Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Watercolor Marker Review: Letraset's AquaMarkers

The Quest for a Better Watercolor Marker

In case you guys haven't noticed, I'm a pretty big fan of art markers.  Besides testing alcohol based markers and blogging my results, I also use them for illustration.  I don't limit myself to just markers- I'm also a huge fan of watercolors, rendering comics and illustrations in illuminating color.  There are traits unique to both media which I appreciate- translucent color, ease of blending, relatively quick application, but both media also have unique traits only available to that technique.  I appreciate the portability of alcohol based markers, but the interesting water effects of watercolor.  I love being able to create near endless color from a relatively limited range of watercolor pans, but I enjoy the easy clean up of markers.

Watercolors are available in a wide variety of forms- pans, tubes, crayons, pencil colors, even stones, but I wasn't sure if they were available in a marker format.  And even if there are watercolor markers available, I wasn't sure how they'd compare to traditional markers.

The List of Demands

I've already done one watercolor 'marker' test with the Akashiya Sai watercolor markers, and those shortcomings whet my appetite for a better solution.  I wanted an easily available watercolor marker that wouldn't be ruined upon the introduction of water.  I wanted an ink that wouldn't seperate into the individual colors, I wanted easy portability, I wanted color sets that worked well together, and I wanted an affordable product.

Letraset's AquaMarker

I discovered Letraset's AquaMarker while doing my research for my review of the Letraset Tria Pantone and Promarker.  It was a twin tipped watercolor marker, with one end being a bullet nib, and the other being...a larger bullet nib?  The AquaMarker was available in color families, and I opted to go with Set 2- a more muted color family that could possibly be augmented with later purchases.

The AquaMarkers are available 4 different ways- as individual markers, in packs of 6, in packs of 12, and in 'Artist's Sets', which come with 4 sheets of watercolor paper, a fine liner, and instructions.  I purchased a 6 marker set, as I was hesistant to make such a large investment at the onset.

AquaMarkers are actually much cheaper than their alcohol based counterparts, but this is because they are non-refillable.  There are 54 colors available, as well as the colorless blender (which was not available in my Set 2, and I did not purchase separately).

Based on my experiences with the Akashiya Sai watercolor markers, I decided to test these AquaMarkers in two ways- a color test on my moleskin watercolor notebook (which I use to swatch all of my watercolors) and a field test in my Strathmore 300 series Multi Media paper notebook.  The field test truely was in the field- I tossed my Aqua Markers into my satchel and dashed out.  Blending was done with a Pentel Aquash, no special solution needed.

The Breakdown:

Letraset Aquamarker
Available in sets and open stock
Individual marker cost: $2.30 (DickBlick)
Number of Colors: 54
Refillable?  No.
Replacable nibs? No.
Special blender needed for watercolor effects? No.
No color seperation when water is added.
colorless Blender Available
Availability: Amazon, Dick Blick, Letraset website

The Color Test

Unlike some of the watercolor markers I've tested in the past, the Letraset AquaMarkers are color true, even with the addition of water.  You get an effect very similar to watercolor, and if you work quickly, the pigment disperses fairly evenly.  Unfortunately, there is some slight color variation within the marker itself- the smaller nib produces a lighter shade than the larger one, which could be used to your advantage.

The Field Test

In the field, the AquaMarkers perform fairly well.  The sets come packaged in a resealable plastic shell which holds the markers firmly in place.   All you really need is a paper that can withstand water and your portable aqua brush.  I recommend outlining your pencil lines in fineliner and erasing before applying your marker, as graphite has a tendency to ruin marker nibs.  One drawback to illustrating with AquaMarkers is the quick drytime of the marker- dry pigments are harder to work than wet ones.  Applying water with an aqua brush can lead to a longer overall drying time, since aqua brushes may offer little control over water flow.  As with most watercolor markers, applying your marker to still wet paper can lead to backflow- when the water is absorbed by the nib rather than the paper absorbing the pigment.  In mild cases, you just need to work that water out on a scrap piece of paper, in severe cases, you may have ruined your nib.


I really enjoyed working with AquaMarker watercolor markers, and I find the results satisfactory considering the limitations of the product.  In the future, I would consider buying more of these markers, possibly in bolder colors (particularly to test whether or not the color-fastness is a feature only of the more subdued colors).  I have not tested whether or not AquaMarkers are compatible with traditional watercolors, but I would recommend using the Aquamarkers before applying the traditional watercolors.