Can You Use Acrylic Paints on Top of Tempera Paint?

When it comes to the world of art, experimentation is often key to unlocking new realms of creativity. Artists are known to push boundaries, blending techniques and mediums to achieve unique effects on their canvases. One intriguing question that arises in this context is whether acrylic paints can be successfully used on top of tempera paint. In this article, we delve into the intricacies of this artistic combination, exploring the compatibility, challenges, benefits, and creative possibilities that arise when layering these two distinct types of paint.

Understanding Acrylic Paints and Tempera Paints

Before we dive into the compatibility of acrylic and tempera paints, let’s take a moment to understand these two paint types individually.

Acrylic Paints: Versatility and Quick-Drying Charm

Acrylic paints have gained immense popularity in the art world due to their versatility and rapid drying time. Comprising pigment suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion, these paints can be thinned with water, offering a range of viscosities. Once dried, acrylics form a durable and water-resistant layer that’s suitable for a variety of surfaces, from canvas to wood.

Tempera Paints: A History Rooted in Tradition

Tempera paints, on the other hand, have a history rooted in tradition. These paints consist of pigments mixed with a water-soluble binder, often egg yolk. Used since ancient times, tempera paints were favored for their vibrant colors and smooth finish. Modern tempera paints may use synthetic binders, but they retain the water-soluble characteristic that sets them apart.

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Key Differences Between Acrylic and Tempera Paints

Understanding the differences between acrylic and tempera paints is crucial in gauging their compatibility when layered.

Composition and Chemical Properties

Acrylic paints are made up of pigments suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion, making them water-resistant and flexible when dry. Tempera paints, with their water-soluble binder, have a unique working characteristic that differs from acrylics.

Permanence and Longevity

Acrylic paints are known for their permanence and resistance to fading over time. On the other hand, tempera paints, while historically revered for their luminosity, might require additional care to maintain their vibrancy.

Paint Layering Basics

The concept of layering paints is integral to achieving depth and complexity in artworks. However, when combining acrylics and tempera, understanding the basics of paint layering becomes essential.

The Concept of Paint Layering

Layering paints involves applying one layer of paint over another to create visual depth, blend colors, or achieve specific effects. The order of application and the compatibility of paint types play a crucial role in successful layering.

Factors Affecting Adhesion Between Paint Layers

Successful layering hinges on the adhesion between paint layers. Factors like the surface texture, drying time of the underlying layer, and the nature of the paint types themselves all influence how well the layers adhere to each other.

Can You Layer Acrylic Paints Over Tempera Paints?

The core question remains: Can acrylic paints be layered over tempera paints? While the combination might not be a straightforward one, it’s not entirely impossible.

Adhesion Challenges: Acrylics and Tempera

Adhesion challenges arise due to the differences in the chemical composition of acrylic and tempera paints. Acrylic paints form a water-resistant layer when dry, which could potentially repel the water-based tempera paint, leading to adhesion issues.

Preparing the Tempera Surface for Acrylic Application

To improve the chances of successful layering, preparing the tempera-painted surface is crucial. Lightly sanding the tempera layer, creating a slightly textured surface, can help improve the adhesion of acrylic paints.

Potential Issues and Considerations

When layering acrylic paints over tempera paints, several issues and considerations come into play.

Color Opacity and Mixing

Acrylic paints tend to be more opaque than tempera paints. This opacity can affect how colors interact when layered, potentially altering the intended hues.

Texture and Consistency Interplay

The texture and consistency of acrylic and tempera paints differ. Acrylic paints might have a thicker consistency, which could affect the texture of the final artwork when layered over tempera.

Tips for Successful Layering

Navigating the complexities of layering acrylics over tempera requires careful execution and attention to detail.

Surface Priming: Creating a Friendly Base

Priming the tempera-painted surface with a layer of acrylic gesso can create a more compatible surface for acrylic layering, enhancing adhesion and reducing the risk of cracking.

Gradual Layering: Building Depth with Patience

Instead of applying thick layers all at once, opt for gradual layering. This allows each layer to properly adhere and dry, reducing the risk of cracking or peeling.

Experimental Approaches and Creative Outcomes

While the compatibility of acrylic and tempera paints might pose challenges, the potential for creative experimentation is immense.

Blending Techniques: Acrylics and Tempera Fusion

Experimenting with blending techniques can yield fascinating results. Blending wet acrylics into a tempera base can lead to unique color transitions and textures.

Mixed Media Magic: Incorporating Other Materials

Embrace mixed media by combining acrylics and tempera with other materials. Incorporating elements like collage, ink, or charcoal can create visually captivating artworks.

Preserving Your Artwork

Preserving the longevity and quality of your layered artwork requires thoughtful consideration.

Sealing the Layers: Protecting Your Work

Applying a clear acrylic sealer over the finished artwork can help protect the layers, enhance colors, and provide a uniform finish.

Display and Storage Considerations

When displaying or storing layered artwork, keep them away from direct sunlight and environments with extreme humidity or temperature fluctuations.

Real-Life Examples and Artist Insights

Gaining insights from artists who’ve experimented with acrylics over tempera paints can provide valuable guidance.

Insights from Artists Who Explored Acrylic-Tempera Combinations

Hearing from artists who’ve embraced the challenge of layering acrylics over tempera paints can shed light on the potential benefits and pitfalls of this approach.

Exploring Alternatives

While the combination of acrylics and tempera holds promise, it’s essential to consider alternatives.

Alternatives to Layering: Side-by-Side Application

Instead of layering, consider the side-by-side application of acrylics and tempera paints. This approach allows for a separate exploration of each medium’s qualities.

Mixed Media Adventures: Beyond Acrylics and Tempera

Extend your creative horizons by exploring mixed media beyond acrylics and tempera. Incorporate oils, watercolors, or other unconventional materials into your artwork.


The question of whether you can use acrylic paints on top of tempera paint is one that beckons artistic exploration. While the compatibility might not be seamless, the pursuit of creative expression often thrives in uncharted territory.

As artists, embracing experimentation allows us to break boundaries and uncover new artistic dimensions. Whether you choose to layer acrylics over tempera or explore alternative techniques, the journey of artistic discovery is one that enriches your creative spirit and unveils the limitless potential of your imagination.

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