Difference between Tempera and Acrylic Paint

By Mandy Moss

Knowing the difference between Tempera and Acrylic paint is important when making a choice on which medium to use in your artwork.

Difference between Tempera and Acrylic Paint

After reading this article you should have a better understanding of how Tempera compares to Acrylic paint.

What Is Difference between Tempera and Acrylic Paint?

We will cover 11 main differences between Tempera and Acrylic paint medium so you will know exactly which one to choose.

Acrylic vs Tempera History

Tempera is an egg-based paint that has been used since ancient Greece. It was most famously used in the Italian Renaissance, when it was used to create masterpieces of a painting by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, and many others.  

Acrylic paint has only been around since the 1940s when UK artist John Mills developed a synthetic paint that was easily available and permanent. It gain its popularity in the 1960s when it became available for mass purchase and was promoted by many modern art instructors


The main difference between Tempera and Acrylic is the ingredients. Tempera is made of pigment and egg yolk, whereas Acrylic paint is made of Synthetic polymer compound and gum arabic.

This means Tempera paint is more “pure” than Acrylic. It contains only natural ingredients, while Acrylic contains synthetic, Plasticizers, Thickeners and Solvents.  

Visual look when dried

Both Tempera and Acrylic dry quickly when applied with a brush or knife. However, they will look different when dry.  Acrylic dries flat, whereas Tempera looks shiny because it contains egg yolk.

Mixing with water

Acrylic paint gives artists more creative freedom than Tempera because they can choose how much water to add, which affects consistency. They can make the paint as thick or thin as they want.

Tempera paints are more difficult to control because it does not mix well with water. It becomes very watery if added too much, or starts to dry too quickly if not enough is added.

How long do Tempera and Acrylic paint Last?

Tempera can last a few days the most, while Acrylic paint will last centuries if preserved and protected properly. This is due to the ingredients and chemical process to make each medium.

Because of this, we often see Tempera used as a finger painting and in general one of the first mediums, kids will use when learning to paint for the first time.

Easy to clean up

When Acrylic paint dries, it becomes “waterproof” and can be difficult to clean up – especially from clothes. The best way is to clean your brushes as soon as you are finished using them. This is not the case with Tempera paint.

Tempera can be easily cleaned up with water when dry, making it more kid-friendly as mentioned above. You don’t need any chemicals so the cleaning process is very simple!

Tempera vs Acrylic Cost

If you want a more affordable option –  Tempera is the way to go. It is less expensive and often found in discount art stores.

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Acrylic paint costs more to produce because of the complex chemical process required to create it.

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However, costs can vary depending on where you purchase your paint, how quality pigment is used, and what brand made it.


Lightfastness is an important feature when choosing which paint to use. It tells us how resistant the paint is to fading and distortion over time, especially in direct sunlight.

Acrylic paints are one of the most lightfast paints you can get due to the chemical process used to create them. Tempera is less lightfast since it only contains pigment and yolk, without any other chemicals to help it last longer.

Lightfastness is important especially for paintings that are being exhibited or you want them to admire for years to come.


Both Tempera and Acrylic are versatile mediums that can be used on a variety of materials.

We can use Tempera on: Canvas, Paper, Wood, Masonite Board, Newspaper, Finger and cardboard painting, etc…

Acrylics are best on: Canvas (acrylic primed surface only), Paper (all water-based), Wood, plastic, metal, etc…

Permanency and Varnish

We can extend the life of our kid’s precious paintings with help of simple varnish, which is applied on top of the art.

Varnish, in general, prolongs the life of the artwork but also helps protect it from damage caused by moisture and UV rays.  It does this by forming a clear protective barrier over your paint that is not noticeable to the eye.


Acrylic paint has many more mediums to choose from compared to Tempera. It can be thick or thin, matte or glossy, opaque or transparent – all depending on what type of medium is mixed in with the paint.

Also, it can be used alone to create a painting, or together with other mediums to create a new effect.

Since Tempera paint only contains pigment and yolk, it is more difficult to manipulate. There is hardly any variety of mediums to choose from, making it less versatile compared to Acrylic paint.

Related Questions

I have never personally tried mixing Tempera and Acrylic paint together, but I do not personally recommend it due to the different chemical compositions they both have. Stick with the same medium from start to finish.

Tempera paint itself is not permanent. However, you can add a permanent coat of varnish over your Tempera painting to protect against damage and prolong its life.

You can use powder tempera as a base for dry papier-mache or as a way to add pigment to your molding paste.

Egg tempera is a binding medium that is made with pigment and yolk. It is a traditional medium used in Europe since medieval times. You will see it used in various old masterpieces.

If you want to slow down the drying process, place a few drops of water into your container filled with tempera paint. You can also store the container in a cool, dry place away from any heat source.

However, once you put tempera out of the tube, make sure you finish it up in one sitting. It won’t last long before dry out.

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