Mike Skocko

Want to help me spend money?

I run a digital arts lab and have to spend $2,200 in the next 10 days. No single item can be in excess of $500 and all purchases must involve POs so credit cards are verboten. It's use it or loose it dough for our program and I don't want to waste it.

Sounds fun, right? Yeah, well, here's where you'll begin to hate me.

Over the past half dozen years we've gone from rags to riches. Next year we'll have new 27" iMacs and the Creative Cloud (bye bye CS6). We have a large format printer and scanner, plenty of ink and paper, cameras, cards, tripods, Wacom tablets, headphones... In short, an embarrassment of riches (but the kids produce work like this so it's been a pretty good use of taxpayer funds). 

So the question is: What creative tools would you recommend?

Thanks in advance.

5 / 5 • 2 Ratings

Comments (23)

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harris andreson

Posted on 6/12/19 11:43:24 PM Permalink

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Armando Viera

Posted on 8/7/18 6:49:33 AM Permalink

Hello Mike, I know this is not the place to ask you about about a need we have in our Graphic Design and Multimedia educational center in Nicaragua, but maybe can you iluminate me to find out sponsors for our center. We are a very small center and this is our humble website - Why I insist in this familiar bussines?. First because I studied Products Desing in Germany in the 80´s but Graphics Design was always my passion. In Nicaragua nowadays there are not another University, High school or privete centers that offer Design courses with the an international ADOBE Certification ACA or ACE and that`s for me the biggest challenge, because it´s for me very expensive to buy laptops, càmera, tables, etc. and I have to finance all of that, from my profit, that you can imagine it`s only to survive. How the phrase said, we make all that for love to the art. I was born in Cuba, studied 8 years in Germany and I live in Nicaragua since 23 years ago. My wife and my daughter (14 years) are nicaraguans and both are related to the family business.

My wife teaches Illustrator, Photoshop and Indesign classes and I do everything, Drawing, Design bases, Photography, 3dsMAX, Premiere PRO, Dreamweaver, Flash/ Animate. It´s very crazy but we have today more than 100 students internationally certificated as ACA Designers and also as Visual Design Specialist. Again, if you can help me to find out how to increase the possibility of offering this knowledge to more young Nicaraguans, I will be eternally grateful with you.

Thanks a lot for reading my comment. DI. Armando Viera, Dir. D'GRAPHICS.

James Rafferty

Posted on 10/28/17 9:57:18 PM Permalink

If this ever happens to you again I'd be happy to help :)​

Andy Zavodny

Posted on 5/30/16 10:51:45 PM Permalink

I know this is quite late from the last initial post, but a vinyl cutter has done well for student interest in my classroom. I have used this as a tool to teach kids the basics of Illustrator and then they get something tangible out of it like wall art or bumper stickers. I also have a heat press and kids have made t shirts with it.

Jose Nguyen

Posted on 5/15/16 8:22:34 AM Permalink

I would suggest a group of subscriptions to stock images. As you know taking any image of the internet is really copyright issues unless it's part of the Creative Commons. $2k will go quick here!

Eric Leclair

Posted on 5/6/16 8:00:06 PM Permalink

Just like Anthony suggested, man this 3d printing stuff is blowing my mind. I was semi impressed with the filament technology but this resin printer from Formlabs is amazing. Why don't you guys setup a 3 month pool, save a few hundreds and get a proper 3d printer? I believe they have special grants available which are 3d printing specific as well - Especially for schools / labs). As a design student, I can't have enough of these things. I hope like Japan, we start getting those '3d printer cafes' as well. PS: I noticed you made this post a while ago - time to upgrade your 3d printer :) - Please post more pics of your creations as well. Thx!

Gus Workman

Posted on 4/22/15 8:06:02 PM Permalink

If you are still looking for ideas, what about Arduinos or Raspberry Pis? One of my teachers has a Raspberry Pi that is hooked up to a large monitor in his room. It receives information such as our district's energy consumption from the district's office building, and is updated in real time. The output on the monitor looks nice and can be reconfigured, so it is a good way to tie in digital arts and physical hardware.

Mike Skocko

Posted on 4/22/15 8:34:41 PM Permalink

What a great Earth Day suggestion, Gus. Real time energy consumption data?! How cool would that be to spur infographics?

Ah, found the project on this page. Very cool indeed.

Note to self: Do you dare admit out loud that you also have grant monies (that don't expire) to support the Teen to Teen Bone Health Project in addition to the use it or lose it dough?

Mike Skocko

Posted on 4/22/15 7:01:24 PM Permalink

Thanks so much for your very helpful feedback! The call for requisition submissions has just arrived so it's time to commit. I do try to invest wisely and you've helped me do just that.

If you—or anyone else—wants to continue to submit suggestions for others, please feel free to do so. Best of luck with what remains of your school year!


Posted on 4/22/15 6:40:32 PM Permalink

Good question. I could use the creative suite that way I would have a wide range of tools to use with the students. Look at your frameworks for your classroom. Figure out projects that the students can do. I think once you have a direction to go then you know what you need and use the funding wisely. I always tell teachers, "just because one teacher is using it doesn't mean that it will also work for you." Teachers get hung up over the fact well they are using it why can't I, and they don't look at what is best for the students. I also take a look at sustainability. Since your funding is all over the place, I would purchase something that I would be able to sustain without the funding source in place. So maybe go with some tools instead of everything. Just my thoughts. I hope this helps.

Mike Skocko

Posted on 4/22/15 6:47:25 PM Permalink

It does help, Eric. Thanks!

We have a couple of major projects that will span several years and I hadn't thought to focus specifically on those needs. Great idea.

Antony Pelosi

Posted on 4/20/15 9:51:53 AM Permalink

the work on behance looks amazing, always great to see what students produce. It looks like you have the digital stuff mostly sorted. I would recommend looking at get out of the computer and looking at other ways of interfacing with it, Little bits are amazing at starting to build/prototype moving interactive things there are many different pricing options.

For $500 you may be able to pick up a 3D scanner $499 students can scan then model and and render.

Good luck with spending the money


Posted on 4/22/15 6:42:13 PM Permalink

3d printers is a great resource to have in a design class. We have 10 in our district and I think they all pretty much run 24/7.

Mike Skocko

Posted on 4/22/15 6:55:40 PM Permalink

Anthony, littleBits looks cool. I asked but they're not on our approved vendor list so that one will have to wait until next year.

Was going to wait on the 3D printer until they matured a bit more but based on what you and Eric said... I've found an approved vendor for a sub-$500 printer. Will be fun to get started with. Thanks!

Look out Photoshop, you have new frontiers to conquer.


Posted on 4/22/15 7:28:15 PM Permalink

We have used Makerbot 3d printers but they are terrible. The older generations work great the newer generations are not worth buying. Here is a ratings site that rate 3d printers. We purchased the ultimaker2 and love it. Probably going to purchase 5 more of them.

Here is the vendor we go through. Excellent vendor to work with.

Mike Skocko

Posted on 4/22/15 7:35:19 PM Permalink

Very helpful info, Eric. Looks like I may have to budget for the ultimaker2 in the fall. Thanks again!

Mike Skocko

Posted on 4/22/15 7:08:09 PM Permalink

Clint Balsar

Posted on 4/19/15 3:35:24 AM Permalink

I just went through an animation workshop last year at KCAI and they were using Dragon Frame. If you could pick up software, I would recommend that. It is 199/each or 2 for 250 with ed discount. If you need to pick up hardware, I would recommend pro level accessories; a handheld recorder like the Zoom H6, c-stands, lighting, apple boxes flag and shadow kits, etc.

Have fun spending!

Mike Skocko

Posted on 4/19/15 4:28:06 AM Permalink

I hadn't considered adding stop motion software. That's a great suggestion, Clint! I'll poke through DragonFrame's hardware, too.

Was just reading about shadow kits and wondering if we should add them to our lighting supplies. Will look again. (And our Zoom gets quite a workout. Great tool.)

Michael Chow

Posted on 4/18/15 7:55:51 AM Permalink

Hi Mike,

I would suggest a group of subscriptions to stock images. As you know taking any image of the internet is really copyright issues unless it's part of the Creative Commons. $2k will go quick here!

Maybe a 3D mini printer.

Mike Skocko

Posted on 4/19/15 4:10:29 AM Permalink

I'll contact purchasing to see if any teachers have established accounts with stock libraries though I'm kind of ambivalent about paying for imagery (as well as adamantly opposed to snagging it off the internet). Provocative idea, though.

The 3D mini printer suggestion got me thinking about these pens. The edu package violates the $1K limit but sometimes vendors will work with us. Hmmm...

Thanks, Michael!

Elayne Castillo

Posted on 4/17/15 9:02:16 PM Permalink

Hi Mike,

You could maybe get your school/students a subscription to Dropbox or Spotify? I am sure it will be helpful and it will allow collaboration amongst your students. However, I am not sure of the subscription cost. I hope this helps!

Mike Skocko

Posted on 4/19/15 4:00:45 AM Permalink

Good suggestions, Elayne.

We moved to GoogleEd this year and in addition to the free Dropbox and Copy accounts I had the kids sign up for they also have Drive. Plus I've been stupid and waited until the last minute (bad teacher). Those commercial accounts take plastic and there's no time to to set up POs with new vendors. Easy to do, however, with established vendors.

I do honestly appreciate the ideas.