Alcohol Vs. Water-Based Markers: There’s One Clear Winner

Artwork using alcohol and water-based markers

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If you're an artist, you know that there are many different types of markers available on the market. Some artists prefer to use alcohol-based markers, while others prefer water-based markers. But what really is the difference and which type is better for your art projects? 

In this article, we will compare the two types of markers and discuss the pros and cons of each one.

At a Glance

Alcohol-Based Markers Water-Based Markers
Blendability Blends well; sometimes need a colorless blending marker Streaky finish; won’t blend well
Color Selection Up to 280 markers in one set Up to `60 markers in one set
Lifespan Some brands have refillable barrels and replaceable nibs One-time use
Drying Time Dries quickly Dries slowly resulting to smudges and smears
Applications For designers, colorists, manga and anime illustrators Coloring and illustrations
Nib Size Selection Dual-point (fine point, chisel- type, bullet, brush) Dual-point (fine point, chisel- type, bullet, brush)
Lightfastness Resistant to fading; lasts a long time No resistant to fading
Permanence Permanent, washable Permanent, some brands are washable
Bleeding Bleeds on thin paper Bleeds a lot
Safety Strong odors; not safe for people with allergies Odorless; child-safe formulation
Price Pricey  Affordable

Alcohol-Based Markers

Copic Classic alcohol markers
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Pros Cons
  • Blends smoothly
  • Quick-drying inks
  • Reliable seal on caps
  • Doesn't react to photocopier toner
  • Refillable and replaceable nibs
  • Expensive markers
  • Strong odors
  • Needs special instruction to learn

 

 

Water-Based Markers

Water-based markers
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Pros Cons
  • Affordable set
  • Low-odor
  • Non-toxic, child-friendly inks
  • Easy to master
  • Excellent watercolor effects
  • Streaky finish
  • May look muddy
  • Nibs quickly fray

 

 

Features

Blendability - Alcohol-Based Markers

A manga character drawn with alcohol markers

Alcohol markers are better because they blend smoothly. You can even layer color upon color without the mess. Even cheaper brands of alcohol markers blend better than water-based markers. Blending is very important when working on portraits and you want to use skin tone markers.

However, it would help if you also had a colorless blender pen to blend your colors better, cover up your mistakes, or add texture and details to your drawing.

Water-based markers also blend but are not as efficient as alcohol markers. To blend, though, you need a watercolor brush pen or a watercolor brush.

Color Selection - Alcohol-Based Markers

A bag of colorful alcohol markers

Both alcohol markers and water-based markers have an extensive collection of colors. However, alcohol-based markers have more colors in one set (280 markers), but for more expensive Copic markers, you only get 72 in one set. You can build up your collection from there.

Water-based markers have fewer colors, and the most you can get in a set is 160 markers.

Lifespan - Alcohol-Based Markers

Alcohol markers generally last longer than water-based markers because they are refillable. The nibs are also replaceable, so when the nibs are too frayed to work, you can replace them to keep using the barrel. Some brands of alcohol markers are not refillable and replaceable, though.

Drying time - Alcohol-Based Markers

Realistic portrait using alcohol markers

The major difference between alcohol markers and water-based markers is the drying time. Alcohol evaporates faster than water, so they don't smudge and smear a lot, unlike water-based markers.

Applications - It's a Tie

You can use alcohol markers for making illustrations, manga and anime art, portraits, landscapes, adult coloring books, and other projects with professional quality. On the other hand, most water-based markers are best for hand lettering, bullet journals, and watercolor effects on your drawings.

Nib Size Selection - It's a Tie

Hand lettering showing different-sized nibs using water-based markers

Most markers come with a fine point nib on one end and a brush tip. The flexible brush tip lets you make faux calligraphy, while the fine-point tip is best for adding details.

Water-soluble markers usually have a chisel tip or bullet tip. You can use the chisel tip for coloring large areas quickly, while the bullet tip is great for drawing thin lines or adding details to your illustrations.

Lightfastness - Alcohol-Based Markers

A realistic portrait of a young woman made using alcohol markers

Unlike water-based markers, Alcohol markers are less prone to fading. They're not 100% fadeless, but they hold in more colors, even when exposed to sunlight, because the ink used is pigment, not dye.

Permanence - Alcohol-Based Markers

Water-based markers are washable, and you can reactivate the colors using a watercolor brush pen or watercolor brush. Alcohol markers, on the other hand, are more permanent.

Bleeding - It's a Tie

Both alcohol and water-based markers bleed a lot, especially if you're not using the right paper. Alcohol markers work best on non-absorbent marker pads, while water-based markers work best on watercolor paper.

Safety - Water-Based Markers

A child's hand shown coloring using water-based markers

Water-based markers win the non-toxicity race because of their water-based inks so that kids can use them. Alcohol fumes are harmful if inhaled. We only recommend it for serious artists. Work in a well-ventilated area to avoid harmful fumes.

Price - Water-Based Markers

Water-based markers are cheaper than alcohol markers. However, you don't compromise quality over price. There are still excellent water-based markers that you can use for more awesome projects without breaking your bank.

If you want to use alcohol markers, you have to shell out more money for the extra cost.

Conclusion

We know that picking one marker type over the other may leave you wondering if you picked it right. However, here are a few tips on why you should pick an alcohol marker or a water-based marker.

Buy Alcohol-Based markers if:

  • You want artist-quality markers on your drawings.
  • You're not discouraged by the smells of alcohol markers.
  • You want your marker drawings to last a long time.

Buy Water-Based markers if:

  • You're a mom who wants to buy art supplies for your kid.
  • You want a watercolor effect on your drawings.
  • You're allergic to solvent fumes.

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