Here's a review of the more commonly used markers by artists and designers. Markers are great for fast sketching, putting down colours quickly. They are convenient but may not be as easy to use as you imagine. However, many artists have created awesome works with markers. Markers are quite commonly used in comic cons by artists to create commissioned artworks because there's almost no drying time.
I personally have a huge box of copic markers with many colours years ago but have since gave them away. Main reason is because it can be difficult to upkeep to many colours. You'll also need to buy refills for many of them. Cost is a major issue as well because markers are not cheap, and each time I'm at the art store and see a colour I don't have, I'm tempted to get them. I still keep some Copic markers but only the grey, warm greys and black colours for quite tonal thumbnail sketches. They can be used to visualise ideas quickly.
Below's a quick summary of all the features, pros and cons of the common brands that include Copic, Prismacolor, Chartpak, Sharpie and Crayola.
Copic is probably the strongest brand when it comes to the markers.
The 4 main product lines for Copic markers are the Classic, Sketch, Ciao and Wide. They come in 358 colours and are refillable. Worn out nibs can also be replaced.
The Copic Classic (or original) comes with a square body. It holds the most ink compared to other Copic markers and can be refilled 9 times with the standard Copic refill bottle. The default nibs are the Broad Chisel and Fine Point. Additional nib options are Brush nib, Standard Fine nib, Standard Broad nib, Semi Broad nib, Soft Broad nib, Super Fine nib, Round nib, Calligraphy 3 mm nib and Calligraphy 5 mm nib.
The Copic Sketch is the one with the oval body. It's refillable 12 times with one refill bottle. The default nib is the Medium Broad and Super Brush, but you can swap it out with a Medium Round too.
This is the marker to get if you want brush strokes.
Copic Ciao is cylindrical in shape. They are the smallest markers and quite similar to Copic Sketch with the exception of the body design. They can be refilled 12 times with one refill bottle. The nib options are Super Brush, Medium Broad and Medium Round.
I personally recommend getting Copic Sketch over Copic Ciao because former has a larger body that can hold more ink so you don't have to refill that often.
Copic Wide features a 3/4 inch wide tip and is good for covering large areas. It can be refilled 7 times with the refill bottle. You can also get a Broad Calligraphy nib with it.
- Alcohol-based Ink is permanent, non-toxic and dries acid free.
- Refillable Markers
- Comes with many optional replaceable nibs choices
- Copic Classic and Sketch are compatible with Copic AirBrush System
- Markers sold in 4 – 72 piece/set
- Markers are available in 358 colors
- Relatively good and consistent ink flow
- Allows easy control over shades of color – shade changes according to pressure applied to marker.
- Allows for airbrush effect when used with the Copic AirBrush System.
- Ink dries relatively fast, allowing great retention of color
- Minimal bleed
- Ink is water-proof
- Ink does not smear on hand or paper
- Wedge/Flat edge nib is stiff and durable.
- Refillable markers and replaceable nibs provides value in the long run, which other markers like Prismacolor, Crayola, Chartpak, Sharpies and Tombow do not offer (these latter markers are non refillable, and their nibs are not replaceable). Notably though, the nibs of Copic Ciao Markers are not replaceable.
- Noticeable alcohol scent
- Brush tip is pliable and springy but not durable as it frays after extended usage
- Average cost per Copic Marker is between US$3.70 - US$8.30 (Amazon Prices), depending on the type and set of markers bought (Cost Per Marker tends to be lower when bought in larger sets). This makes Copic Markers relatively expensive when compared with other brands.
- Too many sets will tempt you to part with your money
More Copic reviews
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This is the other popular brand for colour markers.
- Permanent and acid-free premium pigmented ink
- Non-toxic, alcohol-based ink
- Roll-resistant cap keeps marker in place
- Markers come either with a single end with brush tip, or dual ends with fine/brush tip and chisel tip
- Markers are sold in 6 – 72 piece / set
- Markers come in a range of 156 colors
- Drawing with multiple line widths is made easier for Prismacolor Markers with dual-ends – Fine tip allows for fine lines with details and chisel tip for thick or thin lines.
- Bendable brush tip with easy flow of ink to tip
- Ability to create paint-brush like strokes
- Pigmented ink is specially formulated to produce rich colors and tones
- Alcohol-based ink dries quickly
- PrismaColor Markers allows for blending – apply a layer of lighter color to a darker color, and the darker color will lighten. However, blender markers (which Prismacolor also sells on Amazon) are useful for creating sparkling effect and bright whites.
- For PrismaColor markers with dual ends, single ink source ensures color consistency
- Relatively more affordable than Copic Markers, with prices for PrismaColor Marker ranging from US$2.55 - US$4.04 per marker (Amazon Prices), depending on the type and set of markers bought.
- Subtle alcohol odour due to alcohol-based ink
- Ink could bleed, especially on paper with looser fiber composition, like rough paper
- PrismaColor Inks are non refillable – once you use up the ink, you have to purchase another set of markers and hence are not as lasting as Copic Markers
- PrismaColor Marker Nibs are not replaceable, unlike nibs for Copic Markers
- PrismaColor Markers are not exactly the most durable markers on the market as the ink does not last very long - generally a couple of months (depending on usage)
- More limited choice of colors when compared to Copic Markers
More Prismacolor marker reviews
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Sharpie markers are more for drawing than colouring because of their pointed nib which has less limited surface area compared to the chiseled nib. However, there are markers with chiseled nibs as well, just that they aren't available in many colours.
- AP certified non-toxic ink
- Roll-resistant cap keeps marker in place
- Markers are sold in 8 – 36 piece / set
- Markers come in a range of about 65 colors
- Ink dries quickly and is water-proof – writes without smearing
- Depending upon usage and care taken (eg; capping the markers after use), Sharpies generally lasts a long time
- Smooth to write with - good flow of ink
- Ink is water-resistant and fade-resistant
- Good control over thickness of lines drawn simply by varying pressure held on marker or the angle marker is held.
- Comes with fine and extra-fine tip for greater precision and control
- Very affordable, with prices for Sharpies Marker ranging from US$0.53 - US$1.07 per marker (Amazon Prices), depending on the type and set of markers bought
More Sharpie marker reviews
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This is the competitor to Copic Ciao and it's much affordable.
- Non-toxic, water-based Ink
- Most sets come with a blender marker
- Markers come with dual ends – a brush tip at one end and a fine tip on the other end
- Markers are sold in 10 – 96 piece/Set
- Markers are available in 96 colors
- Ink blends pretty well on its own and blends even better with the blender-marker that comes within the set or other water-soluble medium – allows for watercolor effect
- Ink produces rich and clear colors
- Ink is odourless, unlike Copic or PrismaColor Markers
- Minimal to no bleeding generally when ink is used with regular paper
- Ink does not corrode the paper it writes on as ink is acid-free
- Fairly durable brush tip made of nylon
- Very flexible brush tip allows for varying strokes – fine, medium or bold, depending on pressure exerted and angle you hold the marker
- Unlike most other markers, Tombow marker tips self-cleans after blending!
- Depending upon usage and care taken, Tombow Markers are generally long-lasting with a lifetime of up to a few years
- Fairly inexpensive, with prices for Tombow Marker ranging from US$1.80 - US$5.34 per marker (Amazon Prices), depending on the type and set of markers bought
- Because they blend so well, overlapping layers of colors can result in very dark shades that are hard to smooth out
- Unlike Copic Markers, the tips for Tombow Markers are not replaceable and the ink for Tombow Markers are not refillable, rendering cost of replacement an issue
- Ink is not permanent or waterproof
- The water-based nature and good blending ability of Tombow's ink, especially with water can work against you if your work gets wet – creates a mess
More Tombow marker reviews
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- Non-toxic, Water-based Ink
- Markers are sold in sets of 8 – 80 piece/set where each color is unique from the other
- Markers sold in the 200 piece/set contain 10 different colors with 20 similar markers for each color, whereas Markers sold in the 256 piece/set contain 16 different colors with 16 similar markers for each color.
- Markers are available in 80 different colors
Crayola art by Tom DesLongchamp
- Washable – Ink may be washed off easily with water
- Ink generally does not bleed through most paper
- Protective feature that prevents drying out of ink – So, where marker isn't used and its tip hasn't been covered with the marker-cap, the marker dries prematurely and can its ink can be simply revived by tipping the tip in warm water for about several seconds to a minute or two.
- Very affordable, with prices for Crayola Marker ranging from US$0.16 - US$0.40 per marker (Amazon Prices), depending on the type and set of markers bought. This makes Crayola the cheapest marker to own, when compared to Copic, Prismacolor, Tombow, Sharpies and Chartpak.
- Its washable nature can also be disadvantageous as the ink does not stay on permanently
- Unlike Copic Markers, the nibs of Crayola markers are not replaceable and the ink of Crayola markers cannot be refilled – hence cost of replacement is an issue
- The premature drying feature can be a hindrance when you leave the marker uncapped for a while. Furthermore, revival of ink in warm water takes some time.
- Lifespan of the marker is generally short due to the small size/ink capacity of the marker.
More Crayola marker reviews
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These are big juicy markers. They bleed a bit but hold lots of ink. The smell can be an issue.
- Xylene-based, water-proof marker
- Markers come in 12 – 130 piece/set
- Markers are available in 130 colors and only with single tip
- Fat, round body
- Roll resistant cap
- Blendable and blends well with Chartpak Blender Marker
- Tri-Nib feature - Triangular shaped tip; 3 tips in One allows for drawing of thin, medium and thick line
- Colors stay permanently
- The tips are rather stiff and durable
- The tips are replaceable
- Ink generally long lasting due to its relatively large ink capacity/reservoir barrel
- Provides great value for money due to its long-lasting lifespan and relatively cheaper price when compared to other markers like Copic and Prismacolor. Fairly inexpensive, with prices for Chartpak Marker ranging from US$2.40 - US$3.43 per marker (Amazon Prices), depending on the type and set of markers bought
- Distinct odour of Xylene. Use them in a well ventilated room.
- They bleed more so they aren't for detail work
- No brush tip
- Ink may cause skin irritation to some people who are allergic to Xylene
- Ink is not refillable
- Markers come only in chisel tips but not brush tip – you cannot create the brush-like effect without a brush tip
- Has a tendency to bleed a lot and could be a hindrance while drawing fine details
More Chartpak marker reviews
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Most of the markers are available on Dick Blick Art Materials (US) and Jackson's Art (UK) as well.