Beginner’s Tips: Inking on a Budget

One of the hardest parts about making art is paying for the materials. Here are some tips and tricks to help you manage your budget and create some wonderful art!

Ink is so versatile; you can mix it up with color, or stay traditional with black ink and still produce a multitude of washes to create depth and tone.

Inktober has come and gone, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stop making ink drawings! (Learn more about the Inktober 2016 Experience here)

Whether you are looking to continue on with Inktober, or pursing a new passion for the medium, these tips and tricks will help find great quality materials both in stores (for reasonable prices) and around the house for you to use on your artistic journey!

Here are a few essential materials you need to get started:

1. Ink/Brush

The main ingredient when it comes to inking. You need ink and a tool to apply the ink to paper. There are so many different types of inking materials out there, from inking pens such as the Sakura Pigma pens (about $8 for a 6-pack of varying point sizes), to ink in a bottle and brushes (Japanese calligraphy or American watercolor brushes).

Nibs and nib holders (similar to what Japanese artists, such as mangaka, use when making their manga comics), are also great to use.  You can buy student or artist grade quality products for all of these tools. Student grade materials, which are much cheaper, can get the job done, but they can often wear easily, and become harder to control over time.

Here are some examples of tools that I used during the month of Inktober.

Dr. Ph Martins Black Star Matte India Ink – $10 on amazon

Fine watercolor brushes (12-pk) – $14.97 on amazon

After about a month of drawing full ink illustration pieces everyday (so about 31 pieces), I have about 1/4 of ink left in the bottle (which was full when I started). Pretty good considering how much detailing I put into my work.

You can a 4-pk or 6-pk brush set which will be cheaper (I only ended up using 2-3 brushes out of the pack because I liked them the best), but as for the ink I recommend investing in good quality, especially if this is your final layer.

2. Paper

Technically you can ink on whatever surfaces you want (for you mixed media people like me J), but it won’t always stick, or the ink might bleed through the material. So paper is a safe bet to start out with. I use watercolor paper, because it’s manufactured to absorb a lot of water yet allow the ink to retain its vibrance.

There are many brands, weights and types of watercolor paper. You can get cold press or hot press paper, which slightly changes the texture of the paper. Thicker paper is normally better when working with ink, but packets can get pricey.

My go-to stats for paper have developed through trial and error with other mediums, including ink. You can start off here and tweak as you learn more about what works and doesn’t work for you! The paper I am describing below comes in a 30 sheet pack that goes for approx.. $7.99 on amazon. Pretty good deal right?


Type: Coldpress (the more texture for me the better)

Weight: 300 grams (140 lbs). You’ll see grams as a more common measurement than pounds for these kinds of papers (in my experience).

Size: 9 in x 12 in | Brand: Canson


3. Cup for Water

You can use anything to hold your water; I reuse a little dixie cup. Also you need water, purified or unfiltered tap is fine. You use water to help create washes (shades of the ink) and to keep your brush wet so that the ink can “dance on the paper” and doesn’t harden up on the brush. There are times where using a dry brush can create really cool effects/ You’ll learn how to control a dry and wet brush with practice. I struggle with it all the time.

4. Pencils

Sketching is one of the most vital parts when inking, especially if you are drawing something for the first time and/or are working off of a reference. Sketching your image before with graphite pencils can help to save sooo much drawing time, and help to prevent FOMU (fear of messing up).

Everyone has their own preferences for how they sketch, but there is a general spectrum of pencil grades (values) that are used. Going from light (soft) to dark (hard) you can go from 9H to 9B. H stands for hardness of the pencil, and B is for blackness of the line. There are 21 grades total: 9H, 8H, 7H, 6H, 5H, 4H, 3H, 2H, H, HB, F, B, 2B, 3B, 4B, 5B, 6B, 7B, 8B, 9B.

When sketching, it is preferred to go for a softer value because it is easier to erase. My go-to grades are HB or F pencils. They provide enough hardness to see the line, especially if there is a lot of light shining on the paper, and they are fairly easy to erase.

I often switch between using a colored graphite pencil and a non-colored one. With cool colors, you don’t really see much of a difference in color at first, but I am a fan of them. You can buy a nice graphic pencil set for anywhere between $4 and $15.

**Tip** Did you know that the No 2. Pencils they always tell you to buy in school are actually graphite pencils? Its grade is HB! Though it’s not as smooth as an artist pencil, it gets the job done and they are pretty inexpensive.


5. Paper Towels/Cloth

You definitely need these to soak up the excess water from dipping between the water and ink. I prefer to use a cloth because I can wash them and reuse them (saves money)! You can get cheap cloths at any dollar store, department store, or Jouvay fete (lol Trinidad Carnival joke). I like colorful ones, but whatever floats your boat.


6. Eraser

I know its tempting to say that you’ll just use the eraser on the back of the pencil, but more often than not that eraser is going to ruin your art piece. It will create smudges that are close to impossible to fix, leave pencil lines (even with a light weight pencil), and break two seconds after you start using them. It’s worth the investment to buy legit erasers. There are two kinds of erasers that I like to use, gum and kneaded. Prismacolor offers both of them at a lovely price of $2.62. You can also get some big erasers in 3-4 packs for $3 bucks as well on amazon.


7. Straight Edge

A straight edge can be anything from a ruler to an old rewards or ID card. Something that you can use to draw straight lines with. I’ve even used popsicle sticks.

8. Box/Utility Knife

Use this to help cut out shapes or scrape away smudges, but be careful not to scrape away your whole piece! Utility knives usually cost anywhere from $2.66 to $14.90, but they average at about $5-7. X-Acto Knives can also work as well, but are a bit pricer.


9. If you are uploading online, good lighting, and an open source art program

When you take a picture of your art (unless you have a nice studio for taking photos of your pics set up/available to you) more often than not the lighting is going to be poor (too warm or too dim), there are shadows, the flash might leave a bright spot, or the image might be blurry. Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom would make life beautifully easy, but it is very expensive, and a reoccurring cost. Having an open source art program such as Fire Alpaca however, is a great way to quickly change the levels, hue, and brightness of your photo in order to get it looking like the original drawing. Or you can always use Instagram filters. They both get the job done. Both are FREE.


**TIP** I have found that if you do have warm lighting in your house, taking a pic of your work outside during daytime hours really adds to the overall look of your piece!

So what’s the total price?

I totaled the average price of ALL the essential products (and good ink + 12-pk brush set) I mentioned above and got about: $51 USD!

What a steal (Trust me, for all of these materials, this is considered cheap in the art world). If you buy a 4-pk brush, you reduce the brush cost by over half, and if you have a lot of these materials such as a ruler, old cloth, and eraser lying around at home then you can deduct those costs as well. My total cost on amazon when I went shopping was about $32 USD including shipping. Pretty awesome price for some good quality art projects!

Alternatives to Pricey Materials
  • A window instead of a light boxes

Or if it’s dark out, place your smartphone (with flashlight on) or a regular flashlight inside of a plastic container. Then place your drawing on top and tada! A drawing/light box. Just make sure as always to tape your paper in place.

  • Command strips or a coin to prevent straight edge smudges

So you draw a line with the brush using a straight edge. The line is perfect, flawless, and then you slide the ruler away and it horrifically drags the ink with it. There goes your flawless line. Fear not! The answer lies in items you have at home!

Do you know those command strips that come in packs? The actual stick parts, not the hooks. Well keep the strips together, and leave the back liner on. Place the strips under the ruler and now the ruler is slightly raised, but wont slip and slide against the paper because the strips also act as a resist! You can also try a dime or a penny, but I have found that they often slip off the ruler easily, or cause the ruler to twist.

  • Cut a paper or plastic cup an inch from the bottom, and use it as an ink holder! Now you won’t have to worry about getting ink too far on your pen or brush! I use a little mini ceramic pot (came from a restaurant giving out honey samples). 
  • Instead of buying bleed out white, or pen white for $10, try some white acrylic paint! You can get big cheap bottles of these at any arts and crafts store. Be careful though when using this, because the color of your paper may differ from the paint color!
  • Though brush cleaner is a good investment for those serious about inking or painting, a good alternative would be warm soapy water. But don’t let the brushes soak in them face down! That will change the shape of the brush. Wash them immediately after use, dry them with a cloth or paper towel, and place the plastic caps back on them (Yuko Shimizu tip! The brushes will last longer this way).

Creating Cool Ink Effects with Household Objects

Texture:  Crinkly up aluminum foil and paint so ink on it, then dab it on the paper for some cool effects.

Splatter:  Take an old paintbrush or an old toothbrush and dip it in the ink. Take your thumb (you can wear gloves and put newspaper around your workspace if you don’t want to get messy/get your area messy) and glide it against the bristles, so the ink splatters on the paper! Now you have either blood or stars, sweet.

Bubbles:  Have an old foam soap dispenser you got from Bath and Body Works that you’re about to throw out? Well don’t! Use it to create cool bubbles effects with the ink. Just mix a drop or two of ink to some soapy water and presto! Bubbles! Just make sure to test it out on a separate paper to make sure it’s the kind of effect you want.

You can also do this with a bubble wand as well! Create some really cool effects using bubbles and ink.

Stencils and Stamps: 

  • Take a piece of cardboard and cut it to whatever size you would like your stencil to be. Draw the design onto the cardboard, and with a utility knife, CAREFULLY cut out the design. Now you have a stencil in which you can color in, trace, or splatter in to!
  • Take an old eraser of any size, and draw a shape or simple pattern onto one of the faces (flat sides). Take your X –Acto blade or knife and CAREFULLY carve out the eraser around the shape (so the shape is taller than the rest of the eraser). Now simply dip the shape into ink and presto! You have a stamp to create pretty patterns with.

Using Nature:  Get outside and find some cool leaves, spikey shells, or funky flowers (that have already fallen) that you can ink on to create cool effects and patterns! The world is your oyster!


Finished Not Perfect.

I saw this video, made by Jake Parker right before I started Inktober, and it really helped me get through the month. Completing a drawing once a day is really hard, especially if you love adding an obscene amount of details, or really like to perfect your drawing. This video helped me a lot to realize that sometimes finished is better than perfect. Check it out!


Keep practicing! You can do this! You don’t need to have the best materials on the market to make amazing art 🙂

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