What Are the Best Markers for Adult Coloring?

Check out our beginner-friendly guide on the difference between alcohol- and water-based markers and which types are best for adult coloring fanatics.

By Jasmine Lim

Coloring with Markers
Credit: Anna Petrow / Posh Coloring Studio

Markers have the ability to turn any blank adult coloring page into a bold and vibrant masterpiece—that’s why they’re one of our go-to tools! But there are so many different types of markers out there, and depending on what look you’re trying to achieve one could serve you better than another.

There are two main types of markers we consider standards for adult coloring: water-based markers and alcohol-based markers. When shopping for new markers, most packaging will make it clear whether they’re alcohol- or water-based. You can also look for key terms like “washable” or “child-safe” that indicate a marker is likely water-based markers or “permanent,” which indicates a marker is likely alcohol-based. Pro tip: If you have old markers at home (and have misplaced the packaging—we’ve all been there!) an easy way to sort them is by scribbling a swatch of color on a piece of paper and adding a few drops of water to the ink. If the ink spreads, the marker is water-based and if the ink is waterproof, it’s alcohol-based.

So what makes them different? The main difference between water- and alcohol-based markers comes down to their ability to blend and layer, and how they interact with the surface of your paper. Though water-based markers are easy to use, it can be challenging to blend and layer colors effectively because the watery ink can cause paper to pill or tear. Meanwhile, alcohol-based markers are ideal for blending and layering and give colorists more room to practice these coloring techniques. There are also slight differences in color fastness and longevity, but these characteristics are mostly influenced by quality rather than ink type.

All About Water-Based Markers and Adult Coloring

Tombow Dual Brush Pen Markers
Credit: Anna Petrow / Posh Coloring Studio

Water-based markers are the type you’d typically find in any classroom—they’re affordable, easy to use, and washable. Especially for beginner colorists, these qualities make water-based markers a great choice for casual coloring. But they can also be used for a range of other fun techniques like water coloring (more on this in a minute!).

Water-based markers are loaded with (as you may have already guessed) a water-soluble ink. These markers are great for achieving saturated colors and also for creating watercolor-effects, but the water-based ink can make coloring techniques like blending and layering quite difficult (especially if you’re not using a heavy-duty paper). Since the ink takes a bit longer to dry than other types of coloring tools, adding multiple layers of ink can cause paper or pill or tear if overdone. That said, it’s not totally impossible to blend or layer colors with water-based markers, you may just not get the smoothest gradient like you can with other coloring tools.

Pros and Cons of Water-Based Markers

So what type of water-based markers should you buy? Our favorite budget-friendly option is Crayola Super Tips. They are the perfect beginner’s set for everyday coloring, especially if you don’t want to spend a ton of money. (A set of 20 will only set you back about $4.) If you’re looking for a higher-end product, we highly suggest Tombow Dual Brush Pens. They’re easy to use and each set comes with a colorless blender pen to help you achieve seamless blends and watercolor effects. These are a bit more expensive—a set of 10 runs about $17—but in our opinion, they’re totally worth it, especially if you’re looking for water-based markers that will blend. (And, bonus, these markers are also great for calligraphy and lettering if that’s something you’re in to!)

Buy it now:
Set of 20 Crayola Super Tips Markers — $3.99
Set of 10 Tombow Dual Brush Pen Art Markers — $17.31

All About Alcohol-Based Markers and Adult Coloring

Sharpie Fine Point Markers
Credit: Jasmine Lim / Posh Coloring Studio

Though they are typically more expensive than water-based markers, we think alcohol-based markers have an advantage over water-based markers for anyone looking to master more advanced coloring techniques like blending with markers. The ink in alcohol-based markers dries quicker thanks to evaporating alcohol, which makes layering and blending different hues much easier (without causing too much damage to the paper!). The pigments are also typically highly saturated and are great for creating seamless gradients without leaving any marker streaks behind.

Of course, alcohol-based markers have their downsides, too. They usually have an odor to them, they’re not as washable, and they’re very prone to bleeding through the page (making using alcohol-based markers in double-sided coloring books kind of tough!). Pro tip: We recommend saving your alcohol-based markers for single-sided coloring pages printed on cardstock or another heavy stock paper. Add an extra sheet of scrap paper under your design, too—this will definitely help prevent any bleed through onto your surface or other designs.

Pros and Cons of Alcohol-Based Markers

BIC Marking permanent markers and Sharpie Fine Point markers are both excellent starter sets if you’re new to alcohol-based markers. Their fine points are perfect for coloring detailed designs and are a great (and affordable!) step up from water-based markers. A set of 36 BIC Marking markers will run you about $18, while a set of 24 Sharpie Fine Point markers starts around $9. If you have a little experience with alcohol-based markers and are ready to invest in a high-end set, Copic Markers are a great (and super popular) choice. They come in a variety of tip styles, are refillable (so you don’t have to keep replacing them), and are known for their stellar blending and layering abilities. If you want higher quality markers that aren’t as expensive as the Copics, we recommend Prismacolor Premier Double-Ended Art Markers as a great mid-range option to consider. They start around $50 for a set of 12.

Buy it now:
Set of 36 BIC Marking Permanent Marker Fashion — $17.29
Sharpie Color Burst Fine Point Markers 24-Count — $9
Set of 12 Copic Sketch Marker Basic — $62.88
Set of 24 Prismacolor Premier Double-Ended Art Markers — $48.61

What About Other Types of Markers?

There are a ton of different markers out there that can help you achieve interesting and colorful looks—don’t be afraid to experiment! Tools like paint markers, chalk markers, or metallic ink markers are a fun way to add texture and vibrancy that you can’t quite get with typical markers to your coloring pages or coloring page crafts. To get the best results out of different coloring tools, we recommend testing them out on scrap pieces of paper first. If you plan on using heftier markers (like paint markers) use thicker, sturdier paper to keep from ruining your surface or bleeding through.

Whether you’re ready to invest in high-end markers or need a more casual budget-friendly set, don’t let the process of purchasing markers intimidate you. After all, it’s all about enjoying the coloring process no matter which markers you choose!

Tags: Tips & Techniques