Tempera vs. Acrylic paint in the art room

Tempera vs. Acrylic Paint

Tempera Vs. Acrylic Paint

I avoided paint for a long time. I was happy with my liquid tempera and watercolor paints and didn’t see the allure of acrylics.

Now, for my own art, nothing beats acrylics. But who wants to mess around with tubes with 30 kids?

This was my mindset for a long time.

When I learned about acrylic paints that were meant for an elementary classroom, I was excited to give them a try. I ordered some Blick Acrylic paints and experimented with a few projects.

Tempera vs. Acrylic paint in the art room

Everything that was said about acrylic paints was try… they were smooth, beautiful and had a lovely finish.

Then I made the BIG mistake that only experienced art teachers know not to do: I cleaned my plastic muffin-palette filled with acrylic paints in the sink. Two days later, my sink was clogged.

Here’s the thing. Acrylic paints dry to a hard plastic. And when you pour them down your drain, they wills tick to your pipes.

And if you don’t clean your brushes well, then the same hard plastic will adhere to the bristles.

A major deciding factor for choosing tempera vs. acrylic paints. So that had me swearing off acrylics for a long time.

Cut to the summer…

I was creating art with my 3-year old niece in Canada. I needed supplies so I went to the closest store. They carried a few craft acrylics but not much else. So I bought a smock, grabbed some primary colors and prepared to cover my niece so she wouldn’t ruin her clothes.

Turns out that the acrylic I bought was very (very!) similar to regular liquid tempera paint. It even washed away like tempera. It didn’t even dry to a hard plastic finish. I was amazed, and surprised.

Here’s a video that shows how craft acrylic paints are just like liquid tempera paints. Maybe they will work for you!

To learn more about the best practices for acrylic paint, click HERE to listen to my podcast with Anna Bartlett as she explains how to best effectively use this medium.

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  • Suzi Wilson

    I have loved the acrylics and found some good tips that worked well. To avoid the pipes issue I have used plastic deli lids as our palettes, we leave them out to dry and just peel off the paint, much better for the environment. Putting a package of paper plates on the student supply list made clean up easier too without adding to the art budget.

    Love your ideas!

  • vivisoesanty@gmail.com

    Thank you for the video. I have a hard time looking for tempera paints here (Australia). Will try to find Craft acrylics at craft store here.

  • Taryn

    Just a comment in regard to sourcing tempera paint in Australia- ( & I could be wrong about this!)- but I think it is just named differently here and mostly gets called poster paint instead of tempera. I noticed recently that Modern Teaching Aids educational supplies do actually have paints branded as “Super Tempera” and they describe them as high-grade, wash off poster paint.
    I personally love acrylic- like the shine & great for painting papier mache projects- but they aren’t as clothes, drain or paintbrush friendly that’s for sure!

  • Shanam

    Where do you drain the acrylic paint water? I don’t have a craft room, I clean at my home sink and maybe I’m clogging my sink!!

    • Patty

      I don’t find there is a problem with the water. But I use paper plates, wax paper or something similar for the palettes. Then the palettes go in the trash.

  • paul hill

    i’m a retired draftsman. having spent my career in black and white technical dwgs. now, I go to a senior center, enjoy doing watercolor and acrylic seascapes etc. great social value.

  • Kim G

    Acrylic paints are not washable out of children’s clothing once dry. Tempera paint washes off . I painted a mural with tempera paint on my son’s walls and washed it away with a wash cloth years later! Acrylic paint is permanent on rocks… Tempera washes away in the rain. Very significant differences. I was an Interior Designer for 10 years and now an Elementary Art teacher for 14 years.

  • Masha

    Have you ever made tempera paints from scratch?

  • Marsha

    I want to paint candy canes and mistletoe on my store windows for Christmas. Will this paint work?

    • Patty

      I’m not sure. If you go to a craft store, they may be able to direct you to the best paint.

  • dianne l lindsey

    Thanks for this! I saw the sargent art metallic tempera and decided it was time to know the difference. I have yet to find out what the ingredients are tho.

    i just wanted to add that acrylics come in hard body, soft body and regular. the more water you add the more matte it becomes. So if you want to retain the luster of your acrylics yet need a tempera consistency, try the soft body.

    As for brushes, I found a miracle.
    I had some of my favorite brushes used with mod podge. I was quite upset they were not even washed. Hard as a brick, I would have tossed them but I had some Winsor and Newton brush restorer because every once in a while i like to soak my brushes to give them back their vitality. I never imagined in a hundred years it would work with hardened glue. but it restored the brush in SECONDS! I have over 100 brushes yet keep going back to the dozen or so i prefer.

    And finally I have found the best mixing cups for my acrylics because yes, plastic just piles up. I very seldom use a pallet. I keep a paper plate for those activities on the side. I use glass votives for my paints. I dont like my paint mingling. These glass cups are awesome. paint peels right off!

    • Patty

      Thank you!! Fantastic suggestions!

  • Lynne Stephenson

    You answered my question. I like to offer my grandkids paint and materials (I save cardboard pieces from cereal boxes, etc., etc.). Put them on the back porch with the radio going and some mighty cool art is produced. Then I decorate my apartment with my favorites. Inexpensive fun and it makes them feel good to see their creations being displayed.

    I will be using the least expensive paint I can find – tempera or acrylic.

  • Elinor Vear Vear

    Hello watched your video . Was interesting but wanting to know if Tempra paint has formaldehyde and ammonia in it like acrylics. I had to stop painting with acrylics as it was making me so stuffed up and feeling so bad I could not use it. Cant seem to find info online
    Thanks for any help

  • Chloe

    This was very helpful for making diy cloth paint 🎨

  • Katie

    My young daughter loves to paint and usually uses the Crayola Artista II tempera paints. During a visit to my parents’ house, she has been using oils with my mom. She’s really enjoyed the viscosity of them and I’m wondering if you have an idea for how to thicken her tempera paints. Acrylic medium maybe? We’re going to play around with it, but I figured I’d ask in case you had some secret art teacher knowledge here! Thank you!

    • Michala B

      I’m not a teacher but I have heard to thicken paints try baking soda especially if you need it for a DIY craft add more if you want texture

  • Cindy Addley

    Can I mix the 2 paints?

    • Patty

      Try it! See what happens. You never know!

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