Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Alcohol Based Markers Vs. Water Based Markers

What are Alcohol Based Markers?

Photo and art courtesy of Heidi Black, markers are mine.
A lineup of alcohol based markers showcasing the diverse selection in nibs and brushes.

Having soldered my way through several reviews of these things, I realized that many in my audience may not know what I mean by the term 'alcohol based marker'. Alcohol based markers differ from water based markers in that the color (dye or pigment) is suspended in an alcohol, rather than water. This means that alcohol based markers are not water soluable, but may be alcohol soluable. Alcohol based markers tend to be permanent, and you can use them to mark on just about anything. I know several cosplayers who use Sharpies or Copics to add color to their wigs, in fact.

Alcohol based markers tend to perform much better than water-based markers, though I must admit, my experience with waterbased markers is pretty much limited to Crayola and it's ilk, or to watercolor markers.

For many artists, 'alcohol based marker' is synonymous with Copic marker, although Copic is just one brand among many. Prismacolor, Chartpak, Letraset, and many other companies make alcohol based markers. Even the ubiquitous Sharpie is an alcohol based marker, although for artistic purposes, it's not archival and will eventually destroy the paper it's on.

There's a variety of uses for alcohol based markers, and for each use, there seems to be a marker that suits that need. From stamping to fine illustration, graffiti to card makining, there's plenty of options to choose from.

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Alcohol based markers tend to cost more than waterbased markers, particularly if the comparison is between school-grade markers and illustration grade markers. School grade markers, which are often priced below a dollar per marker, are rarely sold open stock, are not designed to be archival, and are not really intended for professional artist use. They are not refillable, and the nibs are not replaceable (nor very sturdy), and the inks not color fast. Alcohol based markers, originally designed to facilitate graphic and concept artists in generating mock ups, are intended to be archival. You probably can achieve some very impressive effects with school grade markers, but it would take a lot of artistic experience, trial, and effort.

I've been using alcohol based markers (Copic Sketch primarily, before that, Prismacolor) for a little under six years. I use them primarily for commission and illustration work, and my technique leans toward my penchant for unsaturated color and watercolor-esque effects. Of course, they're not limited to that. Alcohol based inks come in a wide variety of colors, hues, and saturations, and one is not limited to watercolor mimicry. You can achieve some very bold effects with alcohol based markers.

What originally drew me to alcohol based markers was the fact that they could be blended, unlike water based markers. Both marker types are capable of overlapping color, but with alcohol based markers, you can blend two dissimilar colors utilizing either a blender marker, rubbing alcohol, or a color between the two. With alcohol based markers, it's easier to avoid the streaky color fields that all grade-school marker enthusiasts are familiar with. To do so, you can 1. saturate the paper with blender before applying your color, 2. saturate your paper with the color you intend to use, or 3. blend out the streaks. If you were to attempt similiar effects with a water based marker, you'd have to give each application time to dry, or the water saturation would make the paper weak.

Because alcohol based markers can be blended, you actually need fewer colors than you would with water based markers, which cannot be blended.  A well planned set of alcohol based markers can go a long way if strategically used.
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