How to blend with alcohol markers
The key (most of the time) to blend with alcohol markers is the speed with which you can move from pen to pen. You don’t want your first pass drying out before the next colour comes in to play. With particles of color suspended in the fluid, they will move freely and combine. With the color set on the page, there’s little chance of it moving and providing that magical blend.
Using color codes to help blend
You can use most brand’s color codes to help identify which pens should be considered darker and lighter. Information on the Copic specific codes can be found in our getting started with Copic markers article, and other pens have their own systems. If in doubt, swatch out your colors to see the order.
How to blend alcohol markers over a large area
If you are already capable of getting smooth color over a large area, getting a blend should be easy for you.
Keep it wet, you will know that to get a smooth single color you do a lot of overlapping. You keep a lot of ink flowing on the page. It’s the same process here, but the overlapping you are doing anyway because that’s how you get the blend. So the key is to work quickly and treat the transitions between colors just as you would if you were overlapping with the same marker.
How to blend alcohol markers without a blender
Single color blending
The simplest way to blend from one tone to another, and you actually only need an individual pen to do it – so it’s great if you are starting out. The difference in shade is achieved through varying saturation levels on the paper you are using.
For all the below, work quickly because you want to work with wet ink to get a smooth blend:
- Apply a layer of ink to the area you are looking to shade.
- Apply again, using the same pen, this time avoiding the area you want at left as the lightest shade.
- Apply again, only focusing on the area you want to be darkest.
This process is easiest because the saturation and lightness levels of the pen don’t vary (of course they don’t, it’s the same pen). So you can get a nice, smooth transition between the differing shades. The downside it you end up monochromatic, and the difference you can achieve from lightest to darkest is limited.
This can be achieved on pretty much any paper.
Note: for all blending in this article I used paper from a Copic Selections sketchbook.
Dark to light
This method works great if your paper is easy to blend, and the colors are fairly close together.
You can twist your palette with this method too, there’s no need to keep with a single colour. So long as you move from a dark to light (via how ever many increasingly light shades you like) you can get a good blend.
Again, with the below instructions, work as fast as you can. You rely on the wetness to help a smooth transition between tones.
- Add your darkest tones only to the area you want to appear darkest on your image.
- Overlapping with the darkest color, add the next lightest tone. That overlap should be as big as you want the blending to be.
- Repeat however many times you like with lighter and lighter tones. Again, the size of your overlap will determine the size and smoothness of the blend.
Ideally for the dark to light method, your paper will be designed for use with alcohol markers. Anything too absorbant or thin will not stand up to the the agitation and saturation. We’ve had a look at sketchbooks designed to be used with inks and pencils.
Light to dark
Rather than focusing of segmented overlapping/blending areas while working from dark to light, this method starts with covering the area 100% with the lightest tone. This allows you to add in darker areas as you choose without working specifically on transitions from one area to the next.
Technique (work quickly, wetness is your friend!):
- Completely fill the area with your lightest tone.
- Layer on the next darkest tone, covering only the area you want to be that tone.
- Repeat until your darkest tone has been applied.
- Work back, lightest to darkest tones, to help soften the blend in the overlap.
It’s a good option to take if you don’t have ideal paper for alcohol markers to hand. Thinner paper will allow you to get away with this method of blending alcohol markers.
While feathering will achieve a blend of colors, the blend will look more sketchy than the smooth blend other techniques will get for you. This is good if you are going for a more textured finish. Experiment a but before deciding if it is right for your work. A mix of standard and feathered blending can add real depth to a picture.
To achieve the best result with feathering, you will be in need of a a brush nib. This comes as standard on Copic Ciaos and Copic Sketches. Alternatives to Copic markers have their own options available too.
- Start with the lightest tone at what will be the lightest edge of your image. Flick away from this edge into the rest of the image.
- Use your next darkest tone to flick from the light tone (with some overlap) further into the darker area.
- Repeat step two with increasingly dark tones.
- When ready to apply your darkest tone, start flicking from the darkest edge of the image to help you keep neat lines.
- You can keep adding flicks of the colors already applied until you achieve the effect you are after.
Experiment with the pressure you use in your flicks, as this can determine a lot about the way the blend ends up.
Blending pens with similar lightness/unordered lightness
If you are looking to blend pens which don’t work on a natural gradient from light to dark (or vice versa) there’s nothing stopping you. The key is to make sure you are getting smooth coverage and giving enough attention to the transitions. This works if you are running across a spectrum at a similar level or doing dark to light to dark (for instance). Alcohol markers are designed to blend, so there is no right or wrong order.
- With your first color, cover the area you want to be that colour, as well as extra allowing for the overlap.
- With your second color, complete the overlap and an area that will be dedicated to that color.
- Using your first color again, apply a second layer to the to the initial area and work it into the overlap.
- Repeat with however many colors you need to complete the sequence.
You will need a robust paper for this, due to the rework needed for the overlaps.
Tip to Tip
This is one of the most pleasing approaches to blending, great for small detail where you need a sharp blend from one color to another. It’s particularly good for tones that don’t share tonal properties. It allows the mixing of two colors, but no more. It is ideal for small areas of great detail, becuase reloading the darker ink onto the lighter nib can become repetitive pretty quickly.
- Using the lighter alcohol marker, touch its tip to the darker pen.
- Start coloring from the darker side of your image, away and into the lighter side. The dark ink you picked up with disperse first, bringing in the light tones underneath.
You can vary the blend by changing the amount of dark ink picked up on the lighter pen. This technique will work differently with different nibs – so experiment with brush, chisel and fine nibs.
This technique will work well on any paper that allows for a nice blend. It is particularly pleasing to use it on a more coated paper, as the longer it takes that ink to soak in the more time you can spend tweaking.
How to blend alcohol markers with a blender
Dark to light with a blender
Just like the dark to light method above, but instead of blending to a a lightest color, you blend out to whatever the tone of the paper you are working on. By working between the next to lightest color and nothing, you will get a good fade to nothing.
Palette Blending with alcohol markers
You will need a palette for this, anything with a non-porous surface will do. While the non-porous surface will help keep your inks wet, the alcohol will still be evaporating. This isn’t too much of a concern though, as your colorless blender will make it wet again. This method allows you to use some basic techniques from standard painting to mix new colors and blend between them.
- Apply the colors you are looking to work with to your nonporous surface. You will want them in distinct patches that won’t flow into each other. You will also need some working space on the surface.
- Pick up color on your colorless blender and apply to the image. Alternatively, combine colors on the palette using the colorless blender and then apply to image.
Any paper which allows for decent blending will let you use this technique. As most of the mixing is happening off page, you will also be able to employ this on thinner, less treated papers.
Can you blend alcohol markers with water
It’s very difficult to blend alcohol markers with water. You will complicate the mix and overwork the paper.
It is possible to use both alcohol and water based markers in the same piece of work, but the best bet is to separate out their use. Get the bulk of your work done using the alcohol markers (you will likely get the better, smoother coloring through these anyway). Once properly dry, you can then choose to use water based markers on top. Don’t do it the other way around, or your alcohol suspension will pick up pigment from the water based markers in ways you don’t want.
Are Crayola blending markers alcohol based?
Yes, Crayola’s premium line blending markers use an alcohol based ink.
Is blending Copic Markers the same as with any alcohol markers.
Largely yes, the usual techniques apply. The better quality inks you find in Copics will usually mean better interaction between colors, but all of the above techniques still apply.