Getting To Grips With Alcohol Markers
If you’re wanting to add a new level to your art skills, alcohol markers could be exactly what you’re looking for. Incredibly versatile, their unrivalled ability to layer and blend can create stunning visual effects. If you enjoy creating traditional art, but want the control and gradient abilities offered by digital art, alcohol markers are an excellent way to go.
There are many amazing capabilities that alcohol markers offer, and also many things to consider before buying or using them, so let’s cover the basics!
The first thing you need to think about when buying alcohol markers is what you’ll be primarily using them for. This will help you decide which nibs are best for your art. There are multiple nib variations available on the market, but the majority will fall into one of three categories:
Chisel nibs are wide on one side, and very thin on the other. They’re very similar to a standard highlighter, except usually they’re slightly wider. Chisel nibs are really great for covering wide areas of paper. The only downside is that it can look streaky if you don’t line the edges up properly when laying down multiple lines. The best way to avoid streakiness is to draw first in one direction, then draw across it at a 90° angle. Chisel nibs can also be useful for finer detailing, as you can angle the marker so that you’re drawing with the very edge, where the wide side meets the thin side.
The brush nib tends to be the favourite among artists, as it affords so many opportunities. A brush nib can vary in size and hardness depending on the brand, but it gives you such smooth control over the ink flow. You can press harder or lighter depending on the thickness of the mark you want it to make. You can also use the side of the brush nib to cover larger areas with ink. The brush nibs are also the best to use for blending, but we’ll discuss that in more detail further on in the article.
Bullet nibs are hard and thin, think of a felt tip. They’re often a little wider than a standard felt tip, but the exact thickness will depend on the brand. Bullet nibs don’t offer as much control and versatility as a brush nib, but they’re often a lot cheaper. They’re also useful for filling in thinner areas, as you don’t have to worry about accidentally making the line too thick by using too much pressure.
Once you’ve figured out which nibs you’re looking for, the next step is finding the right brand for your needs. When it comes to alcohol markers there’s one brand that stands head and shoulders above the rest, and that’s Copics. If you’re determined to have the highest quality alcohol markers then there’s no competition in this regard. Copics have smooth ink, an innovative colour blending system, and nibs that are the perfect firmness. There are three types of Copics – Sketch (brush and chisel nib), Ciao (brush and chisel nib), and Classic (bullet and chisel nib). All of them are refillable, and the nibs are interchangeable if you want to buy nibs separately. Ciao are the most affordable as they’re a bit smaller than the Sketch, but they’re still very pricy compared to other brands.
If you don’t want to pay the high prices associated with Copics, you can still get some great markers. Bullet and chisel nibs are the most popular combination on the market, so if you’re happy with a bullet nib then there are multiple options for you. Touch Five is one of the cheapest brands available, and can be found brand new on Ebay or other discount sites. You can get a set of 60 for around the same price as 4 or 5 Copic Sketches.
If you’ve got your heart set on a brush nib, then your best bet is to go with Ohuhu. They’re a fraction of the cost of Copics, whilst providing a similar level of quality. For the discerning eye, you can tell the difference, but unless you’re a professional artist who intends on selling the original artworks, Ohuhus should be fine for your needs. When photographing or scanning to make prints, the differences would be negligible, and you can still create amazing pieces without having to break the bank.
An important consideration when using alcohol markers is the paper that you’re working with. Because of the blending capabilities of alcohol markers, some papers won’t do justice to them. You want to avoid papers that absorb a lot of ink, as these will make it very difficult to blend colours smoothly, and will create streakiness. Instead, look for specific marker paper, or coated card. Xpress It blending card is perfect for use with alcohol markers, but is a bit expensive. Bristol Card is recommended if you want to choose a great paper whilst on a budget.
If you’re not planning on using the layering and blending capabilities of your alcohol markers, then you could go for less optimal papers. Just make sure that you choose something with decent thickness (ideally a minimum of 120 gsm), and be aware that the markers will probably bleed through, or at least ghost.
Layering and Blending
The main benefit that alcohol markers have over other art supplies is their unparalleled ability to blend whilst still looking striking. You can create stunning and purposeful gradients that look smooth and natural. You can also layer colours together to create nuanced hues that fit the subject matter you’re drawing.
When it comes to blending, the first step is to choose two colours that go together. If you’re using Copics, this is very easy. You simply find two pens in the same colour group, and then find a colour code that shares the same first digit. The way their numbering system works means that any two pens that fit that description will blend effortlessly together. If you’re using a different brand, then it may take a little trial and error. Try to look for pens that are similar in hue, but differ in brightness or saturation.
Once you have your two pens, you want to lay them down next to each other, starting with the lighter colour. Then, using the lighter colour, start to drag the colour from the dark area into the lighter area. This process works much better if you’re using a brush nib as it will look a lot neater. Continue going back and forth in little circles until you’ve created a smooth gradient.
For layering, it’s a pretty simple process. If you want to create more vibrant hues, layer the colours whilst they’re still wet. If you want the hues to be more subtle or solid, then wait for the first layer to dry before adding the second layer. You usually want to lay down the darker colour first, then add the lighter colour on top, but this can depend on the context. For example, if you’re trying to create shadows on skin, then you would do the regular skin colour first, before adding a layer of a darker shade in the chosen areas.
If you don’t feel confident enough in your art skills to try advanced blending techniques, that doesn’t necessarily mean alcohol markers are not for you. They still create beautiful effects on the paper, and the ink is often very vibrant and rich. There also tend to be more colour options than with water based markers, and pastels will show up more vividly. You can get a lot of subtlety in the hues, and the markers themselves often feel very nice in your hands while working with them.
If you’re looking for a new way to bring life to your artwork, then alcohol markers could be precisely what you need in order to make your projects pop on the page!
Image Credits: Cover image and third in-article image are from the Copic Award entries.