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Tempera Paint vs Acrylic - Colour your World Bright

2020 Nov 10th

Tempera Paint vs Acrylic - Colour your World Bright

Have you ever considered the “pros and cons” of tempera paint vs acrylic? If you have children or are involved in the painting or art community, you have already discovered your preferences.

Does it matter?

Well, many studies have shown that it does matter what sort of paints you use for your paintings not only for the final result, but also because they end up on your skin, you breathe in the excess fumes and smells, and you’ll probably wash them down the drain.

Both acrylic and tempera paints are advertised as non-toxic, and are available in a wide variety of water based colours. Let’s learn more about the differences between the tempera paint vs. acrylic, and try to make the best choice, for us, our children and the environment!

All about our liquid tempera paint

Tempera is a mixture of emulsions (liquid mixtures), dry minerals or organic pigments, and water as a binding agent. Usually, it is a pure egg yolk that holds all the ingredients together, making a non-toxic and fast-drying paint but nowadays, we usually use glue to bind the pigments. The consistency that these agents created, made tempera paint recognizable like the poster paint.

Advantages and disadvantages of tempera colours

Liquid tempera paint is completely washable and doesn’t leave a brack. Pots or powders of tempera paints come opaque and rough and need a greater amount of time to dry solid, leaving a matt finish and that chalky feeling to the touch.

Unlike oil paint, tempera cannot be applied too thickly but looks best used on paper, cardboard or even wood surfaces. Apart from the time-consuming applying of thin layers, the tempera doesn’t usually attain the deep colour saturation seen in oil paintings.

Tempera does not possess the ability to stick on surfaces long term and the colours are not designed to blend, although their name is derived from the Latin word “temperare” meaning “to mix” and the verb temper - “to bring to the desired consistency.”

Washable and not permanent tempera colours are usually a good choice for parents with small kids or schools!

Know your tempera colouring history

Painting techniques in tempera seem to have an Antique origin. Alas, due to the perishable nature of the medium (yolks or other natural fatties/oils), not a single example of Classical Greek painting in tempera was preserved.

However, numerous tempera works have been recorded in manuscripts, murals and ancient chambers of Egypt, Rome, Greece, Babylonia and China.

Tempera painting reached its prime during the Italian Renaissance, giving some of the most iconic egg tempera paintings such as The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, The Birth of Venus by Botticelli, The Transfiguration by Raphael, and many others.

The world of acrylic paint

On the other side, acrylic paint, or just “acrylics” was first introduced in the 1950s as house paint, easily diluted with water and packed in tubes. Once the acrylic paint has dried down, it becomes water-resistant.

Acrylic paints are long-term and also archive well because of the pigment and binders used to adhere to a canvas surface. The paint is made of pigment, suspended in acrylic polymer emulsion, binders and preservatives.

The paint is pasty, has a silky sheen even when dry and we can paint over the layers real quickly. Due to its adhesive properties, acrylic paint allows us to work on any moderately absorbent ground that is free of grease and dust.

Acrylic pigments are best to be used on paper, wood and canvases but can be applied to many other materials, such as ceramics, metal etc. These paints are thick and dry quickly, but with a glossy or semi-glossy effect, giving both the transparency of watercolour paints and the density of the oil paint.

Acrylics became immediately popular among the artists concerned about the health risks imposed by the handling of oil paints and the inhalation of fumes associated with them. There needs to be more awareness in the use of pure pigments and natural plant oils as they are far superior to any acrylic medium.

A few words on the popularisation of acrylic painting

Acrylic colours were commercially promoted in the 1960s with notable 20th-century artists including Pop artists Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, Op artist Bridget Riley, colour field artists Mark Rothko, Ellsworth Kelly and British artist David Hockney.

Watch the drains with the acrylics

Another important difference is that the acrylic paint is based on plastic that dries down to hard plastic, especially if washed down with water so they must be disposed properly. That same plastic can end up firming the bristles of your brushes, if not washed well. It is not as washable as the tempera colours.

Let us conclude on the topic

Acrylic paints are considered permanent and somewhat lightfast on many different surfaces. They are generally used by adults or older children and favourable between artists, due to their permanence, smooth and shiny performance.

Tempera paints are generally used by younger children for arts and crafts. They tend to be messy but can be easily washed from any surface or clothes. Tempera is an excellent choice for finger painting or paint mixing and blending soluble colours.

Can we mix the acrylics and tempera paint?

The mixture of the two paints is common, but not very advisable. Due to the different consistencies of the paints, mixing tempera paint and the acrylic ones can result in “floating” tempera fragments on a shiny acrylic surface. But if both colours are mixed evenly, the chances that the coverage will be better are much greater.

Hopefully, you have learned something interesting in our “Tempera paint vs acrylic” text and found the perfect paint to start (or continue) your painting journey!