Sunday, January 31, 2016

Artist Loft Fundamentals Waterbased Triangle Markers

I've been trying to integrate some video into my reviews, and it would be really helpful if you guys took a moment and let me know what you thought, either in the comments or via email.  

I've already written a post about an Artist Loft product- I reviewed their alcohol markers not so long ago.   For those not in the know, Artist Loft is Michael's storebrand for art supplies.  They make all sorts of things, from aforementioned alcohol markers to oil pastels, but dubious quality has earned Artist Loft a bad reputation amongst serious artists and students alike.

Today I'm reviewing some of their waterbased markers from the Fundamentals line, which is a bit lower than Student Grade in terms of quality.  This is part of a ongoing series on Waterbased markers.  If you're interested in learning more about waterbased markers, and their applications, you should check out these posts:

Alcohol Based, Waterbased, Watercolor- A Quick Overview
How to Know if A Marker is Waterbased/Waterproof

And I recommend you check out my Review tab for even more waterbased marker reviews.

I test most waterbased markers on a few standards:

Dry Swatch Test
Wet Swatch Test
Dry Field Test (Marker Paper)
Wet Swatch Test (watercolor paper)
Dry Field Test (Watercolor Paper)

Although, due to performance issues, I only completed dry swatching and the dry field test for the Artist Loft Fundamentals Waterbased Triangle Markers.

The Stats
  • 36 Markers
  • Waterbased
  • Fine tip
  • Felt tip
  • Non Refillable
  • Non Replaceable Nib
  • $4.99
  • Available at Michaels
  • Triangular Body to prevent rolling
  • Wide Spectrum of Colors
  • Precision Tip
  • Detail Marker (so not intended to cover large areas)

The Package

waterbased markers, Michaels markers, markers from Michaels

These markers come loose in a snap together plastic shell with a cardboard belly band and insert.   I recommend holding on to your plastic case, as it may be your only shot at keeping these markers contained.  The top cardboard insert mentions 'mixed media', for some reason.

The back of the cardboard belly band lists the colors inside.

Colors included:

  • Ancient Purple
  • Black
  • Blue
  • Brown
  • Dark Gray
  • Deep Blue
  • Flesh
  • Fluorescent Green
  • Fluorescent Orange
  • Fluorescent Pink
  • Fluorescent Yellow
  • Gray
  • Green
  • Light Green
  • Light Purple
  • Light Red
  • Light Yellow Brown

  • Mint Blue
  • Oleander Red
  • Olive Green
  • Orange Yellow
  • Orantge
  • Pale Glue
  • Pale Lime
  • Pink
  • Purple
  • Red
  • Sky Blue
  • Van Dyke Brown
  • Verdigris Green
  • Vermilion
  • Water Blue
  • Winter Red
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Yellow

The left side of the belly band reads:

  • Wide Spectrum of Brillant Colors
  • Precision Tip
  • Detail Marker

The right side states that these markers conform to ASTMD-4236, has a barcode, and says that these markers are distributed by  MSPCI.

The belly band just slips off the plastic package, revealing the bodies of these markers.

Once the belly band is off, the plastic case can be easily opened by prying it apart at the top.  Once the plastic case is open, the markers are loose.
The Markers

These markes are fine tipped, but not technical pen or fineliner fine.  They have a single, small bullet nib, and aren't strongly scented the way some brands of waterbased markers can be.  The barrels are vageuly triangular, like Staedtlr Triplus Fineliners, and feature minimal writing- no color name, just a generic 'Artist Loft Fundamentals|Fondamentaux|Fundamentales Fine' on every white barrel.

Creating Swatch Stickers for Markers That Have Accurate Color Chips

What's the point of giving marker colors names if the names aren't printed on the markers themselves, and there's no system in place to keep them organized when you travel?  Swatching these in a swatchbook almost seems like a Sisyphean task, so I may try a different approach- a tiny dot of the actual color on label paper, attached to the barrel, to help me identify the true color of the marker.  36 crappy markers is A LOT of crappy markers, somehow this feels so much more daunting than Crayola's 50 supertips.  And $4.99 is not a pricepoint that bodes well for marker quality, I don't care if Artist's Loft promises that these are 'fundamentals'.

So let's take a moment and go over how to swatch the unswatchable!  You'll need:

  • Paper labels or sticker paper
  • A pair of scissors
  • Your markers
  • A lot of patience

I'm using hole punch protectors because I'm out of matte sticker paper and labels right now.  I can fit five mini swatches on each tiny label, so after my label is full, I cut them apart and apply them carefully.  Swatching like this is really important when the pen cap color does not match the ink color.

First I scribble a little of the ink on the hole punch. Since these markers are triangular, and large stickers might start to peel off, I only need a little of the circle.

Once my circle is full, I trim it to size, an apply to my marker.

This color coding techinque is based off one from Jennifer McGuire Ink.

It takes awhile to do all 36 markers, and given the quality of these markers, probably isn't worth the effort, but here are all 36 swatched.

The Swatch Test- On Pacon Marker Paper

Of course, the sticker paper doesn't really count as a true swatch test, so I also swatched these markers on Pacon Marker paper.

Colors go down smoothly as a single layer, with no paper pilling, unlike my sticker swatches.  Some of those saw immediate pilling.  The point is very fine, which will probably make it difficult to cover large areas, and impossible to cover large areas without streaking.  Many markers have ink that differs greatly from the cap color, so swatching proves valuable.

The Swatch Test- Watercolor Paper

As is the norm for this blog, I also tested these markers on cold press watercolor paper, to determine how suitable they are as watercolor marker alternatives.

As you can see, many colors don't stay true with the addition of water.

Unlike Crayola and Up and Up waterbased markers, these markers don't work well as cheap watercolor markers.  The bullet nibs don't put down enough ink to make it easy to create a side palette, and many of the colors are way too transparent to really work for watercolor applications.  The nib is unpleasant to use, and many of the colors do seperate out into individual dies.  I think I'll skip the watercolor field test with these, rather than torture myself.

The Field Test (Video)

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The Field Test Photos

The Verdict

Save your money.  Buy the Up and Up waterbased markers or the Crayola Supertips- the Up and Up markers if you like to use your waterbased markers dry, and the Crayola Supertips if you want to do watercolor marker techniques.  These markers are scratchy and tear up the paper when dry, and separate into individual dyes when wet.

Other Waterbased Marker Reviews

Up and Up Supertip Markers
Crayola and CraZArt Markers
Crayola Multicultural Colors
Zig Art and Graphic Twin

Check out my Reviews Tab for even more waterbased and watercolor marker reviews!

Other Relevant Posts

Alcohol Based Markers Vs Waterbased Markers
How to Know if a Markers is Waterbased/Waterproof

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Alcohol Marker Review: Finecolour Sketch Alcohol Markers

Hey guys!  This is a non-sponsored post, which means I funded it out of my own pocket.  If you enjoy this post, and would like to see more like it, please consider donating (link's in the sidebar to the right), sharing this post with your friends, or writing to me and letting me know what you thought!  Your input is important to me, and I really don't hear enough from you guys!

A couple years ago, I reviewed Finecolour markers as part of my long running Alcohol Marker Showdown.  As my regulars can imagine, that post is pretty popular on this blog, so when Magical Emi told me about Shin Han Touch knockoffs on Ali Express and Ebay, I decided to check them out.  I discovered that Finecolour had a few other marker options available, including a fineliner and the Finecolour Sketch alcohol markers, which are meant to compete with Copic's Ciao markers.

The Stats

  • 72 Piece set
  • fashion colors
  • double ended- bullet nib and chisel nib
  • available through AliExpress  You can  find a similar set here
  • marker bag included
  • Alcohol based
  • Non-refillable
  • Supposedly a blender is available, but I did not receive one in my 72 piece set, and I haven't seen them offered.
  • Approximately $110 right now, but I believe I paid around $80 a few months ago
  • Second generation of Finecolour markers
  • Rounded body

NOTE:  Listings may say 'chalky' or 'oily' but these are alcohol based markers.

Copic Comparison

72 piece Copic Ciao set A (refillable, replaceable nibs) on DickBlick- $241.42

Note:  Copic Ciao markers are available openstock both online and in several brick and mortar stores.

The Packaging

Since these markers shipped from China (and they ship relatively fast- around two weeks depending on where your live and how well your post office works) they arrived in a rather beaten up cardboard box.  Under the cardboard were several layers of bubble wrap, and once you've gotten through the bubble wrap, you reach the nylon Finecolour marker case, with your markers within.

alcohol markers, finecolour sketch, finecolour markers, Copic knockoff, cheap alcohol markeres

The case is lined with a finer weave nylon, and zippers open at the top.  There's a handle for carrying.  This case stores your markers vertically, so if you plan on using these markers for your work, you should store them horizontally when not in use, so the ink can reach both nibs.  The interior of the case has no dividers, and markers have a tendency to shift a lot inside the case.

The Supplemental Material and Markers

Product Information and Color Charts

Finecolour is apparently sold in stores (see the store display there in the middle), and in bulk (the image at the top), as well as in sets.

These color charts were really useful when swatching my markers, as it enabled me to identify color families, and determine which markers should be in my 72 piece set.  My older Finecolour set did not come with a case or with this information.  This set did not come with a blender marker.

The Markers

Top:  Finecolour Sketch
Bottom: Copic Ciao

Left: Copic Ciao
Right: Fineclour Sketch

Comparison of nibs on Copic Ciao (left) and Finecolour Sketch (right)

Comparison of brush and bullet nibs.  Brush (Copic Ciao, left), Bullet nib (Finecolour Sketch, right).

Physically, they are very similar- the only difference is that Finecolours have a bullet nib and a chisel nib, while the Copic Caio markers feature Copic's Super Brush.  The bullet nib is not flexible at all.

Video Overview:  Finecolour Markers, Finecolour Sketch, and Shang Hai Touch (upcoming review)

The Swatch Test

Markers have a color name and color family number on each cap.  Bullet nib is indicated by a gray band, similar to how Copic indicates the Super Brush.  Plastic chips do not entirely accurately reflect color inside, so swatching (and referencing your swatches) is important!

While swatching, I organized my markers based roughly on the color families outlined in the little guide that was included my set.  I rubber banded each color family, for easy use later.  I cross referenced against the color chart provided with my 72 piece set.

Finecolor Field Test

Since these markers don't come with a colorless blender, I'll use a Copic Ciao, which is fitting, because the Finecolour Sketch markers are designed to look like Copic Ciao Markers.

The Finecolour Sketch markers are an improvement over the original Finecolour markers, or perhaps I just recieved a good set.  So far, my markers are fairly juicy, and while coloring with a bullet nib takes forever, the nibs aren't yet scratching up the paper.  The markers start off very stiff, and break in as you use them, which may mean prolongued use makes them mushy.  When they start off, they're a bit more unpleasant to use, but become more enjoyable and less scratchy as they break in.

The alcohol smell is a bit overwhelming if you work too close- these are really not appropriate for kids.

Keep in mind that Colorless blender does not actually blend, but rather bleaches the color it's applied to.

Colors can be layered and blended, but the bullet nibs make it difficult to render large areas without streaking, and coloring takes longer than it would with a Super Brush.

Since my skintone selection is a little limited, I left the lightest parts of Kara's face white, and blended with a colorless blender to smooth the transition.

You can layer Finecolour Sketch markers for darker saturation, which extends the use of your set.  Some marker brands don't layer nearly this well due to excess alcohol in the dye solution.

And I was able to add some shadows to the skin using a light blue violet.  Again, this layers just fine- rather than displacing prior layers of ink, it sits on top, which is the desired result.

I wasn't able to blend out the light blue shadows on the dress as much as I would like.

For me, hair is where I REALLY miss a nice brush tip.  It's difficult to render hair well without being able to flick a brush- your highlights and transitions end up looking very blobby and sloppy, no matter how careful you are in your application.

Finecolour Sketch, Finecolour markers, alcohol markers

Colors do layer for increased saturation and depth, but there isn't as much difference as there is with Copics.

The Verdict

If you're unfamiliar with alcohol based markers, especially those that come with a brush rather than a bullet nib or a chisel nib, you may judge that alcohol based markers just aren't worth the effort if you only used Finecolour markers.  Other art supply reviewers recommend that you give these as a gift to a young person who admires your Copics, but isn't yet ready for an adult set of markers.  I actually recommend that these be given to someone who has used some alcohol based markers in the past, and know how they should behave, but doesn't have the money to really amass the collection necessary to start doing art.  As they have money to purchase nicer markers or as the Finecolours run out of ink, they can replace or add to their collection.

To be honest, I'm not a fan of giving young, aspiring artists subpar materials to play with, just because they're cheaper.  I don't like kiddie (or honestly, crafter) versions of existing artist grade supplies, unless there's an excellent reason for the change (say, a move towards non-toxicity for little hands that put markers in mouths).  I think it's much better to give them a few GOOD things, rather than materials that perform poorly, and may turn them off of art due to poor results.   That's not to say I don't think there are cheap or affordable art supplies that give very satisfactory results (have you read my Walmart or Target series yet?)

To successfully bend Finecolour and Finecolour Sketch markers to your will, you need to be familiar with alcohol based markers, and how they work.  You need to be old enough and interested enough to do some research on your own, because these markers do require you to make accomodations for their shortcomings, something a junior artist would not realize.

Professional artists and illustrators have a tendency to make things look easy, and sometimes we forget that something that's easy for us is difficult for someone starting out.  Years of all sorts of illustration have given me a feel for where shadows fall on the face, and how to simulate that with even a tiny collection of markers.  A younger artist might not know that, and might be very disappointed with the results of subpar markers.  Years of using alcohol based markers has given me an arsenal of techniques that work for the way I like to render- small circles to avoid streaking with bullet nibs, saturating the paper to prevent streaking, multiple layers of color, work on thick absorbant paper.  Years of working with subpar alcohol based markers has taught me to swatch and label everything, and to REswatch per project, to make sure colors work together, but that's definitely not something I knew from the start.

If you are looking for markers that behave similarly to alcohol based markers that are kid safe, I recommend Up and Up's waterbased markers .  If you have a teenager or adult in your life with a few Copics or Prismacolors already who's looking for a fast expansion in color choice at the cheapest price, I recommend Finecolour Sketch markers for price, and Blick Studio Brush markers for performance.