5 Smart Ways to Stretch Your Printmaking Budget

click to see this kit on dickblick.com
click to see this kit on dickblick.com

Printmaking can be intimidating for many reasons, one of which is the perceived high cost of materials. Ink? Brayers? Special Paper? Doesn’t that get expensive!? Well, today I’m here to bring you some relief. See what I did there?

Don’t get me wrong, if you have the budget for it, there are some awesome printmaking supplies  out there. However, we know that art teachers are having to do more and more with less and less every year. Here are 5 ways to stretch your printmaking budget.

1. Invest in a few high quality materials each year
Instead of spending money on a cheap class set of something, say brayers, first invest in just two or three high quality brayers. Each year, add a few more. That way, you’re not wasting money replacing lesser materials every few years.

2. Think small
To allow for more students to experience printmaking, reduce the size of your printing blocks. Using foam? Instead of having each student create a 9” x 12” print, cut the sheets in half or quarters. Bam! You’ve just doubled or quadrupled the amount of students that get to experience printmaking.

3. Explore non-traditional methods and materials
While relief printmaking is certainly the most prevalent in schools, there are many other types to try. Try having your students use tempera paint and make monoprints using cheap transparency sheets. Or, have them use recyclables for stamping. You could even go on a leaf hunt this fall to create nature prints. If you’re set on relief, can you get a grocery store or butcher to donate styrofoam meat trays? Get creative!

4. Take Charge of the Ink
Whenever I set up my elementary room for printmaking, I make sure that I am in charge of doling out the ink. During the class period, students raise their hands if they think an ink tray needs to be refilled. If I agree, I will put a small amount of ink down. The goal is to have no leftover ink at the end of the class.

5. Set out only one color of ink, or choose ink colors that blend well together
Doing the above makes it so you don’t waste ink because it has  become “dirty” looking. For example, if you set out blue ink and yellow ink, they may become mixed as students work, but that’s ok because you will have green ink!

Printmaking doesn’t require fancy equipment. If your budget is tight, all you need is a little creativity to bring the joy of printmaking to your students.

So, how do you stretch your printmaking budget?

Any other creative ideas out there?

Amanda Heyn

Learning Team

Amanda is the Senior Editor at AOE. She has a background in teaching elementary art and enjoys working to bring the best ideas from the world of art ed to the magazine each day. 


  • Ashley

    One of my favorite projects I have done so far in my first year teaching is creating collagraph plates using recycled items such as styrofoam peanuts, sand paper, cardboard, bubble wrap etc. the students create a scene from their favorite season using these items. Sending a letter home to the parents at the beginning of the year for these items keeps them rolling in throughout the year and you can never have enough!

    • cocoschmoco

      Yep, I do a lot of collagraph printing too, with cardboard (for the plate), and paperboard, string, etc. Craft foam (I currently have a giant stash I inherited) is fairly easy to cut, and prints really well.

      I also have an old set of letter stamps, and the younger students paint them with tempera and then stamp them. Messy, but it looks great and the kids seems to like it.

  • Kathy

    When my budget was smaller, I went to grocery stores and asked for donations of meat trays, then cut the sides off with a razor to use for printmaking plates. This was before they sold sheet styrofoam! With K I usually use found materials that they print with black & white over a watercolor background. For them I use tempera in a tray, not inl and brayer. This year it was all sized round objects and I read Peter Reynold’s “The Dot.” For 3rd grade I use “shirt” cardboard, cut into what ever subject (from animals to still life in many pieces), then glued with elmer’s onto a sheet of cardboard. These do not get washed unless you shellac them. I’ve had older students make stencils with old plastic file folders (regular ones work too, but don’t last as long). If you can’t afford inks & brayers, you can color your printing plate with chisel point watercolor markers (wet a small section at a time and print using a hinged piece of paper taped to the table for registration—grade 4 and up).

    • Thanks for sharing all of these great ideas, Kathy!

  • Hope knight

    With students each printing 4-5 in a series, that uses a lot of paper, so we use newspaper for some of our simpler prints and the text becomes a design element. I also save faded construction paper and backgrounds from bulletin boards to cut up for printing. Often, imperfect papers leads to more character in the print!

    • Ella Humphreys

      I completely agree this is what I do too, I’m glad to see it works for others.
      I Iove the uniquness you get for upcycling materials.

  • A.Fogarty

    I would love to add printmaking into my curriculum but am fearful of the mess and chaos it can create. Do you have any suggestions for set up and clean up? And what grades do you find printmaking works best with?

    • I love to set up in stations and put paper over all the tables. Then, you just have to roll up the paper and you have clean tables! I’ve done traditional printmaking (ink and brayers) with students as young as second grade, but I’ve done simple printmaking (like stamping) with Kindergartners and First Graders. You can check out more of the posts from last week for other great ideas!

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