What Is Tempera Paint: Everything You Need to Know

Tempera is an old-fashioned type of paint that has been around for centuries. What is tempera paint? What does it look like when dry? What are the benefits of using it in your artwork? What is the difference between tempera and acrylic paint? This article will answer common questions about tempera as well as provide helpful tips for those who are interested in using this versatile type of painting medium.

What Is Tempera Paint?

Tempera was one of the first forms of paint, dating back to ancient times. It is a permanent medium that has been used by artists for centuries. They mixed water-soluble pigments into glue made from animal skin collagen called glair which was a mixture of raw egg white and vinegar.

Tempera has made a modern resurgence in recent years thanks to its bright colors and ease of application on almost any surface including plastic mesh canvases which were popularized by Dutch artist Willem de Kooning. Since tempera paints create durable translucent colors when used properly, they can achieve vibrant results using these innovative surfaces!

The most common use of this medium by artists is on watercolor paper, but it also works well on canvas thanks to its strong adhesion properties. Many painters choose to work with the traditional egg yolk-based recipes that have been around for hundreds of years instead of buying pre-made commercial paints made from synthetic materials such as acrylics (which began being produced commercially during WWII).

Today tempera paint can be found in many art supply stores and is typically sold as “poster” or “acrylic” tempera paints rather than just simply labeled as “tempera”.

People who like using tempera paint say they enjoy its bright colors and ease of application. It is an easy paint to work with for beginners since it provides a strong degree of control in wet applications without being too messy or complicated.

What Is Tempera Paint Used for?

Tempera painting has a long history and an even longer list of uses.

One of the most common uses for tempera paint is in classrooms. Teachers often use it for children’s art projects and find that kids can create beautiful results with little to no mess or clean-up involved (something parents appreciate).

Tempera paints are also used by churches, temples, synagogues, and mosques around the world thanks to their ease of application, strong color saturation ability on any surface including glass windows!

What Is Tempera Paint Made of?

The word “tempera” comes from the Latin verb tempere meaning “to mix”. This refers to how temperas are made—by mixing water-soluble pigments with an adhesive binder such as egg yolk or glue.

Traditional tempera ingredients:

  • Water-soluble pigments such as chalk, clay, ground stone minerals like azurite and malachite (natural) to synthetic organic compounds derived from tar and petroleum. Other common colors include blue verditer, brown ochres, and siennas.
  • Absorbent paper or stone dust powder as a thickening agent.
  • Egg yolk or glue as a binder.

Some modern-day commercial brands also contain small amounts of casein (a protein found in milk) to help the paint adhere better.

What’s the Difference Between Egg Tempera and Tempera Paints?

The term “tempera” can refer to two things: the traditional water-soluble egg yolk paint or modern commercial synthetic acrylic paints that are sold under this label.

So, what’s the difference?

When people talk about tempera they typically mean the former (egg-based). However, not all artists love working with it because of its tendency to crack and yellow over time as well as being a messier medium than other types such as oil for example.

What makes modern-day commercial paints sold as “temperas” different from traditional egg-based ones? What is the binder used in tempera paint today?

These alternative products have synthetic binders that do not require using raw eggs, which poses no risk of salmonella poisoning to those who work on art projects involving them.

Synthetic materials such as polyvinyl acetate and acrylate polymer emulsions provide strong adhesion on almost any surface including metal, glass, plastic mesh canvases, and even fabric.

What are the advantages of using paints sold as “temperas” instead?

Thanks to their quick-drying properties, artists can use them in many ways that other types cannot including working with watercolor techniques such as wet on wet paint application (mixing colors while they dry).

More Details about Tempera Paint

Does Tempera Paint Contain Allergens?

Tempera paint is a relatively safe medium, however, there are some precautions to take when working with it.

Because egg-based temperas contain raw eggs, you should always wear gloves and avoid getting the substances in your mouth or eyes.

This also applies if you’ve been handling dry tempera pigments, which can cause similar reactions since they may be contaminated with trace amounts of egg proteins from factory machinery.

Is Tempera Paint Toxic?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no health risk associated with working with tempera paint or its ingredients.

The only time you should be concerned about your safety is when using raw eggs, which can contain salmonella bacteria that cause food poisoning symptoms such as diarrhea, fever, and vomiting.

It’s best to avoid handling them if you don’t have a thorough understanding of how they affect human health because even trace amounts of these dead germs could potentially carry harmful pathogens on surfaces where children play.

Tempera Paint for Kids

Although tempera paint is considered safe for children, the CDC advises against letting kids younger than five use it because they are more susceptible to infection. If you’re using this medium with a child, make sure he or she wears gloves and wash their hands as soon as possible afterward.

Tempera paint for kids can also be purchased in powdered form but we suggest you opt for ready-to-use options instead since working with dry ingredients requires proper ventilation to avoid inhaling toxic dust or tripping on open containers.

Does Tempera Paint Fade?

The pigment colors in traditional egg tempera paints are considered permanent because they don’t fade easily. What you have to worry about is the yellowing of the medium over time which happens when hydrogen sulfide gas forms through oxidation, turning the white ground layer into an off-white color while also changing its chemical properties.

The only downside to using liquid commercial tempera paints as opposed to traditional powdered pigments is that they will fade quickly if exposed to sunlight.

This phenomenon with modern temperas made primarily from organic dyes typically takes months rather than years to occur, but it is still something to be mindful of when deciding what surfaces are best suited for your projects.

How to Make Tempera Paint Permanent?

If you want to know how to make tempera paint permanent, the good news is that this type of medium can be used with acrylic paints or varnishes so they will last much longer than traditional ones.

What’s more, there are several commercial products available on the market which combine both techniques for enhanced durability while also improving overall performance and color saturation.

The downside to using these types of additives in your artwork is that they tend to change the appearance slightly by adding a glossy finish or making colors look lighter due to high levels of titanium dioxide pigment content found in some brands which makes them incompatible with certain art techniques such as sgraffito (scratching through layers).

How Long Does Tempera Paint Take to Dry?

While it varies from one brand and type of liquid commercial temperas to another, most will be completely dry within a few hours. What’s more, artists often use spray fixative as an extra precautionary measure against smudges and fingerprints which can ruin their work.

Tempera paints are usually water-soluble so they can be diluted after drying which makes them suitable for other techniques such as glazing (painting translucent layers) but you need to act fast before they dry out completely otherwise their consistency will become thicker than usual making application trickier.

Is Tempera Paint Washable?

Using liquid commercial tempera made primarily from organic dyes such as urea resin or guar gum for example can make your artwork waterproof but also more prone to smudging and flaking off over time when exposed repeatedly to humidity (moisture in the air).

This makes them suitable for painting murals outdoors so they won’t be damaged by the rain if installed correctly beforehand whereas traditional egg-based paints are often considered too brittle due to their high levels of protein content derived directly from eggs found inside each shell which can cause cracks.

How to Use Tempera Paint

What Surfaces are the Best for Tempera?

There are many factors that determine how well the paint will perform on any given surface. Tempera is an opaque medium but it does not cover as densely or smoothly as acrylics do, however, this may be beneficial for some projects because of its unique translucent quality when applied thinly.

Tempera Paint on Canvas

If you want to know how to use tempera paint on canvas, the first thing artists need to consider is what type of surface and primer has been used beforehand.

Tempera Paint on Wood

The same principle applies if you’re wondering how to use tempera paint on wood. What’s more, it may be worth testing out the effect beforehand because egg-based paints such as this can take several days to dry depending on what type of glue has been used and whether or not your project is exposed to humidity (moisture in the air).

This makes them unsuitable for certain types of surfaces including bare untreated pine boards especially after the furniture has already been finished with a clear sealant which will prevent any form of penetration altogether.

Tempera Paint on Fabric

When it comes to surfaces such as fabric, artists need to be aware that commercial temperas made from urea resin or guar gum for example are usually best suited because they’re water-soluble which means you can use them on top of any color material.

Traditional egg-based paints tend to stick better if applied in layers over a hard base coat so painting with too much force may result in irreversible damage. What’s more, these types of pigments will also soak through thinner fabrics especially when used repeatedly and/or without primer beforehand.

Tempera Paint on Glass

When it comes to surfaces such as glass, whether or not your project is intended for indoor use only should make a big difference depending on what type of commercial tempera paint you’re using.

Egg-based paints will become brittle over time if exposed repeatedly to humidity whereas urea resin and guar gum-based products are better suited because they won’t cause cracks even when applied several times with no primer beforehand.

Tempera Paint Techniques

The traditional techniques used for tempera paint are the same as those applied with acrylics, only using a more limited range of tools. What you’ll need to get started is paper or cardboard tacked down securely on your work surface so it doesn’t move around while you paint and an assortment of palette knives, rags, sponges, and other implements for applying wet mediums in controlled ways.

Dry Brush

Dry brushing is a technique where paint is applied in small amounts using an angled brush. What makes it unique from other styles of painting, is that the artist does not load up their tool or wipe off excess pigment before applying it to the canvas. Instead, they only use what’s already on the bristles which transfers more delicate strokes and keeps colors light while giving surfaces texture depending upon how much pressure you apply when working your way across them.

This method works best for creating effects such as sun-bleached textures by gradually building layers over time if necessary after letting each coat dry completely between applications until desired results are achieved. In fact, many artists recommend practicing this style beforehand so you can master blending subtle gradations into your work as you go.

This technique is most often applied to watercolors, but it can also be used for creating unique effects with tempera paint when trying out different styles of artwork which are not possible using other media alone. What’s more, the dry brush application method works well on top of acrylics or oils because they provide a sturdy base coat capable of bearing the weight without buckling even if paints are mixed together in layers over time.


Using sponges for dry brushing is an extremely versatile technique that can make your artwork look like it has been lifted from old paintings or illustrations depending upon how much effort you put into each stroke before letting them dry properly between applications until desired results are achieved.

There is no need to worry about ruining your work as you can easily correct mistakes by simply removing excess paint from the surface using any soft absorbent material such as old rags or cotton swabs then repainting what was there before until desired results are achieved.

What’s more, this technique works great for detailing and highlighting certain areas with greater precision which makes it an excellent choice for traditional portrait painting and many other styles of artwork where accuracy is key!


What makes the double-loading technique unique is that you’re applying two different colors of paint onto your tool before mixing them together on the canvas as opposed to blending pigments from a single tube. What this means for artists looking to create subtle gradations and blends between their strokes, is they now have twice as much control over how those transitions appear because each color can be applied independently until desired results are achieved.

The first step involves filling up one end with a darker shade then doing the same at another section using a lighter hue after letting each coat dry completely between applications until desired results are achieved. This method works best when trying out new styles of artwork where accuracy isn’t key but rather creative expression takes center stage instead!


Scratching out is a technique where you remove sections of paint by scratching away lighter layers with various tools such as knives, screwdrivers or even your fingernails to reveal darker colors underneath. What makes this method unique from others in the same category including sponging and dry brushing, is that it allows artists to create complex textures like tree bark which cannot be achieved with any other style of painting alone.

What’s more, tempera can also be used for creating beautiful effects when paired together using different techniques on top of each layer until desired results are achieved! In fact, many people recommend practicing these styles beforehand so you have an idea of what works best before trying them out during one- mural projects or traditional portrait paintings just to name a few.

What Is the Difference between Tempera and Acrylic Paint

There’s a lot of confusion surrounding the difference between acrylics and tempera paints because they are both made from synthetic polymers. They are often used interchangeably by artists even though there are very distinct differences between each type of medium when using traditional techniques.

What makes tempera unique from others though is that – unlike watercolors and oil pastel, tempera doesn’t mix with water or oils but rather consists of only two parts: pigment and binder just like its predecessor egg tempera!

Read more about the best acrylic paints in our buyer’s guide.


If you’re wondering what the best tempera paint is for your needs, it all comes down to personal preference as their effectiveness varies from one type to another which means they are suitable for different types of projects whether at home or school.

What’s more, traditional powdered pigments may be trickier to find in craft stores whereas liquid paints are widely available online these days so just do some research before buying if you want something that will last over time without fading too quickly compared with regular egg-based ones.

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