Using Copic Alcohol Markers is easy and fun, but like all alcohol markers, this medium needs special techniques and tips. Here’s my best tips for how to use Copic markers.
The first thing that will make a huge difference in your use of all alcohol markers is to use paper made specifically for them.
Alcohol marker paper are specially manufactured to move the alcohol inks at the best rate for good color blending and for smoothing out streaks. They are designed to hold moisture from the markers just long enough for a good blend.
They are also made to withstand the chemical abuse from the alcohol without tearing up the paper or partially dissolving the fiber integrity.
In addition, each sheet is coated on the back to help prevent soak-through. ALL alcohol markers will have some soak through, and some are quite intense, but all of them are created so that the absolute minimum amount of ink will bleed through.
One of their best features is keeping a vibrant hue of the marker.
Paper Test Results
Here are five brands that I tested with my Copics: Bee, Strathmore, Bianyo, Ohuhu and Canson XL.
Why didn’t I test the line of paper that Copic makes? Well, the reviews by users are disappointing, oddly enough, and I wanted to test the most widely favored brands among consumers, thereby limiting shelling out for products that I will never use.
You can see the test results here:
My conclusions are that most of the papers worked fairly well. Here’s my results:
The Copics blended really well across all three techniques. It was the only paper that actually had any movement with the Isopropyl Alcohol dilution and blowing technique.
The Bee paper had zero movement with the Isopropyl alcohol dilution. The colors were really vibrant. Blending and layering were really nice.
Copics mixed well, but not as well as the Bee paper. The dilution lightened the green color, but didn’t move it, so the inks really embed into the paper fast with this paper.
Copics blended well on the Ohuhu marker paper and the Isopropyl moved the green color a bit. The colors were pretty vibrant. This is the paper I used for the pelican art work below. I love that there is a plastic/silicone protection sheet included with this great pad!
This paper created lots of streaks, but the colors were vibrant. For one stripe of application, it works well. It’s not my favorite for blending work, sometimes leaving puddles of ink that never flowed or blended together at all. I will say though, that once I left the paper unattended for a couple of days, the inks magically improved in their blending.
Bianyo marker paper’s redeeming feature is that it is called ‘bleed-proof’, and of all the papers I’ve ever used, it does indeed have the least amount of bleed-through! Still, it comes in dead last in my testing for overall satisfaction.
2. Blending Techniques
There are several techniques to use to blend alcohol markers.
- Blending by using multiple layers on top of each other
- Tip to marker tip blending
- Feather blending
- Outline area then fill in
- Prime area first with blender pen or Isopropyl 99% Alcohol
- Kiss touch next door blending
- Isopropyl dilution
For details on how to do all these techniques, please read my article here.
3. Judging Correct Color Values
The best chances for success with color blending is to use two colors that are close in value, and not to make big value jumps between colors.
Judging colors into values can be really difficult because bright colors trick our brains into thinking they are TOO dark, or sometimes TOO light!
We can test colors out by converting them into black and white with a phone picture taken in black and white version and comparing it to a black and white value scale. Here’s how you do it:
Create a value scale using your markers and label them progressively darker and darker from 0 to 7.
Use this grey value scale to compare colors with this scale.
So, for this swatch, I’ll test a bright red. Punch a hole into that swatch.
I’ll try to place the swatch correctly on the value strip and then I’ll take a picture of it in black and white. Blur your eyes and see if the center circle disappears into the swatch. So, how’d I do?
It looks like I placed it too light. Next I’ll try it one notch darker.
Well, it’s obvious that didn’t work either.
Voila! Success. This is how you learn to judge values.
The idea is to mix colors that are no more than two values apart at one go.
4. Judging Saturation Levels
Copics and alcohol markers need the liquid from the carrier agent (alcohol) to move around on the paper. The tricky part is to judge how much wetness is perfect and how much is too much. Not enough moisture and the marker color will not move or blend. Too much moisture from the pens and you end up with a potentially mushy blob mess.
The best way to learn this is to take your chosen paper and run some tests! I wish I had a formula that was guaranteed, but each paper is different and will have a different drying rate depending on how much marker ink or colorless blender you’ve used.
5. Additional Considerations
Nowadays my gotta have accessory when crafting is a crafting mat that is silicone-based. Here’s a budget brand:
And my favorite because it’s got a handy ruler printed on one edge, and it isn’t too thick:
Copic is unique in that they also manufacture an accessory that you can attach your marker to that turns your marker into an airbrush. Say whaaat?? Yes, an airbrush.
Here’s a video demo:
How amazing is that!
Copics are unusual because they are refillable. So, once you have purchased the marker itself, each color is also available as a small refill in a pen size, or a larger bottle. This one feature alone makes the expense of Copic markers justifiable. Refill bottles are available in all the colors of their entire line, assuring exact color from batch to batch.
It’s easy to refill! Here’s a demo video:
The larger bottle will refill the three varieties of barrels at different rates. The Sketch marker 13 times, 17 times for Ciao and 10 times for Classic.
The smaller 12 ml pen-sized refill will refill Sketch marker 8 times and a Ciao marker 10 times.
7. Replaceable Nibs
Another feature of Copic Alcohol Markers is that their nibs are totally replaceable and interchangeable. This is a game changer! The nibs are available in NINE different shapes and sizes!! So once you purchase one marker, you can supplement it into seven other shapes.
- Chisel Soft Broad Nib = makes a thin or wider line in a consistent way depending on how you tilt it.
- Calligraphy = medium wide 5 mm nib great for calligraphy writing
- Super Brush Nib = long and soft, which makes big swath strokes
- Standard Broad Nib = angled tip
- Medium Round = makes a fine consistent line with a rounded longish bullet tip
Smaller Thinner Nibs
- Calligraphy = small 3 mm wide nib = delicate writing- this one is difficult to find
- Standard Fine = bullet tip that is shorter
- Super Fine = short and pointy fine bullet
- Semi-Broad = angled tip that is narrow
8. Copic Varieties
Wonderfully labeled for color name AND their innovative numbering system, it is easy to discern the best color value. Professional artists love this feature perhaps best of all! No more guessing if the marker you grabbed is the right value or color hue because cap colors (made of plastic) aren’t accurate.
The original Copic is the Classic. It was created way back in 1984-ish, for the manga anime market in Japan. They come in 214 colors with a chisel nib and a bullet nib. They hold the most ink of all the Copic series, except the super wide series.
Capable of using the Copic airbrush system. Available in sets and individually. Square barrel shape. Large barrels.
The most popular version of Copic is the Sketch. It is chisel on one end and the Super Brush on the other. It is available in a whopping 358 colors! AND they are available or individual purchase, as well as several set varieties. This is my favorite of all the Copics. I recommend springing for the Basic 36 colors. There are enough value grade differences in orange, blue, green, lavender, red, brown and greys both warm and cool to pretty much meet most of your coloring needs.
Fill in your set with a few more flesh tones or blue and violet varieties and bam! You’re good to go. AND if you spring for a few more vibrant dark colors and use Isopropyl alcohol to lighten them as needed, you don’t really need the full line of colors.
Did I mention how much I love the clear storage box? No markers flopping around and easy visibility.
Also works with the Copic Airbrush system. Oval barrel means a comfortable grip and no roll around your table top.
The more budget line of Copic, your sacrifice is the barrel size and quantity of ink.
Originally made in Japan for the children’s market, the lids are lined and have air vents, supposedly to make them safer in case a child accidentally swallows them. (??) Uh, in any case, don’t give markers to small children who may do something dangerous like trying to put a lid in their mouth!
Available in 180 colors.
The round barrels aren’t as comfortable in my opinion, as the Sketch ovals.
Maybe I live in a budget zone, but this price point hardly qualifies as budget! For my money, I’ll take the better Sketch series than the Ciao.
Available in the classic set and the new pastel set.
Ciao also has a round barrel, which means it will roll around your tabletop.
For coloring large swaths of color, the Wide variety comes in only 36 colors and a colorless blender. Refill bottles available as well as the wide nib.
9. Other Copic Products
Copic also makes a batch of blank swatch cards that are prelabeled by number and name. There is enough room to do one stroke, two strokes and many strokes so you can see three values capable from one pen. Unfortunately, they don’t use their marker paper, so the colors will not be as accurate, but the preprinted numbers and names may make this worth the price.
I make my own swatch books out the my favorite marker paper. That way I know exactly how each marker will look. You can speed things up a bit if you use a stamp and a marker proof ink pad like Momento to stamp with.
Copic also makes a variety of tote bags and storage options to store your pens.
Here’s their original plastic bin that I love so much.
This container is pretty awesome by the BTSK company. Holds 120 markers with removable units:
Their new App for your smart phone will help you keep track of the pens you have purchased so that when you get to the store, you don’t have to remember exactly which pen you are missing! So nice.
My ProTips For How To Use Copic Markers
- Use a non-porous protection sheet behind your work. This will be better at keeping your paper saturated than a piece of paper, which may draw down the moisture of you pen quicker than you may wish.
- Each successive layer of the same marker will get darker and darker until maximum saturation is reached. You can get at least TWO values from each pen if you do one quick swipe and then a several stroked swipe!
- If 358 different colors from the Copic line aren’t what you are looking for, then create your own mixes from refill inks and Isopropyl Alcohol and fill up a blank Copic barrel.
- Explore fancy techniques using Isopropyl Alcohol 99% by reading my article here. Mimic watercoloring!
- Wait 30 seconds or more before you decide if you need further blending or not. Alcohol inks keep mixing and blending together for up to one minute and if ya just wait a minute, you may find that you don’t need more!
- Paper will reach a point of no return with blending and loading of inks. It’s important to use as little loading and blending as possible.
- Given that alcohol markers need to be wet in order to move, try loading the section you are working on with a clear load from a blender pen then start blending two colors.
- Try going from light to dark. You may decide you prefer going from dark to light, but the most common method of progressing is from light to dark.
- Use a steady rate of stroking. The faster you go, the less amount of color will lay down. Once you slow down or worse, STOP-the darker the saturation will be.
- Try using a circular motion instead of a straight stroke for less streaking
- Create subtle highlights by using the blender pen to remove a few layers of color. Blot often and clean the blender pen brush tip on a scrap piece of paper.
- Try using white gel pens for drawing white lines over the top of dark Copic marks.
- If you want to rewet an area, rewet the entire area, not just a little spot, which may result in a cauliflower outline mess.
- If your budget doesn’t allow for a full line of Copics, and you want to do 3D blending, plan on buying 3 values of one color, stepped no more than two values apart. Don’t do big leaps between values…or you’ll have to use a ton of blending layers across the seam lines and it will be difficult to get a good look.
- Blend harsh lines with a lighter color.
- Make your own color chart with the correct marker name. It will pay off big time!
Here’s my original artwork using the Copic Sketch Set of 24
For the final water behind the bird I DID have to use an additional medium blue for the water, as the basic set of 36 didn’t have the medium blue in the hue I wanted. However, I think it made all the difference because it made the pelican pop!
See what I mean here:
For More Information
Check out my other great articles about alcohol markers!