Both tempera and acrylic paints are very popular for crafting and DIY home decor projects.
While there are many similarities between these two types of paint, there are also some significant differences. How do you decide which type of paint is the best for your project?
Let’s compare the features of both tempera and acrylic, so you can make an informed choice.
The Difference Between Tempera Paint and Acrylic Paint
The biggest difference between Tempera Paint and Acrylic Paint is how permanent they are. Tempera paint can was off and the Acrylic paint doesn’t.
Although both types of paint are popular, they are pretty different from each other in a number of ways.
Acrylic paint is made from pigment, acrylic polymer binders, and additives that act as preservatives. It’s usually sold in tubes or sometimes bottles and has a thick consistency.
It dries very quickly into an acrylic (plastic) layer that bonds permanently to almost any surface. The dry paint has a slightly shiny appearance and is resistant to water.
This paint is used by many fine artists instead of oil paint for canvas painting, as well as by crafters. Because it adheres so well on many surfaces, it’s one of the most versatile paints available.
Tempera paint is made from pigments, water, cellulose or corn starch binders, and additives that function as preservatives.
The ingredients in most tempera paints are non-toxic and allergen-free.
You can buy tempera paints in liquid, powdered pigment that you mix with water, or in the form of solid paint sticks you can draw or write with.
Like acrylic paint, tempera dries fairly quickly.
The dry finish isn’t shiny at all; it is a smooth matte appearance. Because tempera is water-based, it is limited as far as what surfaces it will adhere to.
Tempera paints require a porous surface, so anything shiny or water-resistant won’t allow the paint to stick.
Acrylic Paints: Pros and Cons
Here are some of the advantages of using acrylic paint:
- Acrylic paint has a very fast drying time. Typically, acrylic paint will feel dry to the touch in about 15 minutes and will be fully dry in under an hour. This is a big advantage when you compare it to oil-based paints, which can take several days to fully dry. The fast drying time saves time if you’re in a hurry to finish a project.
- Acrylic paint has bright, vibrant colors. The color you see on the label of your acrylic paint is going to look true to the actual paint color. The vibrancy of acrylic paints makes them ideal for mixing custom colors without the hue turning “muddy” and dull. Acrylic paint colors are very lightfast; they won’t fade over time. An acrylic painting should look just as vibrant years later as it did the day it was painted.
- It’s easy to correct “mistakes” with acrylic paint. If you don’t like how your painted project looks, all is not lost! If your paint is still wet, you can wipe it away with a damp paper towel. If the acrylic paint has dried, you won’t be able to remove it, but it’s easy to paint over top of it with more acrylic paint. Acrylic paints are quite opaque, so the paint will cover the “mistake” you’re trying to correct without anything showing through.
- Acrylic paint is durable and permanent. You won’t find another type of paint that can stick to just about any surface. It stands up well to moisture, frequent touching, and temperature changes. Once the paint has dried, the water evaporates and the dry paint becomes a plastic paint layer that is permanently adhered to the painted surface.
- Acrylic paint is so versatile! Acrylic paint can be used in many ways to achieve different looks. You can use it “as is”, or apply it thickly for a built-up textured look (known as impasto). You can also thin it with a little water if you want it to be slightly more transparent. You can also add acrylic medium, which is an additive used to achieve different effects from your acrylic paints. Acrylic mediums will give you gel, matte, glossy, and glazed appearances.
There are, however, a few disadvantages when using acrylic paint. Here are a few of them that should be considered:
- Acrylic paint dries very fast, which can be a disadvantage as much as an advantage. If you’re trying to blend colors on a canvas painting, sometimes the paint can start to dry before you’ve completed the blending. There are possible solutions to this problem. Additives are available that you can mix into acrylic paints to lengthen drying time, or you can mist water onto the painted surface so the paint will stay a little bit wet while blending.
- Dried acrylic paint is difficult or (in some cases) impossible to clean. The durability of acrylic paint is definitely one of its main advantages, but once it has dried it’s not coming off of anything! You should avoid getting it on clothing, but it can be washed out of fabric if you catch it before the paint dries. You need to be sure to clean/rinse your brushes quickly before the paint dries on them.
- There are a few surfaces that acrylic paint won’t stick well on. Anything that is shiny or completely smooth might be resistant to acrylic paint. Examples of this would be glass, metal, and very smooth plastic. The acrylic paint will stick, but it might peel off easily after drying. You can prevent this by either scuffing the surface lightly with sandpaper or by applying a light primer coat.
Tempera Paints: Pros and Cons
There are some advantages to using tempera paints. Here are a few:
- Tempera paint is easy to use! It can be used right out of the bottle if you’ve bought it in liquid form. You probably won’t even need to stir it. If you have the powdered tempera pigment, you can mix a little bit of water with the powder until you get the consistency you like. It mixes very smoothly and easily. The tempera paint sticks are as easy to use as markers. You just take the cap off and start drawing!
- Tempera paint dries quickly. Anything painted with tempera paint will feel dry in approximately 10 minutes and will be fully dry in another 10 or 15 minutes. This is nice if you don’t want to wait for a long time for your project to dry.
- Tempera paint is the safest paint choice for children. All tempera paints are non-toxic and allergen-free. That’s part of the reason they are so popular for use in schools and preschools. Many finger paints are actually tempera paints with a slightly thicker consistency.
- Tempera paints are perfect for temporary painting projects. If want to decorate windows with signs or holiday art, tempera paint is a good choice. Powdered tempera works best to paint on glass windows. You should mix just a small amount of water with the powdered tempera pigment so it is slightly thicker than usual. To clean your temporary art off the glass, soapy water should remove it easily.
- Tempera paint colors are clean and bright. The bright, accurate colors of tempera paints are part of the reason these paints are so popular in children’s art classes. The colors are also easy to mix to create new shades. Tempera paint is often used to teach color mixing to children.
- Tempera paints are inexpensive. They’re some of the most affordable paints you can buy. This makes them perfect for art classes, children’s projects, and large projects where you might be using larger quantities of paint.
Even though tempera paints are wonderful for many projects, there are a few disadvantages to using this type of paint:
- Tempera paint isn’t as durable as acrylic paint. Because tempera is primarily water-based, it will run or wash away if it comes in contact with any moisture. This makes it completely unsuitable for anything that will be displayed outdoors, or in a humid environment. Tempura can be sealed (spray sealant works best), which will offer some protection, but even sealants could degrade over time. Tempura paint also has a tendency to crack or flake over time, especially if the paint was applied too thick.
- Tempera paint isn’t completely lightfast. Over time, the colors of most tempera paint will start to fade. There are a few brands of tempera paint that advertise as being resistant to fading. Also, you can prevent some fading if your painted project has been covered with a clear sealant.
- Tempera paint doesn’t work well on some surfaces. It soaks into canvas and fabric. Tempera paint can be used on wood, but some sanding and perhaps a primer coat will probably be needed. Tempera won’t adhere at all to some plastics or to metal.
- Tempera paint has a very short shelf life. Acrylic paint can last 10 to 15 years, but typically tempera paint will only last 2-3 years. If you buy your paint in small quantities, this might not be an issue. But if you buy larger quantities, which is usually a cheaper option, you’ll need to use all your paint within a couple of years. To tell if your liquid tempera paint has gone “off”, it will either be drying up in the container, or it will smell bad.
Price Difference between Tempera Paint and Acrylic Paint
One of the biggest differences between tempera and acrylic paint is the price. Although you will find different brands of paint have slightly different prices, tempera paint will always be the more affordable choice.
On average, tempera paint will cost $0.1 dollars per fluid ounce, while acrylic paint is at approximately $1.2 dollars for the same amount of paint.
Both tempera and acrylic paints can also be purchased in sets, but the acrylic paints will still be more expensive. Keep in mind that even though tempera is cheaper, it has a much shorter shelf life than acrylic paint.
Tempera vs. Acrylic: Which Is Right For You?
Hopefully, this outlined some of the major differences between tempera and acrylic paints, and you will be able to make a decision as to which paint is the best for your needs.
Both of these paints have their pros and cons, but they are also both good options, depending on the nature of your project.
If you’re looking for a good paint for children to use or one for temporary decoration, then tempera is your best bet. If you want more durable paint to use on outdoor projects, or to paint something that you want to last a long time, then acrylic is your best choice.