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Alcohol-based markers: 5 things you should know before you start!

Maybe you already have ‘em in your drawer, maybe you're completely new to them: alcohol based markers. I used to own a few, but didn’t quite know how to work with them. These markers also bled through the pages of my sketchbook, super inconvenient. Then last year Tombow launched an alcohol-based version of their ABT markers. At the same time I got a few beautiful sets by Winsor&Newton. I got curious again, dived into all the online tutorials and got so enthusiastic I ended up hosting workshops with these markers. Time for a blog about the what, why and how of alcohol-based markers!

1. Alcohol markers versus water based markers

Okay, being captain obvious here, but the biggest difference between these markers is the basis of the ink within the markers. Do you like brush lettering? Big chance you own a couple of water-based markers. Most brands of brush pens (like Ecoline, Tombow, Edding, Pentel, etc.) have water-based colors. The fun thing is when you combine them with water you get that beautiful watercolor effect. You can also blend the colors by holding the nibs against one another. A big downside? When you start coloring with the water-based markers, it easily gets streaky. The water also affects your paper: when you add several layers, it often starts to crumble.

2. The biggest advantage of alcohol based markers

That’s where the alcohol markers come in! You can apply a beautiful smooth color with these markers. When layering you get a really nice and intense color. As long as the ink is still wet, you can blend colors into each other. Has your ink dried? That’s perfect for adding new layers. This way you can - for instance -create shading in the same tone. How the blending works? I show you in the (Dutch spoken) video below.

3. So what's up with the paper and the bleed-trough?

On most paper the alcohol-based markers will bleed. That’s a reason lots of creatives (including myself) aren’t a fan at first. Luckily there’s paper available specifically meant for the markers. You might still experience ghosting (seeing the color on the back of the paper), but it won’t bleed that easily onto the next page. To be sure I still put an extra sheet of paper underneath my work though. The best paper to use is:

  • Marker paper. You wouldn’t expect it when you see this thin paper (about 70 gsm), but it won’t bleed through! Because of the thinness I use this paper for sketching, but when I make illustrations I do prefer heavier paper.

  • Bristol paper. This paper is crispy white, nice and thick, and above all: deliciously smooth. When using other materials (like pencils or watercolor) I like a little bit of texture. But when using alcohol-based markers the smoother is the better! Bristol paper is lovely to blend on because the ink doesn’t sink completely into the paper right away. It also helps reserving your nib. Especially markers with a brush tip won’t fray as fast on this smooth paper.

  • An addition since 2021: Canson The Wall. This paper is thick, smooth and most important: it does not bleed through, it's not even showing on the back! It's perfect for alcohol markers. It does give a bit more 'speckling' in the colors than some other types of paper, but the fact that you can use it double-sided is a big plus!

Do you prefer to work in a sketchbook?

Me too! There are a number of sketchbooks on the market specifically for alcohol markers. Which sketchbooks I use for alcohol markers? You can read that in the blog "The best sketchbooks for alcohol markers? Here they are!"

"So...which alcohol markers should I buy?"

Well, it all depends on your budget. You can get alcohol markers very cheap (from dollar stores like Action) or very pricy (Copic markers) and everything in between. With the price difference comes the difference in quality. Copic markers are lo-ve-ly to work with, but are a true investment with €5 to €8 euro per marker. I bought dollar-store markers to test them and ended up giving most of them to my 10-year old niece (I think that’s saying enough ;-). Personally I prefer working with Winsor & Newton Promarkers and Ohuhu. I wrote an extended blog reviewing and comparing several brands of markers!

Want more?

Do you want to learn how to work with alcohol markers? I've created two online courses for you. 'Illustrative Portraits' and 'Illustrative Characters'. In these courses I will show you how to work with alcohol markers and how to draw people!


Anything else you wanna know about the alcohol markers? Let me know in the comments below or send me a message via Instagram.

PS The links in this article are affiliate links. Do you plan on buying some markers? It would really help me if you order using these links! It won’t cost you anything extra, but I’ll earn a small percentage of the sales made. Which will help me writing more of these blogs. Shopping at Use the code NienkeVletter and you will get 5% discount on your materials! Thank you so much!

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