CB22-016- What is tempera paint used for

What is tempera paint used for?

Tempera paint is one of the most commonly used paints out there. If you head to any school, we do not doubt they will have stacks of the stuff (you may sometimes see it referred to as ‘poster paint’. But, what can tempera paint be used for?

You can use tempera paint for a multitude of different projects. It is very much a general arts and crafts painting. You may find it used on windows, paper, or, as the nickname suggests, in creating posters. It truly is a universal paint. 

We want to try and tell you everything there is to know about tempera paint on this page. We are going to cover the uses of the paint. 

However, we also want to go into depth on how you use tempera paint and how you clean it up. We also want to offer a bit of a comparison to acrylic paint, mostly because these are two of the more common paints you will use in your art projects.

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What Is Tempera Paint?

First things first, you may have seen a paint called ‘egg tempera paint.’ This is not the same as standard tempera paint. For starters, there will be no egg in sight in the latter. 

Tempera paint is very much used for general arts and crafts projects—the sort of jobs where you may not need to go into a huge amount of detail. Professional artists mostly use egg tempera paint. It tends to have a much more premium feel but can be tougher to work with.

Tempera paint is a water-based paint. It contains the following ingredients:

  • Water
  • Starch
  • Calcium carbonate
  • Coloring pigments (pigment ingredients will vary based on the color of the paint)

One of the great things about tempera paint is that it is allergen-free and non-toxic. This is why you see it used so often with children. It shouldn’t matter too much if they get some in their mouths. Not that we recommend getting paint anywhere near your mouth. 

What Is Tempera Paint Used For?

This is the ‘big’ question that we want to answer. What is tempera paint used for?

You can use tempera paint in almost all of your arts and crafts projects, assuming that you are not creating anything that is meant to last for years and years. This is because tempera paint sticks well to most surfaces (more on that in the next section!), but it does fade over time. 

It may not completely disappear, but it isn’t going to have the same sort of flair that it had when you first painted it.

Let’s go through some of the more common uses of tempera paint. This is not a definitive list. We are sure that you will be able to develop your own ideas. Tempera is a fantastic paint to have in your arts & crafts arsenal. 

1. Children’s Painting

As we have said several times on this page, tempera paint is often used to paint with children. This is mostly down to the fact that it is allergen-free and non-toxic. However, there are a few other reasons why it is often used with children.

For starters, it is dreadfully simple to clean up tempera paint. As long as you have some warm water and soap, you should be able to wipe most surfaces clean. This is assuming that the paint is still a little bit wet. Things do get trickier if it has been absorbed into a material. 

Tempera paint also mixes incredibly well. This means it shouldn’t be too tricky for children to make different colors by combining paints. This is great for adults too. After all, many people want to mix up paints to create awesome new colors.

2. Posters, Paper, and Card Painting 

Tempera paint is known as ‘poster paint’ for a reason. This is the fact that it is brilliant at being able to paint onto paper and card.

If you are planning on creating epic pieces of artwork that you can show off, or perhaps designing a greeting card that you can send to a friend or family member, then tempera paint is going to be fantastic to use. 

Remember, the tempera paint is going to fade over time. There isn’t much that you can do about this. However, tempera paint is fantastic when you are looking to create posters, signs, and any other temporary artwork. If you are looking for something that will sit on your walls for years to come, then you may want to look elsewhere.

3. Window Painting

Because tempera paint washes away easily, you will find that it works incredibly well for painting on glass. 

During the winter months, you will find that a lot of artists love to whip out their tempera paints and paint some awesome Christmas imagery onto their windows.

Of course, you can also use tempera paint in stores, restaurants, etc. for advertising purposes. The ease of washing the tempera paint away means that you can put something different up in the window every day.

4. Combing With Other Artistic Media 

One of the great things about tempera paint is its matte finish. It is also incredibly easy to paint on top of. You can use most art materials on top of tempera paint e.g.:

  • Chalks
  • Crayons
  • Pens
  • Pencils
  • Other paint

This means that a lot of people use their tempera paints as a ‘base’ for other art projects that they are working on. You may sometimes see these referred to as ‘mixed media’ art projects i.e. you have multiple different painting/drawing materials to create something that looks unique. If you love your arts & crafts, then this may be something that you will want to experiment with.

5. With Animals 

Did you know that zoos use tempera paint with their animals? It works well for animal enrichment projects. We suppose this makes sense since it is non-toxic.

Now, you may be wondering why this is relevant to you. You are looking for something with arts and crafts, right? Well, why not use tempera paint to try and get your pets involved with your painting? 

We are sure that a stylish footprint here and there certainly wouldn’t go amiss.

6. Decorating Ceramics

Tempera isn’t the best paint for use on ceramics. There are far, far better options out there. Still, there are a surprising number of people that do enjoy painting their ceramics with tempera paint. 

It does seem to stick incredibly well to the ceramic, and it is often used when the ceramics cannot be run through a kiln.

In our experience, the color of the tempera paint doesn’t seem to fade as rapidly on ceramics as it does on other materials too. Because the tempera paint is non-toxic, you may even be able to use it on ceramics that you plan to eat out of, or perhaps are growing plants in.

7. On Experimental Projects

Tempera paint is incredibly cheap. Because of this, you will often find a lot of people who will use tempera paint for their more experimental projects. This is because they can afford to go wrong with it. 

Tempera paint does have a ‘cheaper’ feel to it, though. It works well when you are painting on a basic canvas, but when you are painting onto premium materials, it won’t even do the premium material justice. Acrylic paint will.

We recommend that you use tempera paint when you are looking to get to grips with the world of arts & crafts. You may even use it for a bit of basic project planning. However, if you want to create something that you can truly show off, then you may want to start looking into more premium paints. 

8. Other Jobs 

As we said before; this isn’t an exhaustive list of everything that you can do with tempera paint. It is an incredibly versatile paint. If you pick yourself up some tempera paint, then we are 100% positive that you will be able to use it in just about every project that involves a dab of paint.

In the following section, we will walk you through the various surfaces that work well with tempera paint. We are sure that you will generate even more ideas from that!

What Surfaces Can You Use Tempera Paint On? 

Tempera paint works best if your arts & crafts project involves at least one of the following:

  • When the material that you are painting onto is absorbent. 
  • When you need to remove the paint after a short while.

1. Paper

Tempera paint works especially well on thin materials. This means that it can work great on paper.

Tempera paint can work well if you have a child getting into arts and crafts or perhaps want to decorate a scrapbook.

The color will fade over time, but perhaps nowhere near as much as some of the other materials that you may paint the tempera paint onto.

2. Card

Just like paper, cards are super absorbent. It doesn’t matter how thick the card is either.

We have seen people use tempera paint to create signs, posters, and even scenery in a theater. The possibilities are endless!

If you are planning to create a piece of artwork that you can put in your home, we recommend that you use card instead of paint. We find that the paint sticks a little bit better to the card. It seems to be a bit more absorbent. 

3. Wood

Wood is absorbent. This means that tempera paint works well with it. It isn’t the best paint that you can use for wood, but it is certainly passable.

When you use tempera paint on wood, ensure that the wood never goes outside. The tempera paint will just wash away!

4. Plastics

Some people argue that you cannot use tempera paint on plastics. To be honest, we do see where they are coming from. It doesn’t stick to plastic especially well and is more of a temporary paint that you can use. However, we are still including it on the list of materials that you can paint onto with tempera paint.

The reason? Because tempera paint isn’t loaded up with additives. 

We don’t know how often you have worked with plastic. However, there are a lot of paints and glues on the market that do not play nicely with it. They can cause the plastic to fade a little bit, or they don’t stick at all. In other cases, they may even result in a slight ‘melting’ of the plastic.

This is not something that you are going to need to worry about when you are using tempera paint. While it won’t stick incredibly well to the plastic, at least you don’t have to worry about ruining the plastic when the time comes to wash that tempera paint off finally.

5. Glass

As we mentioned before, tempera paint is excellent for glass because it can wash away easily.

This means that you can easily use tempera paint on your windows, mirrors, etc.

The one time where you may not want to use tempera paint on glass is if there is a tint film on the glass. The tempera paint doesn’t stick to it well, and there is a good chance you will ruin the glass.

6. Ceramics 

Tempera paint works well when you are painting ceramics, assuming the ceramic is unglazed.

Once again, make sure that the ceramics do not come into contact with anything wet. It will end up washing the paint away. 

This means, for instance, you can use the paint to paint the outside of a plant pot, but you can’t paint the bottom or the inside as water will likely end up touching it.

When Should You Avoid Using Tempera Paint?

Sure. Tempera paint is a highly versatile paint. However, this doesn’t mean that it is going to work well on every surface. There are situations where you will probably want to avoid using tempera paint and, instead, opt for oil-based paint.

1. Canvas

In most cases, tempera paint doesn’t work well when you are painting canvas.

The problem with tempera paint is that it is very prone to cracking. This means that when the canvas twists and moves, the paint starts to crack a little bit. It won’t be long before the finish starts to look rather hideous.

The only times that we suggest that you use tempera paint is in the following situations:

  • The canvas that you are painting onto is unlikely to move
  • For temporary painting projects

Although, even then, there are going to be better paints that you can use e.g. acrylic. 

2. Anything That Could Potentially Get Wet

Tempera paint is water-based paint. it is water-soluble.

If you get tempera paint wet, then it will wash away. The paint may completely disappear, or you may end up with a severe amount of fading.

So, if there is a likelihood that the tempera paint will come into contact with water, especially if it is being used outside, then do not use it. Use something else.

3. Metals 

You can use tempera paint on metal, but it doesn’t work especially well.

The problem with metal is that it isn’t absorbent in the slightest. The paint will just sit on the top, and it can easily chip or start to flake away.

Once again, this is a material where tempera paint could potentially be a temporary option. However, even then, we suggest that you consider other paint types instead.

How Do You Use Tempera Paint?

Since children use tempera paint, it is dreadfully simple to use as you can imagine. 

Types of Tempera Paint

Tempera paint will come ready-mixed (in bottles), or you can purchase powdered tempera paint.

If you have ready-mixed tempera paint, use it as you normally use your paint. It is ready to go straight out of the bottle, although some people will thin it out a little bit with some more water.

If you have powdered tempera paint, you will need to mix the powder with water. This will typically be a 1:1 ratio. Although we do urge you to read through the instructions for your powdered tempera paint just in case there is anything different with the brand you have purchased.

Preparing The Tempera Paint For Painting 

You don’t need to do much to prepare the tempera paint. Just squeeze it out of the bottle or mix it with water and you should be good to go.

You should be doing all of your mixing in a paint palette. Because tempera paint dries incredibly quickly, it doesn’t mix well once it is on the material that you are painting.

Only work with small amounts of tempera paint at a time. This means that you should only have enough on your palette to cover you for the next 10-15 minutes. Anything more than that, and there is a good chance the paint will dry before you get to use it.

Painting With Tempera Paint

Tempera paint only needs a thin layer. You don’t need to lay it on too thick. Tempera paint is all about being absorbed into the material. If you have heavy layers of paint, you will probably notice that the tempera paint fades much quicker.

Layering With Tempera Paint 

You can layer tempera paint, but it isn’t recommended.

Dry layers of tempera paint don’t blend all that well. This can result in some rather odd colors appearing. This isn’t great when you are planning your artistic masterpiece!

If you must layer the paints, always ensure that the base layer is dry first. You will then need to layer on the next lot as thinly and as evenly as possible. If you lay it on too thick, you run the risk of covering up the paint below.

We recommend that you do not go for more than 2-3 layers. If you need more than that, you may want to try a mixed media piece instead e.g. including some crayons and pencils, rather than just stacks and stacks of tempera paint.

How Do You Remove Tempera Paint?

One of the reasons why tempera paint is used in so many different art projects is down to the fact that it is incredibly easy to clean. If the paint is still wet, you will probably be able to wipe it away with warm, soapy water. If the paint has dried, things become a little more difficult, but it still shouldn’t be impossible.

Soak The Stain

If you have managed to stain your clothing with tempera paint, then you can soak it in warm soapy water. Most of the time, the stain will just brush right on after.

If you have stained wood, plastic, or glass, then leave a soapy solution on the stain for about 5-10 minutes. You should then be able to wipe it clean. It may take a bit of scrubbing, but eventually, you will break down the tempera paint stain just enough for it to disappear. 

Still Not Disappearing? 

If you still can’t get rid of the stain, then you may want to try soaking it in white vinegar for a short time. After soaking in white vinegar, you should be able to brush the stain away with warm, soapy water. 

How Does Tempera Paint Differ From Acrylic Paint?

We want to wrap up by giving a bit of a comparison between tempera paint and acrylic paint. This is because they are the two most popular paints used in home arts & crafts projects. 

As we have said several times on this page, there are some situations where tempera paint doesn’t work that well. In these situations, you may want to use acrylic paints instead. 

We will only focus on where acrylic paint performs a little bit better here. After all, we have already gone into depth on all of the situations where tempera paint will work a lot better for you.

Acrylic Paint Is Better When You Want a Gloss Finish

Tempera paint dries with a matte finish. This will likely be fine for most of your home arts ; crafts projects, but sometimes you may want a bit of gloss. We don’t know about you, but we think that acrylic paint gives a bit more of a ‘premium’ feel.

Acrylic paint works well when you are not planning on layering paints, or perhaps when you are looking to cover up the material or color beneath completely. 

Acrylic Paint Is Better When You Want a Permanent Finish

By this point, you will already know that tempera paint fades over time. We have mentioned this on this page several times. It may take months, if not years, but the tempera paint will eventually fade.

This isn’t the case if you are planning to use acrylic paint. Acrylic paint will likely fade, but it could take dozens of years, even the low-quality stuff. So, if you are planning on creating an art project that you want to show off for years to come, then acrylic will always be the number one choice.

Acrylic Paint Is Better On Canvas

Acrylic paint dries thick and tough. It takes a lot to get acrylic paint to crack.

As we mentioned before; if you plan to paint onto canvas, you should never use tempera paint. It could take days before it starts to crack.

Stick acrylic paint on canvas? It is never going to crack. At least, not in the near future.

Acrylic Paint Is Better On Expensive Materials 

People always say that tempera paint is ‘cheap.’ it is. When it dries, you really can tell that it is cheap paint.

As we mentioned earlier on this page, tempera paint doesn’t work well when painting onto premium quality materials. It looks a little bit tacky. In this situation, you will probably want to opt for acrylic paint. It just looks better.

Final Word

Tempera paint is cheap paint. However, this doesn’t mean that it won’t come in useful for your arts and crafts projects. If you do a lot of scrapbooking, poster making, or greeting card making, then tempera is an excellent choice. It also works well if you plan to get your children, or even your pets, involved in your arts ; crafts projects.

If you are planning to dive into arts and crafts, we recommend getting yourself a good selection of tempera paints. Even if you do opt to use other paint types, you will be using the tempera paint a lot…even if you are using it for nothing more than planning out your next project.