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Tempera paints are loved by parents and educators for their washability and safety. We humbly suggest a third reason to love tempera: It’s wonderfully versatile. You can buy it as liquid paint, in stick form, or as a cake, which marries the vibrancy and opacity of tempera with the mechanics of watercolor painting. In the universe of tempera paints, cakes are by far the most cost-effective and long-lasting option, making them a great pick for artists and educators alike. We present our five favorite tempera cakes below.
Richeson Tempera Cakes and Sets
In terms of sheer variety and quality, Jack Richeson’s tempera trays handily take the cake (pun absolutely intended). The paints come in reusable, refillable trays that resemble muffin tins and are available in large (2 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick), small (2 by 0.5 inches), and mini (1.5 by 0.25 inches). Richeson also sells a number of themed packs: warm and cool colors (in sets of six large cakes), fluorescents (six mini cakes), metallics (nine minis), and even a “multicultural” skin tone set (eight large cakes or nine minis). These temperas should last a long time, and once you run out of colors, it’s easy to buy replacement cakes.
Purchase: Richeson Tempera Cakes and Sets, $6.20–$193.13 on Dick Blick
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Prang Gallery Classic Tempera Paint Cakes
If you’re seeking an affordably priced, classic starter pack, we suggest Prang’s tempera paint cake set. You get nine square cakes (1.5 inches by 0.6 inch thick) in a muffin-style tray, with an extra three wells for mixing colors. Best of all, this set comes with a brush, making Prang a great option for beginners looking to experiment with solid tempera. However, these temperas are not guaranteed to be washable, so we recommend this line for adults or particularly careful kids.
Purchase: Prang Gallery Classic Tempera Paint Cakes, $12.59 on Amazon
Alphacolor Biggie Cakes
For a guaranteed smooth laydown, give these high-quality paints a go. Unlike the picks above, Alphacolor’s tempera cakes are semimoist, meaning they never completely dry out and have a somewhat more buttery texture. There’s one thing we don’t love, though: The eight-color set is the only one that comes with a tray. You’ll have to MacGyver your own if you buy the dozen deal.
Purchase: Alphacolor Biggies, $20.82–$35.35 on Dick Blick
Creativity Street ChenilleKraft Tempera Cake
In life, it’s the little things, y’know? Take Creativity Street’s gorgeous nine-count tempera cake set, for example: It’s so minor, but we’re thrilled that these cakes actually fit snugly in their tray, unlike so many others. When there’s too much room between cake and pan, water seeps into the cracks and erodes the bottom of the cakes, leaving a slippery, wet mess. Here, all the moisture stays at the surface, where it belongs. For hassle-free and super-long-lasting tempera cakes, we wholeheartedly endorse this brilliantly hued set. Each cake measures 2.25 inches in diameter and .875 inches thick.
Purchase: Creativity Street ChenilleKraft Tempera Cake, $11.99 on Amazon
Jack Richeson Semi-Moist Tempera
Speaking of semimoist tempera cakes, Jack Richeson makes those, too. This 19-count matte set offers the same high quality as the company’s other products. Though it can certainly be enjoyed by kids, but it leans toward the grown-up side of things, eschewing bold primary colors and fluorescents in favor of rich, natural hues that are perfect for portrait work and landscapes. Some users report a strong chemical smell from this set, and there’s no guarantee of washability; if you’re buying this for extra-young painters, we suggest some adult supervision.
Purchase: Jack Richeson Semi-Moist Tempera Cakes, $27.99 on Amazon