Alcohol markers—which are sometimes referred to as “illustrators’ markers” and “Copic markers”—are beloved by illustrators and hand-lettering artists for their vibrant colors, quick-drying properties, and ability to layer and blend. You’ll also find alcohol marker art within industries like architecture, interior design, and urban planning because they’re great for mapping and mock-ups.
If you want to learn how to use alcohol markers for your illustration work or any other type of art, stick around! This guide will help to explain what alcohol markers are, which type of paper you need to use with alcohol markers, and how to get started with this medium.
What Are Alcohol Based Markers and Why Are They Better?
According to Skillshare instructor and artist Pooja Kenjale-Umrani, alcohol markers differ from traditional markers in that the pigment is suspended in alcohol rather than glycerin or water.
This is advantageous to artists because alcohol is a fast-absorbing solvent that prevents colors from bleeding together. That said, you can also blend and layer them together. Most alcohol markers come with a double tip— one side is finer or chiseled for line work or lettering, and the other side is a brush tip for making paint-like strokes and blending colors. Alcohol markers are refillable, as well, and you can change the nibs if they wear out.
Many artists prefer alcohol-based markers over water-based markers because of their precision, vibrance, and durability.
Which Paper Do You Use With Alcohol Markers?
When learning how to use alcohol based markers, you’ll need special paper. Arts and crafts retailers offer pads for alcohol marker art, made from thick, texture-free paper that ensures your colors don’t bleed through. This paper is also acid-free, which preserves the integrity of your lines and colors.
Alternatively, you can use cardstock or another paper that’s smooth textured, acid-free, and heavy weight—something that will ensure the integrity of your work from start to finish.
How to Get Started Using Alcohol Markers
Learn how to use alcohol based artist markers in just three easy steps.
1. Choose Your Tools and Materials
To begin, you will need alcohol markers, marker paper, and a place to work—and that’s it!
As you start learning how to use alcohol ink markers, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the number of options available. There are many popular marker brands—Copic, Ohuhu, TouchNew, Caliart, and Shuttle Art, to name a few—and they come in varying sizes and quantities.
For most beginners, a basic set with double-ended markers in primary colors and a few gradients in between is perfect. As you advance, you may want to learn how to use spectrum noir alcohol markers, a more specialized type that uses a numbering system to indicate the depth and amount of pigment within each marker.
Ideally, choose a set with a clear blending marker, which makes the blending process more convenient (more on that in a bit). If your set doesn’t come with a blender, you can also use a cotton swab dipped in a bit of isopropyl rubbing alcohol.
Next, select your paper—again, thick paper that’s acid-free and without texture. Marker paper comes in all different sizes, quantities, and qualities, but when you’re just starting out, a basic, economical paper pad works very well.
Last but not least, you need a quiet place to work! Anytime you’re learning something new, like how to use alcohol markers, it’s best to work in a space that will allow you to focus your attention on your new skill.
2. Practice Drawing and Blending
Before you dive into a project, take some time to practice alcohol marker art techniques. Most artists suggest beginning with basic shapes or something that you already know how to draw since the focus is more on how to use alcohol based markers than on the drawing itself. Try drawing with the different nibs and pressing both softly and firmly to get a handle on how the markers work.
A great way to familiarize yourself with your markers and try blending is to create a color chart. Some marker sets come with a chart you can fill in, but you can easily make your own, too.
Begin by laying out your marker set, grouping similar colors together. From there, take a blank piece of marker paper and create small squares of each color with some space in between.
Once you have a color square for each marker, fill the space between with a combination of the colors on either side and use your blending marker to marry them together. This practice not only helps you understand color saturation—the depth, intensity, and purity of color achieved when applying different weights to the marker—it also shows you what will happen when you use two colors together within your art.
Now, the real fun begins! Once you’ve spent some time swatching colors and practicing blending, you can start drawing.
3. Choose a Project
Once you’ve completed a few practice drawings, it’s time to choose your first project. There are plenty of great beginner-friendly projects available, like Skillshare instructor Dorota Pawelczak’s tree project, which uses basic lines and shapes and only requires a few markers.
Using the image in the course as a reference photo, sketch the outline of your tree with a pencil. Sketch in some shading to indicate where you’d like more pigment or color saturation or to plan for shadows.
Once you’re happy with your sketch, choose your colors and begin drawing with your markers. You can either fill your pencil outline or use your sketch as a reference and recreate the tree with your alcohol markers. Either way, you’ll want to use lighter colors first and layer darker colors over the top.
Finally, you can blend some of the colors to create depth, dimension, and texture. You may also want to go back in with fine-tipped markers to create definition in the bark, leaves, and branches.
By the end of the exercise, you will have a beautiful tree drawing and your first alcohol marker art project under your belt!
Try Your Hand at Alcohol Markers!
Alcohol Markers: A Complete Beginner’s Guide