Choosing Markers

Ah…. Choosing the right markers. I once counted how many I had and had over 200. I promise I have less now and didn’t pay for them all. I was obsessed for a while with markers in all their varieties. All brands are all different, but one thing is for sure – picking the right colors can be tough and sometimes downright intimidating.

marker

Let’s start with a simple black and white scale. We’ll move on to color later on. . .  (spectral purists need not read on) hehe. My Disclaimer – I am no expert on color theory, but I have tried out alot of markers and have learned a few tips in my tinkering.

Basic Grayscale:

gs

This scale runs from a deep black 100% to a 10% gray to the right. Chances are your monitor may either pick up all the subtleties of the scale or not. Either way, think of this is as a scale of grays or values in 10% increments. Now, you really don’t need to go buy a set of 12 grays. Here’s why – When using markers, if you let them dry a little after applying them, then reapply some more marker, you can get a darker value with the same marker. Works on most papers but especially marker paper.

Really, all you need for a decent range of values is three markers, with each marker 20% away from each other. What I mean is for example, 10%, 30%, and 50% grays or 30% 50% and 70% gray markers. Why?

Well, take a look at this sketch or any decent sketch as a matter of fact. Now, squint your eyes and take a look at it. You should be able to see an area of highlight where the light is the most intense (in this case, the top of the box), a mid-tone (the left side of the cube) and a shadow tone (the dark right side of the cube).

The shadow could be considered an even deeper value, but in this case, I have used a 70% grey marker.

step12

Ahhhhh that’s more like it. Pick 3 values from the grays – warm or cool depending on your preference (personally I prefer cool grays for most product sketches and warm grays for some special applications) Nice and simple right? Just follow the 20% apart scheme and you should be fine with picking the grays. The scale below represents a 70% gray, 50% gray, and a 30% gray value scale with each 20% away from the next in value.

gs2

Colored Markers:

With colors, you’ll need to stay within the same hue before messing with value. By hue, I mean REDS, ORANGES, or BLUES for example. You could also think of it as color temperature. (again, this may not be 100% correct, but it’s how I think it works)

Again, try to pick three markers that are each 20% apart in value and represent a highlight value, midtone value, and a shadow value.

spec

So if you’re picking red markers for example, you may want to stay close to something as shown below.

brightness

Shadow, Midtone, and Highlight values. I have a deep red, a midtone red, and a lighter pink for the highlight color.3

Depending on the brand of marker you choose, these values may differ. I highly recommend testing the colors with markers in an art store for example before committing to buying them online. That way, you can find colors that are similar enough in hue and different enough in value that all work together.

Confused? Just remember, if you’re not sure what to do:

  1. Squint your eyes
  2. Check the values
  3. Make sure that the markers are within the same range in hue (For colors)
  4. Test test test before you buy them.

So, if you’re on a budget and not planning to amass a collection of 200+ markers like I have, stick to three for each color range and experiment. Find what works for you and use these tips to help simplify your choice in markers.

I’ve also posted this under essentials so if you need to check back later for updates, you can there. I’ll update this and talk more about brands at some point.

If you have any other tips or tricks on how you pick your markers, let us know by commenting below.

  • http://www.relativecreative.com.au Tristan Schultz

    Great tips Spencer, Thankyou. I used one of my half dried out markers the other day, it helped out when a very quick large stroke was desirable but without too much saturation of the colour- in a quick finishing background. Your new site layout is looking great by the way!

    • http://www.idsketching.com Spencer Nugent

      Nice! I like the occasional dry marker, but maybe try adding some alcohol or bestine to the marker to give it some new life.

  • http://www.relativecreative.com.au Tristan Schultz

    Great tips Spencer, Thankyou. I used one of my half dried out markers the other day, it helped out when a very quick large stroke was desirable but without too much saturation of the colour- in a quick finishing background. Your new site layout is looking great by the way!

    • http://www.idsketching.com Spencer Nugent

      Nice! I like the occasional dry marker, but maybe try adding some alcohol or bestine to the marker to give it some new life.

  • Claudio Luiz

    Thank you. I was wait for it. Nice tips!

  • Claudio Luiz

    Thank you. I was wait for it. Nice tips!

  • http://www.playingwithshapes.com Harold

    Thanks for the article Spencer. I’ve noticed that you guys feature both Copic and Prismacolor pens in your videos and/or posts. I personally use Copic but wondered if you had a particular reason for using Prismacolor, is it just a matter of personal preference?

    • http://www.idsketching.com Spencer Nugent

      Well, personally, I do like the Copic markers better but Prismacolor tend to be my allpurpose marker. For one, they are the cheapest of the bunch and I like cheap. But really I like each brand for different things. Letraset(Pantones) are nice too but I hardly use them. I got those more out of curiosity anyhow.

  • http://www.playingwithshapes.com Harold

    Thanks for the article Spencer. I’ve noticed that you guys feature both Copic and Prismacolor pens in your videos and/or posts. I personally use Copic but wondered if you had a particular reason for using Prismacolor, is it just a matter of personal preference?

    • http://www.idsketching.com Spencer Nugent

      Well, personally, I do like the Copic markers better but Prismacolor tend to be my allpurpose marker. For one, they are the cheapest of the bunch and I like cheap. But really I like each brand for different things. Letraset(Pantones) are nice too but I hardly use them. I got those more out of curiosity anyhow.

  • http://www.playingwithshapes.com Harold

    Thanks for getting back Spencer. Would you mind saying why you like Copic over Prismacolor? Does it just lay down on the paper better or are there other reasons?

    • http://www.idsketching.com Spencer Nugent

      Mmmmm mostly because of the tip. i suppose this could warrant a post on it’s own, and I think i will do that. :-)

  • http://www.playingwithshapes.com Harold

    Thanks for getting back Spencer. Would you mind saying why you like Copic over Prismacolor? Does it just lay down on the paper better or are there other reasons?

    • http://www.idsketching.com Spencer Nugent

      Mmmmm mostly because of the tip. i suppose this could warrant a post on it’s own, and I think i will do that. :-)

  • Justin

    I’ve noticed also that you use various markers together in videos, I was wondering if the alcohol based (prisma or copic) markers do funny things when mixed with the xylene based (Chartpak AD) markers? Or do they mingle well?

    • http://www.idsketching.com Spencer Nugent

      Honestly, don’t know. I try not to mix the xylene and alcohol based markers, but you’re welcome to try it out ;-)

  • Justin

    I’ve noticed also that you use various markers together in videos, I was wondering if the alcohol based (prisma or copic) markers do funny things when mixed with the xylene based (Chartpak AD) markers? Or do they mingle well?

    • http://www.idsketching.com Spencer Nugent

      Honestly, don’t know. I try not to mix the xylene and alcohol based markers, but you’re welcome to try it out ;-)

  • Alan

    Great article!
    I have a question… Do you know how to “refill” markers? I heard that injecting alcohol helps, but honestly I don’t know if that is possible.

  • Alan

    Great article!
    I have a question… Do you know how to “refill” markers? I heard that injecting alcohol helps, but honestly I don’t know if that is possible.

  • James

    Hello Spencer, thanks for the tips, it really helps me because i was trying to understand how markers work. It`s very sad an dissapointing that here where i live, we don`t have shops to buy those that are very technical and sometimes so necessaries. If you now a place where I can get those brands, please let me know, i am able to pay a little more for them. Thank you again.

  • James

    Hello Spencer, thanks for the tips, it really helps me because i was trying to understand how markers work. It`s very sad an dissapointing that here where i live, we don`t have shops to buy those that are very technical and sometimes so necessaries. If you now a place where I can get those brands, please let me know, i am able to pay a little more for them. Thank you again.

  • Ronald H.

    I never knew there was such an array of black markers.

  • Ronald H.

    I never knew there was such an array of black markers.

  • Jaxn5

    If you are randomly in China (Guangzhou in my case) there you can buy markers really cheap.
    I bought 100 “Touchmarkers” Twintop for around 50 $ – even it seems there are copied there drawing quality is almost the same like the originals.

    • ind33d

      Those are inferior quality as compared to Copics, I’ve seen blog posts where they fall apart and the ink just blobs right into the paper. Hope they work for you, though.

  • Sandres_87

    amigo, alguna marca en particular…??

  • http://twitter.com/Aeternia NataliaPapadopoulou

    Hi, I am a student interaction/product designer and I was looking for a set of markers to invest on. It seems that you can get a better price if you find a copic set on sales, but which of the different color combinations would be sufficient? Thank you in advance!

    http://store.copicmarker.com/collections/ciao-markers/products/i72astamp

    http://store.copicmarker.com/collections/ciao-markers/products/i72a

    http://store.copicmarker.com/collections/ciao-markers/products/i72b