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What is the difference between acrylic & tempera paint?

Updated July 19, 2017

Acrylic and tempera paints are both opaque water-based media, but the similarities stop there. Because of variations in composition, each of these products offers a very different range of techniques.

History

Tempera paints date back to prehistoric times. They have enjoyed popularity through cave paintings, ancient civilisations, Medieval art and through present times. Acrylic paints are considerably younger. Art suppliers, most notably Liquitex, developed this medium in the 1940s.

Composition

Traditionally, tempera paints consist of pigment, egg yolk and water. The egg yolk binds the powdered pigments together after drying to prevent their returning to dust. Acrylic paint uses an elastic substance called gum Arabic to bind the pigment.

Effects

After drying, tempera paints may have a chalky appearance. Very thick areas may show cracking. Acrylic paint dries with a glossy, flexible finish that does not crack.

Uses

Tempera paints work well on inflexible surfaces such as wood panels. Acrylics adhere well to most painting surfaces including canvas, wood, Masonite and some papers.

Finishing

Add longevity to tempera paints by finishing with a clear, artist-quality sealant. You may choose to seal acrylic paintings or leave them unsealed.

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About the Author

Bethany DuVall dances among three loves: writing, painting and teaching. She graduated from New College with a humanities degree. National anthologies like "Remembrances" began publishing her work in 1995. DuVall's articles about arts and education appear in local publications such as "Art Thou" and on various websites.