Art Education

How to use tempera paint, tempera cakes, and tempera paint sticks 

There’s a reason tempera paint is a classroom staple. Washable, quick-drying, and nontoxic, plus vivid color payoff? Yes, please! 

Another perk is that there are three different types of tempera to choose from, each with its unique benefits: liquid paint, cakes, and paint sticks — you may already have all three in your supply cabinet. 

In this post, you’ll learn about and compare these three options, and you’ll come away knowing how to use tempera paint more effectively in your lessons. 

Tempera paint is ideal for classroom use because it's washable and dries faster than other paints, such as acrylic. 

What is tempera paint? 

Liquid tempera paint is likely what you first think of when you hear “tempera.” This water-based paint has a thin, creamy consistency and a smooth matte finish.  

What are the benefits of using liquid tempera paint?  

  • Tempera paint is ideal for classroom use because it’s washable and dries faster than other paints, such as acrylic. 

  • Because it is water-soluble, you can add a little water after the paint dries to cause it to lift and move again.  

  • As the only liquid tempera option, it has the best weight and consistency for teaching color mixing. 

  • It works best on absorbent surfaces, such as heavy weight drawing paper, but it can also be used on poster board and cardboard.  

How does it compare to tempera cakes and paint sticks? 

  • If you’re looking for a traditional washable and classroom-safe liquid paint, this is the way to go.  

  • Compared to the other two, liquid tempera paint makes more mess and requires more setup and clean-up time. 

  • Leftover tempera paint must be returned to the original bottle or another storage container to stop it from drying out.  
  • Of the three options, liquid tempera paint is the most cost-effective.  

What are tempera cakes? 

Tempera cakes are dry, solid paint blocks that are activated with water.  

Tempera cakes are dry, solid paint blocks that are activated with water.

What are the benefits of using tempera cakes?  

  • Cakes last a long time and are easy to distribute to students and clean up at the end of the lesson.  

  • They function like watercolor paints and give a result that looks like watercolors — dry and matte.  

  • Tempera cakes are a great stepping-stone for younger students to try before using traditional pan watercolor paints, whose softer composition is more easily “jabbed” by the brush.  

  • Older students love to experiment with tempera cakes as well, in part because of the fast drying time and easy workability for long-term projects.  

  • They are easy to clean. Just hold the cake under running water, swish a brush over the top, and it’s all clean for the next use. 

How do they compare to liquid tempera paint and paint sticks? 

  • Unlike liquid tempera paint, most tempera cakes come in a pan or holder of some kind, which makes them easier and faster to distribute and store.  

  • The solid cakes are easier to switch in and out of pans. For example, you could create palettes of tempera cakes that just have primary colors or any other color family for specific lessons. 

  • Tempera cakes are the most resilient in storage of the three options because you don’t have to worry about them drying out. 

What are tempera paint sticks? 

Tempera paint sticks are easy-to-use, twist-up tubes that require no water or brushes. The paint dries smooth and slightly glossy. 

Tempera sticks are creamy and smooth when applied.

What are the benefits of using tempera paint sticks?  

  • Tempera sticks are creamy and smooth when applied. You can press lightly to get pastel-like results or more firmly for poster paint results.  

  • They do not require water or brushes, make very little mess, and are easy to clean up. 

  • They dry relatively quickly (depending on the number of layers added) and work on a variety of surfaces, although they work best on mixed media or heavy drawing paper.  

  • Once dry, the colors are just as vivid as acrylic paint.  

  • Tempera sticks are great for color blending.  

  • Little hands have no problem using tempera sticks and yielding awesome results.  

  • Older students are attracted to the bright colors, as well as the metallic and fluorescent options.  

How do they compare to liquid tempera paint and cakes? 

  • Tempera sticks don’t work as well as a brush when you want to do detailed work. They are more like drawing tools that can fill large spaces quickly. 

  • They look like glue sticks and have similar issues in the classroom. Caps can go missing, caps can be replaced on the wrong stick, and product can be smushed into the cap when it’s not turned all the way. If you are willing to go through similar procedure talks as you do with glue sticks, tempera paint sticks offer great outcomes.   

All these types of tempera offer a great medium for you and your students to create colorful works of art. And there’s no need to choose just one. If you keep two or even all three options on hand, you’ll be ready to tackle any tempera project. 

How to use tempera paint

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