Alcohol-based, Waterbased, Watercolor-A Quick Overview

In the past, I've briefly touched on the differences between alcohol based markers and water based markers in the post How to Know if a Marker is Waterbased/Waterproof.  At the time, I was testing A LOT of alcohol based markers, but had very little experience with using waterbased markers for creating art.  I made a lot of assumptions in that post based on research, but not based on experience, and now that I have a little more experience with waterbased markers, watercolor markers, and alcohol based markers, I wanted to revisit the topic.  I also wrote a post Alcohol Based Markers Vs Water Based, as I felt the topic could benefit from even more exploration.  I recommend you guys check out both of those posts if you need a background on waterbased and alcohol based markers.

Since writing those posts, I've become very involved in testing watercolor markers in addition to alcohol and waterbased markers, so I wanted to throw them into the mix and do a post that covers all three.

General Uses

Alcohol Based Markers

Examples:  Copic Sketch, Prismacolor, Spectrum Noir
Traits:  Sometimes refillable, nibs sometimes replaceable,
  • Stamping
  • Cardmaking
  • Professional Illustration
  • Product Design/Concept
  • Adult Coloring Books

Waterbased Markers
Examples: Crayola Supertip, Crayola classroom markers, CraZArt Supertip
  • Student work- classwork, class activities
  • Adult Coloring Books

Watercolor Markers
Examples: Tombow ABT, Marvy LePlumeII, Zig Art and Graphic Twin
  • Cardmaking
  • Stamping
  • Professional Illustration
  • Watercolor Illustration
Waterbased markers are a major category, like alcohol based markers, whereas watercolor markers are a subset of waterbased markers.

In stores, when you see markers advertised as waterbased markers (as opposed to watercolor markers), these are usually student grade markers.  This doesn't mean you shouldn't give them a shot, it just means you may have to stretch to find a good use for them.

Common Issues

Alcohol Based Markers

  • Expensive to procure a large enough set to fulfill many illustration needs
  • Only a couple common brands in the US are refillable, refills may be hard to get

Waterbased Markers

  • Not designed for professional illustration
  • Repeated application causes damage to paper surface, ruins eventual illustration
  • Difficult to make something that looks nice
  • Color selection is limited, largest set I've seen is 75 total colors
  • Most brands can't blend
  • Most brands can't Layer
  • Nibs are often awful
  • Difficult to apply color without it streaking

Watercolor Markers

  • Learning curve if using for illustration
  • Take getting used to
  • Previously difficult to find everywhere
  • Non-refillable
  • More expensive than waterbased markers

Finding The Right Papers

The number one thing I was curious about was cross blend-ability.  Can you blend alcohol based markers with water?  Can you use a waterbased colorless blender with waterbased markers?  Can you use water to blend waterbased markers?  I had pretty much all the tools I needed for some basic tests, so I dived right in one evening, taking photos along the way.

Test Subjects: 
Crayola Waterbased Markers
Zig Art and Graphic Twin Watercolor Markers
Copic Sketch Alcohol Based Markers

Top:  Crayola Supertip waterbased markers.  Bottom row:  Tombow ABT Colorless blender, Zig Art and Graphic Twin watercolor markers, Copic Ciao colorless blender, Copic Sketch marker, waterbrush filled with water.

Although not all alcohol based markers feature a Japanese brush nib (or Super Brush, as Copic calls it), Copic Sketch and Copic Ciao come with them.  The large, soft, rubbery brush nib on the Zig Art and Graphic Twin is the closest I've come to a Super Brush on a watercolor marker- both brush nibs are able to give very delicate strokes.  The Super Tip on the Crayola isn't so super in comparison, it's very stiff and dry.  I have found a couple brands of waterbased markers that DO offer brush nibs- a brand sold at The Paper Source, and Sargent's Classic waterbased markers, both of which will be reviewed here in the upcoming months.

Although not all alcohol based markers are refillable, many are, and the Copic Sketch I use in this review is not only refillable, but you can replace both of the nibs easily.  You cannot replace the nibs on the Zig Art and Graphic Twin or the Crayola Supertips- these cheaper markers are intended to be disposable.

The Blenders:
Tombow ABT Colorless Blender
Copic Caio Alcohol Colorless Blender
Clean Waterbrush full of water

From left to right:  Pentel waterbrush, Tombow ABT colorless blender (waterbased), Copic Ciao Colorless Blender (alcohol based)
IN GENERAL: You can assume that waterbased markers can be blended by waterbased blenders or water, and alcohol based markers can be blended with alcohol.

HOWEVER:  Alcohol does affect watercolors while they are still wet, so I wanted to see what effect Colorless Blender would have on still wet waterbased marker and watercolor marker.

The Swatch Tests:

The Papers:
Swatchbook- Strathmore Watercolor Paper
Pacon Marker Paper

Strathmore Coldpress Watercolor Journal Paper

On watercolor paper, only alcohol based colorless blender (Copic brand, in this case) affects alcohol based marker (again, Copic).  Water and Tombow ABT colorless blender do nothing.

On watercolor paper, alcohol based colorless blender, Tombow ABT colorless blender, and water all effect Crayola waterbased markers to different degrees.

On watercolor paper, alcohol based colorless blender, Tombow ABT colorless blender, and water all effect watercolor markers like Zig Art and Graphic Twin.


On cardstock, only alcohol based colorless blender effects alcohol based markers.  Tombow ABT colorless blender and water do nothing.

On cardstock, Copic's alcohol based colorless blender has no effect on waterbased markers like Crayola, and Tombow ABT and water have limited effect.  Tombow ABT and water cause paper damage when applied over waterbased marker on cardstock.

On cardstock, alcohol based colorless blender has little effect on watercolor markers like the Zig Art and Graphic Twin.  Water and Tombow ABT's colorless blender have some effect.  Water causes paper damage on cardstock.

Marker Paper

On marker paper, only alcohol based colorless blender effects alcohol based marker ink.  Tombow ABT and water do nothing.

On marker paper, alcohol based colorless blender has little effect on waterbased markers like Crayolas.  Tombow ABT's colorless blender does disrupt the ink a little, but not enough to encourage blending on marker paper, and water disrupts the paper surface.

On marker paper, alcohol based colorless blender does cause the pigment of the watercolor marker to shift a little, but not significantly.  Tombow ABT's colorless blender has a better result, although not significant blending.  Water causes pilling, and ruins the paper's surface.

General Notes:

It seems like Crayola waterbased markers perform almost as well as the Zig Art and Graphic Twin watercolor markers for these preliminary tests.  Both react to Copic Colorless Blender (basically, alcohol), the Tombow ABT (which is a watercolor marker) blender, and regular water in a waterbrush.  Surprisingly, the Crayola I tested (a rich reddish brown, which tend to be prone to seperation) did not separate in these conditions, regardless of the paper.

Reworking waterbased and watercolor media with water and the Tombow ABT colorless blender causes the page to pill, so if you work in multiple layers (basically anything more than one layer blended out) cardstock and marker paper aren't good choices for water based and watercolor media.

On watercolor paper, all three blenders worked to some degree with watercolor and waterbased markers.  Not surprisingly, waterbased blenders had zero effect on alcohol based markers.  On the other two papers tested, waterbased and watercolor markers faired much worse, as the papers aren't designed to handle media with slow evaporation times.  Alcohol based inks and blenders did just fine on cardstock, and decently well on Pacon's marker paper, but that's because the solvent dries almost immediately, so layers can be applied without damaging the paper's surface.

Compatible Inking Products:
Sailor Mitso Aida- Compatible with Alcohol, Waterbased, and Watercolor, if allowed to fully dry
India Ink- Compatible with waterbased, watercolor, NOT COMPATIBLE WITH ALCOHOL BASED INKS
Memento Inks- Compatible with Copic (link)
Copic Multiliner- Compatible with alcohol, waterbased, and watercolor, if allowed to fully dry

If you're interested in reading more about alcohol based markers, check out these links!

Alcohol-based Markers vs. Waterbased Markers

If you're interested in reading more about watercolor markers, check out these links!

Watercolor Brush Pen Review: Docrafts Artiste Watercolor Markers
Watercolor Brush Pen Review: Zig Art and Graphic Twin
Mini Review: Winsor & Newton Watercolor Markers
Watercolor Brushpen Review: Tombow ABT
Watercolor Marker Review: Letraset's Aquamarkers
Watercolor Pen Review: Marvy LePlume II

If you're interested in reading more about waterbased markers like Crayola, check out these links!

Walmart Art Supply Review: Waterbased Markers


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