How to Use Alcohol Markers

Fine tip … Brush tip … Water-based … Solvent-based …

With so many different types of markers available at art supply stores, most artists don’t know which to use or what to use them for.

Art markers come in various shapes and sizes with different ink types, tip types, and capabilities. Today we’re talking about one type in particular.

Alcohol markers.

Not sure if alcohol markers are the right art markers for you? Here’s how to use alcohol markers, what they’re suitable for, and what type of art they can help you create.

What Are Alcohol Markers?

As you might expect, alcohol markers contain alcohol ink. Water-based markers and solvent markers contain dyes suspended in water and glycerin, while the pigments in alcohol markers are suspended in alcohol. 

Unlike solvent markers, alcohol markers don’t have the stinky, noxious smell (like thick Sharpies). In most cases, alcohol markers have a faint scent of rubbing alcohol.

They’re excellent for blending, they produce smooth, vivid colors, and they dry quickly. Alcohol markers are permanent markers, making them the art markers of choice for many graphic artists and illustrators. 

Many high-quality brands, such as Copic, make excellent alcohol markers that allow ink to flow easily and dry fast so that you don’t have to worry about smearing. 

Which Artists Use Alcohol Markers?

Artists and hobbyists of all sorts use alcohol markers.

They’re ideal for creating cartoons, illustrations, and graphic novels. Their vivid colors make them an excellent option for manga artists. Architects use them to develop architectural renderings, and fashion designers use them to create sketches.

Alcohol markers are also excellent for hand-lettering, scrapbooking, and all sorts of creative projects.

Whether you prefer to work on wood, canvas, paper, or glass, alcohol markers are suitable for use on all sorts of surfaces, making them a versatile tool in any artist’s supply kit.

What Are the Benefits of Using Alcohol Markers?

There are a variety of reasons why artists choose alcohol markers over solvent-based or water-based options. Here are the key benefits of using alcohol markers, regardless of what type of artist you are.

Quick-Drying

Alcohol evaporates fast, making alcohol markers quick to dry. Because they dry quickly, there’s less chance of smudging your work. If you accidentally spill a drop of water on your work, it won’t immediately bleed and fade. 

Dual-Ended Tips

Many art markers come with double-sided tips, where one end of the marker has a fine tip, and the other has a thicker tip. This minimizes the need to buy additional markers, reduces expenses, and allows you to experiment with different techniques more easily.

Easy to Layer and Blend

Alcohol markers are excellent blending markers that can create exciting layering techniques. They have a fluid consistency that makes them easy to apply on top of one another, and blend and shade to create smooth transitions. 

Vibrant Color 

Alcohol markers deliver vibrant color and intensity and are resistant to fading. That intensity, along with their fluid inks, makes them perfect for creating realistic images, such as portraits and landscapes, as well as abstract images, illustrations, and cartoons.

Refillable Inks

Some brands that produce alcohol markers also sell separate ink so that you refill your markers over time. This helps lower expenses, cut down on the need to buy new markers every time you deplete a color, and reduce waste. 

In addition to refillable inks, some brands also sell replacement nibs and tips so that your markers always feel and operate like they’re brand new.

What Kind of Paper Do You Use With Alcohol Markers?

markers on paper

Alcohol markers can be used on various different surfaces, though paper is most artist’s preferred surface of choice.

They have intense color and can easily bleed through paper, so it’s always best to use heavier marker paper or cardstock. At the minimum, it’s best to choose 80lb paper (or heavier). Heavyweight paper that’s also bleed-proof is the ideal option.

Alcohol markers are less likely to tear through the paper the way water-based markers do, but thinner papers, such as watercolor paper and lightweight sketch paper, aren’t ideal.

The weight of the paper isn’t the only thing to consider. The other thing that matters is the tooth.

Rougher paper with more tooth and surface texture can damage the tips on your markers. More tooth can also make it more difficult to create clean lines and fine lines. Heavyweight paper with a smooth surface is the best choice when working with alcohol markers.

Alcohol markers can be used on other surfaces as well, including glass, tile, and metal, but they will rub off if not treated with a sealant spray to lock the color in place. 

How Do Alcohol Markers Work?

There are two critical things about alcohol markers that can significantly affect your art: the pressure you use and the nib on the marker tip.

Here’s why these are so important and how changing one or both can create an entirely different piece of art.

Pressure Matters

The fluid consistency of alcohol-based ink means that how you apply the marker to paper will affect the result.

With a heavy hand and heavy pressure, your colors will create darker, more intense images on the page. Using lighter pressure will make lighter marks.

Different Nibs Produce Different Results

The marker’s tip is called the nib, and nibs come in different sizes and shapes that produce different results. The three main types of nibs are brush nibs, chisel nibs, and fine nibs.

Brush tips look like a small paintbrush and actually feel like a brush when applied to paper. It’s one of the larger nibs, making it ideal for large areas of your work. Many artists find brush marker tips to be the most natural in feel, as you can press with the heavier end of the marker or the slimmest tip of the brush to create different effects. 

A chisel tip is a short, angled nib with a slanted edge that can make both broad and thin lines, depending on how you hold it. Chisel nibs are great for covering large spaces, calligraphy, hand-lettering, and creating different layers of thick and thin without having to switch markers or tips.

A fine nib, sometimes called a bullet nib, has a slender tip and is best used for creating small details and outlining. Many artists use fine nibs to make their initial drawing or sketch, though they can also be used for shading and adding intricate detail in small areas. 

Some alcohol markers come with dual-ended nibs, providing more flexibility and opportunity to create different markings and effects.

When you buy new alcohol markers or brush pens that you’ve never used before, spend some time making color swatches to know precisely what the color will look like on your paper. While doing so, test out different nibs with different levels of pressure.

By holding your hand in a different position or applying slighter more or less pressure, you can alter how the ink appears on paper.

Tips for Using Alcohol Markers

tips for using alcohol markers

Whether you’re new to using alcohol markers or are looking to improve your artistic skills, here are some useful tips for using art markers.

Work With Your Lightest Colors First

Artists love working with alcohol markers because they’re so easy to blend and shade. And while they are easy to manipulate and layer, applying your colors in specific ways can make a big difference in your finished work.

If your goal is to create a realistic effect, apply your lightest colors first. It’s much easier to add layers of color on top of the existing color to darken and add contrast rather than to lighten up darker areas that have already dried. 

Another technique you can try is to select two or three markers in the same color family and apply them on top of one another to build up your shades. Apply the lightest color first, then use the darkest color in small areas or create defined lines. Finally, use the medium shade on top of the dark color to soften those darker areas.  

In addition to how you layer your colors, it can also help to define your larger areas first and focus on detailed areas after you’ve applied the majority of your color.

Blend Harsh Areas With Lighter Colors

By layering light colors beneath dark colors, it’s easier to blend and create gradient effects. To fix an error or lighten up an area that’s already dark, there is another tool you can use.

A blender pen.

Blender markers don’t have any ink or contain any color at all — they are transparent. You can use a blender pen for shading, blending, lightening areas that are too dark, and retouching mistakes.

Colorless blender markers can also be applied as the first step, as an underpainting of sorts, before adding any color to the paper. This is an easy way to lighten your entire image or build highlights into areas of the paper that you want to appear lighter.  

Just keep in mind that blending with alcohol markers requires that the ink be wet. And that means you’ll need to work quickly.

Some alcohol markers dry in a matter of seconds, which is why it’s much easier to apply lighter colors first. You can always layer more colors on top of them to make them darker.

Minimize Bleeding

Because alcohol markers have such fluid ink, they tend to bleed through paper. It’s best to put something porous beneath your paper. That way, the porous surface can absorb some of the ink and control the bleeding on the surface.

As discussed above, heavier paper is best, as long as that paper has a smooth surface texture. The rougher the texture, the harder it will be to create defined lines, and the more damage you can do to soft brush nibs.

Store Your Markers Properly

When markers are new and still full of plenty of ink, storing them upright is fine. But as you use them and deplete the ink inside, it’s best to store them horizontally, especially if they have double-ended nibs.

Storing them vertically will make all the ink sink to the bottom or in the direction of one nib (if they’re double-ended). Horizontal storage will allow for a more effortless flow of ink, regardless of which end you use.

Some Supplies to Get Started

Ready to test your skill with alcohol markers? 

Looking to replace an old dried-out batch with a brand new set? 

Here are our top recommendations for alcohol markers and other essentials that you’ll need to start creating incredible marker art.

Copic Sketch Markers

Copic Sketch Markers are some of the best (and most popular) alcohol markers an artist can buy. This series offers dual-ended markers in over 350 colors. One end features a “super brush nib”, and the other end features a medium nib, both of which are replaceable.

Copic markers are also refillable, so as long as you have ink on hand, you won’t run out of your favorite colors in the middle of a project. 

No matter which colors you choose, be sure to pick up a colorless blender brush as well.

Strathmore Smooth Bristol Pads 300 Series

Strathmore Smooth Bristol Pad 300 Series is 100lb, acid-free paper — perfect for use with alcohol markers. It has a smooth finish with no tooth to snag your nibs and comes in a variety of different sizes depending on the scale of your work. 

With a few alcohol markers and heavyweight paper, you can create high-quality art that’s bold, vibrant, and intense with color.

Alcohol markers are easy to use, easy to blend, and quick to dry, making them a favorite amongst cartoonists, illustrators, designers, and hobbyists of all types.

If you’re ready to try art markers for the first time or need to replace some of your old markers with fresh new ones, check out brush markers, chisel nib markers, paper, and more at Rileystreet now.