Streamline Your Ordering Process with These 9 Tips

Ordering art supplies each year is overwhelming. Many orders are due in the spring, so the race is on to find the best deals while keeping the process simple and streamlined.

It would be nice if you could count on ‘one stop shopping’ with art supply catalogs, but this isn’t always the case. You may need to place smaller orders from many catalogs to find all of your favorite supplies at the right price, leaving you with a mountain of catalogs to dig through. For example, I always ordered my paper and paint from Blick, but had to jump over to Sax to get a few specialty items I couldn’t find anywhere else.

Given all of these fun challenges – here are some simple tips to make your next ordering session a breeze and save you some cash, too!


1. Save past orders

Keep spreadsheets from previous years so you can look back at what items you ordered from each catalog. You may even want to keep each spreadsheet with its matching catalog.

2. Add tabs to your catalogs

Rifling through a large catalog can be a time suck. Add tabs to your catalogs in the categories you use the most, which will cut down on searching. Then, use a highlighter to accent the items you order. This will make searching for your favorite supplies next year even easier.


3. Don’t forget about ‘off the beaten path’ catalogs.

Some of my favorite smaller catalogs are Crystal (for posters, etc), Crizmac (for cultural supplies), Lakeshore Learning (for art room furniture/carpet) and Calloway House (for organizational materials, where I got my favorite binder).

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4. Save money back.

Always save some of your budget in case you run out of supplies mid- year and need to place a quick order.

5. Place a bulk order with other art teachers.

When it comes to things like clay, you can get a discount (and split the shipping) by getting a bulk quote for your entire art department or district. After a year or two, the process should become second nature.

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6. Comparison Shop.

It’s worth taking a peek at a few catalogs for your most used supplies, as you might find drastically different prices. That said, saving a few cents on glue or pencils may not be worth the hassle of placing an entirely separate order.

watercolor comparison

7. Look on the back of your catalog.

Read the fine print! Often if you spend a certain amount of money, shipping will be free. Don’t forget to mention free shipping when you are sending an order to your secretary, as these deals aren’t always common knowledge.

free shipping


8. Find Local Resources

Your school might qualify for discounts from certain companies or consortiums. I used arrangements like these for the basic pencils, erasers, and glue, and stuck to speciality items in the catalog. Also, superstores like Walmart have great deals during back to school time. I would stock up on yarn, glue and scissors each August, and the supplies would last me for the entire year.

9. Watch out for impulse buys!

I know the ‘art games’ section is the most fun to look at in the back of art catalogs, but resist. Quality art supplies are most important to have at the beginning of the year. It’s a good idea to keep a running wish list of extras for the art room and only consider them if you have surplus funds or a PTO donation. Another tip is to ask your librarian to order art books for the school library, so you can use them without the financial burden of buying them all yourself.

Whether you are ordering now, this summer, or in the fall – it will feel good to get this task checked off your list, and even more fun to see the boxes come in with fresh new art supplies!
**We fully realize that everyone’s budget situation is different. Some of you are working with a tiny budget, or maybe no budget at all. Those of you dealing with a less-than-ideal situation may want to take a peek at some of our favorite fundraising articles for ways to supplement your budget.**


Which catalog do you order the bulk of your supplies from? 

How do you keep the ordering process simple and streamlined? 


Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • Karen

    We order a lot of our supplies from NASCO because they give schools a 20% discount on most of the supplies in their catalog. Each school gets a code that you place on your order form to receive the discount. This basically applies to most of the items in the catalog except furniture and clay. Often, the discount lowers prices to at or below what other sales catalogs are offering.

    • Great tip, Karen! It’s good to know about these discounts!

    • Leah

      I teach in the same town as Nasco. If it’s a smaller order, I can pick it up and save 25% instead of 20%. I’m penny pinching enough that the extra 5% is worth my while!!

  • Geri

    A district I formerly worked in required bids for all POs, and I was shocked at the discounts companies would give me. If you send a spreadsheet with the supplies you want, they will fill in their lowest price for each item, which was always lower than any sale price I found.

    • Fabulous! You can get the prices even lower by ordering in bulk with other teachers, too!

  • Jeff Lahr

    I like #8, Find local sources. I think our first stop should be local stores within our own communities. I know that they don’t have everything we need and they may be a few pennies more expensive, but they can support our schools and programs in a way the big stores cannot. Buy local.

    • Jeff – I love this mentality. Local companies also may be willing to donate surplus supplies (like frame shops who have mis-cut mats)!

  • Jess

    Hi our orders can’t be done until September and we have to stay with particular companies, we can’t go crazy
    Buying extra stuff. What I do is an informal inventory at the end of the year. Create the list and have supplies to survive for about a month. We start the 2nd week of August

  • Vicky Siegel

    Has anyone’s district changed to “zero-based budget?” We are heading this way. Apparently we get a smaller amount, and then the rest we have to “ask” for. It means if you do happen to find glue at Walmart, for example, you can pick it up, but you may not get reimbursed for it! Everything has to be approved by an administrator ahead of time. Sounds like a lot of work on the administrator’s sides.

    • Vicky, I haven’t heard of this method yet, but I can see how it makes sense. Probably a way to save on spending since you have to justify everything you need. Interesting….

  • Julie Wasson

    I keep track throughout the year with a list and paper clip. When I use up the last of that ream of Manilla paper I take the label off the package before I throw the rest of it away. The tube of Cadmium Red acrylic that the student has just finished off knows that it goes on my desk so that I can add it to the list. All of those ends and bits are clipped together and at the end of the year I count out the newsprint labels and box top labels and know that I used 3 reams of 9×12 or a package of canvasette 12×14. It is simple but has always worked for me.

    We are about 20 miles down the road from Dick Blick’s headquarters so they are of course my supplier of choice. They have a GREAT discount backroom of scratch and dent for those strange things that just appear. I have a really nice table top printing press that would have been over $1000.00 but the handle was bent so $200.00 was a deal that I would not have otherwise justified. Dick Blick is also a great place to ask for bids. Look at the back of the catalog for instructions and on the average my requistions will come back with 20-30% discount. Worth the effort.

    • It sounds like you are very organized! I think we are all jealous of your proximity to the Blick headquarters!

  • Dawn Kruger

    I use Dick Blick’s website for 90% of my supplies-I put everything on a wishlist and then transfer what I can afford to the cart. Then I print the cart and attach it to my requesitions and fax it for a bid. The next year I can go back to the wish list to see what I had ordered before. There’s even a place in the cart to hold those big ticket items you might “put back on the shelf”.

  • Tanya Riehle

    If you are in NE Iowa or any Iowa school check with your AEA- the have a consortium and you get 36% of your Sax orders. There should be a link on their website!