Can You Mix Tempera and Acrylic Paint?

Painting with tempera and acrylic paint are both popular techniques for artists. But what happens when you combine these two types of paint media? Acrylic and tempera have key differences in their binders, consistency, drying time, and other working properties. Mixing the two paint types will create blended characteristics. While they can generally be combined, it’s helpful to understand how tempera and acrylic interact when mixed to get your desired artistic effects.

Mix Tempera and Acrylic Paint

Overview of Tempera and Acrylic Paint

Before diving into mixing techniques, let’s first look at what defines tempera vs. acrylic paint:

Tempera Paint

Tempera paint has been used since ancient times for artwork and decorating. The tempera technique was very common during the Renaissance era for creating murals and panel paintings. Here’s an overview:

  • Binder: Tempera uses egg yolk as the binder. Historically, egg yolk was diluted with water. Modern tempera paints use artificial egg tempera binders.
  • Consistency: It has a thick, heavy body consistency. The density allows it to cover in one coat fully.
  • Dry Time: It dries quickly, within minutes, through evaporation. Re-wetting is difficult once dry.
  • Durability: Tempera paint is not very flexible when dry. It can flake off over time, especially if painted over an inflexible surface.
  • Effects: It provides opaque, matte, velvety effects. The colors are bright and saturated.
  • Cleanup: Tempera can be thinned and washed up with water when wet. Once dry, it can’t be cleaned up with water.
  • Surfaces: Traditionally used on wood panels. Also works on canvas, paper, cardboard, plaster, and clay.

Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint was introduced in the 1940s. It uses a synthetic acrylic polymer emulsion as the binder. Here are the key acrylic paint characteristics:

  • Binder: Acrylic polymers that form a plastic-like film when dry.
  • Consistency: Acrylic paint has more fluidity than tempera. It can be thick or thin.
  • Dry Time: Dries quickly, usually within 15 minutes. You can re-wet once dry by spraying water.
  • Durability: Flexible and quite durable when dry. Does not crack or flake easily.
  • Effects: Can create glossy or matte finishes. Translucent for glazing techniques.
  • Cleanup: Cleans up with water when wet. It needs solvents when dry.
  • Surfaces: Versatile for most surfaces – canvas, wood, metal, fabric, plastic, etc.

With this overview of the two paint types, it’s clear acrylic and tempera have significant differences that will come into play when mixing them. Next let’s look specifically at combining tempera and acrylic paint.

Mixing Tempera and Acrylic Paint

Tempera and acrylic paints are generally compatible for mixing. Here are the key factors to understand:

Binders and Consistency

The different binders will affect the consistency, texture, and flexibility once mixed.

  • Acrylic is a thinner, more fluid paint. Tempera is much heavier in body.
  • Mixing the two will create a paint with blended viscosity.
  • Adding acrylic paint makes tempera more fluid and lean. Adding tempera makes acrylic thicker and richer.
  • An acrylic medium can help create a smoother blend with more consistent flow between the tempera and acrylic.

Drying Time

The drying time of the blended paint may also be affected:

  • Acrylic dries quickly, while tempera takes a little longer to dry and harden fully.
  • Mixing the two can result in a drying time between typical acrylic and tempera.
  • Too much acrylic additive may make tempera dry too fast. Too much tempera may slow acrylic drying slightly.
  • Test dry times on scrap material first to ensure it meets your needs.


Since acrylic forms a harder film, it tends to adhere better than tempera:

  • Acrylic over tempera adheres well.
  • Tempera over acrylic may have poorer adhesion and be more prone to flaking.
  • Adding acrylic medium to tempera improves adhesion when painting over acrylic.


The appearance of the mixed paint can vary depending on the ratios:

  • Tempera provides opaque coverage with a matte look.
  • Acrylic can appear glossy or matte. It can also be semi-transparent if thinned.
  • Mixing the two will create a paint with a hybrid appearance. A higher ratio of tempera to acrylic yields a flatter matte finish.
  • Bias the mix toward a higher tempera ratio for bright, saturated colours.

Suitability for Different Surfaces

Tempera and acrylic are each suited for different surfaces:

  • Acrylic works well on most surfaces including canvas, wood, metal, plastic, etc. It has good adhesion and flexibility.
  • Tempera is traditional for wood surfaces. It can lack adhesion and durability on flexible canvases.
  • Mixing the two provides a paint that works on more surfaces than tempera alone. The acrylic binder helps with adhesion and flexibility.

Now that we’ve compared the factors to consider when blending tempera and acrylic paints, next we’ll look at recommendations for the best mixtures and applications.

Recommended Mixtures and Uses

Here are some tips for successfully mixing tempera and acrylic paints:

Mixing Ratios

  • For blending consistency, start with a 1:1 tempera to acrylic paint ratio.
  • Adjust ratios as needed. More acrylic makes the tempera flow and adhere better. More tempera gives brighter colors and a thicker paint film.
  • Avoid going above 3:1 or below 1:3 as ratios get further from 1:1. This can result in poor blending of properties.


  • Add acrylic mediums to improve blending of the two paint types.
  • Flow improver, glazing liquid, or polymer mediums all help marry the characteristics.
  • Use acrylic retarder to slow drying if needed. Use acrylic retarder to extend the open time.

Paint Application

  • When mixing tempera and acrylic, it’s best to apply them first. Tempera over acrylic gives poorer adhesion.
  • For wood surfaces, seal bare wood with an acrylic primer first for better adhesion of the mixed paint.
  • Allow sufficient drying time between coats as tempera slows acrylic drying.
  • Avoid thick impasto applications as tempera paint can become brittle if over-thickened with heavy body acrylics.

Craft Paint Option

  • Some brands offer “tempera acrylic” paints designed for crafts. These have an acrylic binder added to traditional tempera pigments.
  • Craft-quality tempera acrylics provide bright colors with more versatility than basic tempera. They eliminate guesswork for mixing ratios.
  • Use these for painting items like wood crafts, ceramics, posters, and seasonal decorations. They have good flexibility once dry.


  • For canvas, lean towards acrylic-heavy mixtures vs. tempera-heavy. Acrylics adhere better to stretched canvases than pure tempera.
  • Adding too much tempera risks flaking, especially if painting over dry acrylic on canvas.
  • Gesso-primed canvas provides an ideal painting surface for tempera and acrylic mixtures. The gesso improves adhesion.

Wood Surfaces

  • On wood, tempera-heavy mixes are suitable. The tempera provides good coverage for opaque effects.
  • Seal bare wood first with an acrylic gesso or primer for the best adhesion under mixed tempera-acrylic paint.
  • Add extra acrylic medium for wood furniture or floors to ensure a durable paint film that flexes well.

Metal and Plastic

  • Acrylic adheres extremely well to smooth metal and plastic surfaces.
  • For plastic toys or metal crafts, use mainly acrylic for better adhesion and durability.
  • Adding a small amount of tempera can provide brighter colors for an acrylic paint base.


  • For interior wall paint, lean towards acrylic-heavy mixes. Acrylic has better adhesion and scrubbability.
  • Tempera paint alone allows mould growth. The acrylic binder helps mitigate this issue on walls.
  • Use acrylic wall paint formulated with mould inhibitors for the best results on walls.

Now that we’ve covered techniques for blending and using tempera and acrylic paint mixtures, let’s look at how to turn tempera into acrylic paint.

Turning Tempera into Acrylic Paint

While tempera and acrylic share similarities like water-based formulas and bright colors, sometimes a project calls for true acrylic paint properties. To turn tempera paint into acrylic paint, you need to add an acrylic binder medium:

Acrylic Mediums

  • Use an acrylic binder medium like soft or polymer gel, a matte medium, or a glazing liquid or acrylic gesso.
  • Soft or polymer gel works well to turn tempera into heavier body acrylics.
  • Glazing liquid or matte medium creates fluid acrylics for greater transparency.
  • Gesso medium can make tempera more suitable for canvas preparation.

Mixing Ratios

  • Start by mixing tempera paint and acrylic medium in a 1:1 ratio.
  • For heavier body acrylic, use a higher ratio of soft or polymer gel up to 3:1.
  • For thinner acrylics, increase the liquifying mediums up to 3:1.
  • Adjust ratios as needed. Too much medium makes paint overly thin and transparent.


  • Adding acrylic medium to tempera paint replaces the egg-based binder with an acrylic polymer binder.
  • This makes the paint dry to a more water-resistant, flexible, and durable film like acrylic.
  • The converted acrylic tempera will not re-wet or wash up with water once fully cured.


  • Acrylic mediums improve adhesion on non-porous surfaces compared to plain tempera.
  • Converted acrylic tempera has a longer open time than straight acrylic.
  • It retains some of the thicker consistency of tempera, even when a fluid medium is used.
  • Can still be thinned and blended wet into wet like regular acrylics.


  • Craft paint – Convert tempera craft paints for better durability on wood, ceramics, glass, etc.
  • Canvas – Converted tempera works better for painting on canvas than regular tempera.
  • Outdoor surfaces – For outdoor murals, signs, etc. the acrylic binder makes the paint more flexible and weather-resistant.
  • Washes – Add lots of fluid medium for tempera washes that dry permanent and water-resistant.
  • Glazes – The egg tempera provides nice transparency for acrylic glazing techniques.

Converting tempera to acrylic with mediums offers much greater versatility than basic tempera paint alone. Next let’s compare using tempera vs. acrylic on some specific painting surfaces.

Tempera vs. Acrylic Differences by Surface

Tempera and acrylic each have advantages on certain surfaces. Here’s how they compare for use on plastic, wood, and canvas:

Tempera vs. Acrylic on Plastic

For painting on smooth plastic, acrylic works better than tempera:

  • Acrylic paint adheres very tightly to plastic surfaces, including finished plastic toys. The acrylic binder creates a grippy bond.
  • Tempera will not adhere as strongly. It can scratch or peel off plastic over time.
  • For temporary use on plastic, tempera may be suitable. For a durable paint job, acrylic is required.
  • On textured plastics like styrofoam, tempera performs better. The absorbency gives it grip compared to slick plastics.

Tempera vs. Acrylic on Wood

Wood surfaces can work with either tempera or acrylic, but have differences:

  • Acrylic adheres better overall on wood if the surface is properly primed first. Bare wood should be sealed with gesso or primer to prevent absorption.
  • Tempera is very compatible with wood support panels traditionally. But it lacks the flexibility of acrylic on wood that may warp.
  • Acrylic is the better choice for a durable finish on wood furniture or floors. It resists scratches and stands up to wear.
  • Tempera can scratch or chip off more easily from wood over time. Too many layers create a brittle paint film.

Tempera vs. Acrylic on Canvas

For canvas surfaces, acrylic paint has a clear advantage:

  • Acrylic is very compatible with canvas. It sticks well to the fabric threads and flexes as the canvas moves.
  • Tempera alone lacks flexibility. It can crack or flake off the surface of stretched canvas over time as the canvas flexes.
  • Acrylic is also more UV-resistant. It will fade less quickly than tempera on canvas with exposure to light.
  • For experimental abstract techniques, canvas can work with tempera. But acrylic has much better durability.

So in summary, acrylic paint is generally the best choice for longevity on non-porous surfaces like plastic or stretched canvas. But tempera can provide advantages for short-term use, absorbent surfaces, or traditional panel paintings.

Using Tempera and Acrylic Paint on Pumpkins

Painting designs on pumpkins with acrylic paint is popular for Halloween decorating. Tempera paint can also work, but has some downsides. Here’s how the two media compare for pumpkin painting:

  • Acrylic paint adheres exceptionally well to pumpkin shells. The acrylic binder creates a strong grip on the slippery, non-porous surface.
  • Tempera adherence on pumpkins is weaker. It tends to run and bleed more easily than acrylic.
  • Acrylic paint remains flexible on pumpkins. This prevents cracking or peeling as the shell changes shape over time.
  • Tempera is less flexible. Intricate tempera painted details may crack as the pumpkin shell softens.
  • Acrylic paint is more durable outdoors. It retains color and resists washing off in wet weather better than tempera.
  • For short term use, tempera can work fine on pumpkins. But for longer lasting results, acrylic paint is the best choice.

So in summary – acrylic paint is highly recommended for pumpkin painting. But if using tempera, keep the designs simple and expect a shorter lifespan. Avoid detailed brushwork as it may crack. Now let’s recap the key points on mixing tempera and acrylic paint.


Tempera and acrylic paints significantly differ in their binders, working properties, and performance. But they can generally be combined successfully by following these guidelines:

  • Start with a 1:1 ratio for blending consistency and adjust as needed. Too much acrylic makes tempera brittle. Too much tempera reduces acrylic adhesion.
  • Add acrylic mediums to improve blending and workability. They help marry the characteristics of each paint.
  • Paint acrylic first for good adhesion, then layer tempera over it. Avoid thick impasto applications.
  • For canvas, lean towards acrylic-heavy mixes. For wood, tempera-heavy mixes work. For plastic and metal, use mainly acrylic.
  • Convert tempera into acrylic by adding acrylic mediums. This provides more versatility than tempera alone.
  • Acrylic adheres better on surfaces like plastic, canvas, and pumpkins. Tempera works for short-term use where durability is less important.

By understanding the factors involved and testing mixes, acrylic and tempera paints can be used together successfully. Blending the two allows more creative flexibility for artists and expands the possibilities for artistic effects.

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