Imagine you have a painting project whereby you have to choose between tempera paint and acrylic paint, but you don’t know which is best. Selecting either will require an assessment of their differences and what each is suitable for, such as surface types. Only then can you make a good choice?

Tempera and acrylic paint differ in various ways; nevertheless, the main difference is their composition. Regarding its makeup, acrylic is more durable, thicker, glossier, and better suited for traditional art projects. Tempera paint is faster-drying, thinner, and easier to clean after drying.

If you must choose the best paint for your project, I’m sure this article will help as it reveals all you need to know about both paint types by comparing and contrasting them.

What is Tempera Paint

Tempera paint refers to many water-based paint kinds. Usually, most people think tempera paint is a classic option in schools or craft stores.

Craft-level tempera paint is a water-based paint type featuring a simple composition. It contains pigments, and water, including calcium carbonate, in chalk paint. It contains starches, too, such as cornstarch.

Usually, craft-level tempera is designed with washability consideration. Additionally, they are primarily non-toxic. This explains why it is commonly found in schools and why many products’ marketing in this category is geared toward children.

Craft tempera paint has a creamy appearance. Since it doesn’t hold its shape so well, it may drip or flatten as it dries if you apply it in thicker globs. Additionally, you may find a building with tempera paint harder.

Nonetheless, there is another tempera paint version. You will find egg or milk products in the compositions of professional-quality versions. The egg/milk acts as the binder, while gums may serve as the pigment dispersants.

Egg tempera paint is more buildable, durable, and less washable. It may or may not be non-toxic. This factor depends on the pigments, although other ingredients may be another factor. Therefore, you may keep that in mind when considering your options.

Are Tempera & Poster Paint the Same

If you have heard of poster paint, I guess you may be curious to know if it’s the same as tempera paint. However, if you don’t understand poster paint, I will explain it.

Poster paints are tempera-type and are made with a glue-based binder instead of food-grade ingredients. They are prevalent among children who want to finger paint and are highly recommended for use at schools and home. Poster paints’ high recommendation level is because it is easily washable. In addition, it is non-toxic.

“Poster” in “Poster Paints” is derived from the fact that paper products are the main surface you can use. Poster paints are easy to clean up and are free of potential allergens.

What is Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint is a water-based paint type featuring synthetic polymer compounds with gum Arabic-based binders. It uses granular solids as pigments to prevent the coloring itself from dissolving. Acrylic paint is suspended in polymers and held in place by the binder.

Water evaporates from the acrylic paint when drying, and only the pigments, binder, and polymers remain. This makes it durable and gives it a nice, glossy finish and toughness.

Additionally, acrylic paint is buildable, an effect of the polymers. It holds a relatively easy shape, making it great for brush techniques that create so much texture, including palette knife painting.

One reason acrylic paint holds its shape well is its thickness. Acrylic paint is a thick paint type, thus, making it possible to imbue texture into paintings or projects. However, if the acrylic paint is too thick, you can thin it by adding water.

If you want to add water to your acrylic paint, it’s best to use distilled water. Distilled water will help prevent any minerals or particles from impacting the pigments or texture.

Most acrylic paints are non-toxic, although some may contain potentially harmful ingredients. Pigments are the most common ingredients that could be harmful, as some are known carcinogens. However, alternative pigments can provide the same hue without risk.

If you are particular about toxicity, try focusing on non-toxic acrylic paints when looking for products.

Differences between Tempera Paint & Acrylic Paint

If you are looking at the easiest way to discover how tempera and acrylic paint differ, it’s best to examine specific vital points. That way, you can get a quick comparison at a glance, potentially helping you decide which paint is best for your project in a few moments. The table below explains the differences between tempera and acrylic paints using their properties.

CompositionWater-based with specific versions featuring food-based binders (typically milk or egg)Water-based paint type featuring synthetic polymer compounds with gum Arabic-based binder
DurabilityIt has incredible opacity, thus, providing reliable coverage in one passIt is easily scraped or scrubbed off from most surfaces. It loses vibrancy over time when you expose it to light.
WashabilityIt is washable when wet or dry, including from fabricYou can wash it only when it is damp, but not dry
TextureIt has a matte finishIt is plastic-like and stiff with a semi-gloss to a glossy finish
OpacityIt has good opacity, therefore, providing reasonable coverage in one passIt has good opacity; therefore, providing reasonable coverage in one pass
CostIts shelf life is 5 – 10 years, depending on the product line and storage.It is affordable for entry-level and intermediate paints. The professional-level versions can range from mid-priced to high-cost
ConsistencyIt is creamyIt is thick
Dry TimeFive minutes to one hour, depending on its thickness and conditionsTwenty minutes to many hours, depending on the thickness, including other factors
Shelf LifeIts shelf life is from 5 – 10 years, depending on the product line and its storage.You can use it on paper, wood, canvas, fabric, ceramic, and metals.
Application/UsesYou can use it for art projects. You can also use it on paper, cardboard, poster board, paper mache, and similar materialsYou can use it for art projects. You can also use it on paper, cardboard, poster board, paper mache, and similar materials.

Differences between Tempera & Acrylic Paints and Their Applications

The main difference between the two is “their permanency.” Acrylic paints last long and are permanent, while tempera paints are only semi-permanent.

Acrylic paints, through their viscosity, can vary from medium to thick. They are opaque. You can quickly come up with some good layered effects when using them.

When using tempera, the color saturation is slight. Although the layers may crack in the middle, this might make you apply more layers. Tempera paints dry quickly as acrylics; however, with a chalky finish and matte appearance dry slower.

What Surfaces Can I Use Tempera & Acrylic Paint on

Tempera paints work well on paper and, to a great extent, on cards, like cardboard. You can also use it on paper board, paper mache, including similar materials. Acrylic paints have wider use. Asides from using it on paper and similar materials, you can use it on wood, ceramics, fabric, metals, and canvas.

Although some individuals use tempera paint on fabric, which offers decent performance, acrylic paint provides better performance, with actual fabric paint being the best option for this painting type in most cases.

If you plan to use gesso on your surfaces before applying acrylic paint, this opens up what you can use your acrylic paint on. Although certain characters may require a specialist paint primer rather than regular gesso, the options are available if necessary, making acrylic paint the practical choice for anyone looking for paint for home decoration.

Should I Use Tempera or Acrylic Paint on Canvas

If you wish to paint on canvas, I would advise you not to consider using craft-level tempera. This is because the paint may crack and fade over time. Also, the paint is not remarkably durable; thus, it is far less suitable than acrylic.

However, egg tempera paint contains a different composition; nevertheless, it isn’t excellent for canvas. It is because it lacks flexibility; thus, it can crack and chip. Egg tempera requires ample support if you desire longevity out of the project; therefore, consider that when selecting a backing.

Are Tempera & Acrylic Paint Waterproof & How do I Seal Acrylic Paint

Tempera paint is neither flexible nor waterproof. Therefore, it is not suited for painting on clothing. Certain paints are suitable for fabrics, among which is fabric paint.

Although acrylic paint might be slightly water-resistant, it doesn’t provide a waterproof coat. You can, however, make it waterproof by adding a sealer over the acrylic paint. Also, it’s best to prepare the surface you are painting to obtain better results.

You can seal your acrylic paint with varnish. You can use Acrylic Polymer or Resin varnish, available in different finishes. Select a finish matching your artwork look and end goals to seal your acrylic paint. After choosing your finish, decide if you want to apply it with a brush or spray.

You can make your acrylic paint shiny by mixing the gloss medium into the paint on the palette and, afterward, paint as usual. The paint is expected to dry to a glossy finish. You can make it shinier by applying a high gloss varnish once the paint is over and dry.

It is not compulsory to seal your acrylic painting; nevertheless, it is essential. When you varnish your completed acrylic paintings, the varnish will help protect the painting from dust, UV rays, and yellowing.

Can I Make Tempera Paint into Acrylic

Technically, it’s impossible to turn tempera paint into acrylic. You will realize it can’t be done considering tempera paint’s compositions. You cannot remove the components in tempera that are not available in acrylic or introduce ingredients present in acrylic that is not in tempera.

Nonetheless, you can thicken tempera paint to enable it to act a bit more like acrylic. You may use flour or cornstarch for the job. However, remember that using either could make the paint gritty.

If you want a durable, glossy finish with acrylic, you could use a sealant to alter the acrylic paint’s appearance. For example, a water-based spray-on clear coat could help reduce color fade, increase shine, and limit cracking. Therefore, you may consider using it to make a tempera paint project appear more like acrylic.

Can You Mix Tempera & Acrylic Paint

Although both paint types are water-based, mixing them would be a bad idea. This is because the tempera’s calcium carbonate, milk, or egg products may not conform with the polymers and binders in acrylic.

Tempera vs. Acrylic Paint: Which Should You Use

In this section, I will shed more light on the differences between both paint types. Under normal circumstances, I cannot tell you which of the two you should use because I can’t make your decisions. You are free to make your own choices and decisions. Both paint types are great, although their differences and suitability differ.

Instead of telling you which of the two paint types to use, I will briefly explain both paint types; then, you can make your own choice.

Technically, neither tempera nor acrylic paint is better than the other. Instead, both are better suited for different situations. Craft tempera paints are excellent for kids and young artists working with paper products as a backer. They are easy to work with, easily washable, and vibrant.

Both acrylic and egg tempera paints are great for classic art projects, including painting on

  • ceramics,
  • canvas,
  • metals,
  • and other materials.

Can Acrylic Paint Be Used Instead of Tempera Paint

Both acrylic and tempera paint is water-soluble. You can also thin both paint types with a little bit of water. However, these two have their differences; thus, it may not be best to use one instead of the other, especially if it is unsuitable for the project’s surface.

Children can work with acrylic or tempera paint; however, since acrylic paint is permanent, a person will probably feel much more at ease if they work with tempera paint.

Tempera Paint & Watercolor Paint

Tempera and watercolor paint are a bit similar. Both are considered semi-permanent. This is because they are soluble in water. Additionally, you can thin water-based paints, which are easy to clean up, regardless of whether they are damp or dry.

In several cases, both paint types are washable. If any gets on the fabric, a quick washing in the washing machine or some light scrubbing with a mild cleanser will do the trick. Also, if the pigments are light, there may be no staining after removing the paint, though it may depend on the pigments used.

It is essential to note that sure watercolors aren’t as washable. Professional-grade watercolors versions often contain more pigments, making them more challenging to remove from fabrics without staining.

How to Make Tempera Paint Permanent & How to Keep it From Drying Out

Usually, tempera paint is not permanent. However, you can make it permanent by adding a permanent varnish coat over your tempera painting to help protect against damage and increase its shelf life.

You can keep your tempera paint from drying out by placing a few water drops into your container filled with tempera paint. It would also help to store the container in a cool, dry place away from any heat source. Note that once you put tempera out of the tube, finish it in one sitting, as it won’t last long before it dries out.


Tempera and acrylic paints are similar but also differ. By now, I’m sure you must know their differences and gain additional knowledge about these two paint types. If you have an upcoming painting project, I’m sure this article can contribute to your decision-making concerning which paint type to use. Good luck with your next painting project.