ways* to save money on art supplies

*Mostly legal

This is the first year that I left my house during Black Friday. I was not impressed. I waited until Cyber Monday. I was even less impressed. Here are some suggestions that will save you WAY more money than any stupid retail holiday, brought to you by arguably the thriftiest artist in the world.

Disclaimer: Information put forth on this blog post is not necessarily endorsed by Kelly Finan, Kelly Finan Illustration, or Finan Enterprises. Consider it to be a study on how some people save money, not necessarily the ways in which I save money (except for when it is explicitly stated, or alluded to in an anecdote). I am not paid by anyone for the opinions expressed in this post, or any of my other posts. (Ha! I wish!)

Saving money costs time. If you don’t like to spend copious hours looking for a deal, then by all means buy the first thing that you see. I like to window shop, find cheap alternatives, and do my own equipment repairs when I have time. Sometimes my cheapness takes hours out of my life. It’s about the chase.

Still with me? Okay, here’s the equipment that I have, and the cheapest/best way that I have found to get it (or get it fixed!):

Printers are the bain of my existence. They are roughly 298759287352 times overpriced, the ink is even more overpriced, they break within minutes of the warranty expiring, and the repair never costs less than the printer. As The Oatmeal puts it, “Either printer ink is made out of unicorn blood, or we’re all getting screwed.” How to get less screwed:

1. Epson.com + Retailmenot.com = massive discounts.
Three years ago I bought an Epson R1900 inkjet. List price was somewhere around $500. It was on sale for $400, and with the coupon codes on retailmenot.com I managed to eek the price down to around $250, plus free shipping. Retail Me Not is not particularly useful for most sites (I check every time anyway), but at Epson.com it can offer glorious savings.

2. Buy or salvage a laser printer for everyday stuff. I use the Epson about once ever couple of months (a set of new cartridges for that beast costs well over $100… more on that in a minute) for prints that will be framed. For everything else, I prefer a laser printer. I found an old HP printer/scanner/fax/copier with some toner left in it at a yard sale for $10 a few months ago. Used, you can pick something like that up for around $50 on Craigslist. Just make sure it has a USB connection, not a parallel port. I’ve fired a ton of black/white prints (reference photos, usually) out of that old thing and it’s still got toner in it.

Note: Inkjet printers, for everyday use, are the devil. For some reason lots of people are under the delusion that an inkjet printer is a great idea for the everyday printing needs of your home office. Mostly they are a great way to throw away a lot of money on ink. This comic expresses my views on inkjet printers. If you decide to go this route, I’d recommend a continuous flow ink system (~$20 on Ebay) but I wouldn’t install it until after your warranty is expired, as it will void the warranty.

3. If the warranty has expired, at least consider fixing it yourself. My most recent printer problem involved a tiny squeegee that was stuck in a little bit of stray ink (the printer was a Canon MX700 inkjet). When I told Canon what the error code said, they told me it would be a $120 repair and recommended I buy a new printer. When I looked up the error code myself (yay Google), I found out about the stuck squeegee and freed it. Internet searches indicate that this sort of this is frequent.Words cannot describe my disgust with printer companies and their wastefulness.

Cameras: I love cameras almost as much as I hate printers. I am the proud owner of a Nikon D40 DSLR (purchased in 2007) and a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS10, which is a shock and waterproof point and shoot. In the last month I got my Nikon lens repaired for free and got the Panasonic Lumix for free. Here’s how:

1. Lens warranties are excellent, but underadvertised. When the zoom on my 18-50 mm Nikkor lens started sticking (probably due to years of copious overexposure to sand on beaches, or the many photographs that I have taken while leaning into the salty spray produced by a speedboat), I asked my photo-savvy friend about it. All of the warranty papers that came with the camera/lens combo indicated that the warranty had expired in 2008. However, as it turns out, Nikon has a 5-year warranty on their lenses, which was confirmed when I called Nikon. When I mailed in the lens, Nikon repaired it and returned my 4.5-year-old lens it within a week, completely free with the exception of the outgoing shipping (~$3). According to my friend, some lenses have warranties up to 7 years! So always call your lens manufacturer before you replace your broken lens!

2. B&H Photo is the cheapest place to find digital photo equipment, hands down. Thanks to some conveniently damaged luggage by Delta, I was recently compensated for damages to my mediocre & battery-eating point-and-shoot camera. When I received the money, I scoured the internet for the best deal on a waterproof point-and-shoot camera. I did numerous Google searches and even checked Ebay multiple times. The products that I was searching for were ALWAYS cheaper on B&H (I was also hunting for a Nikon lens and some filters). Toss in the fact that B&H has a used store, and you get stuff in near-mint condition even cheaper still. Their only downside is that they are closed for just about every obscure holiday, but who cares? I scored the waterproof Panasonic Lumix, a Nikkor 18-55 mm zoom lens, and some assorted filters for only slightly more than Delta had paid me for my crappy old camera.

Computers (specifically Apple computers): Here are some pointers to avoid paying money for stuff involving computers.

1. Raise Hell. I have a 2007 Macbook Pro. Issues to date include a swollen battery that temporarily rendered the keyboard and trackpad useless, and a fried logic board resulting from a faulty Nvidia GPU. Both were repaired by Apple for free, despite the fact that my computer was 3 YEARS out of warranty.

In the swollen battery situation, I went to the nearest Apple store and carried the deformed battery around the store with me. It was moments before someone quietly whisked the battery away and gave me a new one for free. Apple does not like unhappy customers making noise in their shiny stores.

The GPU situation was a little more sticky. When my computer started booting to a kernel panic, many of my tech-savvy friends (and their friends) flocked to the problem and asked me questions about the situation until they had a theory. Better yet, they had discovered that Apple was replacing the damaged components for free, provided my computer fell into a certain range of manufacture dates. All I had to do was call Apple and ask, right? Not so easy. If your warranty has expired, Apple will not talk to you on the phone without charging your credit card $50 first. I figured out that if I called Applecare and pushed 0 enough times, someone would eventually be forced to deal with me. The guy on the other end sheepishly admitted that my computer *might* fall into that range, so I took it to a certified-repair-whateverthoseplacesarecalled, announced the problem (which they confirmed) and had it fixed free of charge. I’m not sure Apple would have fixed it for free, though, without my friends having figured the problem out first and me demanding the solution. (Thank you so much to everyone who was involved! You saved me $1200).

*Note: Raising hell also works with other things in life. I was so enraged that my the gloss optimizer on my Epson R1900 ran out that I convinced Epson to send me another.

2. Maybe just buy a PC. Macs are expensive. There doesn’t seem to be anywhere to get them on the cheap, and honestly I’m not sure that the quality difference between the Mac and the PC justifies the vast price difference. I know plenty of graphic artists who are perfectly happy to work on a PC. Macs are the only computers that I have ever used for graphics, however, so I don’t have much basis for comparison with PCs.

3. Hackintosh: the ultimate solution? This is my upcoming project. A home-built PC that can run Mac OS, in addition to Windows. It’s much cheaper, more powerful, and arguably just as reliable as a real Mac. This is a favorite reference. Yes, I believe it is a legal gray area. The project could be quite a bit over my head in terms of my computer knowledge, but the internet is always there to help, right? Right guys………….?

Speaking of legal gray areas, here’s the most gray topic of them all!


1. Buy an old version. Most people don’t need to be on the most advanced cutting edge of whatever they’re doing on their computer. I’ve been running Adobe CS3 forever, despite the fact that I am a graphics professional. It’s mildly annoying when I am sharing native files with others, and I plan to upgrade soon, but it’s not killing my business.

2. Student discounts. Again, with Adobe, you can get massive discounts of roughly 80% of you are a student or work at a school. Just be prepared to show some serious paperwork.

3. Open source software. There are some wonderful people out there that believe that all software should be free and everyone should be able to do whatever they want with their version of software. They are people like Richard Stallman, founder of the GNU project, who I recently had the pleasure of seeing at a lecture in Scranton. It was very enlightening, and you can read more about the GNU operating system and access the free software directory here (free software does not always require the GNU os).

4. ‘Obtaining it otherwise.’ AKA bit torrents. They are an option that I will neither endorse nor condemn. Google it if you want to learn more.

Professional Printing:

I use PrintDirtCheap, located in Bakersfield CA, for just about everything. They are orders of magnitude cheaper than any other professional printer that I have found (and believe me, I looked). They have superb customer service, and quite frankly I don’t think that I have ever been put on hold for even a minute. The person on the other end of the phone is always delightful. I REALLY wish that they would offer some more eco-friendly options, and I will have to stop using their services if they don’t make some advancements on that front pretty soon. But otherwise they are wonderful.

Other Art Supplies:

1. Buy Rapidographs on eBay. Rapidograph 7-pen set in stores = $60-$100. Rapidograph 7-pen set on eBay = $25.

2. Get stuff at yard sales, or wait until your housemate is moving across the country and is trying to get rid of stuff. Lots of people have brief moments in their lives when they decide to explore their artistic side. Most of them come to their senses. Cash in.

3. Coupons at AC Moore. Every week, the large art/craft supply store makes a coupon available to the public. It’s 40%-50% off any single purchase in the store, with very few exclusions. Needless to say, I get almost everything at a minimum of 40% off. (But if you live near a small independent art store, support them!).

I suck at conclusions, so I’m just going to say that I hope that this article allows multitudes of artists a little extra income to feed themselves with this year.

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