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The wonderful world of markers

Fri Feb 16, 2018, 3:00 AM by TheBrassGlass:iconthebrassglass:

Traditional Art Basics

Hello, my name is TheBrassGlass, and I have a problem...

I’m addicted to markers.

Garden of delights by TheBrassGlass

If you are new to this medium, or maybe you think it’s outdated or too limited, please give me a few minutes to open your eyes to a beautiful, colorful world! This is a relatively cheap medium to get into (even the most expensive markers will be easier on your wallet than investing in oil paints, brushes, palettes, canvas, frames, gesso, smock, mineral spirits, an easel, for example, and for the price of even a refurbished Wacom Intuos medium tablet, you can buy dozens of the most expensive markers), they are pretty portable as far as art supplies go, and they look good – what more can an artist want?

So, as an introduction, I’ll go over two main types of markers – water-based and alcohol-based – and a couple of quick techniques for both. I’ll also talk a little bit about paper, using markers with other media, as well as what you need to share your marker artworks with the world via the internet. I also will talk about alternative brands for those of you who want to try alcohol-based markers but find the two big names, Copic and Prismacolor, too expensive for your budget.
:star: NOTE: I use GIMP as my image-editing program. It is a powerful free program that you can get here.

Making marks

The shape and size of each marker determines the best way for you to use it. Below are examples of the most common shapes and sizes of both water-based and alcohol-based markers.

Marker Types3 by TheBrassGlass

I've lumped round and wedge-shaped (also often called chisel-tip) markers together because they have the same kind of hardness. The wedge/round and felt-tip markers tend to be the most consistent, so they are good for coloring large areas. Fine-tip markers are best for coloring in small details and outlining things. But it is the brush tip that has become the most popular in recent years. Its length and softness have made it excellent for creating the look of a watercolor wash and it is ideal for blended, seamless shading.

For most of the types, if you work quickly and use tiny circular motions, the marks are not as noticeable if you’re using the softer flat side of the marker tip; this seems to be the technique preferred by most for coloring large areas. If you use the hard, pointy end of the tip, those marks will be more distinct. You also can change the look of the mark by controlling the pressure of your hand; brushing the paper lightly with the marker will produce a slightly lighter tone. Since markers are their own distinct medium, play up their unique qualities – play around with different kinds of marks. I like to use big, slow curlicues for curly hair, for example, or long, straight lines to suggest folds of stiff fabric.

Wb Tutorial1 by TheBrassGlass
When shading, avoid using black and grays unless absolutely necessary; instead use dark blues, dark greens, dark violets, dark browns or dark reds for the darkest areas in your drawing! The viewer will automatically "read" the darkest color as black. And try to add the tones of the shading color and mid-tones into the shadows on other parts of the picture (for example, if you are drawing a woman in a bright red dress, add a hint of red in the shading on her hair and skin). This will give your drawing more depth.

Helena by TheBrassGlassThe business of looking for a wife by TheBrassGlass Commission - Yves de Reveille by TheBrassGlassOld Friends by TheBrassGlass

Water-based markers

Just as it sounds, these are markers in which water is the solvent for the pigments. My friends, forget what you know about the lowly water-based markers. These sometimes fat, sometimes scented tubes of colorful water are not just the purvey of kindergarten classrooms; they are a cheap, compact, portable, legitimate medium that can be manipulated and rarely bleed through the paper, making them ideal for sketchbooks. They are available in many colors, have a lot of depth, and play beautifully with other media.

Tut by TheBrassGlass
The double-ended (fine-tip/brush-tip) water-based markers I used to color this cost me $5 USD.

Markers work best in layers, kind of like watercolor painting. One major advantage that water-based markers enjoy over their alcohol cousins – besides the cost, the lack of a bad odor, and not bleeding through paper, that is – is that you can build them up just by going over the same area with the same marker over and over. If you go over the same color twice with a water-based marker, the color on the drawing gets darker because the paper becomes literally more saturated with the pigment. In contrast, alcohol markers get slightly darker if you go back over the same area with the same marker, but not by much.

However, with water-based markers, you have to remember that since the pigments are water-soluble (that just means they dissolve in water), this means that lighter-colored markers will pick up darker colors that are already present on the paper if they touch. So you must always work from light to dark, putting down your highlight colors first, then working in progressively darker colors for your shading.

Wb Tutorial2 by TheBrassGlass

Another tip: by curving your marks around the implied contour of the shape or object you’re coloring, you can create an almost 3-D effect because it implies form.

Wb Tutorial3 by TheBrassGlass

Remember to keep in mind the size and shape of your marker as you work.

Wb Tutorial4 by TheBrassGlass

Alcohol-based markers

In contrast to their water-based cousins, these markers often have a bad odor and will bleed through paper. You should use them in a well-ventilated space and/or for limited periods at a time, as these odors can cause dizziness and headaches or even irritate your eyes. As for ink bleeding, as long as you have a buffer under the paper – I tend to use the cardboard back of a sketchbook, which is perfect for this purpose, or you can use a much thicker paper underneath the sheet you’re coloring on – you should be fine. You can also try specialized marker paper, which is treated with chemicals on one side to prevent, or at least minimize, the markers bleeding through.

However, with the marker paper, you can only use the untreated side for drawing (you’ll know immediately if you’ve mistaken one for the other; the marker ink beads up on the treated side). However, even the treated paper will not stop markers from bleeding outside your line art. Some pigments are worse than others, with dark reds and blues seeming to be the worst culprits.

Art trade - Amatus by TheBrassGlass
It is a good idea whenever you get new markers to try out all the colors by drawing simple squares on a test piece of paper and coloring them in to see how the marker ink will behave; this way, you will know to look out for certain colors and avoid coloring right up to the lines with those ones to minimize bleed-over. You also will know exactly what the colors look like on paper, since they very rarely match the color of their packaging.

Marker Samples Cropped by TheBrassGlass
With alcohol-based markers, you can use many of the same techniques as with the water-based markers. I tend to put down the mid-tone colors first and then add the shading and highlights:

Markers Midtones by TheBrassGlass
(Here's what the above piece looks like finished: Art trade - The broken bottle)

There is one major advantage with alcohol-based markers: you can use lighter colors on top of darker ones! In fact, while most alcohol-based marker sets come with a colorless blender (it’s full of the alcohol solvent used in the other markers but contains no pigment), it’s far better to use lighter colors to blend instead because this will give your drawings more depth and impact. For example, a yellow alcohol-based marker was used to blend the hair in this drawing.
But don’t throw away those colorless blender markers  they are BRILLIANT for blending colored pencils!
If you go outside the lines, don’t sweat it too much. It comes with the medium. But if you want a perfectly clean look, you can always clean up spill-over on the computer later, and/or use white gel pen, or thicken the line art with ink pen to cover the slips.
Light-colored gel pens are a great way to add highlights to marker drawings, especially on colored paper! Try putting a lot of ink in one spot and smudging it with your finger to create a fade-out look to the highlights. For a different effect, try drawing geometrical shapes or patterns with the gel pen over the top of the markers, or even try outlining your drawing on colored paper.

Blue lady by TheBrassGlass Faun Sample by TheBrassGlass Arachne by TheBrassGlass

Tips and other stuff to know

Inktober art trade - Arielle by TheBrassGlass


You don’t have to get fancy paper. I almost always use computer paper, myself. What you want is smooth, bright white paper of a good weight. So I tend to get computer paper heavier than the standard 20 lb weight and as close to 100% bright as possible (at least 90% or better). You can certainly try others; Bristol paper and card stock are good, and marker paper has a very fine tooth and, as we discussed before, is treated to minimize bleed-through. Don’t be afraid to try colored papers, too!
If you are worried about ruining your drawing, use a scanner or copier machine to make a copy of the drawing and color the copy; this way, if you mess up, you can just make another copy of the original!


Life during the French and Indian War by TheBrassGlass

Scanning is by far the best way to digitize your marker drawings to share them on the internet. However, I know that not everyone has a scanner. Check your local thrift stores for scanners; I’ve found a few in the past year that were selling for as low as $5. If you can’t get a scanner, don’t fret, you can use a digital camera or even your phone to take a picture of the drawing. But it will take a few more steps to get the drawing presentation-ready:

  • First, try to hang up the drawing  use matte or artist’s mounting tape to attach the drawing to the wall; taking a photo of the vertically oriented drawing will minimize skewing caused by perspective (you can correct it further with an image-editing program, for example the perspective tool in GIMP).
  • Use a tripod but make sure the areas is well-lit, preferably with natural sunlight.
  • Use the highest resolution that you can; this will help ensure good quality when you resize the image.
  • CROP IT. The No. 1 mistake rookies make is not cropping the edges of the paper out. Cropping it makes it look better and far more professional, trust me
  • Resize the image for social media; you don’t want it too large for viewers on smaller screens.
  • Use the levels and/or curves tools to even out the color of the paper and make invisible any warping of the paper. Here’s a tutorial on how to do this in GIMP
  • Upload and share your masterpiece!

Below is the picture I colored with the water-based markers earlier; on the left is exactly how it was when I took the picture (note the skewing because I took the picture looking down on a horizontal surface rather than straight-on at a vertical surface), and on the right I have rotated it, fixed the skew with the perspective tool in GIMP and cleaned up the drawing, then cropped out the edge of the paper:

Wb Tutorial Camerapresentation2 Better by TheBrassGlass

Which looks better?

Now here is the cleaned up camera shot of the picture above (left) vs. using a scanner (right):

Wb Tutorial Camera Vs Scanner by TheBrassGlass

They’re pretty close, right? I ended up going back and using a gel pen to add some more highlights and some embroidery details on her dress (stomacher, to be exact; and if you’re wondering, her hairstyle is called a hedgehog XD) and used a slightly tighter crop, but otherwise they look almost the same!
If you want to use a colored paper but can’t put it through the printer or copier machine, just use white paper and this tutorial to use an image-editing program to superimpose the drawing on the colored paper! Here's what the above picture looks like superimposed on "old" looking paper.

What’s in a name?

As for marker brands, for water-based markers I really do love Crayola SuperTips, which is what I used for the water-based portion of this article; I paid about $6 USD for a set of 50, so for that price you really can’t go wrong. I still prefer the leafy green of that set and some of the darker reds over even the alcohol-based markers I’ve used. They really are lovely.

Art trade - Vera and Alex by TheBrassGlass

For alcohol-based markers, I don’t think I’ve met a kind I didn’t like! However, if we’re going by sheer numbers, I actually own more Prismacolors and Spectrum Noir markers than any other brands. I own five Copics (actually, physically I own eight Copics, but four of those are the same color: Putty!); what’s nice about the Copics is that you can refill them. Of the Prismacolors and Copics, though, I find the ones with the brush tips are by far the best to use for most applications. If you want a relatively cheap set of very good, very vibrant alcohol-based markers, I highly recommend Bic Marking (sometimes labeled as Mark-It) markers; you can find a set of 36 in most department stores for about $15 USD. Unfortunately, one of my absolute favorite brands, Utrecht, is no longer in production. :cries:

My go-to colors? For mid-tones for shading, I use Copic’s Putty and Prismacolor’s Pewter and Warm Gray 40% – in fact, I use these three colors more than any other markers I own. I use Prismacolor’s Sand and Brick Beige for white skin tones.
Try coloring only the shadows and any colored highlights if you want, then leave the heavy lifting to the paper. The viewer will be able to infer the color of the item or subject's skin ... or fur!
If you have tried these or any other brands of markers and have a review or recommendations for us, share them in a comment below and I will do my best to highlight those comments for other readers! Also, if you have any questions, I will try to answer them.

The last thing I want to stress is that markers are such a versatile medium and they really play well with others! I’ve used them with acrylic paint, I’ve used some water-based markers with water and a paintbrush to create a watercolor effect, they look wonderful with pencil and ballpoint pen, and can even be used to make comics:

Violet by TheBrassGlass An Unorthodox Rule - Prologue, p. 2 by TheBrassGlass Cold Fire by TheBrassGlass

If you are bored or are looking to expand your traditional media skills, I hope you will give markers a try!!

But be careful... they are addictive, after all. ;)

Again, the tutorials for using the GIMP perspective tool to fix a photo of a drawing, cleaning up a drawing and superimposing a drawing on colored/textured paper are here, as well as a step-by-step guide on my marker drawing process:

Tutorial: My drawing process by TheBrassGlass  Use GIMP perspective tool to fix drawings 1 by TheBrassGlass  How to touch up a drawing in GIMP by TheBrassGlass  GIMP background tutorial by TheBrassGlass

More markers tutorials can be found here:…

Special thanks to suburbanbeatnik, whose character Xandrine I had drawn sometime back and decided to use for the coloring demonstration portion of this tutorial. Here's the real way she looks (colors tweaked in GIMP): 

27661799 10100772567999797 2041091586 N by TheBrassGlass
Add a Comment:
sevese Featured By Owner Feb 26, 2018  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Markers are fun - I really heart them, too! I use alcohol based ones. I bought some markers of both kinds first and played around with them without knowing anything about them at all. After getting used to the "Bleeding through"-problem and buying some better paper to work with I got hooked with the alcohol based ones. Their colours are brilliant. <3
Lovely tutorial with many information I wish I had known of a year ago. XD
zahlenfreak Featured By Owner Feb 25, 2018  Hobbyist General Artist
Cool tutorial! I'm addicted, too. ^^
Iunya Featured By Owner Feb 17, 2018  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you so much for this great tutorial! :hug:
It's so hard nowadays to find traditional art-tutorials. 
GBLXVIII Featured By Owner Feb 17, 2018
Thank you.
This is a very intresting and appealing article.
I never thought of using markers as you do (I rarely draw on paper and always with pencils) and you made me crave for a serious try.
Thanks again.
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner Feb 17, 2018  Professional General Artist
Awh, how sweet! :heart: You're very welcome, and I hope that you do try it! :D Maybe you will love them!
GBLXVIII Featured By Owner Feb 18, 2018
Maybe, a new path to follow. We'll see, we'll see. :D (Big Grin) 
MidnightW0l1f Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2018  Hobbyist General Artist
I mean, i really don't have markers, but, i draw on paper like 97.9% of the time, and its nice to know!
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2018  Professional General Artist
Yes, I hope the parts about presentation and programs and such are helpful with that! :) Thank you!
Luke-Marks Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2018  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I draw digitally like 99% of the time and when I get myself to draw something traditionally, I use color pencils to color because that's about all I have. I've been thinking about getting some markers, but I didn't know where to start. Thank you for this article, it helps a lot!
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2018  Professional General Artist
No problem! I do love colored pencils, too. :D About half of this article also applies to those, and I'm so glad this could be of use to you! :heart:
Mrs-Durden Featured By Owner Edited Feb 16, 2018  Hobbyist Photographer
Amazing article, as always, I am always impressed when I read one of your PE contributions!
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2018  Professional General Artist
Thanks so much, that's very sweet of you to say! :heart:
MissouriMutants Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2018  Professional Traditional Artist
That's awesome! I didn't know that about markers. I have the Faber Castell  markers, but I haven't played with them too much. Now I definitely want to! Your markers are absolutely amazing.
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2018  Professional General Artist
Thank you! :heart: Yes, you should play with them! I've only ever used the Faber Castell ink pens, so I hope you let me know how the markers are! :D
davincipoppalag Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2018  Hobbyist General Artist
cool info
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2018  Professional General Artist
Thanks! :D
davincipoppalag Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2018  Hobbyist General Artist
Cranash64 Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2018  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks for the article! Really usefull!
And it`s really great to meet another one marker addictHeart 
27983349 1729253927140585 5403407680270181831 O by Cranash64  (just my tableGiggle and I still want more)  
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner Edited Feb 16, 2018  Professional General Artist
P.S. I noticed a bunch of those (black tubes on the right) are Spectrum Noir; they are great markers!! Are those ones in the bottom leftish center Artist's Loft? I just got my first Artist's Loft markers recently and was very impressed with the quality of the pigments (I got one that is identical to Prismacolor's Sand, you can't tell the difference between the two colors -- and at half the price of the Prisma, it was an economical choice!), even if the ink is slightly less consistent than Prisma or Copic.
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2018  Professional General Artist
Wooow! So many new brands to check out! :love: Thank you so much!
Cranash64 Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2018  Hobbyist General Artist
You are welcome! I highly recommend you to try Touch Twin. I`m totally in love with this brand
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2018  Professional General Artist
Oh my, that looks like heaven! :love: And yes, marker addicts unite! :highfive:
Add a Comment:

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