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The end of the school year brings so many loose ends that need to be tied up. It may leave you not wanting to bother with one more thing. Yet, this is an ideal time to survey if your art supplies can work smarter or harder for you because the school year is still fresh in your mind. High-quality products can often do both! Though we would all love to invest in costly artist-grade materials, art teachers usually need to adhere to a strict budget. You may be wondering, where is the compromise?
Knowing which brands are quality and which products to buy can feel overwhelming with so many options available. This list will point you to high-quality supply basics that offer the biggest bang for your limited bucks.
Selecting reputable brands is the first step toward ensuring you choose high-quality products. Art supplies marketed for student use and those labeled as “class packs” often sell at an attractive price point. We are naturally drawn to them because their descriptions fit our demographic. You may think, “Great! I can buy enough paint for the year for less than a tank of gas!” But should we buy lower-grade or less expensive supplies just because our students are still “learning?”
Disappointment often arises because the quality of art supplies can vary significantly. Factors like pigment load, fillers, colorfastness, and more are considerations when determining quality.
Tip: Unless you teach pre-school, avoid products marketed to daycare centers. These items are full of fillers that make them cheap, break easily, and have a low pigment load.
Artist-illustrator Amy Shulke of Vanilla Arts Company states that “cheap art materials make learning harder.” It’s easy for art students to become frustrated when art supplies lack rich pigment, blend poorly, and are not durable. Frustrated students can become turned off by creating art, making access to learning harder.
The sweet spot for art teachers is finding products that meet the intersection of quality and quantity. Trusted brands like Blick, Fiskars, Pacon, Prang, and Sax offer high-quality art supplies. Many of their products are at price points designed for art teacher budgets. It’s convenient that these brands also sell variable quantities to suit your specific needs.
1. Chromacryl’s Acrylic Paint is student-grade yet “has the body and consistency of an expert artist’s acrylic.” It comes in singles and sets of brights, primaries, and neon colors.
2. Sax True Flow Heavy Body Acrylic Paint “dries to a water-resistant, matte finish and is ideal for traditional acrylic painting as well as block printing or silk screening.” The twelve pint-sized bottles span the rainbow plus black and white.
3. Blicks’ line of Studio Artist’s Colored Pencils are mid-range in price and worth it for the secondary classroom.
Tip: For more ideas about supplies at the secondary level, check out this quick video.
4. Prismacolor Watercolor Pencils are a little on the high end when it comes to cost meets quantity. “They feature superior solubility for a smooth, even laydown of color.” This is highly desirable if you want students to practice the precision of a pencil with the desired effect of watercolor painting.
Tip: Check out this link for a comprehensive guide about regular and watercolor pencils.
5. Crayola leads in the Crayon Class Pack department. With 800 pieces in 16 colors at just over $50.00, the value for a good quality product can’t be beaten.
6. Pentel’s Hi-Polymer Erasers are an investment with their just-under-a-dollar-a-piece price point. Also, consider their rival, Alvin, which is slightly larger and a few cents more. Both are superior in removing graphite stains without crumbling or leaving a ghost of the drawing.
Tip: Extend the longevity of your block erasers by implementing a checkout sheet when using them.
7. Classic Crayola Broad Line Markers are still top-ranking for elementary through middle school students. Loved for their vibrancy, longevity, and price point, they are useful even after they “dry out.”
Tip: Soak your washable markers in baby food jar-sized containers to extend their useability by making your own DIY watercolor paint.
8. Blick’s Studio Brush Markers and Sets are a lovely option when you are ready for a more mature marker. The water-resistant and fade-resistant colors come in a dual-ended marker. One side is brush-tipped, and the other is chisel-tipped, supporting a variety of mark-making.
Tip: For a wonderfully fun guide to all things markers, check out this link.
9. It’s a classic for a reason, folks! Black Sharpie markers are the ultimate in crisp lines and are smudge-free and permanent. Class packs of Sharpies are good value for quality when used judiciously.
Tip: Teach appropriate and respectful Sharpie use. Fine point Sharpies perform best and last longest when used for outlining and coloring details instead of coloring in large areas. Students equate markers with “coloring in,” so don’t assume they will understand the intended use.
10. Paintbrushes vary widely in cost and can dramatically set your budget back if you are unsure what to buy. The Royal and Langnickel Classroom Assortment does the job of three different types of brushes, making them super economical and budget-friendly. This $100 investment allows students to paint with tempera, watercolor, and acrylic. It will last you for years with proper care and handling.
11. Blick’s brand of white sulphite, 80 lb drawing paper is a staple in the classroom. It is acid-free and holds up to multipurpose use. It’s perfect for drawing, pastel, collage, tempera, and mono-printing.
12. Pacon’s Tru-Ray Construction Paper is vibrant in color and durable in weight for the K–12 art classroom. I especially recommend their black construction paper for its fade resistance when mounting artwork for hallway displays.
13. Watercolor Paper doesn’t have to break the bank to be high quality. Blick’s Cold-Press Watercolor Paper Sheets ring in at just over a dollar if you buy 50 or more sheets. The tooth helps students differentiate this paper from others and allows colors to mix and mingle. Much of your cost-saving comes from cutting them down yourself!
Tip: Use scrap strips of watercolor paper for experiments or technique exploration.
14. Blick’s Studio Pastel Set is perfect for the teacher who wants to introduce pastels, needs a class set, and wants reliable quality for the value. Snag 144 pastels in 12 colors for under $50.00.
15. For secondary students and those with a little more budget to invest, consider renowned Faber-Castell’s student brand, Goldfaber. Their Studio Soft Pastel Sets are high-quality and “offer very smooth color laydown with excellent opacity to obtain rich pastel effects and great blending characteristics.” One set for six table groups will cost around $60.00.
16. If oil pastels are more your thing, Niji Oil Pastel Sets provide serious value for their cost. Their brilliantly colored sets come in increments of 12, and there are even options for fluorescents and metallics.
Tip: Check out this resource for more information about buying pastels.
17. Scissors are a non-consumable investment that you will have for years if you take good care of them. This is one essential to spend extra dollars on. Fiskars is in the blade business. They make high-quality kid’s sets in blunt and pointed shapes as well as longer shears for secondary students.
Tip: Build up to two sets of scissors, one for paper and one for fibers. Your fibers scissors will stay nice and sharp when not cross-contaminated with paper artmaking.
18. Check out Blick’s eight-color set of multicultural tempera paint. This tempera is “made with less filler and less water and won’t flake, chip, or crack.”
19. Prang’s Ready-to-Use Washable Tempera Paint is an excellent choice, with several size options at various price points. You can opt for the pump gallons, choose pint-sized bottles, or test out the 8 oz size for smaller projects. Many primary age teachers swear by Prang’s Gallery Tempera Cakes for easy cleanup.
20. Blick’s concentrated, dye-based Liquid Watercolors last forever, making them a solid investment. Experiment with diluting the viscous formula to achieve a range of translucency.
Tip: For younger children, prepare concentrated, liquid watercolors in palettes ahead of time, then allow them to dry out for easy distribution. Students can reactivate them with water and experiment with various dilutions.
Quality art materials last longer and inspire better care and storage. When you know you have spent only a few dollars on something, it’s easy to think, “Oh, I’ll just get more if these get ruined.” The mindset that items are single-use generates more waste, costs more money, and creates more work for you to replace them.
Remember, “cheap” and “inexpensive” are not the same. It is possible to purchase high-quality supplies that are relatively inexpensive. Aiming for art supplies with longevity and durability is the goal. Thoughtfully spending your money so your supplies work smarter for you frees up funds for your fun wish list items! If your budget doesn’t allow for the investment in class sets or higher-quality items, you still have many options to consider.
Here are three tips if you face the challenge of a very limited art supply budget:
No matter how you go about it, investing in high-quality art supply basics will set you and your students up for long-term success. These items are the workhorses in your classroom and need to be durable. Instead of becoming overwhelmed by the number of options, put your mind at ease by using this guide to help you plan next year’s order.
What other art supply basics are a staple in your room?
Which high-quality art supplies can’t you live without?
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.