Creating with Alcohol Markers is fun and fairly mess-free! The colors are amazingly vibrant and it is easy to get a big payoff with very little effort. Top all that off with amazing portability and the complete lack of any other chemicals, mixing agents or tools needed and you’ve got a simple and rewarding art medium.
I’ll show you everything you need to know about how to blend alcohol markers. They are a bit tricky!
There are four things that are necessary for successful blending:
- Paper for alcohol markers – use the best paper for your desired outcome (see below)
- The best technique for your project
- Saturation control
- Color and value choice
Let’s tackle this one by one.
1. Paper Choices
Considering the vast price differences in alcohol marker brands, I was really surprised to learn that the biggest factor in perfect blending, in my opinion, is perfect paper. I created some samples to show you what I mean.
I purchased five of the best marker papers and ran them through the paces with four of my best alcohol markers. There wasn’t too much difference between the four markers, but boy, oh boy, there was a dramatic difference between the five papers!
The Strathmore Marker Pad 190g. performed quite well. I would classify this as my fourth favorite.
Some of the colors mottled quite a bit upon mixing together, which was a disappointment as it reduced the clarity of the colors quite a bit. However, it was very easy to blend colors together fairly seamlessly and the colors were nicely vibrant. Perhaps its best feature was how easy the colors lifted off with a few swipes of a blender brush pen. I love how heavy the paper is! It’s very sturdy and had a medium amount of ink bleed-through to the back, with zero soaking into the protection pad. There was no glare from heavy layering of colors.
The Ohuhu Marker Pad is my second favorite paper. It is 200g and perforated for easy removal from the spiral binding. There was quite a bit of mottling of the colors I used, which was its least attractive feature. But the colors were vibrant and lifted really well.
Blending colors together and layering were quite easy and there was quite a lot of bleed through to the back, although it didn’t stain the protection sheet at all. The best feature was the inclusion of the plastic/silicon protection sheet in the pad! A pleasant surprise, as it isn’t even mentioned on the cover that it is included. There was no glare from heavy saturation of colors.
The Canson XL Marker Paper is quite thin and almost to the point of being see through. It’s ideal for tracing. There was not much mottling at all, which makes it beautiful to work on when you want a stained glass effect with super vibrant colors.
The downside is that colors did not lift hardly at all with the blender pen, and the paper being so very thin, at 70g., it wrinkled easily. Still, it was my second favorite paper because of the clarity of the colors and the lack of mottling. When I use this paper, I carefully remove it from the pad and tape it down to a non-porous board with painters tape. That way I can eliminate the wrinkling. I will have to store the finished sheets carefully! There was a lot of glare from heavy layers of colors.
The Bianyo Marker Pad is also 70g. It is a really strange paper! The alcohol inks didn’t soak into the paper in most of the tests I ran. Rather, they puddled up and streaked like mad. However, of all the papers I tested, Bianyo had the least amount of bleed through to the back. Probably a good choice for kids if you’re worried about bleed-through!
The colors, while not laying down well, were the most electric and vibrant. Blending and shading was next to impossible with this paper. The colors did not lift well with the blender brush. There was a lot of glare with heavy layers of color.
Bee Marker Pad is 180g and a strong sturdy paper. This one came out the very best of all my tests. Blending was very easy with a minimal mottling. The colors lifted really well with the blender pen.
There was quite a bit of bleed through to the back, but nothing soaked through to the protection sheet. The colors were very vibrant and clear toned. There was no glare from heavy layering of colors.
SIDE BY SIDE
One area where markers shine is no blending! Used in illustrations, no blending works super well when creating metal. This is where the chisel nib really is useful.
Check out my quick car sketch ( disclaimer: I know nothing about sports cars. Reference photo credit to Serge Kutuzov at Unsplash.com)
To get a good 3D effect, blending is a good technique to utilize. Alcohol markers are not as easy to blend as oil paint or watercolors, but once you get the hang of a few options, you can get some quite nice results. Before I talk about different ways to get a blend, here are my most useful tips.
Lay out all the marker colors you will use for your project and group them into color units. It really helps to do a sample swatch beforehand to make sure you’ve grabbed the ideal colors.
Keep the two colors you are trying to blend uncapped and held in your non-drawing hand so you can go back and forth between colors without having to uncap, rotate the barrel to get the right end etc.
I almost always presoak my section with the clear blending marker. It helps the marker colors get in the mood to blend!
Always wait about 30 seconds to let the alcohol inks ooze and blend into each other before you think you’re going to need additional blending. It takes that long for the marker inks to stop moving and seeping into each other. If you start right away on more layers, you can end up doing unnecessary layers and over-saturate your paper.
There are about seven different techniques for blending. For demonstrations on each of these, please read my article here.
- Multi-value side by side blending for gradated value changes
- Blended layers stacked on top of each other
- Kissing edges of two different colors or shades
- Feather blending
- Isopropyl Alcohol 97% diluting and drybrush
- Outline edge
- Touch 2 tips together for gradating transitions
Overlapping Colors Multi Side by Side Blending
Traveling back and forth across several seams with wide overlap. This requires keeping the meeting edges damp and blending back and forth with the lighter color and tweaking the darker color over the seam as well. It’s fiddly, and ya just gotta adopt an experimental approach as some colors need more blending than others.
Traveling from lightest light to darkest then back again by priming the first layer with clear blender or palest color. This is my favorite blending technique because I get the best results with this one. Remember, you can always go darker, but you need to watch your lightest lights carefully because once they’re covered up, they are gone for good.
When doing layers, rewet the entire segment you are working on. If you only rewet a piece of the segment, you may create cauliflower edges where the existing pigment pools to the outside edges of the wet area. This happens easily with darker colors! It’s a nightmare to try and fix!
However, layering is probably the most worrisome technique because there is “a point of no return” with alcohol markers and marker paper wherein the paper just won’t accept any more layers. Too many layers can generate mottling, gummy texture and an unsightly glossy pile of inks.
Two colors butt up against each other and have a little overlap. Then using the lightest color, zig-zag or swirl strokes over the seam until blended. If the blend isn’t working perfectly, then use a super-light color over the entire area. It is a sort of unifying layer.
This technique uses a flicking motion to create long teardrop strokes going in one direction, then using a different color, create long teardrop strokes that start in the opposite side and stroke down to meet like entwined fingers. The pressure from the initial stroke causes a heavy saturation of color, and as the stroke flicks up, a lesser amount of ink is laid down. When the two lesser pressures meet in the center, it’s easy to blend them into each other with strokes of the lighter color. If it is a little too streaky, use a pale color to blend over the entire surface.
Isopropyl Alcohol Dilution
Make your own diluted color from your pen with 97% rubbing alcohol, a palette and a paintbrush. It’s supposed to be available at your local drug store, but since the last pandemic, I’ve had to find it online.
Here’s the link in case you have trouble finding it too.
There are so many fun techniques to do with a dilution of Isopropyl alcohol. I like to use a plastic palette and smear a few strokes of marker brush ink onto the palette. Then with an artist’s damp flat brush, dip the brush into the ink on the palette and load up the brush. Depending on how much alcohol you have on the brush, the paint will be diluted to a pale wash, similar to watercolor.
You can even use a stiff bristle brush and create a drybrush effect for interesting textures.
Creating a thin dam barrier outline makes for a clean edge and allows for more of a less precise color lay down. It makes it easier to get a clean edge finish.
Touch Two Tips
This technique involved using two different markers and touch them tip to tip in a vertical position. It works best when the lighter marker is on top. The lighter color seeps down onto the tip of the darker marker and dilutes it with the paler color the longer you hold the tips together. Use the lower marker quickly to get a gradated stroke. Try blending two colors together! So fun!! Rather unpredictable though, so you need a healthy dose of adventure and serendipity with this method. Surprises can be great though, just try it out on a scrap of paper first.
Use a swirling stroke instead of a back and forth motion to get a streak-free blend with this technique.
3. Judging Values in Colors
One of the biggest hints to create a great blend is to not jump values with too big of a leap. For example, every color can be assigned a black and white value, where white is 0 and black is 7. Every color will fall somewhere on that spectrum.
It’s hard to judge color values! One of my art teachers gave us an exercise where we went to the hardware store and grabbed several handfuls of paint chips of every color and light or darkness. Then we cut them up into small pieces and tried to assign them the correct value.
It’s easy to check your accuracy. Merely take a quick phone snapshot. This eliminates the color factor completely and you can easily see if the color swatches were placed correctly. When the value is accurate, the color will blend into the correct value box when you blur your eyes. Here’s an example:
Here’s a red color swatch. What value do you think it is?
For the best alcohol marker blending, make sure there are no big value jumps between colors! It’s best to stick to right nest door, or just two jumps away when mixing two different shades or different colors.
4. Controlling Saturation
Getting used to the different levels of wetness/saturation is a important skill. Alcohol markers require moisture to move and blend. Too wet makes puddles, too dry makes for streaks.
The best thing to do is get some scrap marker paper and experiment until you get the hang of it.
It’s fun to lay down the palest color you can find, or just use the plain blender brush to presoak a small section you are working on then try different blending techniques to find your favorite.
Try using two different markers of close value and create some samples on a scarp piece of marker paper. Use different amounts of saturation during your blend and learn for yourself how to judge ‘just right’ and ‘oops, too late, it’s too dry’ and ‘yikes, it’s a puddle mess’. I guarantee it won’t take long for you to become an expert!!
Using a non-absorbent protection sheet under your work will not only protect your next sheet of paper or table top, but it will reduce the quick absorption of the ink into the paper. Here’s a sample that will work well:
I don’t use a piece of paper under my working paper because it will contribute to the alcohol inks drying faster…like wicking up moisture. Using a non-porous protection, even if it’s just shelf contact paper covering your work surface will help you maintain a perfect saturation for blending.
Download my free ebook with a step by step lighthouse tutorial for alcohol markers! It’s on the first page of verycreate.com! I’m planning many more to come!
I’ve got many more articles about alcohol markers that you might find useful! Check out some of these: