Markers: a buying guide
In this guide to buying markers, I’ll explain everything you need to know so that you can confidently purchase the markers that will work best for your artistic needs! I’ll cover things like tip shape, blending, brands, costs and the important differences between water-based and alcohol-based markers. I’ll finish up with my recommendations for the best markers you can buy.
Since 2014 I’ve published 23 coloring books (selling over 3.5 million copies) and as a result, I’ve done a lot of a of illustrating and experimenting with markers – amassing a collection of 600+ markers from over a dozen different brands! You can see just a fraction of my collection in the pic below. In this Intro to Markers Guide I’ll pass on everything I’ve learned, so read on to find out which markers will be best for you!
A quick overview
Not that long ago, markers were traditionally a niche tool used primarily by graphic designers and manga artists. Because markers are not as fade-resistant as other media, they were avoided by serious artists who had longevity in mind. But over time, as artists began to make art for the internet, more and more artists became attracted to the fantastic versatility of markers and their wide range of brilliant colors.
Markers are affordable, convenient, don’t make a mess, work well with other media and allow you to apply bold color quickly and easily! What’s not to love?!
All kinds of artists have found a use for markers. Because they’re easy to use and dry quickly, markers are great on-location or outdoors – perfect for travel, plein-air studies or urban sketching. Their effortless application of color makes markers well-suited to doodling, sketching and gesture-drawing. Markers can also blend smoothly, making them capable of photorealism, abstraction, and everything in between!
Markers have also experienced a huge surge in interest these past few years thanks to the adult coloring trend. Colorists love the wide range of color choice and the convenience of different tip shapes. This demand has triggered an explosion in the number of marker products on the market. This abundance of choice means that there’s a marker out there for every artist and price point. The hardest part is wading through all the different options to figure out which suits you best, but I’m here to help you with that!
Before we dive deeply into the different brands, you’ll first need to decide what type of tip shape or nib you want, because the tip shape greatly impacts your experience of coloring. Here’s an overview of your options. Note that these terms are not standard across brands – for example, some manufacturers will use the phrase “fine tip” to refer to a tip that’s more similar to a bullet tip.
Brush tips (aka “brush pens”) are my absolute favorite because they’re the most versatile. The point can be used to create thin strokes (perfect for detailed work) and the brush can also be flattened to fill in large areas. You can also use the brush tip to create variable-width strokes. Brush pens are typically more expensive than other types, but for some brands the tips can be replaced when they become worn.
The chisel tip is very common across brands. It’s useful because you can use different edges for different purposes. The wide, flat side is great for laying down lots of color, while the pointy side is good for thinner strokes (but not as thin or precise as you can achieve with brush or fine tip markers). To be honest I rarely use the chisel tips on my markers, but that’s just me – your needs and style may be different!
This is just like what you’d find on a technical pen that architects use. These tips are fantastic for fine details and patterning, but very impractical for larger blocks of color.
The trusty bullet tip is common in lots of cheaper marker sets. It’s a good generalist tip, but isn’t very versatile, in that super-fine details can be tricky and filling in large areas with color can be slow and tedious.
Double-ended markers are a perfect way to enjoy the best of both worlds! They feature a central ink reservoir with tips on either end. It’s common for high quality alcohol-based markers to be double-ended, most commonly with a brush tip and chisel tip at either end, although some have a bullet tip (instead of a brush tip) with a chisel tip at the other end.
As you can see in the image below, you can achieve a variety of strokes with any marker tip, which is pretty cool! However, each tip type has its strengths and weaknesses, so the best marker tip for you ultimately boils down to personal preference and the type of art you wish to create.
I often use the Copic marker brush tip to create entire artworks, but the cool thing about markers is that they can be combined, so you don’t need to do an entire artwork with the same tip or brand. Mix and match as you see fit. For instance, you can lay down large blocks of color with a brush tip or chisel tip, and then add details on top with a fine or bullet tip!