Last month I dived into alcohol based markers (if you follow me on Instagram, you’ve already know what’s up). I noticed that these markers catching dust in my drawers. Which is such a shame, ‘cause you make really cool things with ‘em! So I decided to make an #inktober project out of it. Like the nerd that I am, of course I turned this into a big swatch and comparison project;-). I know you're just as curious about the outcome as I was, so here's the long-awaited blog! A battle between 5 famous brands. The pros, the cons and of course the prices in a row.
Small disclaimer in advance: yes, there are many more brands of alcohol markers. To keep this project somewhat manageable (for my own bank account and mental health), I chose these 5 brands.
Do you want to see a big (almost ;-)) scientific comparison of (almost) all brands of markers in the world? Then I definitely recommend you to watch the vlogs of the Australian Jazza (part 1 and part 2). I'm a big fan of his videos anyway, because he combines his creative skills with a great sense of humor.
Enough talking: here they come! The markers in order of price:
1. Twin makers of DecoTime (Action)
When I wanted to try alcohol makers for the first time 2 years ago, I bought 3 sets of Twinmarkers at the Action. Handy to test for a only a few euros whether I would like with these kind of markers to begin with. Until then I was never really impressed by the art supplies Action sold (I once bought acrylic paint which felt like I was moving plastic over the paper). So I didn't have a high expectation of these markers.
This time it was slightly better than expected: to be honest, the markers aren't even that bad! Is it the 'artist quality' the packaging says it has? Definitely not. Are these nice sets for your kids or if you have a smaller budget? Yes, they are. You only start noticing the difference when you start working with other brands. Small things like: the colors don't always match the cap, the color name isn't on the pen itself, the pens are sometimes skewed and that’s annoying when you’re coloring with them.
+ very cheap
- beginners quality
€3.99 for a 12 marker set // converted €0.33 per marker.
2. Ohuhu (brush) markers (*updated 2021)
In the Netherlands (thanks to various illustrators on YouTube and Instagram) they are becoming more and more famous: the alcohol markers by the brand Ohuhu. These markers have the reputation of being the best / cheapest alternative to the famous Copics. So I had to try them!
Living the motto 'you can never have enough markers' I ordered the set of 48 brushmarkers on Amazon. This is already the biggest disadvantage: in the Netherlands (and I think throughout Europe) the markers are only available in sets. On Instagram Ohuhu shared that they are working on open stock sale and refills for the markers, but I think it will take some time before we have those available here.
Too bad, because the Ohuhu's are indeed very good and very inexpensive! First plus point: included with your markers comes a storage bag and a sheet to put behind your paper against bleeding. Second plus: they look nice with their white shell, silver letters and color in the cap. Even more points: the brush tip is sturdy and both tips/nibs (the chisel tip as well as the brush tip) have a really nice ink flow. Blending and layering is pretty smooth sailing with these markers.
Small disadvantage: there are no color numbers on the pen, only on the cap. So it’s a bit of a hassle to match all caps and markers at the end of a drawing session. Another small disadvantage: the colors don't always match with the color on the cap.
At first these markers weren't a fully-fledged alternative to the more expensive markers for me, because of the limited color choices. The 48 set has many colors with dark to midtones, but I was missing some really light colors and good skin colors. But in the meantime Ohuhu has expanded their assortment enormously with nice skintone sets and a pastel set. Although I initially wrote in this blog that I would hold back, I have surrendered to the temptation and own several of their big sets by now ;-).
It does mean that you have to buy multiple or larger sets to get a good mix of color tones. But at the current prices, that's very doable. More good news: meanwhile the Dutch shop Handletteringdoenwezo.nl sells the sets too! Since I prefer to shop at independent retailers rather than the big players like Amazon, I definitely recommend you to shop the sets at HLDWZ.
+ very affordable
+ good quality
+ fine ink flow
- only available in sets within NL
- limited availability in EU
€ 35.99 for a set of 48 colors // converted €0.75 per marker
3. Winsor & Newton Promarkers
I already had 2 sets of Promarkers in my studio and bought some Brushmarkers too. Because I liked the Promarkers very much, I approached Winsor & Newton for collaboration around my upcoming online course (yes this is a hint, more info at the bottom of this blog!). Winsor&Newton then spoiled me BIG TIME with a set of 96 colors of their Promarkers. I was able to test their colors extensively and I'm still just as enthusiastic as before!
Why? The markers, like most W&N products, they offer great quality at a great price. The ink flow is juicy, the colors are beautiful and the biggest plus: of all brands they give the most evenly coloring result. Plus the Promarkers are available in sets as well as open stock, so you can always restock your favorite colors.
Drawbacks? The markers are not refillable, so less durable than the Copic markers. The tip of the brush markers could be a bit firmer to my taste. It's thick, but much more flexible than for example Tombow, Copic and Ohuhu. But I do really enjoy the Promarker with the bulletpoint! With the Promarkers, the colors on the outside also do not always match the actual color of the marker. So swatching is definitely necessary - but that happens to be my favorite activity next to illustrating!
+ very good price/quality ratio
+ nice smooth result
+ large choice of colors
+ available separately
- not refillable
- brush tip may be firmer
€ 2.99 per marker (open stock sale)
4. Tombow ABT PRO markers
After the Twin Makers of Action, the Tombow ABT PRO markers were the first professional brand I started working with. Because I made several workshops and tutorials for Tombow, I gathered a good collection of colors for testing as well.
Although I still think these are okay alcohol markers, I don't think I would buy them again myself. Especially when I compare them to other brands. The main reason? That's the price and the ink flow. At 4.75 euros a piece these markers cost as much as the cheapest variant of the Copic markers (the 'student priced' Ciao marker). If the quality is clearly better than with other brands, I understand the higher price (which is the case with Copic). To my opinion The Tombow ABT PRO's don't compensate that higher price though. These markers are fine, but definitely not better than the Ohuhu or the Winsor&Newton promarkers. Mostly because the ink flow is a 'drier', so they don't always have an opaque coverage at the first layer and blending is a bit less smooth.
Nevertheless, the Tombow PRO marker also has a few nice advantages. First of all, the marker lies comfortably in your hand due to the narrower barrel. It feels totally familiar if you're used to ABT dual brushpen, because the size of both the markers and the brush tip is the same!
The marker is narrower than the other brands (also the chisel tip), so you can deliver more detailed work easier. In short: if Tombow would drop in price and have a better ink flow, they would have a better chance.
+ fine brush tip
+ good for detailed work
+ available separately
- dry ink flow - higher price
€ 4,75 per marker (open stock sale)
5. Copic sketch makers
Here we are, arriving at the marker of alcohol markers. For this blog I couldn't resist trying the Copic markers as well. I know: it’s a tough job. Why? First of all, the Sketch markers (the professional quality brush marker) come in no less than 357 colors. Yeah, that’s makes selecting your favorite colors a challenge doesn’t it? I think I spent at least an hour in the store. Sorry to people from Swaak Utrecht ;-) In the end I choose 5 skin colors and 5 soft shades that I didn't have with the other brands.
Secondly, I allowed myself to buy a maximum of 10 markers. Why the limitation? Well, these are the most expensive markers on earth. I bought them while they were on sale, but normally these markers cost about 7 to 8 euros. Ouch. Good to know: the nibs of the markers are replaceable and all markers are refillable. With a refill of €8.26 you’re supposed to be able to refill the markers 5 to 6 times. In the long run the price of your marker will drop considerably. The fact that it’s also a lot more durable, is also a plus in my opinion.
*updated 2021 So the number one question: are they worth their price? Well, they are if you can afford it. I absolutely understand why this is the favorite brand of professionals. The ink flows deliciously, blending and layering is no problem at all. Because of the enormously large choice in colors, you can really get all shades. Everything feels and works great with these markers. One minor point of critique: the ink gives a less even result than with the W&N Promarkers. There is a very slight 'speckle' to be seen. It also gives structure, so maybe this is also a personal preference whether you like that or not.
If the price was lower, this could definitely be a favorite. But with a great collection of both Winsor & Newton Promarkers and Ohuhu markers, I actually havent' had a tendency to buy more Copic markers.
+ everything ;-)
- the price
- less even ink result
€6.95 per marker (open stock sale)
Bonus: Chameleon markers
In my search for reviews I also came across the Chameleon markers. Because in my project with illustrative portraits I missed some good skin colors, I bought a set of Skintones to try these markers. The Chameleons have a system with not only regular markers, but also so called 'color tops' that you click on top of your original marker. The colors then blend into each other, allowing you to create a nice gradient.
Most alcohol markers have a chisel nib, combined with a bullet tip or a brush tip. The Chameleon markers do not have a chisel nib, but a bullet and a brush tip. Because I use the chisel nib the least, this combination seemed very nice to me. I am starting to use chisel nibs more often now, but I still hope other brands will offer the combination of a firm brush and the narrower bullet tip as well.
The brush nibs from Chameleon are initially very firm, but quickly become softer because the tip frayes a bit, especially when you put a color top on it. In the manual they say that this fraying is intentionally, so the brushtip will feel more and more like a real brush. To be honest, this feels a bit like nonsense to me. With the fraying you lose the option to work in fine detail. And the brush nib is the smallest of all the alcohol markers I have tested. So it's not like you can color in huge areas with it.
Then the color tops. The marketer in me thinks this is a smart choice, because Unique Selling Point. The illustrator in me is not so convinced. First of all: you can blend alcohol markers into each other anyway (just like with water-based markers). You don't need special color tops for that. Secondly: if you specifically want the color of a certain color top, you have to blend it into another marker first. Which is more hassle. It takes more time. More different caps of multiple markers to put on and take off. In short: nice idea, but not my first choice of markers.
The set of Skintones I bought has really good colors by the way! I will keep using them until I run out of them, but I probably won't buy them again.
+ nice color and a good price
- small brush tip and color tops are mostly a fun gimmick
€ 12,95 for set with 5 markers // converted €2,59 per marker
"So which marker should I buy Nienke?"
Well, I'll leave that up to you. It really depends on your budget and how much you want to spend on your hobby. Hopefully this blog will help you make a choice that fits you!
"What paper do I need?"
Another question you often ask: which paper should I use? Check out my previous blog where I wrote about paper for alcohol markers. Would you rather work in sketchbooks than on separate sheets of paper? In my next blog you can read about the different sketchbooks I tested!