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Firstly, I'll have to warn you that makers aren't everyone's 'cup of tea.' By 'markers' I mean the really good, professional kind, not Crayola or Pentel (not bashing the companies, just stating their markers aren't what I'm going to talk about.) Markers can have the tendency to leak everywhere if not controlled right and you have to develop your own way of handling them or else things will come out streaky. Like any other medium, markers lend a different feel to colors and pictures in general. I personally think that markers can be the easiest to control amongst traditional liquid coloring techniques.
Now, let's get started. The three brands of markers I will talk about are Prismacolors, Trias, and Copics. I won't kid you in saying this will be cheap. Prismacolors are the cheapest of the three and a single marker usually runs to $3 USD. Copics are by far the most expensive and difficult to find.
Prismacolor markers have two tips and a vast array of colors. They're very nice for those starting out on markers, not only because they are mildly affordable but also because the color names are easy to remember. There is a broad tip for large strokes of color and a smaller tip for more detailed work. Prismacolors are also easier to find than the other two. Almost all the art stores I've ever been in have a large stock of them.
Letraset Tria markers are, in my opinion, better because they have three tips: a broad tip, a middle brush-like tip, and a smaller nib. All these nibs are customizable; they make other shaped nibs that you can whittle down to your own requirement. You can also find refill bottles for all their markers. Trias are mildly more expensive, at $4-$5 USD and they are also a bit harder to find. You might have to go to an art school student store to find them or a specialized store just for art supplies. The refill bottles are also around $8-$9 per bottle, but it fills up to 4 markers. For me, Trias are really worth it for the three nibs and smooth liquid release (I will explain later). They also have a wide range of colors, but they operate from the Letraset color system that is a confusing set of numbers for each marker.
Now, lastly are Copic Markers . Copics are very new and extremely rare. I only know of one store in Los Angeles that has them and they're very expensive. But professional companies in Japan love them. They also have the broad tip that is common with the three brands, but the other choice of nib is the brush tip. This tip can go from large strokes to small detail with pressure from your hand, exactly like a pointed brush. Copics are also refillable and have a long lifespan. I have not personally worked with these markers, but I've seen what they can do and how they work and I'm impressed enough with them to fear using them. The only way most people can get these markers is through their website. For price ranges, they have a website with shipping at www.copicmarker.com .
For these markers, I really suggest using marker paper. Why? Because all these markers bleed through regular paper and make the color dull in some cases. I really recommend marker paper because this paper is thin and smooth. The markers brush onto the paper with the minimal of fuss and bleeding. Also, marker paper is thin enough to be put over an existing pencil sketch to marker over, if you want to preserve your pencil work. If you don't want to shell out the money for marker paper, I also recommend cardstock, also known as 110 lbs. paper. You can get a nice large ream of this from an office supply store for $10-$15. You can also try layout paper and anything that is labelled suitable for markers. Try everything! Here's a small chart of what these markers do on different types of paper. The scan doesn't really make it too clear, but maybe it will help someone for something.
There are varying opinions on blending markers. All three brands have their own blending marker which is just a marker loaded up with their own special clear liquid to blend two colors better. I've had varying experiences with Trias and Prismas and the blending marker takes some getting used to. It can make your colors bleed, run, and make a mess on your page. If you do choose to go this route, please don't mix marker brands' blenders. The results are disgusting because of the different formulas used.
The first technique I learned by myself was layering. I couldn't afford different shades of the same color and Prismas aren't really stocked like that, so I would do the following:
First, I would put down a smooth, flat layer of your base color. Let that dry a little, then overlay the shadow areas with the same marker. This works best with Prismacolor markers, as the second layer looks darker than the first layer. You can pop out highlights with a regular white color pencil. If you don't know where to shadow and highlight, there are other F.A.R.P. articles for learning that. ;)
This second technique I learned from Eric Canete, a former Zone 47 member and artist for Wildstorm's Cybernary 2.0, originally taught from a set of cool grey Tria markers. You should always work from the lightest color out. Keep your pen tip (the medium size of the three) in smooth circular motions, usually good to just cover the whole area of the drawing. Slowly work your way darker towards the shadows. I usually use odd or even numbers, depending on what I start with. If I start with 1, I work to 3, 5, 7 etc. and if I start with 2, I move with 4, 6, 8, etc. This example is the easiest and the hardest to illustrate with the way I shade in hair, but here is an attempt. It's always best to experiment yourself.
Also, I've been told by Georgette Tan about another technique for using a blending liquid solution: 'When I was doing graphics, our 'blending marker' is just a dried up marker (preferably of a light colour like palest grey) and a bottle of thinner (any diluting spirits should work). We transfer the thinner into a small jar and dip the marker nib into it before blending it on paper. It's probably a cheap alternative, but it gets smelly and slightly intoxicating.'
If you intend to use ink pens in conjunction with your markers, it's best if you can marker up your picture before you ink. Inks tend to smear when a marker goes over it. It's probably really hard to color before you see what you're coloring, that's why I usually use my light box and tape down my marker paper to my pencil sketches for my comic book. Otherwise, you could simply use regular paper instead of the slicker marker paper and ink it first. I would still recommend you leave the inks for a while before you marker or test out your ink-to-marker-smearing ratio on a loose piece of the same kind of paper. I hope that just made sense!
A good thing to keep in mind for both these techniques is to lay down a nice wet layer. You can paint 'wet into wet' with markers as well as watercolors. It blends better than using a blending marker. In my experience, Prismas can vary with how much liquid they release. When I bought a set of Prismas, a few of the markers were dry while others were primed to let their liquid go. Trias are more liquid and are really easy to blend two shades at once.
Like all techniques, it's only a technique. Nothing beats good solid knowledge of color, forms, figures, and what else you need to make a super kickbutt picture. I hope this article helps you explore your own style!
P.S. If you'd like to see different markering techniques, you can check out my webcomic Wish³ .
Thanks sooooo much, no one seems to ever answer me when I ask for tutorials on markers, so I was really pleased to find this here! Much appreciated. ^-^
12 Jun 2008
This was very helpful, thank you. I just got my set of warm grayscale Prismacolors today, and they work beautifully.
23 Nov 2008
Im very newb, but I gotta say, you forgot to mention the Chartpaks! I just bought a set from carpe diem and am happily trying them out now. Chartpak advatanges are: very smooth durable nib, TONS of fluid and color and decent price. Somewhere between prismas and copic. Only 1 "tri nib" end but it never dries out like the prismas fine point. 25 for 38$ plus 7 greys and a blender for 15$ more. 13 in shipping = about 65 bucks for the 33 set. Very nice if you need to cover lots of area but cant invest in refillable.
Thank you for that. I found it to be extremely helpful. But sadly the city that I live in has no place that sells any kind of decent artists quality markers. I can’t even buy copic or prisma at any of the art supply stores here. I have to order them on line.
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