Thursday, January 31, 2013

December 2012/ January 2013 Color Work

Most of December and a bit of January were spent productively generating new color pieces.  I recently realized I had a lot of Copic marker and watercolor pieces that I'd neglected to post.    These are in chronological order.

Copic llama.  Copic sketch on Strathmore Multimedia paper.  Just a little color doodle.
This piece was part of a three way art trade with Heidi.  She did the initial sketch, I tightened up the pencils, and colored it.    You can see her's here.

And here's my piece, inked with Hi Tec C and colored with Copics.
And the inked piece for Sarah Benkin, featuring one of her girls from Star Power (I palette swapped her hair, for better black balance)

This was the first time I used concentrated liquid watercolors successfully.  The night sky is a combination of yellows, reds, blues, and violets, carefully mixed to make a neutral black.  When you apply a mixture of liquid water colors to a large area, the different colors pull out, which can be a nice effect for a night sky.  I also used a very watered down shade of this mixed black in the shadows of the dress and in the snow.  The stars are a simple wax resist.

One of my mother's Christmas presents.  She'd mentioned wanting a commission of my brother and I, and she loves my watercolor work, so I took advantage of a perfect situation (I also had no idea what to give her for her 'big' present.)  I liked the black I used in the night piece so much, I reused it here in the trike's shadow. .  It's less intense in real life, I promise.

This was done on a Strathmore watercolor block, rather than Canson Montval watercolor paper.  I like the rougher texture of the paper.

This was just an experiment to see how liquid watercolors flow into each other when working with very wet washes.  It also happened to be New Year's Eve, so...

This overworked, muddy mess was an excuse to play around with dropping in rubbing alcohol.
An early shot of the effect.
Unfortunately, I haven't really had the time or ability to do color work since these, as I'm swamped with doing roughs for 7" Kara chapter 2 (21 pages instead of the 10 that make up chapter 1) and my large format printer has started to die, preventing me from printing blue lines.  Soon I'll be starting the watercolor stage of my Kara pages, and I'm excited to work with color again.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Art Marker Showdown: Letraset Tria Pantone Vs. Copic Sketch

It's been two years since I first started doing alcohol based marker comparisons, and these are some of my most popular posts.  If you enjoyed this post, please consider checking out my other art supply reviews in my Reviews tab above.  If you would like to purchase a set of Letraset markers for yourself or a friend, please consider supporting this blog financially by using my Amazon affiliate link below.

As this blog is completely unsponsored, and I receive no financial compensation from companies to write these reviews, nor do I receive donations, I really depend on the goodwill of my readers.  If you benefitted from this post, please consider contacting Copic or Letraset with a link to this post and your thoughts.  I would also sincerely appreciate it if you sent me an email with your thoughts, questions, or thanks.

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.

In the world of alcohol based markers, not all brands are created equal.  Recently, I've pitted Spectrum Noir and Prismacolor Premier against good old Copic Sketch markers in a showdown to determine which was the better contender.  Both times, Copic has trumped the competition in terms of marker quality and long term value.  This week, I'm pitting Letraset Tria Pantone markers against Copic Sketches, all in an effort to help you, the art enthusiast consumer, determine which art marker is right for you.

Art Supply Review Disclaimer

In the past, I've purchased the art markers used in these art supply reviews, but this time, Heidi Black was kind enough to allow me to borrow two of her Letraset Tria Pantone markers and a Letraset Pro Marker to review.  She selected these markers specifically because she uses these colors as a blending family, and the differences in the Pantone Tria markers and the Pro Marker are negligible, as they are both alcohol based markers made by Letraset.  These markers are fairly old and have received a fair amount of use, and Letraset does not make Pantone color family Tria markers anymore, although Letraset Tria alcohol markers are still commonly available in art supply stores.  Your results with Letraset Tria markers may vary.

As always, these art supply reviews are based on my own experiences and tastes, and may not be directly relevant to your needs and techniques.  When investing in a product as expensive and potentially long lasting as alcohol based markers, it's wise to take into consideration a variety of sources, and to do your research.

Background on Letraset

Letraset makes a wide variety of markers, many of which I have not yet tested, so I admit, my experience is limited only to these Letraset Tria Pantone and ProMarker  alcohol markers.  Letraset has been around for a long time, and makes a lot of products including Promarkers, Illustration markers, fineliners and AquaMarkers.   Letraset began as a company that produced transferable letters used by graphic artists, which they still produce, as well as art markers and some illustration software. I've had to do a little Googling and fact checking in order to write this review, and if I don't have my facts straight, feel free to correct me, and I'll post the edit.

Pantone's Letraset Trias have been around since the 1970's ( and has undergone a few changes since then.  The gist of the Pantone color system is allow designers to "color match" specific colors when a design enters production stage, regardless of the equipment used to produce the color.

Because Pantone is such a popular system for color identification, Pantone Tria markers would have been very useful for illustrators, graphic designers, and layout artists who wanted to sure color accuracy in the reproduction of their work.  They generally come with at least two tips- a chisel tip and a bullet nib, but I've also seen a fine nib add on available online, though not in person.  These markers were based on the Pantone system of color identification.   The markers Heidi lent me did not come with the fine nib, so I haven't had an opportunity to review it yet.


Varieties of Letraset Markers

Tria Illustrator is made with a water based ink, and while it wont blend with other alcohol based markers, it also won't smudge existing linework or color.  Flex Marker has a flexable tip, but is only available in 72 colors, does not have interchangeable nibs, but is refillable.  Promarkers are alcohol based just like Trias and Flex Markers, but are only available in 148 colors and have three nibs- a bullet nib, a chisel nib, and an optional ultra fine nib.  Pro Markers are compatible with the Letraset airbrushing system.  AquaMarkers use water based pigments which can be reactivated when dry, come in 42 colors, and claim watercolor like abilities.  Below is a chart comparing the varities of Letraset markers.

Letraset Pantone Vs. Copic Sketch Stats


Letraset Markers

  • Price per marker: $6.39 (Amazon)
  • Price per comparable marker (Original): $5.24 (

For the record, this is what Copic Originals look like:


  • Letraset: 300 colors

  • Pantone based color families
  •  Catagorized by an HSL Scale: 
A Green with a low Hue value will be more yellow. If the Hue value is higher, that Green will contain more Blue.
A level 2 Orange will appear dull whilst a level 6 will be more intense.
For Luminosity, the higher the value, the lighter the colour will appear.
  • Color family on broad nib's cap
  • Pointed cap to denote brush nib
  • 3 Nibs per marker
  • Refillable, refills come in all 300 colors
  • Blender marker available
  • Available in sets

Copic Sketch Markers

  •  Refillable
  • Replacable Nibs
  • Comfortable in hand
  • 358 available number of colors
  • Blend-able
  • Color Name and Family on Cap
  • Color Coded cap
  • Super Brush
  • Can mix own colors, blank markers available
  • Price Per Marker: $7.29 (Amazon)
  • Availability: limited availability at Michaels, many art supply stores, Dick Blick, Jerry's Artarama, Jetpens, Amazon
  • Available in individual and color themed sets
  • Alcohol based
  • React to rubbing alcohol and 'blender' fluid
  • Can be blended

The Comparison

Note:  One of these is a Letraset Promarker, but there are few significant differences between the Tria and the Promarker.  Both are double sided alcohol markers intended for fine art, graphic art, and illustration. 

 As you can see, Trias and Promarkers look very similar save for the label.  Capped, both are about the same length as a Copic Sketch, and feel similar in the hand to a Prismacolor Premier.  As you can see, eventually the label will rub off eventually, making future color identification difficult.  The Copic Sketch cap has a plastic color coordination designation and embossed lettering that doesn't rub off.

 A comparison of the tips of both Copic Sketch and ProMarker.  Both feature nylon nibs.

 And here's a color accuracy comparison.  While trying to find comparable Copic Sketches, I had to make a lot of swatches.  Out of my fairly extensive collection, I couldn't really find a match.

 The Test Results

This test is  my standard for all alcohol based marker comparison tests, and you've already seen it with my Spectrum Noir and Prismacolor Premier test.  I test the marker's compatibility with a variety of technical pens (Sakura Micron, Copic Multiliner, Pitt Pen, the waterbased ink found in Akashiya brush pens, the gel ink in Hi Tec C rollerball pens), as well as it's ability to blend and layer (shown on the sphere) and it's ability to mix with the other marker (show in the boxed area).  New to this test is the compatibility with Copic's Blender. Letraset also has a blender marker available in Tria and ProMarkers, but I don't have one to test for this supply review.

 Sorry this is a bit blown out, my scanner isn't kind on color work.  Even with the blown out color, you can see that I had a difficult time matching Copic alcohol inks with Letraset alcohol inks.  This means that a collection that utilizes both art marker brands would have a wider range of colors to choose from, but that the colors are not interchangeable.

With the nibs I had available for the Letraset Tria markers, I had some trouble getting nice blends, but this is pretty typical for bullet nibs.  Letraset Trias didn't play very nicely with the Sakura Micron or the Akashiya ink.  I always have trouble with Akashiya ink and alcohol based markers, so this is nothing new, but the smearing of Micron ink was.  If you marker over a freshly inked image on a coated paper, you'll have a similar result, so perhaps if I had waited, this would not have happened.  However, I consciously decided not to wait when doing these tests for just this reason as many artists work under time constraints that don't allow for much downtime.

The Verdict

My verdict is inconclusive, but I'll say this much:  Although Letraset Tria markers are available in most art stores, are refillable, and have replaceable nibs, they cost more than Copic Original and Copic Sketch markers (and certainly more than Copic Caio), have a smaller range of colors, and I've never seen the refill ink sold in a brick and mortar store.  Until I've done more testing (which I've already made arrangements for), I hesitate to remark whether or not Letraset Tria markers are worth the additional cost, but I will say that I don't foresee myself adding them to my permanent collection of alcohol markers in the near future.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Guest Post: Sarah Benkin and Finding Work after School

Sarah Benkin, of Star Power fame, graduated from SCAD: College of Creative Careers not so long ago with an MFA in Sequential Art.  Now she's comic-ing it up in Chicago, and plans on attending both DAN and CAKE.  Sarah Break-it-down Benkin has been kind enough to share her post-SCAD experiences and her job search advice with us today.  Her comic, Star Power, is available through her shop (warning NSFW)

There are two major categories of finding work in your field after (or during) school: Online and offline. I’ll start with offline, but keeping up with any contacts you make through offline methods might need diligent online contact to maintain the relationships.

1)      Get involved with your local comics scene. Find out, first of all, how big your local comics scene is, how indie, how mainstream, how much your work fits in it. Are there local big names? How about medium-sized? Do they have any events you could attend?

Obviously, this kind of thing is always bigger around cities, though you find them everywhere. You may find yourself needing to drive a few hours out to get to any sort of convention or show, but try not to let that discourage you. Find out, realistically, how much travel can fit into your budget---time *and* money wise---and treat it like a hobby. Something you do in your free time in the hopes that it will pay off later.

2)      Get involved in related circles. Comics and illustration tend to have a huge crossover audience with outsider art, pop surrealism, zines, indie publishing, tattoo art, costuming, poster art, genre fiction, gaming and plenty more. You might be surprised how easily your side interests, hobbies, etc can get you commissions if you attend events related to them and pass out your contact information

3)      Make a GOOD business card and pass it around. Have an up to date portfolio with you whenever possible.

4)      Go to cons that you can afford, and chat with people. Getting your name, face and work spread around is just as important as sales.

5)      Ask people to pass your name around for you, if they know anyone who might like your work. Don’t be pushy. They aren’t your sales staff. But if they know someone who needs and artist, maybe they could mention your name?

6)      See if any local stores will carry your work. You’ll make less selling through stores than you will direct to the customer, but it’ll get your work out there. Here’s a tip—if you’ve got a bunch of copies of your book, put a sticker on the inside back cover of all the books you sell in local stores, identifying you as a local artist—be sure your website is on it!

7)      Go to any galleries that have comic or outsider art and support them. It’ll allow you to meet other local artists if nothing else. Plus, neat art and free food during openings.
1)      Draw, draw, draw. Try new techniques and subjects. Post on tumblr, Deviantart, your website or blog. (Not Facebook. If you post art on Facebook they retain the right to use it as they please. Link on Facebook to other sites.) Make tutorials or try experiments. Something that other people might find useful.
2)      Keep an updated website, check your email and any social media sites regularly. Commissions will more often come to you if you post regularly and get your art out there
3)      Put up a clear chart showing commission prices and examples. Few will ask you for work if they don’t know you’re selling.
4)      If you’ve got finished books, consider opening an online store. I like using etsy, because you can get customers who’ve never seen your art before, but etsy has its flaws
5)      There’s always the job section on Or, though I’d be wary of the latter. I’ve only gotten one or two jobs off Deviantart and they were both when I was still in school, and they were both terrible. My personal experience has led me to think it’s a waste of time to look there, but some people tell me they’ve gotten good work there.
6)      The internet is an easy place to meet other artists in your field, even if it’s a bit depersonalizing. Take advantage!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Akashiya Sai Watercolor Brush Pens Review

Watercolor brush pen.  Made by Akashiya, no less.  The phrase intrigued me as I browsed Jetpens, idly window shopping one cold winter evening.  I'd been getting into watercolors, trying out new things, and I felt open to a little experimentation.  Akashiya Sai watercolor brush pens offered a marker-like watercolor brush pen, and although I'd tried watercolor brush pens in the past and been burned, it'd been years since I'd tried one.  I'm a big fan of Japanese art supplies, and I'd wanted to take up watercolor sketching.  Watercolor brush pens would offer a very elegant solution, if they were capable of pulling off convincing watercolor effects.  I debated buying just one season of 5 colors, available in Summer, Winter, Spring, and Fall, but I knew that if I liked them, I'd want the rest immediately.  I added a full year to my cart, 20 colorful brush pens in a vivid assortment of hues, and proceeded to check out.


The rationalization immediately began.  Twenty watercolor brush pens?  Isn't that a bit..excessive?  Sure, I've tried pans and tubes, a variety of watercolor pencils, and even Inktense ink stones.  I'd tried a variety of brushes, water soluble inks, and water brushes.  Watercolor brush pens seemed the next logical step.  And I could review them for the blog.  So even if they were a dismal failure, some good would come from this expense.

A week later, the incessant banging on my door startled me.  It wasn't a fire, though you would've thought as much from the pounding, but my local not-so-friendly UPS man, with a package from Jetpens.  My AKASHIYA sAI watercolor brush pens had arrived.

The Testing Begins

Akashiya makes a darn attractive package, and I had high hopes for my Sai watercolor pens.  I'd used and reviewed and loved Akashiya products in the past, and their bamboo brush pen had permanent residence in among my oft-used ink pens.  Sai promised traditional Japanese colors, which reminded me of Holbien's Irodori line of watercolor, a line that produced muted colors that I loved.  I was pretty excited to test these out.

My Akashiya Sai watercolor brush pens were packed in heavy plastic box obviously intended for reuse and storage.  I had hopes that it would somehow transform into an easel, propping my brush pens up into easy reach.  Nope.  No such luck for me.

I quickly removed my precious brush pens from their protective case, and marveled at how darn stylish they looked, all neatly lined up.  The color names were written in kanji, which I can't read a lick of, but that didn't matter, as the brilliant colors at the end of the barrel said it all.

The caps had a clip, and spoke of sunny days at the park, doing watercolor sketches.  Easily.  Painlessly.  Spill free.  I could just clip my selected colors onto my sketchbook and head out, no need to take the pack.  The other colors don't need to know.  And when Akashiya says 'brush pen', they mean it.  Each watercolor brush pen had a brush with individual nylon bristles, although they seemed a bit short.  Other brands of watercolor brush pens like Pentel and Bienfang have soft, squeezable barrels that allow you to increase the ink flow, but Akashiya Sai brush pens are solid and un-squeezable.

 I couldn't wait to begin color swatching.  I pulled out my Moleskin watercolor sketchbook, my de-facto swatch book and a stylish reference useful for color selection, and began to lay brush pen to paper.

Unfortunately, the Akashiya Sai watercolor brush pen was not as generous with it's contents as I had hoped.  The pigment was brilliant, however, and I hoped a quick pass with water would give me all the dilution I needed.

 To mimic the rigors of the field, I grabbed a water brush, my most likely choice for a field excursion with Akashiya Sai watercolor brush pens.  Loaded with water, it was ready to lay down a wash at a moment's notice.

And I began to scrub.  Unfortunately, the Sai wasn't going to be diluted so easily, so I tried a different angle.

I tried to work the pink watercolor into the water.  My Sai brush pen didn't like that.  The ink dispersed immediately, and the brush tip of the Sai absorbed some of the water, causing dilution in the brush pen itself.  I tried to scrub some of the water out, without much improvement.

I tried to scrub the water out, and get back to the intense pigment, but to no avail, my Sai was sulking.    This would cause a lot of limitation while working in the field.  If I can't get the color to properly dilute by adding water after ink application, and adding ink to the water ruins the brush, it would be very hard to mimic actual watercolor effects.

Fortunately, subsequent colors required a little less coaxing.  All the colors in this set have different levels of dilution, which is problematic in that it's hard to predict how well colors will dilute.

Many of the colors picked up and blended with the water right away, and none were so stubborn as that pink.  Unfortunately, many of the pigments separated into their respective original colors, making the Sai colors not quite true.  As watercolors, I found the Sai watercolor brush pens to be very disappointing, but I wasn't going to give up just yet.  I decided to take them for a field test.

I made several mistakes with this field test of Forsythe Park's amphitheatre.  I used a Hi-Tec C to outline my sketch, and uh, Hi-Tec C isn't water safe by any means.  It bled everywhere.  Secondly, my water brush was a bit too eager to give up it's load, over saturating the paper quickly.  Thirdly, I used my small mixed media sketchbook (90lb), which isn't actually watercolor paper, so the water may have just sat on top.

While the Akashiya were capable of some interesting effects, they were difficult to control, and the sketch fast became a mess.  The short nylon bristles weren't really capable of mimicing real watercolor brushes, and the ink flow ran on the dry side.

Still, I saw potential in Akashiya's watercolor brush pens, and decided to run one last test.  How would these brush pens handle the addition of a little rubbing alcohol, a technique common in traditional watercolor?

The effects were not impressive.  The ink was just not wet enough to really react to the watercolor, and since the barrel is hard plastic, there's no way to increase the ink flow.

The Competition

Akashiya Sai aren't the only brand of water color brush pens available.  Pentel, Prang, and Bienfang all make watercolor brush pens that are commonly available in the United States.  All but Akashiya are pretty commonly available at art supply stores, though they may not all be sold at the same store.

Source  A twelve pack will run you around $30 at Staples, which is crazy cheap when you think about what real watercolors cost.  These have a squeezable barrel and individual nylon bristles.
Source.   Prang's watercolor brush pens are a lot like Sai's, in that the barrel of the pen is hard plastic, and you have little control over the inkflow.  These are available through Amazon for under $12.

Source.  Pentel's watercolor brush pens are probably the highest quality and react the most like actual watercolors.  The bristles are longer and made of nylon, and the barrel is soft, squeezable plastic.  I've never seen these sold as sets in stores, only open stock, and they can be pricey, usually under $9 per pen.

The Verdict

My verdict on this test?  Akashiya Sai watercolor brush pens are disconcertingly similar to Crayola waterbased markers.  Pigments separate with the addition of water, the ink itself isn't juicy enough, and they just don't feel like a professional art tool.  If you're thinking about trying Akashiya Sai watercolor brush pens yourself, I would recommend trying them out individually or buying only a single season's set, rather than dropping $70 for all 20 brushpens.

Granted, it may also be my method of application that causes problems.  I like very light applications of color, slowly built up.  I often avoid saturated or strong colors in favor of greys or pastels.  These brush pens don't work like that.  If you consider them a hybrid of markers and watercolors, you may have better results. Audra, of Nemu Nemu, did a review, and I think her result is much nicer than mine, and she's much more positive about these brush pens.  I think this is an excellent example of how different artists' aesthetics and process can lead to very different results.  This is why, when purchasing art supplies, you should read a variety of reviews from a variety of artists.  By the way, if you aren't familiar with Nemu Nemu, or the attached blog, you should really check BOTH out!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Filling Copic Wide Markers

Earlier this week, I showed you guys how to use Copic Wide markers to create a wash of color similar to what you can achieve with watercolors. Unfortunately, Copic's range of available Copic Wide colors is pretty small, weighing in at only 36 different markers (38 if you're counting Colorless Blender and blank Copic Wides), but there's no reason to limit yourself to what's currently available in stores. If you have access to blank Copic Wides (sold at most art supply stores with the regular Copic and Copic Wides) and Various Ink in your color of choice, you can make a Copic Wide version of any color you please.

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Blank Copic Wides
Various Ink

Eyedropper or syringe


 Here you see our basic ingredients- the Copic Wide and my Various Ink.  Since Copic doesn't make Copic Wide in most of the 'blending' (or lighter) colors, I find that I have to fill my own.  Fortunately, I use a lot of the Sketch blending colors, and tend to have those colors in Various Inks.   For this demonstration, I'm filling my Copic Wide with E0000, a very light earth/skintone.

Although the Copic Wide is fantastic for applying large fields of color, I sometimes find it hard to get an even application.  To mitigate this problem, I will saturate my paper with Colorless Blender first, then go over it with my color of choice, and smooth it out with another saturation of Colorless Blender.  This will lighten your color wash substantially, so keep that in mind when choosing colors.  You can always reapply your wash.

 Like all Copic markers, the nib removes easily, either for replacement or for refilling.  When working with an empty Copic, I'll pull the nib out with my fingers carefully, but when refilling ink, I'll use my little tweezers to gently pull the nib out.

Filling a Copic Wide is easy!  You can use the Various Ink bottle itself (since it has a dropper nozzle) or you can fill an eyedropper or syringe with the Various Ink.  I find that Copic Wides take around 4 mL worth of ink.  If you overfill, you may have issues with your nib becoming oversaturated and leaking a little within the cap.  This isn't a huge issue, but it can be a little messy.

When you first fill a blank Copic Wide, the nib won't immediately suck up ink if it's upright.  If you store it horizontally, the ink will soon make its way to the nib.

I use a piece of blue painter's tape to label my Copic Wides by color.  If I had some blank labels, I'd use a snip of that with a streak of the ink on the cap to denote which color is in the marker.

After laying horizontal for only a few minutes, the ink has saturated the nib.  Now you have a Copic Wide in your choice of color!

Copic Wides are open for a wee bit more customization, as you can also change out the nibs.  This is useful if the nib you've been using has become too mushy, but it's also useful if you dislike the shape.  Copic Wide nibs come in two shapes.

Extra Broad Nib:
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Calligraphic Nib:
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The Calligraphic Nib may actually be easier to use than the extra broad nib, as it would allow you to hold your marker perpendicular to the paper when applying the ink, which may make for a more even application.

Below is an Amazon carousel designed to help you get started with your own custom Copic Wide markers, including recommended Copic Ink refills.