Tempera Paint vs Acrylic: Understanding the Differences

Artists are often faced with the delightful conundrum of choosing the right medium to express their creativity. Two popular choices, tempera paint and acrylic, stand out for their unique properties and versatile applications. While tempera paint vs acrylic both can produce stunning works of art, they differ significantly in composition, characteristics, and techniques. Let’s delve deeper into the distinctions between tempera paint and acrylic to help artists make informed decisions about which medium best suits their artistic vision.

Composition and Origins

Tempera paint, also known as egg tempera, has a rich history dating back to ancient civilizations such as ancient Egypt and Greece. Traditionally, tempera consists of pigment mixed with a binder, often egg yolk, which creates a smooth and luminous finish. This medium gained prominence during the Renaissance, with artists like Botticelli and Giotto employing it in their masterpieces.

On the other hand, acrylic paint is a relatively modern invention, originating in the mid-20th century. Acrylic paints are composed of pigment suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion, resulting in a fast-drying and water-soluble medium. Acrylics gained popularity among artists due to their versatility, vibrant colors, and ability to mimic other mediums like oil paint.

Characteristics and Properties

One of the primary differences between tempera paint and acrylic lies in their characteristics and properties. Tempera paint, being water-based, dries relatively quickly, but not as rapidly as acrylic. This slower drying time allows for more blending and layering techniques, making it ideal for detailed work and fine lines.

Acrylic paint, conversely, dries quickly to a water-resistant finish, which can be advantageous for artists seeking to work efficiently or apply multiple layers without waiting for each to dry. Additionally, acrylics offer greater flexibility in texture and application, allowing artists to create thick impasto effects or thin washes with ease.

Color Intensity and Permanence

Color intensity and permanence are crucial factors for artists when selecting a paint medium. Tempera paint tends to produce softer, more subdued colors compared to acrylics. While tempera can achieve a luminous quality, its opacity may require several layers to achieve the desired vibrancy, especially when working on dark surfaces.

Acrylic paint, on the other hand, boasts exceptional color intensity straight from the tube. Its pigment-rich formula allows for bold and vibrant hues with excellent coverage. Moreover, acrylics are known for their long-term durability and resistance to fading, making them a preferred choice for artworks intended to withstand the test of time.

Versatility and Application

Both tempera paint and acrylic offer artists a wide range of application techniques, but each excels in different areas. Tempera paint lends itself well to precise and meticulous work, making it popular among illustrators and iconographers. Its ability to create fine lines and intricate details makes it suitable for miniature painting and eggshell decoration.

Acrylic paint, with its fast-drying nature and versatility, is favored by artists working in various styles and genres. From abstract expressionism to hyperrealism, acrylics adapt to different techniques and surfaces with ease. Whether applied with brushes, palette knives, or even airbrushes, acrylics offer artists endless possibilities for experimentation and creativity.


In the perennial debate of tempera paint vs acrylic, both mediums offer unique advantages and challenges for artists. Tempera paint, with its rich history and luminous finish, is prized for its traditional appeal and meticulous application. Acrylic paint, on the other hand, represents modern innovation with its vibrant colors, quick drying time, and versatile applications.

Ultimately, the choice between tempera and acrylic depends on the artist’s preferences, style, and artistic goals. Some may prefer the timeless elegance of tempera for classical or religious artworks, while others may gravitate towards the dynamic versatility of acrylics for contemporary pieces. Whichever medium artists choose, both tempera paint and acrylic offer boundless opportunities for creative expression and artistic exploration.