Thursday, May 26, 2016

SketchBox Premium Vs Basic

This joint review was made possible thanks to the generosity of my Patreon backers, and is a special feature.  I have no intention of regularly reviewing three art supply subscription boxes a month, as these reviews are very time consuming to research, record, and write, and take time and focus away from what I really love- making comics.  If you enjoy content like this, and would like to help fund more, please consider becoming a backer on Patreon, as those funds are used to offset the costs of running this blog.  This month's SketchBox Basic and SketchBox Premium boxes were purchased out of my own funds, and were in no way sponsored or donated by SketchBox.  All opinions are my own, based on 10+ years of artistic experience, 6+ years of art school, and 7+ years of reviewing art supplies.  Any questions can be sent to my email using the contact form to the left.

Why a Joint Review?

To satisfy the demands of my YouTube audience, many of whom take offense that I dare to say SketchBox Basic and SketchBox Premium are not worth my money compared to other services.  I believe (based on analytics) most of them don't actually check the blog for the full review despite my repeated encouragement, which does include a breakdown of the products included in Premium Boxes.  I figured you guys would  enjoy seeing a comparative review of the two tiers Sketchbox offers, so I'm happy to share it here.

Special May thanks to my April backers:
C. Ellis
Andrew Benedict
Wayne Norris
Michael Suriano

Sketchbox Basic Vs Sketchbox Premium Unboxings

SketchBox Basic

For the comprehensive May 2016 Basic Box overview, please check out my May 2016 ArtSnacks Vs SketchBox Basic post.

SketchBox Basic Overview

The Price Breakdown

Included in Both:
FW Acrylic Pearlescent Ink $6.00 on Paper and Ink Arts, $4.59 on DickBlick  (  (

Pentel Arts Color Brush (Black) $8.39 on Pentel store (, $6.19 on DickBlick (

Basic Box Exclusive:

Princeton Art & Brush Co Real Value Brush Selection
Synthetic Hair- White Taklon
- $9.50 on Princeton Site, $4.89 on DickBlick

High end, using MSRP when available: $19.28
Using common artist store, Dick Blick- $15.67
Basic Box:  $25+$5 shipping

The Materials Inside

FW Acrylic Pearlescent Ink

Pentel Arts Color Brush

This is a waterbased, dye based brush pen that remains water reactive even after it's dry.  Those of you who are familiar with the Pentel Pocket Brush may recognize its cousin, but may have difficulty finding a place for it in your comic craft.  The large ink cartridge on the back is replicable, IF you can find replacements.

Princeton Art & Brush Co Real Value Brush Selection
Synthetic Hair- White Taklon

These stiff synthetic brushes are suited more towards heavier bodied acrylics than to the ink like acrylics included in the Basic Box.  Applying ink directly from bottle to paper with these brushes leaves much to be desired, and I recommend you purchase a softer synthetic with a larger belly- capable of holding more ink.

SketchBox Premium

May 2016 SketchBox Premium Brands
  • Daler Rowney
  • FW Acrylic
  • Montana
  • Derwent
  • Prismacolor
May SketchBox Premium Box Includes:

  • Daler Rowney FW Acrylic Pearlescent Ink
  • 2 Montana Acrylic Extra Fine Ballpoint Acrylic Pens (white and black)
  • Prismacolor Illustration Marker (technical pen, .005mm)
  • Derwent Graphik Acrylic Fine Point Pen (Envy)
  • Pentel ColourBrush brushpen (waterbased)
The Cards
The Card Reads

Premium Box

This month is all about liquid acrylic!  A truly unique medium that offers almost limitless flexibility.  We included Daler Rowney's FW Pearlescent liquid acrylic.  These free flowing liquid acrylics are water soluble when wet but dry to a water resistant film.  The shimmering pearl effect created by the pigment is startling.  They are permanent and translucent, but work best when put down freely rather than applying successive layers of colors.  Your Premium Box also includes two extra fine Montana acrylic paint markers.  Use the black marker to add shadows, outlines, or details.  The white marker can be used to add highlights.  Since they're also filled with liquid acrylic, they can be used over the FW acrylic once it's dry.  You'll also find a Derwent graphic line painter (sic).  These paint pens feature a Japanese nib and are filled with an acrylic/watercolor like opaque paint that becomes permanent when dry.  You'll also find a Prismacolor .05mm fine line marker.  These are great for quick sketches or adding crisp lines, texture, and detail work.  Finally, we included a Pentel Color Brush to add ink washes to your work or add unique details.  This brush pen contains water based ink which flows easily, dries quickly, and produces transparent watercolor effects.

Have fun exploring your new art supplies and remember to tag your art with #SketchBoxMay if you'd like to be included in our monthly contest- the winner gets their art printed on a future box lid!

The Card Reads

Featured Artist

My name is Josei and I'm a young artist and product design student from the beautiful capital of Germany.  I love drawing since I was able to hold a pen and creating what comes to mind, rather than following just one art style.  Drawing is kind of a therapy for me to overcome daily life and connect with other people.  Art is what keeps me motivated- as Pablo Picasso once said:
"The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off your soul"

Instagram: @Josilix

We're so thankful for the talent that Josei shared with us, if you'd like to get your art featured- email an example of your work to us at

Sketchbox Premium Unboxing

The Price Breakdown

Included in Both:

FW Acrylic Pearlescent Ink $6.00 on Paper and Ink Arts, $4.59 on DickBlick 

Pentel Arts Color Brush (Black) $8.39 on Pentel store, $6.19 on DickBlick

Premium Box Exclusive:
Derwent Graphik Line Painter- No openstock products or MSRP given on Derwent Site, $3.96 for openstock on DickBlick , could be as low as $3.58 per marker if purchased as a 20 piece set and divvied up.

Montana Acrylic Markers (x2) Extra Fine tips
No MSRP on site, $5.45 on DickBlick, $4.26 if a set of 6 is purchased and divvied up.

Prismacolor Fine Line Marker .005 mm
$3.49 on RexArt  $2.39 openstock on DickBlick

$32.74 on high end
$22.58 using common artist stores like  DickBlick
Box Cost: $35+$5 shipping

The Supplies Inside

Exclusive to Premium Box

Derwent Graphik Line Painter

Have used these in the past, the issue is they tend to be hugely messy and bleed everywhere- tend to leak even when stored properly.  Cool idea, poor execution.

Montana Acrylic Markers, Extra Fine

These tend to clog up and splutter when used for inking.  Cool idea again, spotty execution on textured paper (I used Strathmore's 400 series mixed media journal)

Prismacolor Fine Line Marker .005 mm
Technical pen, I regularly use these in my travel kit.  Water and alcohol marker safe.  A bit of an odd pick for an acrylics box.

Supplies, Demonstrated
Note:  Please watch the SketchBox Premium Unboxing video above for context

Testing opacity on black paper.  All acrylics in this box had varying degrees of opacity, making all relatively suitable for use on black or dark papers or canvas.

Water testing on watercolor paper- blending out acrylics while still wet.

Copic-safety test.  Acrylics are not Copic safe, and are not suitable for use with alcohol markers if applied first.  If you intend to use acrylics with your alcohol markers, apply markers first.

Combined SketchBox Basic and SketchBox Premium Challenge


After sketching my initial design in my Strathmore Mixed Media journal, I set about inking it with the Montana black acrylic ballpoint marker.   This marker takes awhile to dry, and is prone to catching and sputtering on the paper.

Inking this piece took a couple days.

I applied an overall inkwash using the Pentel Arts Colour Brush and a cup of water.  Watch the video above for a demonstration of this technique!

I utilized materials from both the Basic and Premium Boxes, as well as the FW Acrylic Fluorescent ink from my May ArtSnacks, and my collection of acrylic markers (Montana and Liquitex)

I utilized alternating layers of the Pearlescent ink and coordinating Liquitex acrylics to build up shadow and tone on the crystals.   

The salamander was rendered with Titanium Buff Liquitex acrylic (in their chisel marker), with the orange spots rendered with FW Acrylic fluorescent orange ink from my May ArtSnacks.  The eyes were rendered with the Graphik Line Painter, and the black spots were drawn on using the Montana black.

The Verdict

As I went through the boxes, I kept thinking the same thing- May's Basic Box felt particularly anemic. Does SketchBox subsidize their Premium Boxes with overpriced Basic Boxes?

I do agree that the Premium Box IS better than the Basic Box, but shouldn't that be a given?  We are paying $10 more for this box, so it should include more products, or higher quality products.  What I don't understand is why the Basic Box often relies on cheap, poorly made products (like January's Artists Loft watercolor pencils) as filler.  

But honestly, even though the Premium box DOES include more product, it's still short of the $35 mark, regardless of whether you use MSRP (when available, it's often not) or if you shop smart.

Personally, I find both boxes to be overpriced given the contents, although Premium Box is a better deal (at least this month).  I was excited by the variety of acrylic materials included in the Premium box, and felt like the ball point acrylic Montana markers were an interesting twist.  I find the $40 a month price tag to be far too hefty to recommend this box, and the quality in the Basic Box also too low to recommend.

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