Tempera vs Acrylic Paint: Master Your Artistic Expression

For artists, selecting the right medium for their artwork is crucial to achieving the desired results. The choice between tempera vs acrylic paint often arises when considering the ideal medium for a particular project. Understanding the differences between these two popular mediums is essential for artists to make informed decisions about which paint will best suit their creative vision and technique. In this article, we will delve into the key characteristics, pros, and cons of both tempera and acrylic paint, and offer guidance on how to choose the right medium for your artistic endeavors.

Tempera vs Acrylic Paint

What is Tempera Paint?

Definition and history of tempera paint

Tempera paint, also known as egg tempera, is a painting medium that has been used for centuries, dating back to ancient Egypt and the early Renaissance period. It is made by combining powdered pigments with a water-soluble binder, such as egg yolk, which acts as an emulsifier. This paint is known for its ability to create intricate details, and it has been used by famous artists such as Sandro Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci.

Key characteristics of tempera paint

Composition: Tempera paint is composed of natural ingredients, including powdered pigments, water, and egg yolk as the binder. This composition results in a paint that is water-soluble, allowing it to be easily thinned and cleaned with water.

Drying time: One of the main features of tempera paint is its fast drying time. As the water evaporates, the paint dries quickly, allowing artists to work on multiple layers in a short amount of time.

Finish and texture: Tempera paint has a matte finish, and it typically dries to a slightly lighter color than when it was initially applied. The texture of the paint can vary depending on the artist’s preference, but it is generally smooth and can be built up in thin, translucent layers.

Color range and vibrancy: While the color range of tempera paint is not as extensive as that of acrylics, it offers a unique vibrancy and luminosity. The colors are often more translucent and can create a glowing effect when layered.

Pros of using tempera paint

  1. Easy to work with: Tempera paint is relatively easy to work with due to its water-soluble nature, making it simple to thin, mix, and clean up with water.
  2. Quick-drying: The fast drying time of tempera paint allows artists to work on multiple layers quickly, making it an excellent choice for projects with tight deadlines or for those who enjoy working at a rapid pace.
  3. Versatility in application: Tempera paint can be applied using a variety of techniques, such as glazing or stippling, making it a versatile medium for different artistic styles.

Cons of using tempera paint

  1. Limited color range: Compared to acrylic paint, tempera paint has a more limited color range, which can be a disadvantage for artists who require a wider variety of hues for their work.
  2. Fragile nature and susceptibility to cracking: Due to its natural ingredients and fast drying time, tempera paint can be more fragile than acrylics. It is prone to cracking if applied too thickly or if the surface it is painted on is not properly prepared.

What is Acrylic Paint?

What is Acrylic Paint
Source: www.creativebloq.com

Definition and history of acrylic paint

Acrylic paint is a synthetic, water-soluble painting medium that was first developed in the mid-20th century. It quickly gained popularity among artists due to its versatility and durability. Acrylic paint is made by combining pigments with an acrylic polymer emulsion, which acts as a binder, allowing the paint to adhere to various surfaces.

Key characteristics of acrylic paint

Composition: Acrylic paint consists of pigments suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion. This composition makes the paint water-soluble when wet, but once dry, it becomes water-resistant and flexible.

Drying time: Acrylic paint is known for its fast drying time, which can be both an advantage and a challenge for artists. While it allows for quick layering and completion of artwork, it may also require artists to work quickly to blend and manipulate the paint before it dries.

Finish and texture: Acrylic paint can create various finishes, ranging from matte to glossy, depending on the additives and mediums used. The texture of acrylic paint is also versatile; artists can create thin, smooth layers or build up thick, impasto strokes by adding different mediums to the paint.

Color range and vibrancy: Acrylic paint offers a wide range of colors and is known for its vibrant hues. The pigments in acrylic paint are generally more stable and resistant to fading compared to tempera paint, which makes it an ideal choice for artworks that need to maintain their color over time.

Thinning and modifying acrylic paint: To alter the consistency of acrylic paint, artists often thin it with water or specialized acrylic mediums. Thinning acrylic paint with water can make it more transparent and easier to work with, but adding too much water can weaken the paint’s adhesion to the surface. Acrylic mediums, on the other hand, can be used to modify the paint’s consistency without compromising its stability, and they are available in various forms, such as gels, fluids, and pastes, to cater to different artistic needs.

Enhancing opacity in acrylic paint: To make acrylic paint more opaque, artists can employ several techniques. One method is to use a higher-quality paint with a higher pigment concentration, which naturally results in greater opacity. Another approach is to apply multiple layers of paint, allowing each layer to dry before adding the next. Additionally, artists can mix the acrylic paint with an opaque medium, such as titanium white or an opaque gel medium, to increase the paint’s opacity without affecting its consistency.

Pros of using acrylic paint

  1. Wide color range: One of the main advantages of acrylic paint is its extensive color range, offering artists a vast array of hues to work with and create unique color combinations.
  2. Durability and flexibility: Acrylic paint is durable and flexible when dry, making it less prone to cracking and more suitable for use on various surfaces, including canvas, paper, and wood.
  3. Ability to create various textures: Acrylic paint can be manipulated to create a wide range of textures, from smooth, thin layers to thick, impasto strokes, by using different mediums and additives.

Cons of using acrylic paint

  1. Quick-drying nature can be challenging: While the fast drying time of acrylic paint can be advantageous in some cases, it can also be a challenge for artists who need more time to blend and work with the paint before it dries.
  2. Potential for toxic fumes: Some acrylic paints contain pigments or additives that may release toxic fumes when heated or exposed to certain conditions. Artists should use proper ventilation and follow safety precautions when working with acrylics to minimize any potential risks.

Key Factors to Consider: Tempera vs Acrylic Paint

Purpose of the artwork

The intended purpose of the artwork can influence the choice between tempera and acrylic paint. For example, if the artwork is meant for long-term display and requires higher durability, acrylic paint may be the better option. Alternatively, if the focus is on creating a piece with a more traditional or historical feel, tempera paint might be a more suitable choice.

Surface or support being used

The type of surface or support being used for the artwork can also impact the decision between tempera and acrylic paint. Acrylic paint adheres well to a variety of surfaces, including canvas, paper, and wood, while tempera paint is better suited for rigid surfaces like wood panels or properly prepared canvas.

Desired texture and finish

The desired texture and finish of the artwork should also be considered when choosing between tempera and acrylic paint. If a matte finish with smooth, translucent layers is desired, tempera paint may be the ideal choice. However, if the goal is to create a piece with more varied textures and finishes, ranging from matte to glossy, acrylic paint offers greater flexibility.

Budget and cost considerations

Budget and cost may also influence the decision between tempera and acrylic paint. While both types of paint can vary in price depending on the brand and quality, acrylic paint generally offers a wider range of options at different price points. Artists should compare the costs of both types of paint and choose the one that best fits their budget and quality requirements.

Personal preference and comfort level with each medium

Ultimately, personal preference and comfort level with each medium play a significant role in choosing between tempera and acrylic paint. Artists should experiment with both mediums to determine which one best aligns with their artistic style, techniques, and preferences. By exploring the unique qualities of both tempera and acrylic paint, artists can make an informed decision about which medium will best support their creative vision.


In addition to the information provided in this article, we have compiled a list of frequently asked questions related to tempera and acrylic paint. These questions touch on topics not covered in the main content, providing further insight and clarification for artists interested in exploring these two mediums.

Can you mix tempera and acrylic paint together?

It is not recommended to mix tempera and acrylic paint together, as they have different compositions and properties. Mixing them may result in unpredictable outcomes, and the resulting mixture may not have the desired consistency, durability, or appearance. Instead, use each medium separately and layer them if needed, ensuring that the layers are compatible and allowing proper drying time between layers.

How do you properly store and care for tempera and acrylic paintings?

To properly store and care for tempera and acrylic paintings, follow these guidelines:

  • Keep the artwork away from direct sunlight, as it may cause fading or discoloration.
  • Maintain a stable environment with consistent temperature and humidity levels to prevent warping, cracking, or other damage.
  • Avoid touching the surface of the painting with bare hands, as oils from your skin can damage the artwork over time.
  • Dust the painting gently with a soft, dry cloth or a soft brush to remove any accumulated dirt or debris.
  • For long-term storage, protect the artwork with acid-free paper or glassine, and place it in a protective cover or box to prevent damage from dust, moisture, or physical contact.

What are the safety precautions to take when using tempera and acrylic paint?

When using tempera and acrylic paint, follow these safety precautions:

  • Work in a well-ventilated area to minimize exposure to any fumes or airborne particles.
  • Wear appropriate protective gear, such as gloves and a mask, especially when working with powdered pigments, solvents, or additives that may be harmful if inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and safety guidelines for each product you use, including proper disposal of waste materials.
  • Keep food and drinks away from your workspace to avoid accidental ingestion of paint or other art materials.
  • Store paints and art supplies out of reach of children and pets to prevent accidental ingestion or exposure.

Are there eco-friendly or non-toxic alternatives to traditional tempera and acrylic paint?

Yes, there are eco-friendly and non-toxic alternatives to traditional tempera and acrylic paint. Many art supply manufacturers now offer environmentally friendly options made from natural or sustainable materials and free of toxic chemicals. These alternatives often use natural pigments, water-based binders, and organic additives. When shopping for eco-friendly or non-toxic paints, look for labels indicating that the product is free of harmful chemicals, conforms to safety standards, and is made from sustainable or renewable resources.

Can I use the same brushes and tools for both tempera and acrylic paint, or should I have separate sets for each medium?

While it is possible to use the same brushes and tools for both tempera and acrylic paint, it is generally recommended to have separate sets for each medium to avoid cross-contamination and ensure the best results. Mixing the two mediums, even in small amounts, can affect the paint’s properties, leading to undesirable outcomes in your artwork. Additionally, acrylic paint can be difficult to remove from brushes once dried, so using dedicated brushes for each medium helps maintain their quality and performance. When switching between mediums, always clean your brushes and tools thoroughly to remove any residual paint.


In conclusion, tempera and acrylic paint each offer distinct characteristics that cater to different artistic styles and preferences. While tempera paint is known for its historical significance, matte finish, and translucent layers, acrylic paint offers a wide range of colors, versatility in texture and finish, and increased durability. It is essential for artists to choose the right medium based on their individual goals and preferences, taking into consideration factors such as the purpose of the artwork, the surface being used, the desired texture and finish, budget, and personal comfort with each medium.

Experimentation and exploration of both tempera and acrylic paint are key to discovering which medium best suits an artist’s unique style and vision. By understanding the differences and advantages of each type of paint, artists can make informed decisions that will enhance their creative process and ultimately result in more satisfying and expressive works of art.


Sara Pittman, an expert in crafts and handmade creations, is renowned for her distinct and intricate designs. Her work masterfully combines traditional methods with contemporary aesthetics, producing stunning and practical pieces. Sara's exceptional craftsmanship can be seen in every project she undertakes, whether it involves knitting, crocheting, quilting, or embroidery. Her writing mirrors her enthusiasm and expertise, offering readers valuable insights and guidance for their own crafting endeavors.
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