Sunday, February 07, 2016

Alcohol Marker Review: Winsor and Newton Promarker and Brush Marker

The original notes for this post were lost when my Surface Pro 3 died and had to be sent back to Microsoft.  I'm writing much of this from research, memory, and photos.  If you enjoy what I do, please take a moment to share it to your social networks, so other artists may benefit.  Doing so helps me grow my audience, which will hopefully help me attract future sponsors and company partnerships.  If you really enjoyed this post, please take a moment to email Winsor and Newton about it, and send them a link to this post, along with your thoughts, so they can see what I do.  Your emails to companies really go a long way towards keeping this blog functioning- as it shows companies that I have an engaged, supportive audience.  Please don't wait for others to do so- every email counts!

The History

Letraset has been acquired by ColArts, the parent company of Winsor & Newton and Derwent, and Promarkers and Flex Markers have been rebranded as Winsor & Newton Promarkers and Winsor & Newton Brushmarkers.  Winsor & Newton has already sent out sets of Promarkers to several prominent artists on YouTube to help spread the word about the brand.

Related Previous Reviews

Letraset Tria Pantone
Letraset Flexmarkers
Winsor & Newton Watercolor Markers

The Stats

  • Non-refillable
  • Twin tipped- Promarkers are Chisel and Bullet, Brushmarkers are Brush and Chisel
  • Non replacable Nibs
  • Promarkers have 148 total colors
  • Brushmarkers have 72 total colors
  • Available open stock and in sets
  • Available in most art supply stores including David's Art Supply (New Orleans, LA), Pla-Za (Nashville, TN), Michael's
  • Winsor & Newton Promarkers are $4.19 openstock at Dickblick
  • Winsor and Newton Brushmarkers are $4.49 openstock at DickBlick
  • Brushmarkers are available in sets of 6 and 12
  • Promarkers are available in sets of 6, 12, and 24
Promarkers on the Winsor & Newton site
Brushmarkers on the Winsor & Newton site

Note:  The DickBlick site still has a few of the original Letraset Promarkers for sale, at $2.79 each

Original Letraset Promarker:

From the DickBlick site

Winsor & Newton has kept the body of the Promarker pretty much unchanged, and uses the same body for the Brushmarkers and for their watercolor markers.

The Packaging (Skintones Set 1)

Winsor and Newton's packaging has changed very little from Letraset Flexmarker's packaging a couple years ago.  It's still reusable clamshell packaging with minimal included paperwork.  The markers snap snugly into place, and can be difficult to remove.

The back reads:

Brushmarker is a twin-tipped illustrator's marker featuring a versatile brush nib for the ultimate in precise, flexible line control.  BrushMarker's non-toxic, alcohol based ink can be readily layered and blended to provide endless scope in rendering colour depth and tone.  Ideal for a range of creative applications at home, college, and in the studio.

The Markers

I purchased the majority of my markers openstock at David Art Supply while visiting New Orleans over Christmas.  The official Winsor and Newton marker display doesn't do a good job differentiating one type of marker from the next, so it's very easy to grab the wrong type.

Both Pro and Brush Markers have tip specific caps and a color family indicator on the chisel end cap.  Winsor and Newton utilizes a color organization system similar but not identical to, Copic and Prismacolor.

At first glance, Promarkers and Brushmarkers are almost identical, so be careful when purchasing in store.  I wish Winsor & Newton would use different body plastics to designate the three types of markers that use this body- navy for the watercolor markers, black for the Promarkers, and purple for the Brushmarkers.  That way it's easy to tell them apart at a glance.

Uncapped, it's a little easier to tell one marker from another. 

The chisel nibs on both markers are identical

The bullet nib is a stiff fiber nib, similar to the bullet  nibs on Prismacolor markers.  The brush nib seems to be made from nylon foam, which is pretty common for alcohol based brush marker nibs.

Comparison Shots

From left to right: Copic Sketch, Prismacolor Brush marker, Winsor and Newton Promarker, Winsor and Newton Brush marker
 Promarkers and Brushmarkers are both shorter than Copic or Prismacolor markers, but are a little wider in circumference than either.
Left to right:  Copic Sketch, Prismacolor Brush Marker, Winsor and Newton Promarker, Winsor and Newton Brushmarker
 The brush nib is about the same size as the Copic Superbrush, and slightly smaller than the brush nib on Prismacolor brush markers.

From top to bottom:  Winsor and Newton Brushmarker, Winsor and Newton Promarker, Prismacolor Brushmarker, Copic Sketch

The Swatch Test

Colors purchased, openstock:

Salmon pink (Promarker)
Sunkissed Pink (Brushmarker)
Denim Blue (Promarker)
Lilac (Promarker)
Coral (Promarker)
Bright Green (Brushmarker)
Terracotta (Promarker)
Cocoa (Brushmarker)

Colors purchased in the 6 piece Brushmarker Skintones set 1:

Dusky Pink
Saddle Brown
Burnt Sienna

The Field Test- Kara

For  Caucasian skintones, I really only had three colors to work with, and I found them a bit difficult to layer effectively.  The inks in these markers tend to displace prior layers, rather than effectively layering on top of prior layers.   Also, several colors that work well for skintones (like Sunkissed Pink) are only available in bullet nibbed Promarkers, which may make them more difficult to handle.

Although individual colors do layer decently well, there isn't enough difference in the included colors of the Skintone Set 1 for layered different colors to create enough contrast.

Blending out with the colorless blender pushes the ink so much that using it to lighten small areas is useless.

I used Denim Blue to try and apply shadow to the eyes and teeth, but it's much darker than the body implies.

Lilac was also much too saturated and dark for this application, and I tried to blend it out using the skintones, which resulted in muddy looking skin.  I'd neglected to grab a dark red for the interior of the  mouth, so I resorted to Salmon Pink, which is a much hotter pink than expected from a salmon.

The addition of a skintone over Lilac results in a gray, rather than a more muted Lilac.  These markers, while alcohol based, do not perform exactly like Copic markers, so if you're used to using Copics, the Winsor and Newton Brushmarkers and Promarkers may take getting used to.

The skintone set came with a few browns that work for skintones as well as hair, but I also purchased a couple additional browns to extend my range a bit.

I colored the base of Kara's hair with Terracotta, and found the bullet nib on this Promarker to leave streaks that I would not see with a brush application.  I also used Terracotta to apply freckles.  Regardless of how light my hand was, the application was overly uniform and thus unrealistic in appearance, as the bullet nib only applied perfectly round dots.

Fortunately these streaks were covered up as soon as I applied another layer of ink.

I generally dislike covering larger areas with a bullet nib, as they're very prone to streaking, so for Kara's dress, I used the chisel nib for my initial application.  I found the chisel nib on this Promarker to be dry and streaky- generally unpleasant to use.

The second layer (shadows in the dress) was applied with the bullet nib, and I dislike how amateur the overall effect is.  Rather than sharp edges or painterly effects, I'm left with a very blocky, streaky application.

So far, based on the colors I currently own, I'm not particularly impressed by Winsor and Newton Promarkers or Brushmarkers, but I wanted to give them another field test to be positive.  Since I'd purchased a skintone set that had a fairly wide skew in terms of colors included, I decided to render someone with a much darker skintone to see how these markers fared.

With many marker brands, darker skintones are where the color collection really starts to fall short.  An artist's selection of browns may be limited based on the brand, or browns may trend towards being too saturated to use for natural skintones.  I'd hoped that the Winsor and Newton Promarkers and Brushmarkers might be able to fill that gap.


I opted to render Naomi, Kara's human friend, as she has dark brown skin and green eyes.

Since the colors I'd originally picked didn't entirely lend themselves to Naomi's color palette, I had to think on my feet and make some accommodations.  I went ahead and applied the Salmon Pink to her lips early, as I didn't want it disrupting later applications of skintone.

Unfortunately, application of the first brown was streaky, and disrupted the first layer of Salmon Pink, so the pink wasn't necessarily a good base to begin with.  For darker skintones, I recommend richer, less saturated pinks, reds, and red violets for lips and cheeks.

I ended up reapplying Salmon Pink for a more even lip, and applied a layer of the same to her cheeks, eyelids, chin, and the corner of her eyes before adding shadow to her face.

Rendering Naomi's hair was difficult, as the darkest brown included wasn't really dark enough, and it tended to get streaky and dry.  I felt like I was really scrubbing the marker by the end of the test.

The Verdict

I found the 6 piece skintone set to be too limited to really be useful as a skintone starter set- you're going to be augmenting the collection a lot for it to work.  Although the spread of tones included is wide, there aren't enough of any to really build up good contrast for any particular ethnicity, and there isn't a good blush or shading marker included.

Unfortunately, it's difficult for me to reach an outstanding overall verdict, as I'd like to continue to test their colors and see how they fit in my overall marker collection.  As a standalone product, I found the inks to be prone to bleeding when applied with the bullet nib, prone to being overly dry and scratchy when applied with the chisel nib, and tend to layer poorly regardless of the nib.  While these may be a fine addition to a larger marker collection, perhaps as a way to fill in holes in color families, I found these frustrating to use after years of using Copics.