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Updated October 2021
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Buying guide for best art sets

Whether you’re a long-time artist or you’ve always wanted to pick up a drawing habit, choosing art supplies can be time-consuming and confusing. With the endless variety of pencils, paints, erasers, and other drawing materials available, how does one choose? An art set simplifies everything. These sets include an assortment of drawing and painting tools that cater to every experience level.

Before you add an art set to your cart, it would be useful to consider some factors. Is this art set for an absolute beginner? If so, you might search for one that comes with a drawing guide with expert tips. Some art sets are meant for drawing only, while others include both drawing and painting tools. And, of course, you’ll want everything in a neat, attractive box.

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When it comes to sketchbooks, pay attention to the weight of the paper, usually measured in grams per square meter (gsm) or pounds. You want heavier paper (at least 200 gsm) for painting, while 70 gsm is adequate for pencil drawings.

Key considerations

Skill level

All artists, aspiring or veteran, must have a good-quality art set. But a beginner can be intimidated by a 180-piece kit. In that case, beginners should lean toward sets that include a drawing booklet for reference. You may also want a smaller art set, with no more than 60 pieces. That should be plenty to master the basics, play around, and figure out the drawing techniques you like before you move on to a more comprehensive kit. Veteran artists already know their style and will have an easier time deciding on a set. While experts can certainly benefit from a 145-piece set, there’s no harm in choosing a simpler model, too.

"Mineral-based materials like charcoal and graphite don’t have a shelf life. Just be sure to avoid crushing them or getting them wet, and store them in a cool, dry environment."

Type of art set

Drawing: Of all the art-making tools, the pencil is the most utilitarian and common. Chances are you’ve already used a No. 2 pencil for doodles in the margins of your notes or for quick sketches in lieu of an art set. Here are some of the drawing tools an art set might contain:

  • Graphite pencils: If nothing else, most drawing sets include a range of soft and hard graphite pencils.
  • Colored pencils: There may be oil- or wax-based colored pencils, too.
  • Watercolor pencils: These are similar to colored pencils except they’re made with a water-soluble base and meant to be used with a wet brush.
  • Charcoal: The set can also include charcoal pencils or sticks, which draw softer and darker lines than graphite does.
  • Conté crayons: These are a mix of pigment, clay, and charcoal or graphite.
  • Extras: A drawing set should also include different pencil sharpeners and a variety of erasers, such as gum or kneaded.

Painting: If you know that you want to stick with paint, then a painting set isn’t a bad idea. Some of these include a mini palette and arrive in a wooden box that can be turned into an easel.

  • Acrylic: These paint sets are a fine choice for beginners. The versatile paint dries quickly. It’s nontoxic, easier to control than oil- or water-based paints, and can add interesting texture to the canvas.
  • Watercolor: These paints are also commonly found in paint sets, though they’re much harder to control and not as forgiving as acrylic paint. But this is also what makes watercolor paints fun: you can go with the fluidity of the paint and embrace your mistakes, turning them into “happy accidents.” Acrylic paint sets include synthetic-bristle brushes in varying sizes.
  • Oil paints: Some art sets include oil paints, which work best with natural-bristle brushes. Note that many oil paints, and the solvent used to thin them, are toxic.

Multimedia: Whether you’re a multimedia artist or you want to dabble, a multimedia art set can cover all your needs. Many of these sets contain graphite pencils, colored pencils, watercolors and/or acrylic paints, a pencil sharpener, one or two erasers, and a miniature palette.

Art set features

Container: Art sets include dozens of pieces, so it's imperative to have a sturdy container that keeps your things in order. Many painting or multimedia sets arrive in a wooden box, and some boxes turn into a desktop easel. If you anticipate traveling with your art set or sketching or painting outdoors, a container with a handle is especially useful. Some more streamlined sets come in a zippered case that you can easily toss in your bag or backpack.

Sketchbook: If you’re particular about the paper you use, you may already have a sketchbook on hand. For those who aren’t, it’s always helpful to get an art kit that includes one. Sketchbooks aren’t a given with all art sets, so be sure to check carefully. Sketchbooks aren’t terribly expensive, and art supply and craft stores have a wide selection. 

Art set prices

Art sets range in price from $10 to $150, with most sets in the $10 to $50 range.

Inexpensive: As with many things, when it comes to art sets, you get what you pay for. An art set in the $10 to $15 range is a great gift for kids and a small investment for you. However, someone who’s worked with high-quality pencils and paints will immediately notice the diminished quality, especially if the art set contains 80 or more pieces.

Mid-range: Art sets that cost between $15 and $25 are a step up in terms of quality. You can find a compact set of drawing pencils or acrylic paints at this price point.

Expensive: If you’re looking for a quality art set with over 100 pieces, $25 to $50 is the sweet spot. These sets will likely arrive in a nice wooden box. The higher the price point, the higher the quality and more comprehensive the components.

Premium: Over $50 is the price category for artists who know what they’re doing. Professional-quality pens, pastels, and paints aren’t cheap. Many of these sets can be transformed into a desktop easel, too.


  • Look for a set with an instruction book. While there are plenty of comprehensive drawing booklets for sale, and instructions online, a book is a nice thing to have in your art set. It’s especially true for novice artists.
  • Try all the pencils. If you aren’t already familiar with the range of pencils in your art set,  try each one out with various sorts of lines, squiggles, and shading to see how they differ. This will greatly inform your technique once you start sketching.
  • Dress appropriately. If you’re going to be painting, wear an apron or designate a set of clothes that you won’t mind getting dirty (you will get paint on them).
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Acrylic paint is only toxic when used for airbrushing or if it’s sanded. Otherwise, it’s a very kid-friendly material.


Q. Do art materials expire?
Different materials have different shelf lives, but a well-kept art kit can last a few years. Just remember to store the set in a cool, dry place and avoid dropping the materials.

Q. Are art sets nontoxic?
A. Not all kits are nontoxic. Oil paints, for example, should be used in an open and well-ventilated space. Most of our recommended art kits don’t include oil paints, however. Acrylic paints are non-toxic when used for conventional painting. Check the kit’s ingredients and labels to be sure. 

Q. Are art sets suitable for children?
Yes, there are sets suitable for children, grandchildren, or prized art students. Just check the materials to make sure they’re nontoxic. Also note that art kits contain small pieces, therefore they’re not suitable for children under age three.

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