Getting Started with Copic Markers

The combination of cost and range can make getting started with Copic Markers a daunting prospect. However, we’re here to arm you with the basic knowledge to make the world of Copic Markers accessible.

Copic Markers are for everyone

With their price point, coding structure and types one common misconception is that Copics are for professional artists only.

This is certainly not the case.

Copics are for everyone, at any level. Take a quick look on Instagram and you will see people drawing for the first time, hobby artists and artists making good money from commissions all using the pens. The pens are a pleasure to use, and can be considered as an addition to the ten best art materials for new artists. The smooth flow of alcohol-based ink, the way the colours blend and layer all lead to the use of pens being a joy.

With that said, it is worth understanding if you have a passing interest in drawing or a real passion before you invest. You don’t need to make an investment in expensive pens to find this out. Spend a week with a pencil and a sketchpad and if it ends up feeling like a chore, just stop.

If however, you enjoy the process and it fills you with inspiration, Copics are a great way to colour your creations.

Getting started with Copic Marker Types

The first thing to understand are the types of Copic Markers. A quick search on Amazon for Copic Markers can throw up a whole host of pen types, but by quickly breaking these down into simple categories they are easily understood. Of the main types of Copic Marker, there are four (but only three that you will see regularly).

Showing the difference between a Copic Classic, Sketch and Ciao.
Three types of Copic Marker.

In essence, these pens are all the same. They contain the high quality Copic ink in an alcohol suspension, which can be applied to the page through a nib. The only difference are the size of the pens (and the associated capacity of the ink well) and the type of nibs the pens come with. This is genuinely all that separates the Copic Classic, Copic Sketch, Copic Ciao and Copic Wide. It’s that simple.

Copic Colour System

Getting the most our of your Copics (regardless of the type of pen you are using) relies on understanding the Copic Colour System.

Each pen comes with a specific code. These vary but for the most part consist of a letter and two numbers.

The letter indicates the colour family. The letters are BV (blue violet), V (violet), RV (red violet), R (red), YR (yellow red), Y (yellow), YG (yellow green), G (green), BG (blue green), B (blue) and E (earth). There are also eight families of fluorescent colours.

These letters are followed by two numbers, which are to be read individually. The first number represents the saturation level of the pen. As a general rule, those pens with a 0, 1 or 2 in saturation are more vibrant.

The second number represents brightness of the colour. The lower the colour, the brighter the ink.

A starter's guide to the copic color system

The exception to these rules lies with the letterless inks: 0 (colourless blender), 100 (black) and 110 (special black). Also there are four families of Copic gray inks, which only feature one number each: C (cool gray), N (neutral gray), W (warm gray) and T (toner gray).

A lot to take in, right? There is one more major factor to consider. Not all combinations of colours and letters exist. For instance, you will find a B06, B16, and B26. However, there are no B36, B46 and so on. The official breakdown of the Copic Colour system is your best source of information if you want to dig deeper.

Best set of Copic Markers to start with

With so much to digest about the way Copics work, where is the best place for someone getting started with Copic Markers?

The options are almost overwhelming. You can always start by investing in a Copic 72 piece set, but that might represent too much outlay to begin with. So if anyone is feeling nervous about taking a leap right into colour choices, we recommend sticking to a grey set while getting used to the pens. From a personal perspective, we think a C1 and a C2 would be the best Copic Markers to start with (yes, just two!). Without spending too much, you can get a great feel for blending and layering. Don’t forget you can buy individual Copic markers without diving into the expense of more.

Best colours to start with

If that advice is a little bland, then there is another great option if you are looking for your starter colours for Copic Markers. By their very nature Copic colours are can be blended, but for starters it makes sense to use pens which are related. Copic sell sets with two related Ciao markers, a multiliner and a glitter pen. For instance, two pens in the red family can show you many possibilities for soft gradients. This will allow you to highlight and shadow without breaking the bank.

If drawing and colouring people is your thing, you will need to start thinking about building out a bank of skin tones numbers in your Copics. You would do well to prioritise getting hold of these pens over the more standard packs if humans tend to be your subject matter. There are pre-selected skin tone packs available too.

Understanding the basics of alcohol markers

If we haven’t already made it obvious, Copics use an alcohol based ink. This makes it quick to dry and easy to blend. With Copic, it also means you will get the same colour every time, and that colour will be smooth and bold as you apply it .

It is worth getting an understanding of the basics of how alcohol based markers work, as this knowledge will help you get the results you want.

Materials to use

Understanding the basics of alcohol-based markers is important not least because they will impact the other materials you can use.

One of your first ports of call will be finding the right pen for line work when working with your new colors. There are some great options when it comes to pens for use with alcohol-based markers. Fineliners will be your best bet (of which Copic make some of their own) but there are other options available too.

Copic markers can be used with a wide range of paper types, and the best paper for Copic markers will depend on your style. Using alcohol markers makes it more difficult to damage your paper (when compared to water-based markers). Regardless, you will get the best results by picking card or paper specifically designed for use with paper.

Similarly, the alcohol can behave strangely when combined with other mediums you are using. It will smudge graphite, it will make ball point pen line work less distinct. That’s not to say you shouldn’t combine it with anything you choose. While the results might be unpredictable, experimentation to to be encouraged. Smudged, painterly results might be exactly what you are after.

If you are new to alcohol based markers, you might want to get hold of a coloring book for Copic Markers. This will allow you to focus on blending and marker techniques, without the distraction of creating your own line work.

All Copic products

There is plenty more in the Copic catalogue besides Ciaos, Wides, Classics and Sketches.

Plenty of pens are designed specifically for line work with Copic Markers. You will also find swatch books to fill out, sketch pads, glitter pens and much more besides.

There are also the replaceable parts of Copic pens, which makes them cheaper to maintain in the long run. You can refill Copic inks and replace the nibs on your pens. You can even buy empty pen cases to build a new pen from scratch.

Tutorials to help you get started with Copic Markers

There are loads of people out there making tutorials worth following if you are getting started with Copic Markers.

Copic tutorials come in three main flavours.

The first are basic techniques for using Copics. For instance, Posh Colouring Studio offer up this useful guide to blending with Copics. Meanwhile Annie’s Crafts gives a great tutorial on colouring smoothly. We’ve gathered together more of these foundational Copic marker tutorials.

The second type of tutorial is more specific, in terms of guiding you to colour a category of subjects correctly. For instance see Baylee Jae’s Copic hair tutorial or Zoe Hong’s fashion illustration with Copics.

The last type is even more specific, with people showing you how to draw very defined things. For instance, ZHC shows how to shade Spiderman with Copic Markers in great detail. Elsewhere, Maxx Stephen takes things even bigger and shows how to create a galaxy with Copic.

Getting hold of Copic Markers

So all the above is great, but it is not much use if you haven’t got any pens. How best to get hold of Copics when you are getting started?

Elsewhere, we’ve answered the question where to buy Copic Markers UK. Regardless of where you live, the answer is largely the same. You want high end art supply stores. The more accessible art chain stores won’t have the biggest range (if any at all).

The obvious answer, of course, is online. Amazon stock a wide range of packs. Through the marketplace you can get hold of pretty much any individual colour. It’s the only place I’ve seen significant sales on Copics as well. I’ve picked up a pack of 72 Copic Classics at about 2/3 price online. In physical stores I’ve never seen them below full price.

Best Copic Dupes

While official Copic Markers have a high price point, the quality of the pens speak for themselves. However, if you aren’t willing to make the investment without knowing how alcohol-based markers work for you, you might want to consider getting your hands on alternatives.

We’ve compiled a list of some of the best Copic dupes. These pens are cheaper but also lack the high levels of quality you will come to expect from Copic. These might be a good start for you, before you make a bigger investment.

Just get started

As you can see, there’s a wealth of information out there to help you get started with Copic Markers. The thing to do is get hold of a couple of markers and just start playing. You don’t have to start with the perfect multiliner or card, as you progress you will know what you need.

Using Copics is a pleasure, and I encourage you to give them a go.