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.
There’s more to saving money than using coupons. Reducing waste and increasing the efficiency of your processes often plays 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. You can use 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 about Liquitex Acrylics, I stumbled upon an interesting fact, their line of Soft Body acrylics 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 create a thinner layer of paint so the same volume of paint will cover more square feet.
So one tube of soft body acrylics is roughly equivalent to three tubes of heavy body acrylics.
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.
Here’s the math. 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! See the table below.
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)|
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. I wrote about this in-depth in my post about how to make acrylics look like watercolors.
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.
Check out my post about using gels to thicken paint. It includes a video that demonstrates how to make acrylics thicker. I also test out DIY solutions for thickening acrylics which includes adding flour and joint compound.
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 which have a satiny finish.
3 Use a Paint Tube Wringer
Squeezing the paint out of a tube with only your fingers means that you’re throwing out a little bit of paint out in the trash with every tube. That’s because you can’t get enough leverage with your hands.
A paint tube wringer is a small clamp with two rollers that squeeze the tube as you turn the key. These rollers have grooves in them so it pulls the tube through 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 tube wringer. As I stated previously, paint is one of the most expensive art supplies in your studio.
Some of the advertising for these wringers state that they can help you to squeeze out an extra 30% more paint. I don’t know how accurate that is, but you will definitely be able to get more paint out of each tube.
I recommend spending the extra money on a metal tube wringer or at least a plastic one that has metal rollers. Sometimes the plastic rollers slip and don’t grab the thicker plastic tubes very well. The metal rollers grip the tubes much better.
The tube wringer works on food and medical products that come in a tube, although I recommend buying a separate wringer for those products.
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
Since paint is so expensive, the quickest way to save money is to stop wasting it.
Allowing your paints to dry on the palette between painting sessions is usually the main way that artists waste paint. There’s nothing more wasteful than having paint dry up before you had a chance to use it.
You can cover a palette with plastic wrap to prevent the acrylic paint from drying out overnight. However, you may lose some paint when you 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. Plastic wrap will only keep the paint moist overnight. Eventually, the paint will dry out.
This is especially true if you’re using palette paper because it absorbs some of the moisture from the paint. Aside from drying the paint out, the moisture also causes the palette paper to wrinkle.
DIY Wet Palette
Some acrylic artists use old Tupperware containers to keep their paint wet overnight. This will help to lock in the moisture and keep the paint wet.
You can put a wet sponge in the container to increase the humidity which should help to prevent the paint from drying out. Another option is to squeeze out your paint out on a folded up wet paper towel.
While you can’t mix colors on the paper towel, it will prevent your piles of paint from drying out.
The problems that I have with DIY wet palettes is the sides are usually too tall and the sides of the container are usually too tall. When you mix colors with a palette knife, the tall sides can get in the way.
The bottoms of the food containers usually aren’t perfectly flat and the corners are rounded.
Use a Masterson Sta Wet Palette to Save Paint
I recommend using a Masterson Sta Wet Palette. It has much shorter sides and it comes in different sizes.
They even make a palette for keeping oil paints fresh. It’s basically the same thing but would the sponge and palette paper.
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 week 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, mix it up, and save it for later. It’s wasteful to just throw it away.
You can store leftover paint in an airtight container and use it in your next painting. I bought these disposable salad dressing containers from Amazon. The lids are tight enough to keep the paint wet.
If you’re looking for sturdier containers then you may want to try these small plastic containers. They hold up to 4 tablespoons so it’s about the right size for leftover paint.
In the video below, you can see how I scrape the used paint off of my palette. When I stir it up it usually creates a neutral gray, but this depends upon the color you use in your painting.
Many of my still life paintings have gray backgrounds. The background in my acrylic painting demonstration below is the leftover gray from previous paintings. I usually have to adjust the color of it to get the exact shade of gray that I want.
5 Store Your 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.
Watercolor paint can last a long time, but it’s possible for watercolor paint to dry out or go moldy. Checkout my post about the shelf life of watercolor paint for more information.
Tubes of 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. Paint dries out faster when you don’t tighten the cap fully.
Use distilled water to dilute acrylic paint if you plan on storing leftover paint for a while. Tap water may encourage mold to grow in the paint.
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 it contains. Some colors can cost up t $15 for a 2oz tube.
The cadmiums are an example of a pigment that’s in the most expensive series.
The line of Cadmium pigments are useful because the colors are bright and opaque. For example, 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 Hansa Yellow Opaque. I like the Pyrrole Red and orange but unfortunately they’re just as expensive as the cadmiums.
Liquitex recently released cadmium free reds, oranges, and yellows. They look and behave just like the original cadmium colors, and they’re much less toxic. Unfortunately they’re just as expensive.
By comparison, Cadmium Orange Hue isn’t nearly as opaque as the Cadmium free orange from Liquitex. The next section explains what “hue colors” are in more detail.
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.
Some hue colors are meant as replacements for pigments that are fugitive. Fugitive pigments are prone to fading, and the hue color is a more permanent version of the original color.
One strategy is to save the expensive pigments for when you need brilliant color, and use the less expensive pigments for mixing the dull colors.
It doesn’t make sense to use an 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.
In case you’re wondering, mixing red with black or Ultramarine Blue will create brown. I demonstrate a variety of ways to mix brown in my ultimate guide to mixing brown which includes a YouTube demonstration. And I explain why brown isn’t on the color wheel.
7 Buy Art Supplies in Large Quantities
It’s not a secret that buying products in large containers can save money. This approach to buying art supplies can save you money–if you’re smart about it.
The one thing that you have to keep in mind is that it only makes sense to buy large quantities if you believe you will be able to use up the materials before they go bad. For instance, a large gallon of acrylic paint may dry out before you have a chance to use it up.
Nevertheless, buying supplies in larger quantities can provide you with substantial savings. Below are a few examples.
Save Money-Buy Paint in Large Quantities
At first glance a small 2oz tube costs less than a 4oz jar. But if you calculate what the paint costs per ounce, the larger jar is actually less expensive.
It’s simple to calculate how much paint costs per ounce, even if you’re not good with math. All that you have to do is divide the price by the amount of paint that’s in the container.
Most brands list the volume in both ounces and milliliters so you can make the same formula to calculate the cost per milliliter if that’s what you’re used to.
Below is a real world comparison of acrylic paint. I list three different sizes of Bone Black and compare the cost per ounce.
|Size||Price||Price per oz|
|2 oz Tube||$7.41||$3.71|
|4 oz Jar||$11.47||$2.87|
|128 oz Jar||$136.07||$1.06|
As you can see, the gallon is substantially cheaper per ounce. The tube is $3.71 per ounce whereas the gallon is $1.06 per ounce. That’s a savings of over 71%.
The example above is real world pricing that I found on multiple art supply websites in 2020. The princes will change in time, but the principle should still apply.
Buy Canvases in Bulk to Save Money
One area where buying in large quantities really pays off is with art supplies that never expire. For example, unused canvases can last forever if you store them properly.
When you find a brand of canvases that you prefer, check to see if they offer a bundle of canvases at a cheaper price. Many craft supply stores have bundles of 5 or 10 canvases at lower price.
Don’t make any assumptions about price though, do the math and figure out how much it costs per canvas.
These deals exist online too. I’ve been shopping at Blick Art Materials for years now. Their service is great. I rarely have any issues but when I do, they take care of it in a friendly manner.
Anyway, I’ve been using the Blick Studio canvases and they offer discounts when you order 10 or more of the same size. You can save even more if you buy 20 or more.
|Quantity||Price Per Canvas*|
Currently, when you buy 20 canvases at a time, you’ll receive a 38.4% discount. You’ll probably also qualify for free shipping because Blick usually offers free shipping when you spend a certain amount.
So you can save almost 40% and have them shipped to your home for free.
Additionally, you save the time and the gas money that you would have spent shopping around for supplies and stretching the canvas.
*These examples are from 2020. Please keep in mind that art supply stores have the right to change their pricing or their discounts at any time.
8 Avoid Student Grade Paint
This tip is counterintuitive because student paints are actually cheaper, so why do I recommend avoiding them?
Student paints are cheaper because they contain less pigment, or they use less expensive pigments. It’s not as if the generic brands of paint at the craft store are the same quality as the professional brands of paint–there are compromises.
These compromises may not matter to the beginner or the student who is using them for a class project. However, any serious amateur or professional artist should be able to notice the difference.
The least reputable brands may not even use lightfast pigments, so the painting may eventually fade. A painting with excessive fading is pretty much a total loss, and it doesn’t help your reputation as an artist.
The more reputable brands of student paints use permanent pigments, so they shouldn’t fade. Liquitex Basics and Winsor & Newton Galleria acrylics are both examples of student acrylics that use permanent pigments.
Winsor & Newton also have a line of student grade oils and watercolors.
How to Make Your Own DIY Student Grade Paint
What I suggest is to make your own student grade paints. You can do this by purchasing a limited palette of professional grade paints, and then extend them yourself.
For example, if you paint with acrylics you can add acrylic mediums and gels to extend them. The mediums are less expensive because they don’t contain any pigment.
There are oil painting mediums that you can use to extend oil paints.
You’re essentially making your own student grade paints, but it gives you full control over how the paint looks and behaves.
These mediums can control the drying times of the paint, change the thickness, and the surface sheen.
As for watercolor paint, you would just add more water. Professional watercolor paint usually have a greater pigment load than the student grade paints. So you can add more water to them.