Tempera vs Acrylic Paint: Differences and Comparison

Written by Laura Walker / Fact checked by Leilani Carroll


 Tempera vs acrylic paint

There are plenty of options when it comes to painting, and two that you can consider are tempera and acrylic. They are both water-based and come with their own set of pros and cons.

This tempera vs acrylic paint blog post will let you in on all the essentials. Read on to choose between the two, or simply stay informed about the art world!

Tempera Paint Acrylic Paint
Composition – Colored pigments
– A water-soluble binder
– Colored pigments
– A water-resistant polymer binder
Consistency – Creamy
– Adjustable
– Thick
– Adjustable
Thinning – Usually not necessary
– Can be done with water
– With water or other mediums
Viscosity – Flows more easily – Does not flow as easily
Drying Time – Around 15 minutes
– 24 hours for full curing
– Around 30 minutes
– Up to 2 weeks for full curing
Permanence Upon Drying – Semi-permanent
– Can be washed off
– Fully permanent
– Cannot be washed off
Finish – Matte – Matte
– Gloss
Durability – Not as durable – More durable
Lightfastness – Not as resistant to fading – More resistant to fading
Shelf Life – Not as long-lasting
– Between 2 and 5 years
– More long-lasting
– Between 5 and 10 years
Toxicity – Most are non-toxic – Non-toxic if not sanded
Surfaces – Paper
– Cardboard
– Poster board
– Paper mache
– Printing paper
– Window glass
– Paper
– Canvas
– Fabric
– Wood
– Metal
– Ceramic
User – Kids – Adults
Cost – Not as expensive
– From $0.1 per fluid oz
– More expensive
– From $1.2 per fluid oz

Tempera Paint vs Acrylic Paint: a Detailed Comparison

1. What are Tempera and Acrylic Paint

The tempera paint definition describes it as a water-based medium. It was widely used in the 1600s, but is now mostly used by kids for short, temporary art activities.

Acrylic paint is also water-based. But it is different from tempera in many other ways. The next section will delve deep into all the disparities.

2. Composition

The two key ingredients in tempera paint are colored pigments and a water-soluble binding agent, such as starch, cellulose, casein, or egg. Sometimes, the pigment is blended with gum or oil, like poppy oil, linseed, oil, etc; this is the formulation common in the 13th century.

Note: Tempera paint made of egg is rare in stores due to their age and toxicity.

In contrast, acrylic paint consists of colored pigments and a water-resistant polymer binder. The composition of this type of paint relies on water as a vehicle.

3. Consistency


Tempera paint has a creamy texture, and it can be semi-opaque or fully liquid. Usually, it is usable right out of the packaging; there is no need to thin it.

But if you buy it in powder form, you can create your own paint with the consistency you desire. All you need to do is pay attention to the amount of water you add.

On the other hand, acrylic paint is thick. Besides liquid form, like tempera paint, it is available in both heavy and soft body forms (the heavy type dries quicker and holds brush strokes more easily than the soft body form).

Tempera paint consistency can also be adjusted by adding water.

4. Thinning


As we mentioned just now, both tempera paint and acrylic paint can be thinned. You will need to use water for the former. For the latter, though, there are other medium options (such as a binder or acetone).

However, thinning is usually not necessary for tempera paint. As it already has a creamy nature, tempera paint is thin and viscous enough. If you add water to it, the colored pigments might be diluted, causing your results to look less vibrant.

When you add water or another thinning medium to acrylic paint, you will not have to worry about it becoming too light and runny because it is not viscous in the first place.

5. Viscosity

In line with its thinner consistency, tempera paint flows more easily than acrylic paint. Hence, it is easier to use when it comes to spreading out colors. However, it is not great for impasto like acrylic.

6. Drying Time


Though acrylic paint is well-known for its quick drying time, tempera paint actually beats it by a mile. Tempera can dry to the touch in roughly 15 minutes, while acrylic paint needs about 30 minutes.

On a different note, for a complete cure, you will have to wait just one day with tempera paint and up to 2 weeks with acrylic.

Note: The drying time can be affected by the number of paint layers and the thickness of each.

7. Permanence Upon Drying

Tempera paint is usually described as semi-permanent because after you let it dry, it can still be reactivated by water. This also means that you can more easily wash off tempera paint. It is possible to get the job done with some soapy water and some elbow grease.

However, because of its washable nature, tempera paint cannot be used for layering and building paint.

Unlike tempera paint, acrylic paint cannot be reactivated. It will not wash off after it has dried. If you want to remove it from a surface, you will probably have to resort to manual scraping with a sharp tool, like a utility knife.

8. Finish


Tempera paint is matte when it dries, whereas acrylic paint can be matte or glossy. The former’s finish is hard and smooth. Meanwhile, the texture of the latter is stiff and resembles plastic. The final coat of acrylic paint is also usually darker.

9. Durability

Tempera paint used for art is popular but not as long-lasting as acrylic paint. This is because the binder making up tempera paint is less durable than that of acrylic paint. If you want to keep your artwork for a long time, you will probably be better off with acrylic paint.

On a different note, since acrylic paint is more durable, it can be used both outdoors and indoors.

10. Lightfastness

This is a sub aspect of durability, which we just went through above. Between tempera and acrylic paint, the latter wins. It does a better job at resisting color fade over time.

However, there are different levels of lightfastness across acrylic paint brands. Typically, you can determine this by looking at the “ASTM” label or rating on the packaging.

11. Shelf Life


Like other art supplies, tempera paint and acrylic paint eventually run out of shelf life. For both, this can be more or less depending on the brand, product line, and how it is stored. Acrylic paint is estimated to last between 5 and 10 years, while tempera paint’s range is 2 to 5 years.

12. Toxicity

Most tempera paints are deemed non-toxic. Only a few made of egg might be toxic.

On the contrary, acrylic paints are likely to be toxic if they are used for sanding. So, stick to coloring only and watch out for cadmium, lead, and other heavy metals on their label.

That being said, if you are contemplating acrylic vs tempera paint for your littles ones, your better bet is the latter.

13. Application

​​How to use Tempera paint washable and non-toxic attributes make it great for short art projects at school. Some ideas that you can consider are finger painting, sponge painting, and mixed media.

Another unique technique with tempera paint is “scratching.” This is essentially painting over an artwork made with other tools, such as crayons, then scratching the paint off to reveal the piece. It is also called scratch art. We can also use it for pumpkins painting!

You can opt for acrylic to create portraits, landscapes, abstract designs, etc. Plus, there are countless techniques that you can apply. Splattering, stippling, pouring, and underpainting are possible, to name a few.

14. Who would use these paints?


Tempera paint is usually reserved for kids because it can be washed easily and takes little time to dry. It works well on basic surfaces, like paper, cardboard, and poster boards. In addition, more often than not, it is non-toxic and can be used straight out of the package.

Adults tend to prefer acrylic paint for its permanence, finish options, and lightfastness. It is also more durable, long-lasting, and can be used on more diverse surfaces, such as canvas, wood, and metal.

15. Cost

Although the specific price tags vary from brand to brand and can be influenced by other factors, like whether you buy in sets, tempera paint is, on the whole, not as expensive as acrylic paint.

It can start at 0.1 dollars per fluid ounce, while acrylic paint is at 1.2 dollars per the same amount.

Tempera Paint vs Acrylic Paint: Pros and Cons

1. Tempera Paint



  • Can be washed off
  • Is mostly non-toxic
  • Can typically be used right out of the packaging
  • Takes little time to dry
  • Is inexpensive


  • Not the best for layering
  • Is not as durable
  • Falls behind on lightfastness
  • Does not work as well on canvas, fabric, wood, metal, or ceramic
  • Has a shorter shelf life

2. Acrylic Paint



  • Can be layered
  • Is more durable
  • Wins in terms of lightfastness
  • Can be used on many surfaces, including canvas, fabric, wood, metal, or ceramic
  • Has a longer shelf life


  • Cannot be washed off
  • May be toxic if sanded
  • Typically requires thinning
  • Takes more time to dry
  • Is more expensive

Read more: Can I use acrylic paint on shrinky dinks?

Frequently Asked Questions


Can you use tempera paint instead of acrylic?

You can use tempera paint instead of acrylic on paper, cardboard, poster boards, paper mache, and window glass. But you will not be able to use it for layering and building like you would with acrylic.

Can I use tempera paint on wood?

Yes, you can. However, it is also worth knowing that tempera paint used for wood painting is not recommended because it cannot resist water. You would be better off using paint specifically made for wood.

Can I use tempera paint on plastic?

No. Since plastic is not porous, tempera paint will not adhere to it properly. Acrylic or oil-based paint will work better.

What is tempera paint good for?

As mentioned briefly above, tempera paint is fantastic for short, temporary activities such as window glass painting. Moreover, it can be used for finger painting, sponge painting, and making scratch art. Mixed media art is also among popular tempera painting ideas.

Here is an example of tempera paint on windows:

Is tempera paint permanent?

No. Tempera paint is semi-permanent. You can use soap and water to wash it off of surfaces after it has dried. However, you can seal it to make the pigment more permanent. There are fixatives available to get the job done.

Can I make tempera paint into acrylic?

No, you cannot. If you mix tempera and acrylic paint, you will get an in-between liquid with a weird, grainy consistency that is harder to work with than just using the paints separately.

Back then, why do artists use tempera paint?

Tempera paint dries quickly and dries to a smooth matte finish. Compared to oil paint back in the days, tempera paint was also more durable and colorfast.


So, tempera vs acrylic paint, which seems like the more suitable medium for you? The latter is a bit more pricey, but it can do you good with its permanence, finish options, and lightfastness, while the former is mostly non-toxic and can typically be used right out of the packaging.

Be sure to think about who is using the paint, what he/she is using it for, and how long they want the paint to last to make your pick!

If you have anything to add about either of these paint types, comment down below.

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