minutes to start drying.
Then, either helping your child or doing this yourself, grab a dry paint brush and run it over the globs of paint, smoothing them out across the areas that didn’t get as much paint coverage.
Not only does this technique get rid of the large globs of paint around the paper, but it gives the painting a nice smooth finish and helps the paint spread more evenly across the surface.
This technique is probably our favorite because it gives you so many options to create fun, visually interesting artwork!
To use the scratching technique, paint a single layer of paint on your surface. Allow it to dry completely (usually only about 5 to 10 minutes), then paint a different color on top of your initial layer.
While the top color is still wet, take a toothpick or the end of your paint brush and scratch designs into the wet paint. This will scrape away the top color and allow the bottom color to show through.
It’s important to work quickly when employing the scratching technique as it’s entirely dependent on having a wet coat of paint on top. But if you can work quickly, it will surely pay off!
You can use this technique to add patterns to your painting, such as adding stripes to a zebra or tiger, or creating fun lines and swirls in the wings of a butterfly.
Can You Watercolor With Tempera Paint?
You can watercolor with tempera paint, but you have to water it down first. Because tempera paint is water-soluble, it breaks down in water. This means that you can create your own watercolor paint by using tempera paints, but it won’t give you the same effect.
If you want to give it a try, simply add a bit of tempera paint to some distilled water in a jar. Put the lid on and shake it up to combine the paint with the water.
Now that the tempera paint has been broken down to a more liquid format, simply dip your watercolor brush into the jar and get painting! You’ll notice this is much more liquid than tempera paint, but much lighter in color than traditional watercolor paints.
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