What Markers Are Best? – The Complete Guide for Beginners in 2023

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There are so many varieties and companies, how do you tell them all apart and which set of markers is the best for your needs?  It’s enough to confuse anyone!

I laid it all straight for you!  I’ll cover a lot of topics to give you a thorough break-down.  After you narrow down the features that you like, I’ll help you sort through my experience with markers and cue you in on what people are saying about their own experience with different brands. 

Now that online shopping is so fast and easy, not to mention cost-effective, you can find the perfect marker in the perfect color and have it shipped right to your mailbox.

Characteristics Of Markers

Markers come with either a water-base, a solvent or alcohol-base plus a colorant.  The colorants themselves vary from ink, pigments, and dyes.   

They all react differently and have different capabilities and drawbacks. 

Which one you choose depends on your purposes, your technique, what you will draw or paint on and how permanent or archival you would like the finished work to be. 

You sure wouldn’t want permanent dye-based markers to get into the hands of your little ones! Remember all those funny-tragic stories from AFV?  It gives me a migraine just thinking about it with my upholstered furniture and bedspreads!

kids mark dad How Do I Pick the Right Markers? verycreate.com
Just one of the many uses of markers!

Tips and Nibs That Would Be Best For Your Uses

Before you pick which base marker you’d like, let’s examine some typical tips.  Those will greatly help or hinder what kind of art you’ll be making!

Markers come with either a single nib or a dual set of nibs with a different shape on each end of the barrel.

nibs How Do I Pick the Right Markers? verycreate.com
There are many varieties of nib and brushes, each one performs differently

The fatter the nib or brush, the bigger swipe you can make with color in one stroke.

If you are going to color Manga characters, for example, you’ll appreciate a chisel nib for coloring in big sections of clothing on the characters or on a sky color.

Chisel nibs are great for illustration work as well, where artists use stripes of color for quick mockups and sketches.

Brush nibs are excellent for calligraphy and creating more painterly artwork.

calligraphy How Do I Pick the Right Markers? verycreate.com
No mess calligraphy with brush markers

And if you intend to do fine line drawing you will need an ultra-fine nib for the thinnest lines possible.

Here is a page out of my friend’s bullet journal. Didn’t she do a great job?

super fine nibs linework How Do I Pick the Right Markers? verycreate.com
Graceful and thin lines are possible with ultra-fine tip nibs

Very fine-tipped markers can be successfully used to write on tissue-thin paper like what is found in many scriptures.

The colorant should be ink-based, which means the ink molecules will sit on top of the paper fibers instead of saturating in.

That way it won’t bleed through to the other side.

Here is a page out of my scriptures with tiny, tiny notations that I have made over the years. ( I also use a wax-based thin blue pencil for color.)

marked scriptures How Do I Pick the Right Markers? verycreate.com
If you would like to mark books like scriptures with tiny print size, you will need a super fine nib like Copic Needle Writing Pens or Pigma Micron by Sakura

Brush nibs are great for flowing swaths of color, feather blending techniques, using a calligraphic hand movement and flawless two-color blending (think ombre) gradients.

Pro tip:

In addition to the nib or brush type, give some thought to the shape of the barrel.  If you have difficulty holding a pencil-like thin pen, perhaps a wider barrel or one that is hexagonal in shape will be a great help. Also, if you don’t like your pens to roll off the table very easily, you may prefer a non-round barrel.

For my own preference, I much prefer a supple brush on one end and a medium-fine point on the other end. I like ultimate versatility that gives me in one pen whether it is alcohol or water-based.

Inside The Markers

Now that you have some idea of the tip that will meet your needs, it’s time to talk about what is inside the markers and how they react.

Alcohol-Based Markers 

Alcohol markers are based in an alcohol liquid base that dries almost instantly.   Illustrators, crafters, and coloring enthusiasts love alcohol-based markers because they can be quickly drawn upon with colored pencils or inks and they have clean, predictable vibrant swipes of color. Most colorants in alcohol markers are dye-based.  

 Because it is not water-based, the colorant becomes permanent when dry and can not be rewetted, washed out or liquified again.  You can layer them to a certain extent, but blending two colors seamlessly together will take some practice with a clear blending tool or using special techniques with a brush tip markers.  It is much easier with a brush nib than a chisel nib.  Check out youtube for some great tutorials from master coloring artists like this one:

Archival vs. Permanent

Please be aware that the word ‘permanent’ does not mean archival.  Because these are made with dye colorants, the dried colors are fugitive, meaning that they will fade and change hue over time.  If you have ever been in a public place and saw an art poster fade into pale blue-green hues, even though the original poster was vibrant yellows, oranges, and reds, you’ll know just what we mean. 

Archival means the colors will not fade and change hue as they age and are exposed to sunlight. Some ink pens claim to be fade-resistant, but for true archival qualities, a pigment-based or INK colorant should be used. These are professional artist quality materials.  

Illustrators and crafters love certain brands because the barrels of the pens are refillable and the nibs are replaceable. It keeps the costs down in the long run with heavy use.  See our review of the best alcohol brush markers

And if you are hoping for an alternative to using the famous Copic Markers, check out the great options we found in this article. We found several brands that are refillable and have replaceable nibs!

Alcohol markers inherently lay down with heavy saturation and need heavier weight paper like Bristol Paper or paper made especially for markers or they will bleed through to the backside of the papers.  Also, which paper you use will greatly affect the outcome.  Some papers facilitate blending, some have little bleed through, some are shiny, some are textured.  Always run a few tests with your markers and papers to get to know the combination of the two and how they work or fight together.

Modern craft and art copic alcohol markers are made with isopropyl alcohol and have very little to no odor.

Pro Tip:

On a personal note, we found that unless we sprung for a super large set, or bought a small set of very, very pale colors, we were just frustrated by the intense color of alcohol markers.  If you are painting and shading a pale object, like coloring an image of a  china teacup or painting a portrait or cartoon of a person with very light skin tones, most alcohol markers are just too LOUD in color saturation.

Here’s a blending tutorial for skintones:

This Adaxi set of 30 should keep your covered in skin tone hues:

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Or if you prefer a brush end, here’s a set from the famous Copic line:

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Here is a larger set of pastel colors from Spectrum Noir:

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Archival and waterproof INK markers (not dye) for outlining, quilting, or painting on top of.

Here is a tutorial on the specific needs and pens used for marking on fabrics:

I use these markers for anything archival like scrapbooks, quilting, book marking:

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Pigma Micron

No bleed-through because the ink molecules sit on top of the paper, not absorbed into the paper fibers like a dye.


If you would like a color marker that is INK archival based there are very few options and very little color selection. Here is a set by Zig:

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Please note that they do not come with replaceable nibs nor a brush end.



Water-Based Markers

Water-based markers are based in a water liquid base and they react in a very similar way to watercolor paints.  Once dry, they can (mostly) be reactivated with clear water and partially dissolve again.  This fact makes them versatile in blending techniques and texture techniques that are in the realm of traditional artist’s watercolors.  They often come with a blank water-blending pen that you can fill up with clear water.  The result is a totally portable way to create watercolor effects with no mess or carrying around rinse water.  Check out my review of the best watercolor brush markers here.

journaling How Do I Pick the Right Markers? verycreate.com
Beautiful watercolor effects with water-based brush pens by Tombow and super fine lines with a Micron 05 by Sakura

To see how versatile these markers are, please see my tutorial on using water-based brush markers here.

However, most watercolor markers are made with dyes that are not lightfast once dry.  The waterbased markers often come with a nylon brush on at least one end so they can be used in a painterly way.  Quality of the brush end varies from brand to brand. 

Water-based markers behave the best on watercolor paper, but I found that they reacted fairly well in bullet journals.  The paper buckled a bit, but not enough to be a deal-breaker.  Here’s one of my favorite brands:

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           Poluma Dotted Grid Journal


and this one is highly favored by pro bullet journal creators:

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Leuchttrrum 1917 Dotted Journal


Water-based markers come in at a lower price point than alcohol markers.  For example, here is a budget  brand:

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Tanmit Dual Pens


Here is a fine point brand that is especially well suited for fine line journalling or marking books:

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iBayam pens


Metallic water-based markers

This set is ink-based and non-toxic, which is unusual for metallics. Because it is ink-based these colors will be suitable for rock painting and will not dissolve once dried. They have a bit of sparkle like metallics, but they will not look like real metals or gold leaf. However, they’ll look great on dark surfaces!

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STA metallic makers

Very budget-friendly markers  are typically unlabeled and do not number or name their colors on the barrel. 

They are available at a very low price point.  If you are buying for children’s use, make sure they are water-based and don’t trust that they will wash out of clothes and fabric unless you do a test first!

We can’t tell you how many water-based markers have stained our kiddo’s hands and taken several days to wash off, even when the label assures us that they are washable.  That’s ‘dye-based colorant’ for ya. 

I always like to step up to grown-up markers with the wonderful nibs and brushes and find children’s markers frustrating to work with.

However, there are some wonderful artists out there having a ball with budget markers. It’s up to you!

unlabeled How Do I Pick the Right Markers? verycreate.com
Budget markers generally are unlabeled with color names and have larger tips

Acrylic Markers

Acrylic markers are water-based but the pigments are acrylic (not to get too chemical here, but we think of them as plastic paints) and therefore waterproof and opaque when dry.

If you intend to wash your fabric creation someday, then remember to heat set your finished garment with an iron and follow the directions on the box exactly.

For Fabrics

fabric pens How Do I Pick the Right Markers? verycreate.com
Pens made specifically for coloring on fabric are waterproof once they are heat set! They are a fun project for kids and adults!


Here are the classic fabric markers from Crayola:

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And here are a few more brands to choose from:


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Crafts 4 All brand



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US Art Supply Markers


For rock, ceramic, wood, canvas

If you are not painting on fabric, then acrylic paint markers can be varnished over when dry to make them fairly sturdy for outdoor use.  This set is especially well suited for painting rocks or outdoor pottery, as the pigment is very dense and will have opaque coverageThey will work on leather, plastic, wood, fabrics, canvas, rocks, you name it. They won’t blend together well though, because the pigment doesn’t stay wet long enough to blend flawlessly.  Use these mainly for one color application at a time.  

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ArtistPro Paint Pens


Here are a few more brands to choose from:

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JR White acrylic markers




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Pro Tips:

The acrylic pens must be vigorously shaken before and during use because the acrylic paint is suspended in the carrier water.

We found that the pens don’t have a very long shelf life once opened.  Acrylics will air dry and just because the paint is in a slender barrel, doesn’t mean that air from the use of the bristle or brush doesn’t seep into the chamber and begin a slow solidification, even if the cap is tightly replaced….just a heads-up!  We try to paint everything we think we will need painted in the first week or so that the pens are opened, that way there is no waste and we aren’t mad when then paints dry out in the barrel or on the tips a few months later. 

Chalk Markers

Chalk markers are intended for use on blackboards, but nowadays you can use them on metal, plastic and glass as well.  They are a liquid form of chalk and are mess-free, dust-free!  You can get some spectacular art effects using these.


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Chalkola Chalk Markers


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Chalky Crown

For a more in-depth article where I review the best chalk markers out there and show some tutorials click here.

And if you like fine point, these will give you some great creative options in application:

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Kassa Fine Point Color Chalk Markers

Solvent-Based Markers

These markers are based in a variety of flammable chemical solvents which result in a fade and water-resistant color when dry.

The downside is that they are pretty noxious smelling and even if the label states it is a fine point, it is not nearly as fine a point as other markers labeled as fine or ultra-fine point. The bleedthrough on paper is quite significant.

The solvent can also cause some ink pen lines to smear if it comes in contact with it.

The longterm health effects with exposure to solvent is a volatile (pun intended) subject. Here is an article on the dangers of solvent inhalation and Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome.

We keep a handful of Sharpies on hand for use on cardboard boxes and shipping boxes. We promise not to sniff them, and of course, they are not given to kids to use!

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Classic office Sharpies


Some metallic markers only come in solvent-base and we’ve used them successfully before.  However, they dry out quickly on the nibs and do not come in a  super-fine nib option.

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Pilot Gold and Silver Markers


We’ve used these metallic markers and for a gorgeous gold leaf looking finish, they are spectacular, although not very precise to use.  They must be shaken before use and will dry out fairly soon after opening, so plan ahead!:

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Krylon 18 kt Gold Leafing Pen, Silver Leafing Pen and Copper Leafing Pen

In Conclusion

So, ask yourself a number of questions and some additional thoughts to help you make a good choice!

Am I going to be using my markers on something fragile like a treasured book that needs no bleed-though and a super fine line?  Then you need an ink-based ultra-fine nib pen-like Pigma by Sakura.

Do I want bold swaths of color with quick layin like an illustrator would use? The Spectrum Noir Illustrator or any chisel end marker would be a good choice, or the Spectrum Noir TriBlends for flawless blending.

Do I want to step up to the famous quality of Copic Alcohol Markers and have the ability to refill my most used pens and replace the nibs as they wear down?

Or do I want a more budget-friendly option of Copics? Check out our article on Alternatives to Copic here

Do I want a more painterly or calligraphic approach to make inspiring word art, or greeting cards?  Perhaps you would like watercolor brushes the best like Le Plume, or an alcohol-based marker with longer more supple brush ends like  Copic.

Do I want to color on rubber stamps and then stamp the image onto a cardstock? Then Le Plume might be your favorite option, they are dye-based.

Am I excited to try flawless blending techniques like ombre? Then watercolor brush pens of any brand will be fun or try the superb colorants in Copic or  Art-N-Fly brands alcohol markers.

Do I want to try and draw on top of my color marks with pen, ink or colored pencil? Then to be sure they don’t smear, use alcohol markers for the first color layin. Check out our experience here.

Do I want to try watercolor techniques for a watery look or artsy landscape look? Any water-based marker should give you that opportunity.

Do I need colors to intricately color in adult coloring books? Then select a pen with ultra or very fine nib. Fine nibs are often too large for intricate spots.

Do I want to paint on non-porous surfaces like rocks or pottery? Then select an acrylic paint marker.

Do I want to draw on fabric like t-shirts or fabric shoes? Make sure the markers you select are specifically for fabrics and heat set your final designs before you wash the fabrics.

There you have it!  So many markers, and so many options!

Be sure to check out all our tutorials and reviews for more in-depth information and help!

Like this tutorial about how to use Arteza watercolor brush pens and see this article for a great alcohol based markers tutorial.

Good luck and be sure to email me with your questions!

Anita HC

I hope you are enjoying this article! I love helping creators learn. My goal is to help you find the knowledge and inspiration you need. Check out our library of articles and visit often...I'm adding articles every week! Thank you again for reading!

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