Tempera Paint vs Acrylic

Tempera Paint vs Acrylic: Which Paint Can Last Longer?

It’s 2021, and thanks to COVID in many parts of the world, we’re still stuck inside. In other words, it’s the perfect time to pick up some arts and crafts materials and get creative. Whether you’re new to painting or you’ve dabbles in it for quite some time, there are always new materials and techniques to discover. 

*To the fellow creatives reading this, you’ll be all too familiar with the addictiveness of art supplies…*

Most art-lovers have likely heard of acrylic paints. After all, they’re some of the most easily accessible paints, which is why they’re often used in schools and cheap to pick up from your nearby dollar and/or craft store. In contrast, tempera paint is less well known but presents an exciting alternative to acrylics.

In light of that, we’re diving into:

  • The similarities and differences between tempera and acrylic paints
  • How much these paints cost on average
  • What you can use them for

Ready to pick up a new creative passion? Let’s get started.

Main Differences Between Tempera Paint vs Acrylic

The main differences between Temptera Pain vs Acrylic are:

  • Tempera is an old painting medium that’s been revived after going out of fashion for several centuries, whereas Acrylics are a much newer 20th-century paint.
  • Tempera can be washed out, whereas Acrylic paints are permanent.
  • Tempera paint dries with a matte finish, whereas acrylics retain a semi-glossy finish.
  • Tempera has a creamy consistency, whereas acrylics stiffen into a plastic-like texture which can be built up thicker on papers and fabrics.
  • Tempera specifically requires stiff paper surfaces, whereas acrylics can be used on a much wider variety of surfaces.

The Similarities

  • Both acrylic and tempera paints are water-soluble. 
  • Both acrylics and tempera mix very well.
  • Both paints provide good, opaque coverage.
  • Tempera and acrylic paints both have a good opacity. However, tempera is still more opaque and provides even better coverage compared to acrylics. 
  • You can get craft acrylic paints that mirror tempera paints more closely and are easier to wash out for craft projects with children.

Tempera Paint vs. Acrylic: The Basics

Tempera Paint

Now that we’ve covered the core similarities and differences between tempera and acrylic paints, let’s put them both under the microscope. Below we’ll establish what these paints consist of and what their most basic attributes are.

Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint came to light after the invention of acrylic resin. It’s a synthetic paint that aimed to combine some of the qualities of oil paint and watercolors and became commercially available in 1950.

Today, acrylic paint is one of the most accessible and newbie-friendly paints on the market. The thick, fast-drying paint produces intense colors and is a popular staple in primary school arts and crafts cupboards. 

That said, acrylics aren’t shunned by professional artists either. Acrylic paint is water-soluble but resists water once dry, making it an excellent, long-lasting paint for several applications. In fact, finished paintings can even resemble watercolors or gouache.

It’s incredibly versatile and a favorite go-to, thanks to its vibrant colors with good coverage. Acrylics also bond to a vast number of surfaces, further increasing their versatility. 

As such, it’s no wonder acrylics have become a popular alternative to oil paints. While oil paints produce excellent results, they’re not as versatile and harder to work with. Nowadays, acrylic paints are used worldwide in the most imaginative ways, including fluorescent acrylic paintings that light up in the dark.

Tempera Paint

Tempera paint is also known as egg tempera and is a fast-drying, permanent painting medium. The paint consists of colored pigments mixed with water-soluble binders. But, in the past, they were made with egg yolks.

Egg tempera was a core painting medium until well after 1500. It was used to create masterpieces like the “Madonna and Child” by Duccio. 

But, after that period, oil paint was invented and slowly surpassed the use of tempera paint. Nowadays, oil paint is sometimes referred to as tempera paint, although this isn’t entirely accurate. Oil paint, notably, uses oils as a binder and therefore can’t mix with water. Tempera paint, on the other hand, is a water-soluble paint, and therefore, can!

Modern Tempera Paint vs. Egg Tempera

Tempera painting was rediscovered in the 20th century by artists like William Blake and the Nazarenes. Nowadays, tempera paint is available in ready-mixed tubes, making it a great addition to your at-home painting supplies. It’s worth noting that modern tempera paint applications often refer to paint with similar qualities to the original tempera. These are water-soluble paints that resemble chalk in water – the darks dry dark and with a matte finish. 

Unsurprisingly, original egg tempera isn’t used as often anymore. It goes rancid quickly as fresh egg yolks are challenging to keep fresh. 

We describe tempera paint as more like poster paint – this uses an organic gum binder and is low-cost, non-toxic, and easily washable, making it perfect for children to use. 

Tempera Paint vs. Acrylic Paint: What Are They Used For?


If you’re looking for the best paint for a specific project you have in mind, we’re now cutting to the chase.

Which projects are tempera and acrylic paints best suited to?

When to Use Tempera Paint

Tempera paint is creamier and softer than acrylic paint. As we’ve already said, it’s easier to wash out of clothes, making it an excellent choice for children’s projects – if you don’t want to deal with a permanent mess after. They’re also safer to wash down drains and are non-toxic, so they’re great for finger painting!

Therefore, tempera paint is often used in classroom projects and finds applications for theatre props, posters, and due to its excellent mixing properties, children’s color mixing exercises. 

Tempera paints are best applied to the following materials:

  • Paper
  • Cardboard
  • Posterboard
  • Sulfite paper

When using tempera paints, don’t choose a thinner paper than 80 or 90lb as the paper may curl and rip. Tempera paint also requires a stiff surface. However, if you use it on canvas, the color might crack once dried.

Tempera paint isn’t the right choice for you if you hope to create something to reside outdoors. Rain will wash this paint off; it doesn’t have the same permanence as acrylic paint.

When to Use Acrylic Paints

Acrylics are a great choice if you’re looking for a versatile art medium to keep at home and use for all kinds of arts and crafts projects. These paints can be used on nearly anything:

  • Canvas
  • Paper
  • Cardboard
  • Fabrics
  • Plastic
  • Wood
  • Ceramic
  • Metal
  • Plaster
  • Sea glass

You can produce a significant number of finishes for painting depending on how much water you mix them with. As such, acrylics can create a similar effect as watercolors or gouache with a glossy finish.

You can even use acrylics for faux finishes to decorate ordinary objects, spruce up furniture, or give little trinkets a new lease on life. 

Many artists even use acrylic paints to decorate their walls by painting wall murals! Acrylics can also serve you well if you think your project might be taken outside or have to go through a wash. Acrylics are permanent and water-resistant once they’ve dried, so they can stand some rain.

However, note they’re unlikely to be dishwasher safe, so keep this in mind if you’re decorating ceramic or glass dishes.

Tempera Paint vs. Acrylic Paint: The Costs

Tempera vs Acrylic

If you’re looking to stock up on paint, the price is probably another factor you want to consider. This is especially true if you paint a lot, as your painting medium’s costs can quickly add up. The same goes if you’re facilitating a children’s art project.

Often kids are frivolous with the paint, so you don’t want to (literally) pour money down the drain.

Tempera Paints

The modern variant of tempera paints (poster paints) is exceptionally low-cost, making it an accessible option for families and classrooms. Prices vary depending on the brand and whether you go for color variety over quantity.

A set of twenty 500ml ready-mixed paints might set you back around $25. Tempera paint sets are available with wider color varieties in smaller bottles. Or, you can opt for larger containers with all your core colors. There are also cool tempera paints with special effects, like metallic glitter and neon colors – of course, these will cost a tad extra. 

Tempera paints can also be purchased as dry cake paints, which can be dissolved and applied with a little water, similar to watercolors.

Acrylic Paints

Acrylic paints can also be purchased at a low cost. Here, price tends to correlate with quality. If you choose very cheap acrylics, such as those offered in dollar stores, they’re likely to be less opaque, with inadequate coverage.

Acrylics are available in a wide variety of colors. You’ll notice that some colors (particularly amidst higher quality paints) are much more expensive than others, as some pigments are harder to obtain. 

Like tempera paints, you can purchase acrylics in large craft containers. These are perfect for working with children in classrooms. Alternatively, acrylics are also available in small tubes with better pigment concentration across a wide variety of hues. 

You can buy a set of acrylic paints for anywhere between $2 and $30 (depending on quality).

Other Costs to consider

Remember that no matter what paint you choose, you’ll have other materials (and therefore, costs) to consider.

 For instance:

  • Paper, canvas, card (or whatever you want to paint on)
  • Paintbrushes
  • A paint palette

When it comes to paintbrushes, similar rules apply. Cheap brushes will quickly fall apart and might leave individual synthetic hairs in your painting. In contrast, better-quality brushes will come at a higher price but will last longer. As long as you take care to wash them after use, your set should last you for years to come.

Remember that both tempera and acrylic paints are water-soluble. So while you can work with disposable supplies like plastic cups, you can save some money in the long-term by using a dedicated glass for your paint water.


Question: How easy is it to wash the paint off?

Answer: Both acrylic and tempera paints are water-soluble, and if you react fast, either can be washed away with water and a bit of soap. However, once the paint dries, acrylics become much more like plastic, making them a lot harder to clean than tempera, which remains soft.
That said, if you get tempera paint stains on your clothing, it may still take a few washes to get them out. 
On the other hand, you have to be more careful with acrylics. Don’t pour acrylic paint down the drain, as once dry, it may clog it with its plastic-like consistency. You can observe this on brushes when they dry – so always wash your brushes thoroughly after use so that the acrylic paint doesn’t harden them.

Question: How long do acrylic paints last?

Answer: Acrylic paints have a shelf-life of two to five years after the tube has been opened. While the container remains sealed, acrylic paint can last more than ten years. This generous expiry date is thanks to the fact acrylics are synthetic paints, whereas tempera is organic. 
Please note: If your acrylic paints smell sour or mildewy, it’s time to throw them out. 

Question: How long do tempera paints last?

Answer: Tempera paints have a shelf-life of two years if unopened. If you open them at the end of this period, use the paint as quickly as possible and don’t pour the used paint back into its original container. If the paint starts smelling sour, it’s gone off. 
This shelf life only applies to liquid tempera. Once the paint is applied and dried, it will last for many years.

Question: Is acrylic paint toxic?

Answer: Most acrylic paint is non-toxic and very safe to use. Due to the paint’s water-soluble nature, you also don’t need to use aggressive chemicals to clean the paint off surfaces or skin.
Regardless, acrylic paints should not be ingested. Keep them away from toddlers that might put their fingers in their mouths after using paint. 
It’s also wise not to keep paint on the skin for too long, as while the paint may be non-toxic, it’s rarely tested on the skin for long periods. So, always wash the paint off your skin once you’re done with a painting session to avoid irritation. 

Question: Can acrylics be used for finger painting?

Answer: If you have acrylic paints at home, you can let your children use them for finger painting as long as your children are old enough not to ingest any of the paint. It’s worth noting that acrylic paint dries permanently and will be harder to remove.
Tempera paints or poster paints are often better options for finger paints. They have a creamier texture and are easier to wash off after use.

Tempera Paint vs Acrylic Paint: Our Final Thoughts

While original egg tempera has made its mark on art history, modern adaptations of the paint are more akin to poster paints. They’re used primarily for craft projects where children are involved.

Both acrylics and tempera paints are fantastic to have in your crafting cupboard or classroom and are low-cost paints. They mix well, wash out quickly, and produce vibrant colors.

Ultimately, acrylics are the more versatile of the two mediums and likely the better choice for serious artists who want to experiment with various techniques. You can mimic watercolors and gouaches with acrylics and paint on a much wider variety of surfaces. 

But, whichever paint you choose to use, remember to research the brand’s quality if you want to work with opaque, vibrant paint. Have you tried painting with tempera and acrylic Paints before? Let us know which you preferred in the comments below and tell us about your next project!

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