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Understanding the Differences: Tempera Paint vs. Acrylic

Artists have long explored various mediums to express their creativity, and two popular choices are tempera paint and acrylic. Both offer tempera paint vs acrylic unique qualities that cater to different artistic styles and preferences. Understanding the differences between these two paints can help artists choose the right medium for their projects.

Composition and Characteristics

Tempera Paint:

  • Historically, tempera paint consisted of pigment mixed with a water-soluble binder such as egg yolk.
  • Modern tempera paints often use synthetic binders, which provide greater durability and flexibility.
  • Tempera dries quickly, resulting in a matte finish.
  • It is known for its opaque and bright colors, making it ideal for detailed work and fine lines.

Acrylic Paint:

  • Acrylic paint is made from pigment suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion.
  • It dries quickly and forms a flexible, water-resistant layer.
  • Acrylic paint offers a range of finishes, from matte to high gloss, depending on the formulation.
  • It is known for its versatility and ability to mimic the appearance of oil paints.

Working Properties

Tempera Paint:

  • Due to its quick drying time, tempera requires fast and deliberate brushwork.
  • It can be layered, but each layer must be completely dry before the next is applied.
  • Mixing colors can be challenging, as tempera tends to dry quickly on the palette.
  • It is best suited for small-scale works and detailed illustrations.

Acrylic Paint:

  • Acrylic paint has a longer working time compared to tempera, allowing for blending and layering.
  • It can be applied thickly or thinned with water for a variety of effects.
  • Acrylics can be used on a variety of surfaces, including canvas, wood, and paper.
  • They are suitable for both large-scale works and detailed paintings.

Durability and Longevity

Tempera Paint:

  • Historically, tempera paintings have shown remarkable durability, with many examples from centuries ago still in good condition.
  • Modern tempera paints with synthetic binders offer improved durability and lightfastness.
  • However, tempera paintings are susceptible to moisture and should be protected with varnish.

Acrylic Paint:

  • Acrylic paints are known for their durability and resistance to fading.
  • They form a tough, flexible layer that is less prone to cracking than oil paints.
  • Acrylic paintings can be varnished for added protection against environmental damage.

Application and Techniques

Tempera Paint:

  • Traditional tempera is often applied in thin, transparent layers to build up color and form.
  • It is well-suited for techniques such as glazing and scumbling.
  • Tempera can be used with a variety of brushes, but synthetic brushes are often preferred for their smooth application.

Acrylic Paint:

  • Acrylic paints can be applied thickly or thinly, offering a range of texture possibilities.
  • They can be used for impasto techniques, where paint is applied in thick layers.
  • Acrylics can be thinned with water or mediums for techniques such as washes and glazes.


In conclusion, both tempera paint and acrylic paint offer unique qualities that appeal to artists with different preferences and artistic goals. Tempera is ideal for detailed work and fine lines, while acrylic offers versatility and durability. Artists can experiment with both mediums to discover their unique properties and create stunning works of art.


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