17 Tips for Saving Money on Art Supplies

In Acrylic Painting, Watercolor by Chris BreierLeave a Comment

Here are my top 17 tips for saving money on art supplies. I have developed these tips over the decades I have spent making art. As an art student it was a necessity for me to save money on supplies, but today I enjoy being frugal for different reasons. As Ben Franklin said “A penny saved is better than a penny earned.”

Saving money on art supplies means that you’ll pay less sales tax and earn more profit on the sales of your paintings. The quality of your art doesn’t have to suffer for it either.

A few of these tips are counterintuitive, and many of them will also help you to increase your productivity. There’s more to saving money than using coupons. Reducing waste and increasing the efficiency of your processes play a larger role in saving money on art supplies.

I’ve divided this article into separate sections on how to save money on paint, brushes, canvas, studio space, and picture framing. Click on the Table of Contents below to jump to a specific section.


How to Save Money on Paint

1 Paint in Thinner Layers for up to 3x’s the Coverage

While I was reading the Liquitex Acrylic Book, I stumbled upon an interesting fact. Their Soft Body acrylic has three times the coverage of the heavy body acrylics. This is due to the fact that heavy body paint is applied in a thicker layer than the thinner soft body acrylics. The Soft Body Acrylics can be applied in a thin layer so it will cover more square feet. So one tube of soft body acrylics is roughly equivalent to three tubes of heavy body acrylics. This is much better return than a 10% discount on paint!

This principle also holds true for other brands of acrylics too. For example, Golden Fluid Acrylics should have more coverage than their Heavy Body Acrylics.

The cost of artist quality paints is astronomical, which makes all of these tips for saving paint worth considering. A 2oz tube can cost around $9 on average. A gallon contains 128oz, so it would take 64 tubes of paint to make a gallon. $9 x 64 tubes of paint = $576 per gallon! Any bit of paint that you can save is worth the effort.

Cost of a 2oz Tube Cost per Gallon (Cost of 2oz Tube X 64)
$8.0 $512.0
$8.5 $544.0
$9.0 $576.0
$9.5 $608.0
$10.0 $640.0
$12.0 $768.0
$13.0 $832.0
$14.0 $896.0
$15.0 $960.0

Painting in a watercolor style with acrylics would extend your paint even further. You can use a combination of water and acrylic medium to thin out soft body acrylics or use acrylic inks.

Painting styles are highly personal, so perhaps you’re not willing to sacrifice your thick brushstrokes in order to save money. However, there are ways to save paint even if you like to apply the paint in a thick manner.

2 Use Acrylic Gels & Molding Paste to Build Texture

Perhaps painting in thin layers doesn’t work with your style. Acrylic gels and mediums may be what you’re looking for. Gels will allow you to create thick textures in your paintings without breaking the bank. With the cost of acrylic paint as high as it is, it makes financial sense to use the cheaper acrylic mediums to build up texture. The mediums are cheaper because they don’t contain any pigments, which are the most expensive component of acrylic paint.

You can use the medium to apply a texture to the canvas before you start painting. Many artists use this technique to create subtle brushstrokes that will show through in the final painting. It’s possible to create thick and interesting textures with the gels and modeling pastes that are available.

Another approach is to add the gel medium directly to your paint. It will make the paint more transparent but you can usually add some to thicken up the paint without making it too transparent. Extending the paint will make it less expensive to paint in thick layers. I find gels work better than modeling paste for this purpose. Modeling paste is white so it would tint your colors and create a pastel effect.

The transparency of the gels can create interesting effects. The matte gels have a dull translucent appearance that’s similar to encaustic paints. Encaustics are a combination of oil paint and hot wax.

3 Use a Paint Tube Wringer

A paint tube wringer can help you to use every last drop of paint. See the acrylic paint pricing table to get an idea of how expensive acrylic paint really is.

Squeezing the paint out of a tube with only your fingers means that your throwing out a little bit of paint out in the trash with every tube. As I stated at the top of this post, paint is one of the most expensive art supplies.

A paint tube wringer is a small clamp with two rollers that squeeze the tube as you turn the key. No matter how hard you try to squeeze out all of the paint with your fingers, you can always squeeze more out by using the wringer.

I found a plastic paint tube wringer on sale at a local hobby supply store. It worked to save money and paid for itself many times over until it broke in 2018. The other criticism I have is the plastic rollers don’t grip the tube of paint very well. I compensate for this by pushing the tube through as I twist the knob to force it through. I’m replacing it with a metal tube wringer, which should hold up longer and grip the tube better.

It’s worth buying an extra one for use around the house. I’ve got one for squeezing out toothpaste and other products that come in a tube. I don’t recommend using the same wringer for food and paint. Some pigments are toxic. The best rule of thumb for safety in the studio is to only use your painting tools for painting, and leave the kitchen tools in the kitchen.

4 Stop Wasting Paint

The one problem that most palettes for acrylics don’t address is how to keep the paint wet on the palette between sessions. There’s nothing more wasteful than having paint dry up on the palette before you had a chance to use it.

You can cover a palette with plastic wrap to keep it drying out overnight. However, you may lose some paint when take the plastic wrap off. If the wrap is touching the paint, some of the paint will stick to it when you take it off. A Tupperware container with raised sides may work better, especially if it has a lid.

The Masterson Sta-Wet palette is an airtight box that contains a sponge with a special sheet of paper on top. It keeps acrylic paint wet while you paint. It has a Red plastic lid that keeps the paint wet between sessions which will save you time and money.

There are many DIY palette ideas but I find that the Masterson Sta Wet palette is the best solution that I’ve found so far. The price is fair considering that it comes with everything you need including five sheets of palette paper. The wet sponge does a good job of keeping the paint wet as I work. I never have to mist the paint with water to keep it wet while I’m working. The paint stays wet for days.

The Masterson palette is another one of those art supplies that will pay for itself over time. I also like being able to mix large batches of color and having it stay wet for an entire week while I work on a painting. Every 4 days or so, I’ll rinse out the sponge and container to prevent mold.

Use Leftover Paint

When I’m done with a painting, I scrape up all of the leftover paint and mix it up into a neutral gray. It’s wasteful to just throw it away. Most paintings contain neutral grays in them and the leftover gray can be used to dull down color mixtures. Store it in an airtight container and use it in your next painting.

5 Store Your Acrylic Paints Properly

It’s disappointing to open a tube of paint only to find out that it has dried up in the tube or has gone bad. Allowing your paints to go bad is like throwing money in the garbage. Acrylic paint can go bad so it’s best to store them properly so they will last a long time. Acrylic paints are best stored at room temperature, away from sources of heat.

Try to avoid exposing them to extreme temperatures. Acrylic paint can survive being frozen or exposed to high temperature, but it will affect the shelf life.

Make sure the caps are on tight and that the threads aren’t clogged up with dried paint.

If you thin acrylic paint with water and you want to store them for an extended period of time, it’s best to use distilled water so mold doesn’t develop.

Another tip is that I find it helps to designate a specific location for storing my paints so I know which colors I have on hand. Otherwise, if I leave tubes of paint in different locations I’m more likely to lose track of them. This could lead to buying duplicate tubes of paint or just forgetting about them long enough that they go bad.

6 Avoid Expensive Pigments

The price of a tube of paint varies by the type of pigment that is used. A 2oz tube of paint can cost between $5 and $15. The cadmiums are known for being expensive. They’re useful because the colors are bright and opaque. Cadmium Yellow is more opaque than any other yellow that I know of.

While all of the above is true, there are times when a less expensive pigment will work just as well as the more expensive one. Naphthol Red Light and Hansa Yellow are much cheaper than the cadmium versions. Golden Paints also makes an opaque version of Hansa Yellow. I like the Pyrrole Red and orange but unfortunately they’re just as expensive as the cadmiums.

Hue Colors

Manufacturers also offer “Hue” versions of the more expensive colors. These are colors that are mixed from multiple pigments to approximate the original, more expensive versions. For example, there’s Cadmium Orange “Hue” from Liquitex. It’s a mixture of Diarylide Yellow, Perinone Orange, and Titanium White. It won’t be as opaque as the Cadmium Orange but it’s about $5 cheaper.

While the “Hue” versions of standard colors don’t have the same exact properties as the actual pigments they’re named after, they can have their uses. It doesn’t make sense to use a more expensive pigment such as Cadmium Red if you’re just planning on mixing it with black to make a reddish brown. You can use Naphthol Red Light instead and save the cadmium for when you need a very saturated and opaque red.

7 Compare the Cost per Oz Instead of the Cost per Tube

Shopping for art supplies is a lot like shopping for food. If you have ever done any price comparisons in the supermarket, you will be familiar with the strategy of comparing the price per pound instead of the overall price for the entire package.

Most supermarkets have the price per pound listed on the price tag for easier comparison. It’s cheaper in the long run to spend $3 for 2lbs of food (which is $1.50 per pound) than it is to pay $2.75 for 1lb of food. At first glance, $2.75 seems cheaper than $3, until you realize you’re getting half as much food.

The same is true for art supplies. The standard tube of paint is 2oz but there are many other sizes available. Tubes of watercolor paint come in a variety of sizes. QoR watercolors are available in 11ml tubes while Daniel Smith watercolors are available in 15ml tubes. The size differences make it difficult to determine which is more expensive.

The way to figure out which is cheaper is to divide the price by how many milliliters the tube contains. That will tell you what it costs per ml. You can do the same for ounces if the tube is in ounces.

8 Avoid Student Grade Paint

This tip is counterintuitive. Student grade paint may seem like a bargain but the reason student grade paint is cheaper is because it contains fillers. They also use cheaper pigments.

The other problem that I had with student grade paint is the consistency of it. It doesn’t seem as buttery as artist quality heavy body paints, nor does it flow as easily as fluid acrylics.

If you’re looking to save money on paint, I would suggest buying a limited palette of professional grade acrylics and extend them yourself with the acrylic medium of your choice. Then when you need stronger colors you can use them straight from the tube.

A better way to save money on paint is to paint in thinner layers as I suggested in the section on painting in thinner layers. As I stated above, Liquitex claims that their soft body acrylics will cover 3 times the surface area of the heavy body acrylics. You could extend them even further with water or other acrylic mediums to extend them even further, although they will be more transparent.

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