Today, there are good reasons to buy many types of marks on the market. Regardless of the type, the markers are easy to use and carry around. They allow artists to create in any situation and any location. This tutorial specifically addresses alcohol-based markings. As the name suggests, the color (dye) of these marks is suspended in alcohol, making it a solvent that evaporates quickly. One advantage of alcohol-based labels is that they can form smooth color gradients. You don't need to add water to mix the colors, which is necessary for water-based marking. In today's post, you will learn an easy way to create beautiful gradients, which can be a challenge for water-based marking. Another advantage of this medium is that you can combine marker pens with other consumables, such as colored pencils. It opens up a whole new world of possibilities! The first part of this tutorial is theoretical. We will discuss the method of selecting the first set of markers and explore some basic techniques. Then, we apply all the knowledge to a fast and interesting project. If you are interested in the useful part, please feel free to skip this page. let us begin!

Alcohol-Based Markers

Like all other forms of art media, there are many brands of alcohol markers to choose from. Here are some of them:

  • Copic
  • Touch
  • Winsor&Newton
  • ArtBeek
  • Prismacolor Premier
  • Finecolour

I bet you have heard of at least one of these names. However, the list of all existing brands (including local brands) will be too long. Perhaps the most common question for beginners is "Which brand mark should I choose?" There are many different opinions. I am afraid there is no perfect answer. Choosing any art tool requires some research and experimentation. We will not make a comparative evaluation of the artworks that exist on the market today. Instead, we will describe how to use alcohol markers, because most of the brands listed above behave similarly. The general rule of thumb is that investing in qualitative products will pay off. In general, it can make you get better results and a more enjoyable experience. On the one hand, the safest option may be to choose a well-known brand with good reputation. Their product prices are most likely to be close to high-end. You can be sure that the components of the marker are safe and non-toxic. Such brands usually collect well-thought-out colors. Moreover, they provide you with the option of buying refills, which is a good thing. However, in recent years, the quality difference between very expensive goods and budget indicators has been greatly reduced. You can still create stunning artworks using cheap markers. Many affordable products also come in multiple colors. In addition, you can add ink to their markers-no need to buy a new marker.

The Pen and Ink Experience

"Pen and Ink Experience" is a comprehensive drawing course designed to guide absolute beginners to the level of producing professional-quality pen and ink drawings. It's up to you to decide which brand to choose and how many marks should be in the first set. But for now, please keep the following in mind: If your goal is to create realistic artwork, you need to use alcoholic markers in multiple colors. This is why... Compared to watercolors or other paints, you cannot simply mix two markers to create a new color. In most cases, even if you layer several markup applications, the mix is ​​limited. This is especially true for light and bright colors. In other words, if you need orange, it is much easier to get the correct hue and saturation mark than to mix orange with red and yellow. This nuance may become an obstacle for some people. Not everyone is ready to invest in a large expensive mark from the start. It is very important to find a happy intermediary between quality, price and quantity, which varies from person to person. No matter what markup you use, I recommend focusing on technique. Use the marks of any brand you own to master them. If you understand the logic of using this medium, then using any decent markup can produce good results. In addition, many brands sell the "open stock" mark. This may be a great opportunity to try other brands without major investment. There are no strict rules, you can only use the same brand mark together. In most cases, products of different brands will merge and cooperate with each other. (For this tutorial, I used ArtBeek Brush and Double Line markers.) Create a basic set of tags When starting to collect the markers, please pay attention to the inscription engraved on each marker cap or body. For some brands, there are one letter (or two letters) and some numbers.

Letters indicate the color family. For example, B is for Blue, V is for Violet, and BV is Blue-Violet. You can easily continue the row by guessing other examples…

  • R – Red
  • Y – Yellow
  • G – Green
  • RV – Red-Violet
  • YR – Yellow-Red
  • YG – Yellow-Green
  • BG – Blue-Green

Letter E may cause confusion, but the answer is quite simple. E is for the Earth tones.

The naming system provided by many brands is logically reasonable. In this case, you can see the connection between the increase or decrease in the number and the change in color saturation and brightness. In other cases, the numbers given seem to be quite random, so you have to rely on swatches.

The markers are always color sampled. The color you see on the body of the mark or the cap is usually different from the color it marks. Using the color chart can make it easier to see the colors used and help you correctly decide which colors to use in your drawings.

The choice of colors depends on the primary theme of your art. For example, botanical sketching requires an extended set of greens with the addition of reds, yellows, blues, and browns.

Take a moment to analyze your goals and favorite topics. You will have a basic understanding of which colors are used more often. This is a good starting point. As mentioned above, the possibility of mixing new colors with alcohol-based markers is limited. Therefore, it’s best to collect your set based on the following principles: choose lighter and darker variants for each color you plan to use. These lighter and darker colors may be slightly warmer or cooler than the median value. The figure below illustrates this principle.

I did not add color indications because these numbers mainly represent the content in the naming system of a particular brand. You may be using any mark in the world, so only the actual color is important. Depending on the theme you like, you may not need three different red or yellow colors (instead you need some violet and turquoise markings). A set of grays is a must for any alcohol-based marker. I recommend at least three gray marks. Each shade of gray has its designated position in the color card system. Take a closer look at the cap or body of your gray marker pen. You will find a letter-it means hue. E.g:

  • W – Warm Gray
  • C – Cool Gray
  • N – Neutral Gray

Cool Gray has a hint of blue; Warm Gray has some brown in it. Neutral Grey, which can be found in some brands, is neutral, as its name suggests.

Also, some manufacturers offer us another family of grays called “Toner Gray”. Usually, it is halfway between neutral and warm.

Compare the swatches in the image below to see the difference.

By the way, many manufacturers of markers use another spelling – “Grey”. I use the American English version throughout this post, but don’t be puzzled by this seeming difference.

After the letters comes a number. Usually, the higher the number, the darker the shade is. The image below illustrates this.

It is recommended to pick gray markers, skipping every other number in the row. For example, your set may include Cool Gray 1, Cool Gray 3, and Cool Gray 5.

The Tips of Alcohol-Based Markers

A marker usually has two tips, one at each side of the body. Here are some common types:

  • Fine nib is pointed (it is the upper one in the image below.) It is best for drawing thin lines of approximately equal width and working with details.
  • Brush nib is a soft and flexible tip that allows creating varied, organic lines.
  • Chisel nib is relatively big and broad, so it can quickly cover large areas. However, it is still able to make thin marks with its edge.

Again, it’s up to you to decide which combination will serve your goals best. In my experience, Brush tips perform blending substantially easier and quicker than Chisels. They allow for so many varieties of marks! So it’s worth giving Brush tips a try.

Basic Mark Making with Markers

In this part of the tutorial, we will explore several techniques that can enhance your skills. They are simple but effective. First of all, the paper you use is important. I recommend using special paper specially designed for marking. It is very smooth and allows the tip of the marker pen to last longer. With that paper, you won't run out of marks anytime soon. This paper does not prevent the marking dye ink from penetrating into the paper fibers. The coating of some papers can prevent ink from bleeding out. It is also easy to achieve smooth blending on special marking paper, which is very important.

Quickly or Slowly – The Speed at Which You Make Your Mark

Look at the two samples below. They were made with the same Cool Gray 3 marker.

We can easily see that the sample "a" is not uniform. It consists of several clearly visible horizontal strokes. The sample is produced by a series of relatively slow gestures, so the ink has time to dry (at least partially). In contrast, the sample "b" is uniform and smooth. We can only see the hint of a single stroke near the outer edge of the sample. It draws very fast, so the paper is still very wet during this process. Remember – the marker pen application dries out quickly! If you need a smooth overlay, use the ink quickly and confidently. The reverse is also true: if you don't need any mixing between the two colors, let the first layer dry completely.

Layering with Markers

To put it simply, adding a new layer of the same color darkens the color. This value shift is subtle.

To achieve a smooth transition from a lighter to a darker value, we should make marks quickly, while the marker applications are wet.

Compare the two samples below.

Sample “c” demonstrates a relatively smooth transition between layers. It’s fair to say that it was created using the “wet on wet” technique.

Sample “d” demonstrates a noticeable seam between lighter and darker shades. In this case, the second layer was applied after the first one had dried completely.

Both samples were created with one marker – Cool Gray 3. The difference in value was achieved only by layering.

Textural Marks

In some cases, we don’t need our marker applications to look smoothly blended. Sometimes, those visible strokes are our friends. They break the visual uniformity and create the illusion of texture.

In the image below, you’ll find some textural marks. They are spontaneous, even chaotic. Such marks can be created with swift hand motions.

While drawing, vary the angle and pressure on the marker. The wrist is active yet relaxed; the fingers may be involved if necessary.

Take a moment and consider all the possible ways to use these types of marks.

Samples “1” and “2” are perfect for wooden textures, while sample “3” is ideal for a variety of organic textures. Sample “4” looks like a tree’s crown from a distance.

How to Blend Markers

Hope that the information we have provided so far will not overwhelm you. Hybrid marking is very simple and straightforward, we will only follow a series of operations. 1. Start with light colors; 2. Add a darker color with overlapping layers (or any second color you choose); 3. Add more lighter strokes on the border between the two colors of the visible "seam". Why is this order recommended? Lighter colors are your guideline. With a marker pen, once the color is in place, you will not become lighter. It is very difficult to reduce the difficulty of the application, so please keep the "airy feeling" in your work as long as possible. Please note that the order of application may change. Where appropriate, it is best to apply darker colors first, as there may be exceptions. Use markers to create gradients If your goal is the seamless fusion of two colors, then the best choice is to choose two colors with similar value. Cool Gray 3 and Cool Gray 7 cannot form a smooth transition between shadows, but Cool Gray 5 and Cool Gray 7 can. I use CG5 as an intermediate link to create a smooth gradient between CG3 and CG7.

Blending Practice

Let’s blend two green colors. To do this, I pick two colors that are relatively close in value, YG24 (left) and YG27 (right).

  1. I start with the lighter YG24;
  2. I add the darker YG27 with an overlapping layer;
  3. I add more strokes of the lighter YG24 to the visible “seam” area.

Does this mean that only colors from the same color series can be mixed? Fortunately, no. You can try any of them! Some combinations come together in a better and smoother way, but there is no limit. Even contrasting colors can be mixed to a certain degree. Try different options-who knows, maybe you will find the next color you like? In this process, please pay attention to the value gap between light and dark colors. Making complex, challenging gradients can be a good exercise. Try to create a row of colors with as many steps as possible.

How to Draw a Banana with Markers

Let us practice everything we have learned today. Our project will be fast and fun! First, I prepared a set of markers that seemed to fit the art. I am referring to the swatch page. If in doubt, try to combine these marks on the spare paper. I want to draw a banana with brown spots on its peel. Therefore, I chose several variants of yellow and brown. In addition, we will need gray markers to change the hue and intensity. I will add a little bit of light purple, which is the opposite of yellow on the color wheel. This color will make the sketch more realistic and interesting. All markers are by ArtBeek Brush.

As we already know, marker applications dry fast and that dictates the tempo of drawing. If you don’t have enough experience with alcohol-based markers, selecting colors on the fly may lead to frustration. Preparing the tools beforehand allows you to save time and mental energy.

The Pencil Sketch

I’ve prepared a sheet of marker paper with the main contours of the banana. The object is sketched with an HB graphite pencil.

The lines should be light because excessive graphite may contaminate marker applications. Soften the contours with a kneaded eraser, if necessary.

Adding Color with Markers

I started with lighter colors, namely Y2 corn and Y3 medium yellow. The work hint for all subsequent steps is "brush".

I mainly apply Y2 to the upper part of the banana. Assume that the area gets more light from the environment. I covered the rest of the banana with a more saturated Y3.

Remember how to make a seamless gradient? Apply the first color, then add the second color, and then quickly blend the border between them with the first color. The same principle is here-don't let this new shape overwhelm you.

In this case, the lighter Y2 is our first color, and the darker Y3 is our second color.

I always hold two markers. (When I draw with the right hand of Y2, the left hand of Y3 is ready, and vice versa.) This allows the tool to be changed as quickly as possible before the ink dries.

Now it’s time to add some yellows that are more vibrant. I add Y225 Acid Yellow mostly to the top of the banana. Y5 Deep Yellow is applied as its companion to the bottom part.

The border between both colors is blended with Y225.

If you still see separate strokes, it may be a sign that your art needs another layer of marker applications. Adding more inks of the lighter color is a way to create a smoother transition.

However, in this case, we can leave some visible strokes to accent the texture of the overripe peel.

With Y17 Pale Ochre, I work on the form of the banana, giving it more volume. I create some soft core shadows and mark the edges.

If we apply this color alone, it may create a harsh contrast with existing yellow layers. That’s why I blend Y17 with Y3 Mid Yellow. It will soften the brownish strokes.

Pay attention to the order of applications for this step! Sometimes we apply the darker color first, and then blend it with the lighter one. But this happens mostly after the base layers (formed with lighter colors) are already in place.

I add some spots on the banana peel, using Y9 Olive Gold. The Brush tip is great for creating such varied, spontaneous marks of various sizes.

I blend some of the spots with Y3 to make them softer and more blurry.

With YG10 Green Parka, I add darker spots. Y3 can be used again to blend them.

I use YG10 to outline the edge between the sides of the banana peel.

I use TG257 Toner Gray #8 to add a few more spots on the peel. (They are really dark!) I soften them with Y17 Pale Ochre. I also accent the stem.

If you don’t have any Toner Grays, it’s possible to use a marker from the Warm Gray or Neutral Gray family.

I used thin marker paper for this drawing (it’s 100 gsm), so this amount of inks makes it buckle a little. Luckily, we’ve completed the banana!

I add a cast shadow under the banana, using CG268 Cool Gray #2. This shade covers a relatively large area. Then I add some YG262 Yellow Gray #4 closer to the banana.

Then I blend the border between the two grays with the lighter marker.

With TG257 Toner Gray #8, I increase the contrast in the area where the banana touches its cast shadow.

I blend this shade with lots of YG262. There is a substantial gap in value between those grays. The surface of the paper should be wet with an alcohol solvent to make this gradient happen.

The sketch is almost complete. To make our banana more realistic, I add some BV197 Mauve to the lower part of the banana. I accent the core shadow and mute the area of reflected light. I also add this color to the cast shadow.

I use CG268 Cool Gray #2 to blend this color a bit more.

Light violet brings some depth and credibility to the sketch. Yellows look more vibrant due to this contrast.


Congratulations-we have come a long way from the basics of using alcohol-based markers to an excellent practical project! Hope you enjoy our journey.

Marking opens up a vast world full of creativity. I hope you can be inspired!