The Complete Beginners Guide To Art Markers

So you want to get into art markers like Copic or Prismacolor? Well, this beginner’s guide is a great place to start!

You’ve probably drawn with Crayola markers, but now is the time to join the big leagues to see what amazing art you can create.

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    Art markers are used by illustrators, designers, and artists to achieve a different result in the artwork than you would normally see from using colored pencils or paints.

    Art markers are commonly used in hand-lettering, calligraphy, and technical illustrations because of the smooth, quick-drying colors they can produce.

    Art markers have gone by various names (ie. markers pens, artist pens, brush pens, or paint markers) and are produced by numerous brands.

    Besides the Crayola markers you’ve been introduced to as a kid, you may have also heard of Copic or Prismacolor –two leading brands for art markers.


    Since 3200 BC, the Ancient Egyptians used ink for writing and drawing.

    Once pens were invented to allow for easier application of ink, more freedom was to be desired and markers were created.

    In 1910, Lee Newman patented the first felt-tipped marking pen while Benjamin Paskach invented the first fountain paintbrush in 1926.

    The 1950s is when markers REALLY became popular with the creation of Magic Markers by  Sidney Rosenthal. People started to use Magic Markers for everything —lettering, labeling, making posters, and all sorts of other things.

    Soon after, it was discovered that markers had great potential as a new art medium.

    Why Use Art Markers?

    Art markers are extremely simple to use and require very little prep time compared to other art mediums.

    Maintenance is fairly easy as you only need to store them properly (cool, dry area away from heat and sunlight) and some markers even are refillable for when you run out of ink.

    The ink from art markers dry immediately which is a HUGE plus for many artists.

    Like colored pencils, colors can actually be blended which is another great advantage for artists. However, unlike colored pencils, it can be extremely difficult to correct mistakes.

    What’s Inside Art Markers?

    The body, cap and plugs of the marker are typically made out of a plastic resin while the reservoir (the part that holds ink) is made from polyester.

    The tip of the markers are composed of a powder and water mixture. The variation among markers really lies within the type of colorant. 

    Types of marker colorants include dye, ink, or paint which can be dispersed within an alcohol, water, or solvent-based mixture.

    Synthetic substances, such as tuluol and xylol, have been used as solvents but can be pretty toxic. In some markers, these toxics have been substituted with much safer chemicals.

    Types of Markers

    As mentioned above, the type of markers can vary based on the colorant content.

    They’re typically categorized as alcohol-based, water-based, or solvent-based markers. This refers to the type of solution that is mixed with the ink or dye.

    They can also be professional-quality as illustration-grade or used for kids as school-grade markers.

    Markers can also be double-sided with different tips. Generally, these markers will have a small tip on side and a large chisel or brush on the other.

    You should think about what type of tips you desire so that you can get the most out of your purchase.

    Alcohol-Based Markers

    Alcohol-based markers combine ink with alcohol. The color produced by alcohol-based markers dry up extremely quickly and are relatively permanent.

    You’ll notice that they have a strong scent from the chemicals used inside these markers.

    It’s important to be aware that they can still be irritable to the eyes and lung even though they actually aren’t as strong compared to the solvent-based markers.

    Some common brands of alcohol-based markers include Copic, Prismacolor, or Sharpies.

    The markers are waterproof but alcohol-soluble, as you would probably expect.

    You can actually blend the ink from alcohol-based markers by using rubbing alcohol, a blender marker or another marker of a similar color.

    Even with blending, these markers may still show streaks. Streaks can be prevented by saturating the entire paper with color or by filling the paper with a blender before applying color.

    The good thing about these markers is that you can layer the colors more so than you could with water-based markers without causing too much damage to the paper.

    Water-Based Markers

    Water-based markers mix ink with either water or a water and glycerin mixture.

    Unlike alcohol-based or solvent-based, these markers are odorless due to the lack of chemicals. This makes them pretty safe and ideal for kids.

    The acid-free nature of the ink found in water-based markers also make them ideal for calligraphy and another type of artwork.

    The ink from these markers is opaque, waterproof, and dries pretty quickly. However, they take longer to dry compared to other markers and saturated your paper with too many layers can damage the paper.

    You may remember water-based markers as the large colorful Crayola markers you used as a kid.

    There are also watercolor pens that are typically for use on watercolor heavy paper.

    Both of these can result in some pretty neat results when you apply water to your artwork.

    You can also use water-based markers with alcohol-based markers. Just make sure you use the water ones on top since using alcohol last will affect the water-based ink.

    Besides Crayola, other common brands for water-based markers include Sakura, Staedtler, Tombow, and Windsor-Newton watercolor pens.

    Solvent-Based Markers

    Solvent-based markers combine ink with a solvent such as xylene, methyl isobutyl ketone, or butryl acetate.

    The chemicals found in this marker can produce a pretty strong scent that can be irritable to eyes and lungs so be cautious of that.

    Ink from solvent-based markers are relatively waterproof and pretty long-lasting but not quite permanent.

    They are commonly used for craft projects since they can be utilized on a variety of surfaces, both porous and non-porous.

    Which Brand Should I Buy?

    Before investing on a larger set of markers, you should definitely try different ones out to see what works best for what you are trying to achieve.

    Many of these brands have single markers for sale if you check your local arts & crafts store. Once you decide on a brand, I would start with a 12 or 24 color set.


    Copic is an extremely popular brand of Japanese markers. Getting into Copics can be pretty pricey, but it’s worth it since they are considered one of the highest quality of art markers there is to offer.

    These markers have non-toxic, alcohol-based ink with replaceable nibs and refillable ink. Since they’re refillable, the high price tag on each marker isn’t a bad investment.

    Especially for the quality you get. Copic Markers are available in 358 different colors and 4 different types — Original, Ciao, Sketch, and Wide. Check out this beginner’s guide to Copic markers for more!

    Prismacolor Markers

    Prismacolor is also another popular brand of art markers among professional artists.

    They also offer four different types of markers including Prismacolor Premier Chisel|Fine Double-Ended Art Markers, Prismacolor Premier Brush|Fine Double Ended Art Markers, Prismacolor Premier Illustration Markers, and Prismacolor Scholar Art Markers.  

    The first two double-ended markers feature an alcohol, dye-based, non-toxic ink that’s comparable to the typical Copic art markers.

    The Prismacolor Premier Illustration Markers are much more fine tipped and typically used for technical illustrations and hand lettering. The Prismacolor Scholar Art Markers are water-based with low odor.

    Prismacolor markers are more affordable than Copics, however the ink isn’t refillable and the nibs aren’t replaceable.

    Copics have been known to be a bit more durable and longer lasting but many artists still prefer these to Copics. Prismacolor markers are available in 200 different colors, a bit more limited in choices when compared to Copics.


    Tombow is another popular brand used among artists. Tombow Dual Brush Marker Pens feature a water-based, non-toxic acid-free ink.

    These markers are available as double-ended markers with a brush tip on one end and a fine tip on the other in 96 different colors.

    These water-based markers blend pretty easily and can result in a neat watercolor effect.

    Unlike Copic or Prismacolor markers, they actually don’t have that strong of a scent which is always a plus! Tombow markers also have self-cleaning tips that are definitely helpful if you are blending quite often.

    Since these markers are water-based though, the ink isn’t permanent or waterproof and you’ll have to be careful to not get water on your artwork.


    I’m sure you’re well aware of Sharpie markers because no doubt you have a few black ones around your house for labeling boxes and such.

    However, Sharpies are available in way more colors than black (65, actually) and have been used by some artists in their artwork.

    Compared to the other markers, Sharpies aren’t available in a wide variety of nibs which make them difficult to use for coloring.

    The fine and extra-fine tips are great for technical and detailed illustration. However, the ink in these markers are both water and fade-resistant which can make these markers appealing to many artists.

    Compared the markers above, Sharpies are much more affordable. However, that comes with a price.

    The ink from these markers don’t blend well and are very likely to bleed through paper.

    Like the Prismacolor markers, Sharpies don’t have the luxury of having replaceable nibs or refillable ink.


    Yeah, I know you remember these bad boys. When you graduated from using crayons, you were given these bright, colorful Crayola markers.

    Like Tombow markers, these markers have water-based, non-toxic ink. These markers are washable but that also means that water can damage artwork.

    Another great thing is that the markers don’t dry out in case you leave the caps off. They’re also available in 200 different colors! Who knew they had more than the 12 colors we were given in art class?!

    Even though these markers are marketed towards kids, they still have potential to create great artwork.

    I actually have this 64-color set of pip-squeak Crayola markers  (pictured on side) for creating some basic illustrations.

    The 64 set gives me a great range of color and they are so compact and easy to carry around.

    I typically use them to sketch out and plan color schemes for work that I want to eventually create digitally. They’re simple to use, very affordable and just plain ol’ fun.


    Chartpak markers are pretty big markers but they hold tons of ink so it can last you for a while. These markers have a xylene-based, water-proof marker that come in 130 different colors.

    Since these markers are xylene-based, you can guess that they have a pretty strong scent that can be irritable to the eyes and lungs. The markers also only come in one standard size chisel tip.

    However, this tip is designed to allow for three different line widths of drawing –thin, medium and thick. Another plus side to these markers are that the tips are replaceable.

    The marker isn’t refillable but like mentioned earlier, they hold a lot of ink anyway.

    These markers aren’t so great if you’re looking for fine detail because they have also been known to bleed a lot.

    If you’re looking for thick color coverage, this might be a marker you want to try out.

    There’s a TON more different markers out there but these are just a few that have been frequently used by artists.

    Some others not listed here that have been recommended are Winsor & Newton or  Spectrum Noir markers.

    Remember, your preference is going to vary based on the type of artwork you are doing and the desired results. Try them out before settling!

    What Type of Paper Should I Use?

    You should try out different papers to see what works for you best because it will depend on the amount of layering and blending you desire.

    You could try out marker paper because it’s thin, smooth, and has a coating on the back to prevent the ink from bleeding through the paper. If you want to do extensive blending and layering, try a thicker paper like Bristol.

    Glossy paper can also be used with art markers but you won’t have the same effects as non-glossy paper.

    Blenders won’t work well on glossy paper and mistakes are quite unforgiving. Glossy paper absorbs less ink so you won’t have vibrant colors but you’ll be using less ink which means your markers would last a lot longer.

    For basic illustrations, uncoated paper works pretty well. If you are using art markers in any sort of paper crafts like making cards, they typically won’t bleed through for 120 lb weight paper. 

    For Copics, check out this post on their site that gives some good suggestions for paper based on your project and this post for a post on art marker testing on 12 different papers.

    Completely new to drawing? 

    Check out my beginner’s guide to drawing to learn the basics of drawing in just 4 weeks and covers basic pencil holding techniques, coloring, 2D and 3D shapes, perspective, figure drawing and much more.

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