Markers are used by a wide array of professionals in the art industry: from illustrators and storyboard artists to fashion designers and architects. Whatever their sector, artists need markers that are high quality, easy to use and that that offer the flexibility to cover all the ways that they need to use them.
There are dozens of great brands on the market offering markers for artists, so it can be tough to pinpoint exactly which marker suits you best. When you’re shopping around, consider the following things:
What to look for
- Cost – the cost of markers varies hugely, but if you’re a professional it’s worth spending more for pens that will be easy to use and will create better artwork. If you’re a hobbyist it might be worth spending less, to begin with, then working your way up.
- Ink shelf life – if you don’t use markers regularly enough to get through ink quickly, make sure that it’ll last a couple of years before drying out. Conversely, if you plan to use them a lot, consider a brand that offers refills to keep costs down.
- Tip – is the tip durable and will it stand up to heavy usage, or it is better suited to light work? Can you replace the tip or will you need to replace the entire marker if it frays? If your working style tends to be heavy-handed, this is especially important.
- Type of ink – alcohol-based inks are permanent so they won’t smudge. They have a strong smell though, so if you have poor ventilation water-based may be better. These inks aren’t permanent though, so can bleed.
- Durability – Some inks are designed to last a long time, and some are lightfast meaning that they won’t be affected by UV rays. Bear in mind that water-based ink isn’t permanent and will be ruined by moisture.
Best markers for artists
1. Copic Ciao
Copic claims to make the highest quality alcohol markers in the world, and their Ciao Premium Artist Markers are extremely popular with pro-artists around the globe: especially in the Japanese manga industry.
Ink dries quickly and is acid-free so it doesn’t destroy paper fibers the way that water-based inks do. Color retention is excellent and there’s minimal bleed which allows for a crisp finish, but they’re still great for blending.
The tips are well-saturated, the ink flow is consistent, and you can easily adjust the shade of the color by varying the pressure applied to the marker, giving you more control over your artwork (this is something that Prismacolor users tend to struggle with).
This set of Ciao markers is perfect for new artists or as a great starting place for building your collection. They’re the brand’s smallest markers and the most economical Copic range, and they’re known for delivering the same quality as the Sketch range but at a lower price.
The double ended markers have a Medium Broad Chisel tip and Copic’s unique Super Brush tip which gives a beautiful paintbrush effect. Copic’s Ciao pens are also compatible with their Medium Broad tip, giving you added flexibility.
A single refill bottle can fill the markers up to 15 times, and you can replace the molded fiber tips meaning that you’ll never have to buy new Copic pens. These pens are perfect for non-frequent usage as Copic guarantees a three-year shelf life, and color consistency is second to none.
Copic markers are expensive when compared with other similar brands, and the Brush tip can fray with extended usage, but because the pens are refillable and the tips are replaceable the cost will even out over time.
One thing to note is that Copic markers don’t use lightfast dye, so fading can be pretty extreme depending on the color of the ink.
Prismacolor have been making Chisel/Fine Dual-ended Art Markers since 1984, and in that time have proven themselves to be at the forefront of the professional art supplies market.
- Excellent pigment solidity gives a flawless finish
- Lightfast dye lasts longer than other brands
- Available in 200 colors
Prismacolor has a huge following, and their Chisel/Fine range is a solid base for any artist’s marker collection:
As you might have guessed from the name of the range, the dual tip marker allows for fine and accurate line drawing as well as quick coverage and broad strokes.
Alcohol-based dye ink produces rich and smooth color that is noticeably less grainy than Copic’s colors. Saturation is excellent so you’ll get solid and consistent color which is helped along by the markers’ single ink-source. The non-toxic, permanent ink is also lightfast so it’ll be less susceptible to fading.
Blending is effortless with Prismacolor markers, and although they don’t streak they will definitely bleed so make sure you have something underneath your paper.
Markers are available in sets of 6-200, so you can find a pack to suit your specific needs, and the pens work out to be cheaper than Copic’s. You can’t refill these markers or replace the tips, though, so you’ll need to replace them at some point. If you want to add to your collection, their Brush markers are great for getting more of a painted effect, and the Illustration markers will give you great control over fine lines.
If you prefer water-based ink, Prismacolor also has a Scholar range which might be more appealing if you’re just starting out as an artist.
Tombow is known as the more affordable competitor of Copic, and their Dual Brush Pens are a great option if you prefer water-based inks.
- Water-based ink is odorless and non-toxic
- Nylon tips are durable and long-lasting
- 96 colors available
The most common way of buying these markers is in sets of ten colors, so you can start small and build your collection if you decide that water-based inks are for you.
They’re cheaper than our other two options too, so if you’re just starting out then they’re a perfect first step without having to spend a lot of money.
Water-based inks are totally odorless so if your studio is poorly ventilated or you have children in your home, Tombow is a great option for you.
Inks are extremely blendable but because they’re water-based you’ll need to do it on a palette and use the blender brush to apply your color to the page. Once your color is on there, it won’t bleed though, but you’ll need to ensure that you’ve purchased paper that is designed to hold up against water-based inks. Inks aren’t permanent or waterproof, so your artwork will need taking care of if you want it to last.
Don’t be tempted to purchase a set of Tombows as a cheaper alternative to Copics an attempt to save money, they are an entirely different type of marker and you’ll only be disappointed if you don’t consider this. Think of them as watercolors in marker form, and you’ll know what to expect.
The color range is half the size of that on offer from both Copic and Prismacolor, so you may need to top up your collection with another brand if you like a lot of variety in your marker shades. As with Prismacolor, you’ll have to replace spent markers as they aren’t refillable and tips can’t be changed. Still, Tombow markers have a long shelf life, and at such a low price it won’t break the bank to keep your collection topped up.
Whether you’ve been creating art for a long time and are looking to add to your marker collection, or you’re just starting out and are looking to purchase your first pens, you need to find the right ones for you.
Once you’ve chosen your preferred brand, start out with a small set to make sure they fit your artistic style, then you can build your collection from there. You might also want to mix and match collections from our top three brands, for a more bespoke solution: there’s no obligation to be brand loyal!
What are your favorite markers for visual art? Let us know in the comments.