Do I need professional art supplies to be a professional artist?

Many new artists face this problem? Do I need to have the most expensive professional art supplies to be a professional artist? And what if you can’t afford these art supplies?

Hopefully, this post will help you define some of the problem and solutions you can have around expensive art supplies.

What do you need to ook out for when buying art supplies and is it necessary to buy the most expensive supplies?


What grades of art supplies are there?

Every brand uses their own system when it comes to grading their art supplies. Generally speaking, we have some standard grades; 

  1. No
  2. Student grade
  3. Professional grade

Higher grades of art supplies are often higher pigmented and more durable. But this does not specifically means archival quality. Archival quality depends on all the supplies used and the techniques in which they are used.


No – Grade

No grade stuff usually is not the stuff you buy at art supply stores. This often is the cheapest stuff you can find. This doesn’t necessarily mean its bad quality all together but often it is made of cheap pigments and solvents or other materials. For example, colours don’t seem to be as bright or the colours fade more quickly.  This is the stuff you buy at the cheaper stores and while sometimes it can be a great bargain, it can also be a big miss-buy due to quality issues.

However, when you find great cheap stuff it is an amazing way to experiment and create loads without investing loads of money.


Student Grade

Often more high-end brands have cheaper lines that fall under the Student Grade. Student grade is still less pigmented but should be reasonable quality stuff. You can use these supplies for learning and experimenting! Depending on the brand (always research this!) you can really get professional results with this stuff.


Professional Grade

Professional Grade arts supplies should be highly pigmented. They should give great vibrant colours with just a little bit of medium. Even within the Professional Grade, you can still find quality differences. Overall, however, these are almost always the best quality.

One of the other reasons professional grade is better is because they use more expensive pigments. When buying paint in the professional grade you have even different price points between the different colour because of the pigments used.


More terms to look out for;



Lightfastness refers to the fading of the colour under the influence of (sun)light.

Some pigments are more lightfast than others. This means that even high-quality paints and other mediums can vary in their lightfastness.

Often it is either on the product itself or you can check it out online.

For example this overview of the Professional watercolours from Winsor and Newton

Archival Quality

Archival Quality means it should be as permanent as possible in cohesiveness and all other factors. However, this term is used loads and you should always do your own research for the products you are planning to buy.

Acid free

paper especially should always be acid-free for the best result in keeping your artworks look good for a long time.

Defining professional artist?


You can definitely be a professional artist without the most expensive art supplies. It is my firm belief that if you have the intention to be a professional artist, that is what you are.

I have heard things before like; “You can only be a professional artist if you went to art school” which is simply not true at all. Or “You are only a professional artist if you have sold work/sell work regularly”. This of course also makes no sense. Even van Gogh has officially sold only one painting in his lifetime. No one would argue that he wasn’t an amazing artist.  

While I don’t think you need art school to be a professional artist, I do think it can help you become a better artist if you understand your art supplies. The more information and knowledge you have about the different art supplies and mediums out there, the easier it will be for you to make good choices in regard to them.

When you are selling your original work, however, you should be able to guarantee some kind of quality. Of course, this also depends on the price that you ask for your work. Being upfront is always the best policy so make sure you inform your clients of any special care your work might need (including of course protection from direct sunlight etc)


What are things we need to look out for when buying art supplies?

Firstly, the best thing you can do is a lot of research. Especially if you are buying your first expensive art supplies it is a must. Also, realize there is a difference between opinion and fact. While some stuff works great for some people, that might not mean it is the highest quality available or the best for you.


Always do your research!

  • check the brand’s website
  • watch independent reviews
  • get familiar with the different terms people use

When you are buying paints especially you will see different series in one line. The series might have different price points attached. This mostly is due to the pigments. Some colours are more expensive than others because they contain expensive pigments. This does not necessarily mean that the more expensive pigments are better. This really is a combination of desired colours and light fastness of the individual paints/pigments.



If the highest quality is out of reach right now then there are still some simple solutions.

  1. Buying small quantities
  2. Getting high-quality student grade
  3. Selling prints


Buying small quantities


If you want to buy the highest quality stuff the best way to not break the bank is by starting with small quantities. Buy tube by tube, pencil by pencil and start with the most basic stuff. One of the easiest ways to start is black-&-white painting. Next start with a neutral red, yellow and blue!

After that, you can get colours that are difficult to make and a cold and warm tone of the basic colours.


Get high-quality student grade

For many brands, the student grade paint is still a highly valued product. Even if they are less pigmented they can still produce amazing results. Plus, lightfastness and archive quality are more and more common in these lines as well.

Pairing these products with a professional grade finish (like varnish) or having them behind protected glass can really help the longevity of your work.

However, it is always great to be upfront to your clients about the supplies you have used and what they can expect from your work or if it needs any care to uphold the standard. It is also wise to keep in mind that the grade of art supplies you use should play a role in the pricing of the work!


Selling Prints

While this can be an investment of its own, selling prints can be a great way to get away with using cheaper art supplies. If the final image is not to be sold, but only copied you can use whatever you want.

For selling prints you can do anything from printing at home, to giclee prints. A great, free and easy way is using a print-on-demand website like society6 that prints and ships for you. Leaving you only with the problem of getting your image on the computer.

Here you can read how to make the best photo of your artwork to upload it.  & How to set up a society 6 store step-by-step!


Shortly said, before doing art supplies doing some research is always a great idea. Of course, you can also depend on some quality brands over all. But you can definitely be a professional artist without the most expensive art supplies.

So all in all the answer mostly depends on what your intentions are with your artwork. But you being a professional artist doesn’t have anything to do with the art supplies you use. So whatever your budget is, it is all about keeping creating with the means you have.

Need answers on an other big question; Do I need art school to be a professional artist?

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