An Expert Review of Dick Blick Art Supplies: Selection, Savings and Service

As an artist for over 30 years and an avid collector of high-end art supplies, I‘ve been around the block when it comes to testing retailers. Though the rapid rise of online mega stores has transformed the industry in recent decades, a few stalwart suppliers have endured and even managed to thrive. One of the most prominent is Dick Blick Art Materials, now the largest art supplier in the United States.

Chances are, if you‘ve ever taken an art class or strolled through the aisles of a craft store, you‘ve come across the Blick brand. But how did this family-owned company grow to dominate the field? More importantly, how well does Blick actually serve the needs of both amateur and professional artists? I put on my critic‘s cap to find out.

The Incredible Scope and Scale of Blick

First, let‘s talk sheer size. Dick Blick is a behemoth in the art supply industry, and that‘s not an exaggeration. The company stocks over 90,000 items from more than 900 brands. That makes Blick‘s selection multiple times larger than top competitors like Michaels (50,000 products) and JOANN (30,000 products). In fact, I couldn‘t find another art supply retailer that comes close to Blick in breadth of catalog.

All those products add up to some staggering sales figures. While Blick is a privately held company that doesn‘t release financials, estimates put their annual revenue around $500-600 million. The chain has also expanded into e-commerce in a big way, with online sales now making up nearly half of total revenue according to a 2019 interview with CEO Robert Buchsbaum.

How did Dick Blick grow to such a massive scale? It started as a humble family-owned catalog business in 1911, then began opening retail stores in 1974. But the pivotal moment came in the 2000s, when Blick went on a buying spree, acquiring other art supply companies like Utrecht and The Art Store. In 2013 alone, Blick opened 11 new physical stores, bringing their total locations to 69 nationwide.

Today, Blick isn‘t just an art supply store. It‘s a one-stop-shop for virtually any kind of visual art or craft you can imagine, catering to everyone from casual hobbyists to art students to professional artists. That convenience factor cannot be overstated. No other retailer comes close to offering such a comprehensive selection under one roof (or on one website).

Hands-On with Blick: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Of course, size alone doesn‘t make a great art supply store. Over my decades-long art career, I‘ve placed more orders with Blick than I count, and browsed their store aisles for countless hours. Here are my honest, unfiltered thoughts on the most important elements of shopping with Blick:

The Very Good: Selection, Prices, Quality

Let‘s start with the positives. The single biggest reason to buy from Dick Blick is the truly unparalleled selection. Walking the aisles at my local Blick store feels like being a kid in a candy shop. Everywhere you turn, some new, enticing art supply catches your eye.

Looking for a 24-karat gold-plated calligraphy pen? Blick has it. Need 50 pounds of modeling clay for a giant sculpture? Yup, Blick has that too. Trying to track down an obscure oil paint color you saw in a Renaissance painting? Chances are high Blick carries it.

Here‘s just a small sampling of the product categories you‘ll find at Blick:

Category Items Example Brands
Brushes 2,000+ Princeton, Escoda, Silver Brush
Paints 4,000+ Golden, Gamblin, Williamsburg
Canvas 500+ Blick Studio, Masterpiece, Fredrix
Drawing 3,000+ Prismacolor, Faber-Castell, Caran d‘Ache
Paper 2,000+ Strathmore, Canson, Legion
Easels 200+ Mabef, Richeson, Blick Studio
Crafts 8,000+ Sculpey, Jacquard, Tulip

No matter how specialized your needs, I‘d wager Blick has products that fit the bill. The only other art supply source I‘ve found with equal selection is Amazon – and often the items are actually coming from Blick anyway!

Price-wise, Dick Blick is also extremely competitive. Their house brands like Blick Studio and Utrecht offer affordable, high-quality alternatives to pricier brands. For example, a set of 24 Prismacolor Premier colored pencils at Blick runs about $36, compared to $43 at Michaels. On larger ticket items like easels and furniture, the savings can really add up.

What‘s more, Blick honors competitor coupons and will price match both online and in-store. Frequent sales, clearance deals and bulk discounts (up to 70% off list price) also help keep costs down. Bottom line: you may find art supplies for cheaper on Amazon, but you‘ll almost NEVER find them for cheaper at brick-and-mortar stores like JOANN or Hobby Lobby. Trust me, I‘ve checked.

As far as quality goes, Dick Blick doesn‘t disappoint either. Sure, you can find some lower-end craft supplies if you go looking for them. But the vast majority of products Blick sells are professional or artist-grade. Myself and artist friends I‘ve talked to have never had major complaints about products from Blick underperforming or not working as expected.

When you buy from Blick, you can be confident you‘re getting good quality. The Blick and Utrecht house brands in particular offer excellent value for the price. Their acrylic paints, for example, go toe-to-toe with higher-end names like Liquitex for pigment concentration and lightfastness. I wouldn‘t hesitate to use them even for gallery work.

The Bad: Shipping Delays and Website Woes

Unfortunately, the Blick experience isn‘t all positive. One persistent issue that seems to keep cropping up is unacceptably long shipping times. Despite Blick‘s long tenure in the e-commerce arena, they still don‘t seem to have their logistics completely ironed out.

When I‘ve chosen standard shipping for online Blick orders, I‘ve waited upwards of 3-4 weeks for items to arrive. Expedited and overnight shipping improves the turnaround time, but it‘ll cost you, sometimes as much as 20% of your order total.

The most frustrating part is that Blick is often opaque about the reasons for shipping delays. Unlike Amazon, they don‘t provide tracking details for standard shipping orders. One simply has to keep waiting and hoping for the best. As a professional artist on a deadline, that uncertainty can be excruciating.

Blick‘s website also has room for improvement. While the desktop version is serviceable, I‘ve encountered frequent technical glitches and slowdowns on mobile. The site can also be maddeningly difficult to navigate, even if you know exactly what product you‘re looking for. There‘s no way to search within specific product categories, for instance.

Product photos and descriptions also leave something to be desired on I‘ve had an item arrive that looked markedly different than what was pictured. Getting more views of products, 360 degree rotations, and customer photos would help a great deal in ensuring you know what you‘re really buying.

Sometimes details like dimensions, materials, or what‘s included are missing or conflict with information on the manufacturer‘s site. It‘s clear that multiple people are writing the descriptions, and they don‘t always line up. For a specialty retailer, these little discrepancies are disappointing. I expect more from Blick.

The Ugly: Uneven, Unhelpful Customer Service

By far the biggest gripe I and other artists have with Dick Blick is the customer service. When you‘re spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on supplies, you want to feel confident that help is readily available if something goes wrong. Unfortunately, that‘s hit-or-miss with Blick.

On the positive side, I‘ve had some very knowledgeable, friendly staff help me in Blick store locations. These interactions give me hope that the company does hire passionate, highly-trained artists to assist customers. I especially appreciate being able to get hands-on with products before purchasing – it‘s the main reason I still shop in Blick stores despite the convenience of online ordering.

Blick also offers a generous return policy: you can send back unopened or defective items within 60 days for a full refund. They‘ll even refund return shipping if the item was defective or incorrect. That‘s pretty much the gold standard for any online retailer. I‘ve successfully returned items to Blick with no issues.

However, I‘ve also had some memorably poor customer service experiences. There was the time a phone rep argued with me for 15 minutes that the product I received – which had arrived with damage – was actually the one I ordered. Then they begrudgingly sent a replacement, which was STILL the wrong item. That required another frustrating phone call to resolve.

Friends and fellow artists have relayed stories of being stuck on hold for an hour to get a question answered about a product or an order problem. Some report that Blick reps can have a dismissive, snooty attitude, especially if you aren‘t an expert on art supplies yourself. One landscape painter friend told me getting a refund on supplies that arrived damaged was like "pulling teeth."

These anecdotes line up with the decidedly mixed reviews of Blick‘s customer service online. The company has a paltry 2.5 star rating across over 500 reviews on Sitejabber. Complaints cite problems like orders lost in transit, damaged goods, unhelpful reps, and lack of follow-through on promises to correct issues. Blick seems to respond to some but not all of these public complaints.

To me, the lack of consistent, reliable service is the single biggest argument against buying from Blick. Yes, you may save money, but you have to ask yourself if it‘s worth the potential headache. When I‘m ordering supplies for an important gallery show or commission, I‘m often willing to pay a bit more for the peace of mind of solid customer service.

Tips for Succeeding When Shopping with Blick

Despite the shortcomings, I still believe Dick Blick is one of the best sources for art supplies out there. The pros of selection, price and quality generally outweigh the cons. If you‘re going to take the plunge and buy from Blick, here are my veteran tips for success:

  1. Always comparison shop. Before placing a Blick order, take a few minutes to check prices on the exact same items at Amazon, Michaels, JOANN, Jerry‘s Artarama, etc. Don‘t forget to factor in shipping costs and use the Blick price matching if you find a better deal.

  2. Buy in-store when possible. You‘ll save on shipping costs, be able to inspect products for defects, and get your items immediately. The ability to see colors and textures in person is also a huge help in selecting the right art supplies.

  3. Allow ample time for shipping. If buying online, never cut it close to when you actually need the supplies in hand. Give Blick at least a month to get your order to you, or pony up for expedited shipping to be safe.

  4. Triple-check your order before placing it. With the glitchy Blick website, it‘s all too easy to order the wrong size, color or product by mistake. Thoroughly review your cart before clicking "buy."

  5. Document any issues. If a product arrives broken or your order is missing items, take photos and screenshots right away. Having evidence will help enormously if you need to call customer service to request a refund or replacement.

  6. Be firm with customer service. If you get an unhelpful or rude rep, politely ask to speak with a manager. Clearly articulate what you want Blick to do to resolve the problem, and keep pushing until you get a straight answer. Don‘t let them give you the runaround.

  7. Stick to reputable brands. Especially when buying online, I‘m wary of art supply brands I‘ve never heard of. Even on Blick‘s website, there are some cheapo craft supply "brands" that I don‘t entirely trust for quality. When in doubt, go with Blick‘s own brand for affordable but reliable quality.

By following these guidelines, you‘ll likely have many positive experiences buying from Dick Blick as I have. It really comes down to knowing how to strategically navigate Blick‘s system to get the selection and savings minus the headaches.

The Future of Dick Blick and Art Supplies

As Blick continues to grow and increase its dominance of the art supply market, I‘m hopeful that the company will improve in some of the critical areas holding it back from excellence. More brick-and-mortar store locations would be welcomed, along with investments in better e-commerce technology and more robust customer service.

The larger trends in the industry also point towards a bright future for Blick. Statista estimates the arts and crafts market in the US will reach $43 billion annually by 2024. Much of that growth is driven by younger demographics and renewed interest in crafting as a stress-relieving hobby. Blick has also made smart decisions to appeal to the 11% of visual artists who are self-employed, such as stocking up on print-on-demand supplies.

At the same time, it‘s hard to imagine that Amazon won‘t continue chipping away at Blick‘s online sales numbers, using the same playbook of unbeatable convenience and fast shipping they‘ve brought to other verticals. Blick would be wise to focus on the unique value props of its physical stores, knowledgeable staff, and specialty supplies to stay well-differentiated from the Amazons of the world.

No matter how the industry shifts in the years ahead, I‘m confident Dick Blick Art Materials will remain an integral resource for artists and a key player in the retail landscape. The history, brand recognition, and truly vast selection Blick offers is simply too powerful. For all of us who rely on high-quality, affordable supplies to fuel our creative visions, let‘s hope Blick keeps getting better and better.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 0 / 5. Vote count: 0

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.