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For easy, fun artmaking, pick up a set of tempera paint sticks. Think of these tube-shaped products as a cross between glue sticks and good old tempera paints—the color rolls directly from stick to surface, no water necessary. It’s almost like painting with lipsticks. The ideal tempera paint sticks are creamy-smooth and dry quickly, regardless of the material to which they’re applied. They’re a perfect material for young artists to use independently before they move onto paints and paintbrushes, being comfortable and easy for little hands to control. Adults can also delight in them; tempera sticks are an especially great medium for travel since they dry so quickly, and you can use them in mixed media works. Tempera sticks are also absurdly low-mess since they don’t splatter or smear. Any stains on clothing or skin should wash out with little effort. Ready to explore this low-stakes medium? Here are our favorites.
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KingArt Studio Tempera Paint Sticks
This 24-pack by KingArt is well suited for both young ones and experienced artists. It’s the only product on our list that is lightfast, which makes it ideal for works you want to keep for posterity. We like that you get 12 classic colors as well as a half-dozen sticks in metallic as well as neon colors, and colors blend well so you can create an even more expanded palette. The paint is translucent, but the quick-drying formula layers beautifully so you can create bolder strokes, and it mixes well with water so you could pick up a brush to paint more traditionally if you’d like. While best used for producing broad strokes, you can achieve fine lines by using the edge of each stick with care. The colors are vibrant and lay down smoothly.
Purchase: KingArt Studio Tempera Paint Sticks, $13.08 on Amazon
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Sargent Art Tempera Paint Stick Sets
A particularly all-around excellent set for kids, Sargent’s tempera sticks offer smooth coverage, solid colors, and a fast-drying finish. The paint is more viscous than KingArt’s, so it’s harder to achieve subtle layering and depth, but this is the perfect stuff for producing bold, eye-catching artworks. Despite this consistency, the paint dries down to a smooth, even layer that doesn’t smear. Sold in sets of 12 or 144, Sargent’s color palettes are available in classic colors or fluorescents and metallics.
Purchase: Sargent Art Tempera Paint Stick Sets, $12.60–102.36 on Dick Blick
Kwik Stix Tempera Paint Stick Sets
This superb line of nontoxic, washable paint sticks is the best pick for classrooms or group activities with young ones. Available in small sets of six, 12, and 24, they are also sold in bulk packs of 72, 96, and 144 that offer the best bang for your buck. These sticks are super creamy, apply smoothly, and best of all, dry almost instantly to prevent unwanted smearing. The colors appear translucent on the work surface but layer effortlessly while retaining their radiance. The sticks are also sturdy enough to withstand a decent amount of pressure, but they don’t crumble when pushed to paper. In addition to offering primary, neon, and metallic colors, Kwik Stix is also the only brand on this list that sells thinner tempera sticks so artists can create finer lines.
Purchase: Kwik Stix Tempera Paint Stick Sets, $5.59–$78.02 on Dick Blick
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Creativity Street Glide-On Tempera Stick Sets
These sticks buck the stubby glue-stick aesthetic that’s common among the competition and come in a longer, pen-shaped design (complete with a pen clip!). Adults may find this shape more comfortable to hold, while young ones may enjoy working with tools that feel a little more grown-up. In terms of their performance, these sticks offer bright and blendable colors that lay down even lines with consistent texture. They are slightly more opaque than KingArt’s product and dry to a smooth, almost velvety touch. Note that these sticks are sold in just sets of six, available in fluorescent or metallic colors, or a 12-pack of more everyday hues.
Purchase: Creativity Street Glide-On Tempera Stick Sets, $6.89–$10.18 on Dick Blick
TOP OF THE LINE
Playcolor Tempera Paint Stick Sets
Playcolor’s spectacular paint sticks have a similar pen-like design as those by Creativity Street, having relatively lean and long barrels for extra comfort. These top-quality tools produce vibrant, jewel-like strokes that are highly pigmented, easy to layer, and blend beautifully. Playcolor’s real calling card, however, is its three sizing options: standard, pocket, or mural. Mix and match for a range of declarative lines (the jumbo mural size is perfect for posters or signs) and intricate detail work. This line is the priciest of the bunch, but it’s money well spent. We do find that the condensed paint offers more of a learning curve than others: If you use them with young ones, spend some time showing them how to apply the right amount of pressure; it’s easy to mash down too hard and release too much at once.
Purchase: Playcolor Tempera Paint Stick Sets, $10.54–$227.85 on Dick Blick