We Tried Copic Markers for the First Time and Here’s What Happened
We tried out Copic Markers to see if they’re worth the hype.
By Thea Voutiritsas
Copic markers can be intimidating: They’re expensive, they’re notorious for bleeding everywhere, and working with them takes some practice to get right. Beginners ourselves to this specific brand, we decided to test them out to uncover exactly what new Copic marker users should expect.
Originally introduced in Japan with manga artists in mind, alcohol-based Copic markers are designed to mix and blend with ease (hello, flawless gradients!). Plus, they’re permanent and non-toxic. Copics are also available in a total of 358 colors and they’re refillable, so you never have to replace the actual marker—just the ink. You can even combine different inks inside to marker to create your own colors, and change out the nibs for different styles! Oh, and they have a guaranteed shelf life of at least three years.
Copic Markers Explained
Copic markers are available in four refillable styles:
Classic: The Classic Copic marker has a square-shaped barrel and is double-sided, including a chisel nib and a fine point bullet-style nib). The nibs are interchangeable with nine different options (which can be purchased separately). The Classic is available in 214 colors.
Sketch: The Sketch is also double-sided, including a brush nib and a chisel nib. It’s available in the broadest range of colors (358 options!), but will only work with four interchangeable nib styles.
Ciao: Copic’s Ciao marker is their least expensive option and is marketed for beginners. Featuring a round barrel, the Ciao markers are also double sided (one side is the medium broad chisel nib, the other a brush nib). The Ciao marker nibs can be replaced, but only those two styles will fit in the barrel. Ciao markers are available in 218 colors.
Wide: The Wide Copic markers are single sided and feature an extra-broad nib. They are also compatible with a Broad Calligraphy nib and are available in just 36 colors.
Copic has designed a unique color system to catalog their extensive library of hues. Each marker has a code that includes one or two letters, and two numbers. The first letter or letters indicate the color family, like “B” for blue or “BG” for blue-green. The first number indicates the saturation, ranging from 0 to 9. The higher the number, the less saturated the color (counterintuitive, we know). The second number indicates brightness. Also ranging from 000 to 9, the higher the number, the darker the color. Underneath, each marker has a color name, like Holiday Blue or Ultramarine.
Copic recommends blending colors within the same color family and within a few numbers of each other. (So, for example, B21, B24, and B28 would make a nice, easy blend.) It also helps to use their colorless blender, which is basically a marker filled with a clear ink solution instead of solution mixed with pigment. It lightens the ink by pushing color back through the paper and can be used to add highlights, fix mistakes, and for easier blending.
Our First-Time Copic Marker Experience
First thing’s first: cost. As far as professional-grade markers go, Copic is up there. A single Copic marker will run you somewhere between $4 and $9, depending on the style and where you buy. Copic also has sets available at varying price points: A basic set of 12 Ciao markers will run you about $43, while a similar set of Sketch or Classic markers will cost around $63. (Note: While you can sometimes find really good deals on Amazon, we’ve found that dedicated art stores like Blick often have the best prices. If cost is a factor for you, shop around before committing!)
The caps on the Copic sketch markers snap securely in place to prevent them from drying out, but they are not childproof. They can get a bit messy as well: It’s difficult to recap the marker without also getting a bit of ink inside the cap. This transfers onto the marker, and can get on your hands the next time you use it, or onto the outside of the cap and then onto other surfaces. That said, the ink washes off pretty easily if you catch it before it dries.
We tested out five hues from the Sketch line: Ultramarine (B29), Clematis (B66), Sky (B24), Manganese Blue (B34), and the Colorless Blender (0). (Yes, we understand these colors don’t follow the “blending rules” perfectly, but our local craft store didn’t have a perfect combination in stock. So, we decided to challenge ourselves!)
Which Paper is Best?
Copic markers are intensely saturated, and much of the blending process involves nearly soaking the paper so colors can bleed together for a seamless effect. This means that you need the right paper, and probably something underneath it to catch the excess ink that bleeds through. Bleed-proof alcohol marker pads come highly recommended as they’re designed specifically for this type of marker. Though the pages are thin, they’re resistant to bleeding. (Magic!) The Copic Marker Sketchbook neatly holds together high quality, thick, bleed-proof paper. And for Copic-friendly paper that will actually fit in your printer, try the Copic Marker 8.5 x 11-inch Express Blending Cards. (They hold up to intense blending and ink saturation that comes with Copics, but note that they are not bleed-proof.)
Our first time using these markers, we found the oval-shaped barrels easy to hold, and we loved that the double-sided marker gives you the option of using the chisel or brush tip. We tested the markers on three types of paper to see if they would work with what we had on hand: 28-Pound Digital Copy Paper, 65-Pound Cardstock, and 90-Pound Watercolor Paper.
Not surprisingly, the markers bled through the digital copy paper like mad, even with two extra sheets of paper underneath. Yikes! However, the paper stood up surprisingly well to the amount of ink the markers deposited. It didn’t warp or pill, smear or get soppy. The brush nib was gentle enough not to destroy the paper. The chisel tip was fairly smooth too, even with some scrubbing motions to help blend. However, blending was a challenge on this paper. The ink dried too quickly to be able to push it around and blend it together. The colorless blender didn’t help much and using it to lift pigment left behind splotches rather than highlights.
Our 60-pound cardstock fared a bit better with the Copic markers, but still bled almost as much as the digital copy paper. It was much easier to blend on, though, as the colors did not dry as quickly and we had more time to swap back and forth between two colors to get a gentle gradient. However, the colorless blender didn’t work well on cardstock either: We were able to correct some mistakes, but sometimes the blender erased the black lines of the coloring page, or bled over the line, affecting the color on the other side. It left behind splotchy highlights and didn’t lift as much pigment as we wanted.
The watercolor paper bled the least with these markers, but it still wasn’t mess-free. Blending was the easiest here, as the texture in the paper gave us more control, and the thickness allowed enough time to switch back and forth between markers to blend smoothly. The colorless blender did a better job adding highlights, but correcting mistakes was still a little messy: It removed the black lines for the design, and often bled to the other side of the line like it did with the cardstock.
The markers moved smoothly across all three types of paper. They didn’t cause any pilling and, surprisingly, didn’t warp the page. However, both the brush and chisel nibs are a bit too large for detail work. Even using the very tip of the brush nib, the ink bled out too much to fill in small details. Copic does offer a fine nib replacement that fits the Sketch model, which may be better for detail work.
On Blending with Copic Markers
Even though our paper choice was not ideal, we found these Copic Sketch markers to be fantastic for blending. With a little bit of practice, we found it quick and easy to create gentle gradients. Both the brush and chisel tip work well for feathering (aka making flick-like strokes), scrubbing, or making tiny circles to help blend colors together. You also have the option to put down a layer of the colorless blender solution first, then lay color on top of that to help blend more smoothly. We tried this technique in a few different areas and, though it made blending faster, the results looked very similar to blending without the colorless blender.
Part of what makes Copic markers so blendable is that the colors stay wet long enough to blend together, and blending is easiest if you plan to soak the paper to allow two colors to bleed into each other. (That’s why blending on lightweight paper is so tough — it isn’t able to soak up enough ink!) So, even if you opt for a heavier cardstock or multimedia paper, be ready for a lot of bleed through. We worked with at least two sheets of cardstock underneath the page to keep from ruining our coloring surface.
The colorless blender worked best for pre-treating the paper for blending and fixing small mistakes. However, it removes the printed design easily and tends to bleed beyond the lines a bit. It works for highlights if you’re using the right type of paper, but beware that the tip can pick up ink and spread it to other parts of your coloring page. It helps to wipe it off on a scrap piece of paper to be sure no old colors are lingering.
Final Thoughts on Using Copic Markers for Adult Coloring
Copic markers are great for seasoned colorists looking for a challenge. They have a massive range of colors and their blend-ability allows colorists to create incredibly beautiful and unique coloring pages. Since they bleed through pretty much all “normal” papers, we’d suggest they aren’t the right tools for adult coloring fans who prefer coloring books. But, if you have access to a printer, can invest in a Copic-friendly paper, and have a selection of downloadable coloring pages to choose from, Copics could be a fun tool to experiment with. That said, they do take some getting used to. And at around $7 per marker, beginners should perhaps practice first with a more affordable option or head to your local craft store to test them out before purchasing.