The ultimate guide to pens & markers

Pens and markers are an amazing choice for colourists. There are two main types of pens and markers, alcohol based and water based. The two work differently, so let’s have a look at their main characteristics in our ultimate guide to pens and markers and how to use them!

Always use a couple of sheets of card beneath your colouring page when using pens and markers.

Copic markers

What are pens & markers

Pens and markers contain ink, and using a nib, ball or felt tip, allow you to draw with these highly pigmented inks. There are two main types of pens and markers.

Water based pens & markers

Water based markers have washable ink, meaning it’s not lightfast and not meant to last a long time. The ink dries a lot slower than alcohol based markers and they are usually not refillable. They don’t normally have a strong scent and usually they’re used by children and beginner colourists.

They can be a very affordable option but this comes with some difficulties. These markers will leave streaks when you colour with them, and blending and layering these markers is more difficult.

Alcohol based pens & markers

Alcohol markers are usually at a higher price point but they’re often the preferred media of professional artists, illustrators and colouring enthusiasts.

These pens are highly pigmented which means that they can bleed through certain papers. But their inks are much longer lasting or even permanent. The ink from these markers dries quickly and you’re able to blend and layer these markers without any streaking or damage to the paper. Often, these markers are refillable too.

Other colouring supplies you’ll use with pens & markers

Generally, pens & markers can be used well on their own. However you can use some erasers and blenders specifically designed to work with certain marker brands to enhance your colouring.


How to use pens & markers for colouring

Now you know the basics on pens and markers, it’s time to try out some tips and tricks!

Water based pens & markers

There are two main ways you can colour with water based markers. However you colour, be cautious with how much ink you use as too much can damage your paper.

Firstly, you can use water based markers almost like watercolour paint. Take a plastic blending palette and drawing some ink on there. Using a paintbrush apply a small amount of water to the ink, mixing it like you would watercolour paint. Then use your brush to apply the ink to your paper, adding more water for a paler colour, or more ink for a more intense colour. When trying to blend, work wet on wet so that you are able to get a seamless blend.

You can also blend your water based markers using a blending pen. When working with water based markers you will need to work very quickly or else your markers won’t blend properly. Start by applying your lightest colour and then immediately blend out the edges with your blending marker. Next go in with your darker shade and apply it on top, wherever you want to create shadow. Immediately go back in with your blending marker to smooth out the edge and create a seamless gradient between the colours.

Take off the caps of all of the markers you want to use in that section before you start so that you don’t have to take up time uncapping and recapping markers between applications.

Alcohol based pens & markers

Using slow, even strokes when colouring with these markers is important to ensure you get a smooth even finish. If you use use jagged, quick movements the ink will be patchy and uneven.

A big part of working with alcohol based markers is making sure you are working wet on wet. This is where a colourless marker can come in really handy, so you can wet the paper with your colourless marker before you begin applying colour. This is especially important when it comes to applying different colours on top of one another, you’ll need to be working wet on wet to be able to blend.

What is a colourless Blenders

colourless blender is just a pen with transparent ink. You can either use it to rewet any ink that has dried on your paper, or to blend together two colours. Another handy use, is that it can be used to correct small mistakes.

Staedtler fine liner pens

Fineliner pens

Fineliners are great for designs with lots of small areas and adding detail to larger designs, or using a pointillism style. Beware of colouring large areas with fineliners as they can bleed through the paper and cause it to curl.

There are lots more colouring pen and marker techniques you can learn about with our how to colour tutorials.

Enjoyed this guide about how to use pens & markers? You’ll love our other how to colour guides about paper for colouring and colouring pencils.

You might also enjoy our article on the top 10 best colouring pens, and our deep dive into the differences between colouring pens and pencils and which one is right for you!

Coloured a beautiful page and want to share it with your friends and family? Take a look at this article about how to photograph colouring pages.

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