I thought I would share some information about using ink markers for fine art drawing. The markers you buy to label a jar of leftover peas may seem like a poor tool to use for quality artwork; however, many brands offer other high quality markers that can be very appropriate for drawings.
Comparing Markers to Dip Pens:
Although I honestly tend to prefer traditional metal nib dip pens to ink markers, I still often use both sometimes interchangeably. A marker does offer an advantage in making a continuous uninterrupted line. Although that may be convenient, the cost of replacing or refilling the marker makes it less benefitial. If you need to cover a large area with ink, it should really come from a bottle. Some steel nibs, like the Gillott brand, are very flexible and give a varied line width, which is hard to replicate with most markers. On the other hand, markers have less of a tendency to catch the paper, the flow is more regular, and they won’t splatter ink accidentally. A true benefit for markers is being portable for outdoor use.
Dye or Pigment:
The ink found in markers is either dye or pigment. Dye based inks, which are the most common, are not lightfast, meaning they will fade or discolor in a comparitively short period of time, only a few months in some cases, but for some projects that’s not important. If you scan the artwork to convert it into a digital file, the permanence of the ink is irrelevant. The inert particles of pigmented inks are claimed in tests to last for a couple hundred years under ideal conditions or at least a lifetime. Essentially, the words “archival” and “pigment” are what you should look for in marker labeling, not “permanent” or “fade-resistant.” If the label doesn’t list “pigment” I always assume it’s dye based. Sometimes even that can be confusing, however, since there’s a brand called FabricMate from Yasutomo that reads “pigment fabric dye” on the label. There are some dye based inks that have an extended life of about 50 years and are therefore labeled as archival. The word “permanent” does not refer to any archival quality, but rather that the marks are not temporary or not easily removed. Many permanent markers, like those from Sharpie, use solvents that will stain the drawing surface.
Types of Tip:
Wide chisel-tipped markers (which I refer to as “layout markers”) are favorites for concept, storyboard, and advertising artists mainly due to their ease of use. They come in a wide range of colors and shades of gray. I like them too… for work I don’t consider permanent. Unfortunately, all brands of these I’ve seen use dye-based ink. For some reason the major manufacturers of layout markers like Copic, Letraset, and Sanford/Prismacolor do not offer their pigmented markers in a wide chisel tip. However, I have found some brands of pigmented markers that have a medium sized rounded tip (1.2 mm,) such as the Kuretake brand ZIG Writer. ZIG also has a “Posterman” line with a wider tip but I haven’t tried those out yet. Another option that is offered, although not technically a marker, is brush tips made of synthetic fibers, such as the Pigma Brush or those from Marvy Uchida called Le-Plume. There are other brands of refillable brush “pens” on the market too, for example Letraset, Copic, Kuretake, Kaimei, etc. Just make sure the ink you refill them with is pigmented. Faber-Castell also makes a marker pen (PITT) filled with India ink. It’s available with either a fine line or brush tip. The Sakura Microns are also very nice disposable markers, or Staedtler’s Pigment Liner.
There are various brands of “paint” markers you can investigate. They appear to be just highly pigmented markers, either oil or water based from those I’ve tried. There’s a brand from Uniball called Posca that I like, but they have only 12 colors. It’s often difficult to determine exactly what all these markers are made of, which makes buying something not designed for artwork problematic.
The idea behind refills is to solve the problem of a disposable marker that runs dry, like using a fountain pen. The price of a refill, however, is about the same or more than the cost of a disposable pen. Environmentally speaking there’s less plastic being disposed of, so I suppose that’s a good thing.
Water or Oil:
Another thing to consider is a pigmented marker uses either water or oil based ink, which in some applications or combinations may be a concern, especially if you’re planning to use another media or solvent on top of them. I like to use an oil based marker like the ZIG Writer, or the acrylic Posca, for drawing the early layout lines on a painting. These work especially well under acrylic washes in thin lines, which later layers of paint have no problem adhering to, and those marks won’t bleed.
Sakura Pigma Brush
Wilhelm Archival Reasearch