Alcohol based markers vs water based markers

Markers are a relatively easy way to get ink on paper without the mess (sigh, watercolour painting). They’re affordable, easy to use and work well with other art mediums. They also dry much faster than most paints, making them the go-to tool for urban sketching and doodling. Did we mention how much more portable markers are than other art mediums? This in itself makes them perfect for outdoor sketches and travelling. In this guide, we’ll go over everything you need to consider when buying markers, from the tip shape, blending and how to decide between alcohol and water based markers.

What tips are best for you?

  • Brush tips. These are also known as brush pens and are the most versatile of all the markers available. They have a circular bottom that narrows out into a sharp point. This type of marker can be used to fill out thin strokes for more detail-oriented pieces, or it can be flattened out to fill in larger areas with colour.
  • Chisel tips. This is a traditional marker, the one we’ve all grown to love over the years. It features a thick point trapezium-like edge which tapers out into a slanted point. The wide, flat side is great for filling in colours, while the pointier face is better for thinner strokes.
  • Fine tips. Similar to the technical pens architects use, these are used for fine details and patterning but are not suitable for larger blocks of coloor due to how thin and small the tips are.
  • Bullet tips. Also known as the “generalist tip”, it can be used in most situations except for when extremely fine lines are required or when large areas of color are needed.
  • Double-ended markers. These typically have a shared ink reservoir in the centre of the markers. These tools usually come with a brush tip and chisel tip on both ends, though some companies prefer to equip their double-ended markers with a bullet tip and a chisel tip instead.

Alcohol based markers vs water based markers

The best marker solvent depends on the type of artwork you intend to create. The solvent your marker uses can affect how long lasting your work is and how well each stroke can blend with other mediums. Here are a few factors that you need to consider:

Color Range

How many colors do you need your markers to come in? A wide range of colors will allow you to blend light and darker shades into each other, creating breathtaking transitions.

If you’re looking for the most comprehensive color range available, we recommend looking into alcohol based markers. You can often find them in bulk packages with all the colors you’d need for your next masterpiece.


Blending is an essential part of art, especially when you want the highlights of your artwork to pop. While both water- and alcohol based markers can blend well, they don’t perform exactly the same way. Water-based markers are more prone to streaking, which can create unwanted darker areas.

A little-known fact about water based markers is that they can be re-activated after they’ve dried out, which means your work might be more prone to damage.

Alcohol based markers are capable of much smoother blending because they dry so quickly. So, they can bleed through paper, so be aware of how long you’ve been running your marker on a surface. However, they are much more predictable to use than water based markers, making them the best option if you’re in a pinch or just don’t have the patience to deal with any surprises.

Summary of the advantages and disadvantages of each option:

Water based markers

  1. Cheaper
  2. Dries slower than alcohol based markers.
  3. Odourless
  4. Fades easily.
  5. Can distort paper.
  6. Widely available in stores.

Alcohol based markers

  1. More expensive.
  2. More colors to choose from.
  3. Dries faster than water based markers.
  4. Can bleed through paper easily.
  5. Might have an odour.

The Verdict: Alcohol based markers are better

While they might be pricier than their water based alternatives, you’ll find that because they blend so smoothly, you’ll be able to create deeper shades and tints by overlaying various colors. When you try to blend colors with a water based marker, you’ll find that they tend to be streaky and have variations in saturation. It’s also much easier to damage paper when you try to blend with a water based marker.

Markers you should consider buying

Copic Classic Graphic Marker

This excellent alcohol based marker is available in 214 colours. It comes with two available nibs to choose from: chiselled tips and the traditional brush tip. It’s housed in an ergonomic outer shell, so it’s easy to hold for during those long drawing graphic and architectural illustration sessions.

You can even mix inks from various refills inside an empty Copic classic marker to create your own custom color. Best of all, it’s refillable. Each Copic ink refills the Copic Classic Marker up to five times.

Winsor & Newton’s Promarker

If you’re on a budget, you absolutely have to check out Winsor & Newton’s Promarker.  It comes in 173 different translucent alcohol-based inks that allow you to layer your work masterfully. This double-ended marker comes with a chisel and bullet nib and produces print-like quality lines.

Unlike other markers, the Promarker is made to be used on various surfaces, including plastic, glass and wood. You can visit their site here to select a color swatch for yourself.

At the end of the day, only you can decide which marker is the best for your needs. No two artists are the same; each has his own story to tell. So, don’t feel pressured into using a different medium you’re uncomfortable with. Thank you for reading our article! We hope this buying guide has helped you decide on what marker to buy or at least made your decision easier.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on reddit
Share on telegram
Share on whatsapp
Share on tumblr

Your comment will not appear immediately. All comments are reviewed manually so we can avoid spam.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.