Thursday, January 10, 2013

Marker Showdown: Spectrum Noir Vs. Copic Sketch

Edit: It's been over two years since I posted my first marker comparison, and I dare say these reviews are my most popular.  I review A LOT of different art supplies including watercolor markers, brush pens for inking, and all sorts of helpful art supply miscellanea, so consider checking out my Reviews tab above.  If you're interested in purchasing your own set of Spectrum Noir alcohol based markers, please consider using my affiliate link, as it helps financially support this blog, and enables me to continue to write reviews.  As always, these markers were purchased with my own funds, so if you like what I had to say, please drop Copic or Crafter's Companion a line and let them know about my hard work!  I really depend on readers like YOU to write to me, to companies, and to help support this blog, so if you have any questions, comments, or THANKS, please consider emailing me.

If you enjoyed this review, please consider donating! Donations go towards the purchase of additional art supplies, which may include more markers for testing.   You can find a handy PayPal donation link in my sidebar.  If you found this review useful, please consider sharing it on your social networks- a larger audience means I can afford to do things like Kickstart future projects and makes me more attractive to possible publishers.  There's also a handy pocket edition of ALL my marker reviews in a beautiful little 4"x6" photobook.  It's available for $3 in my Nattoshop, and proceeds go towards things like keeping the lights on and buying more markers to review.

Editor's Note:  Goodness, I wrote this post over three years ago, and it was my very first marker review!  How time flies!  Spectrum Noir has introduced A LOT of changes to their alcohol markers since I wrote this review, and I personally have no intention of revisiting these markers.  If you'd like to change my mind, you can send me some Spectrum Noir marker goodies from my Amazon wishlist, otherwise I do not have it in the Nattosoup Studio budget to repurchase these markers (I'd passed my original set on to another marker reviewer).  I apologize for any inconsistencies, mistakes, or anachronisms that may come from this post, and I highly recommend you check a newer source before making your decision or leaving a comment.  I also highly recommend you check out my many other alcohol (and waterbased) marker reviews up in my Review section, as my process has changed greatly over the years.

When the phrase 'art marker' is bandied about, most people think of Copic markers, the holy grail to the Ameritaku set, the esteemed pinnacle of artistic perfection to the aspiring mangaka, and a pretty darn good marker in the eyes of most comic artists, layout artists, and illustrators.  For years, the Copic has been hailed as the end all be all alcohol based marker- it blends well, comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, and has a range of options from unattainable to just barely out of allowance's grasp.  Praised on sites like DeviantArt for being the one marker to rule them all (and in the emptiness of my wallet, bind me), Copic markers tend to be out of the grasp of most aspiring illustrators.

Of course, there are plenty of cheaper double-ended marker alternatives looking to fill the class gap between the Copic elite and the Crayola wielding, but can they really do the job that a Copic can?  I've decided to enter the trenches of alcohol based art marker testing (for as long as my wallet can bear) and give you guys the skinny on which brands can hack it with the big boys of art markers.

Starting with...


Art Marker Test Numero Uno: Spectrum Noir vs. Copic Sketch

Hey!  There's way more exciting alcohol based marker action right below the cut!

Sorry about the glare, I'm playing around with my new photo setup, and the lights that came with it are less than ideal.  But hey, better than my gross carpet, right?

Yesterday, I took advantage of a Savannah-wide discount on Copic markers at my local Blick store. While stocking up on Various Ink and adding to my already oversized collection of Copic Sketch markers, I noticed a new kid in town, the Spectrum Noir, hanging on a nearby display. Like many other alcohol based Copic-alikes, the Spectrum Noir markers are double sided with a color coded cap, but unlike real Copics, Spectrum Noir markers are sold in sets of 6, afford-ably priced under $10. Being a realist, I purchased the Spectrum Noir markers not because I expect them to perform comparably to Copics, but as a subject for my first marker review.  That's right, I entered this review with a bias.  What can I say, when you pay less than $10 for six markers, you know you're settling.

According to the back of the Spectrum Noir package,

"Spectrum Noir is the new alcohol ink based marker pen designed specifically for crafters. Each pen is double ended, with a broad chisel nib for large area fills and a fine bullet tip for detailed work.

The unique colour grouping system for the main color families ensures that you always have colors which work together. There are 12 packs of colour families, each with 6 pens: Essentials, Pale Hues, Cool Greys, Warm Greys, Reds, Greens, Blues, Yellows, Browns, Pinks, Purples and Turquoises. Spectrum Noir marker pens are available in 168 colours including a colourless blender pen, colours blend seamlessly, offer excellent value for money and top performance.

Spectrum Noir markers are alcohol based and therefore non-toxic, fast drying and will not bleed. The coloured ends of the pen allow for easy colour identification. Spectrum markers are refillable."

These markers are made in China, and distributed in the US by Darice, which doesn't inspire a lot of confidence on my part.

Here's a video about them from the source:

Creepily similar to Copic's system, isn't it?  I have no real issue with the fact that they've basically used Copic's schtic, it's just amusing that Crafter's Companion treats it like it's a new thing.  Also, those bottles of refill ink look a lot like my bottles of concentrated liquid watercolor.

Basic Facts about these bad alcohol based boys:

Spectrum Noir:
  • Available in 12 color families, with 6 markers per color family.  That's 168 different colors, all in alcohol based marker form.
  • This is a newer product that Copic alcohol based art markers, so if they do well, more colors may be released.
  • I haven't seen them available individually.
  • Supposedly there's a colorless blender available, although I haven't seen it.
  • Refillable.
  • Nibs are replaceable, and there's supposedly some variety in the replacement nibs.

  • Available as individual markers, in sets of 3, 6, 12, 24, 36, and 72.
  •  Per marker, Copics Sketch are far more pricy.  Depending on where you live and where they're available, they can be as high as around $8 (Michaels) to as low as $4.99 (when on sale at Utrecht).  While I was in Japan, I was able to buy them for around $3.99 USD.  Copics are also pretty widely available online, with sources ranging from Jetpens to DickBlick.  Copic Ciao are much cheaper, and retain many of the great traits of the Copic Sketch, including the Super Brush, nib replacement, and refillability, but have a much smaller ink capacity.
  • Usually have in store kiosks that also sell Multiliners, replacement nibs, the Various Ink refills, and nib changing kits.
  • Can be used in their airbrush system, unlike pseudo-Copics.

 The Pedal Meets the Metal: Copic Sketch Art Markers Versus Spectrum Noir Art Markers

 Here's the card the markers came packaged on, showing the different color families available from Spectrum Noir.  There's 12 color families, and supposedly no repeats, so there's little chance of you buying the same double sided art marker twice.

 These are the Spectrum Noir markers unboxed.  I've noticed the curved caps are a bit of a thing with Not-Quite-Copics.  It makes it a little easier to grip the cap to pull it off, which is good, because the caps on Spectrum Noir markers cling for dear life.  The side with the little grey band (not visible in these pictures because it's just so darn thin) indicates which end is the 'brush' nib.

 The Spectrum Noir uncapped, for your approval.  The all black does look rather dapper, sort of like Copic's Anniversary Edition Copic Sketch markers, which ALSO feature those awful hard little felt nibs.

 The Spectrum Noir as compared to comparable Copic Sketch warm greys.  Copic has a larger spectrum in the warm grey category, ranging from W00 to W10.  Spectrum Noir has some skips in their pack of six.

The lightest markers in both Spectrum Noir and Copic sketch uncapped.

The Test Paper

The parameters of this comparison were pretty straightforward. There were two categories- Copic Sketch and Spectrum Noir. I made marks with several inking technical and brush pens and labeled the makers, one set for each category. I did a spectrum of available tones, as well as a sphere to demonstrate blend-ability. In between the two tests, I did a compatibility test- Copic into Spectrum Noir and Spectrum Noir into Copic.

Warm greys vs. warm greys.
My scanner made the lighter shades of the Copic Sketch warm greys much cooler than they actually are.  This is an issue with my scanner, not the markers.  The Copic Sketch warm greys are actually very consistent markers.

Results of this Showdown:

All in all, the Spectrum Noir aren't the worst double sided Copic-clone I've ever used. Their spectrum of 'Warm Greys' doesn't match up to the spectrum shown on the packaging, which is a redder series of greys similar to copic's warm greys. Instead, Spectrum Noir's warm greys are more purple, more in line with Copic's Blue Violet spectrum. Also, I don't think Spectrum Noir is really comparable to Copic Sketch, nor is it trying to be, they are more like original Copics with a square body, a small nib, and a broad chiselled nib. If you're a big fan of the Copic Super Brush like I am, Spectrum Noir doesn't really offer the nib option you're looking for.

Being that Copics and Spectrum Noir are both alcohol based markers that dye the fibers of the paper, their performance was pretty similiar, although the Spectrum Noir nibs didn't have the give that Copic nibs do and seem to be made of a cheaper felt.

Copics in all forms (Copic Sketch, Copic Original, Copic Caio, and even Copic Wide) are all sold both in sets and individually, and the ink is easily available. I have yet to see Spectrum Noir markers sold individually and I have no idea if the nibs are replaceable like Copics are. Supposedly Spectrum Noir markers are refillable, although I haven't seen the ink offered with the markers. Compared to Copics, they look and feel a bit shoddy, but at $10 for six markers, they may be a more affordable introduction to the world of alcohol based markers

But hey, I'm not the only person who's reviewed these markers!  Let's watch some other reviews.

 Some of you may be wondering if Spectrum Noir markers and Copic markers are compatible.  I didn't play around with it very much, because I didn't want to wreck my Copics, but Youtube says the answer is 'yes', which is good news for those of you looking to make your Copics stretch, but are on a limited budget.

Thanks for reading. Check out these products.