Markers vs. Colored Pencils: Understanding the Difference

Markers vs. colored pencils. That’s a debate that has rage amongst artists for years. Some artists claim that the superior precision and control of colored pencils makes them a better medium. Artists who prefer markers will tell you that the speed you can lay color down on paper with markers makes them the better choice. Who is right? Well, there’s no right and wrong. 

When comparing markers vs. colored pencils, each medium has its strengths, and it’s weaknesses. The best thing you can do as an artist is to experiment. Try out different techniques and see what works for you. There’s a good chance that you’ll end up making the same decision that many artists before you have made. That decision is to use both markers and colored pencils instead of trying to choose one over the other.

Why shouldn’t you take advantage of the strengths? Of each of these mediums while also using these strengths to overcome the shortcomings that each has? Colored pencils don’t lay color down quickly, so what if you decided to layout your base colors using markers instead? Markers are harder to control, so why shouldn’t you use colored pencils to add details to your marker work? Mixed media art has many advantages and no real disadvantages, so experiment and try new things.

What Are The Differences Between Markers And Colored Pencils?

Markers Vs Colored Pencils Whats the Difference?
Markers Vs Colored Pencils

How are markers and colored pencils different? Well, for one thing, colored pencils use a solid colored core to produce marks and markers use ink. That’s a pretty significant difference there. Since one is a dry medium, and the other is liquid ink, they behave in very different ways. Many artists enjoy using markers and colored pencils together since they work very well when used in tandem. Which is better to use? That’s impossible to answer because every artist has to make their own decision. You need to use what you are the most comfortable with, and what you get the best results with.

Always remember, the first rule you need to follow as an artist is that there are no rules. There’s no rule anywhere that says that you can only do certain types of art with colored pencils or certain types with markers. In fact, many artists successfully blend the two mediums together to achieve amazing results. So, take a look at the quick guide below and then start experimenting. This guide is a great starting point, but it’s just that. You can’t expect to read a guide then understand the materials discussed, you have to try them for yourself.

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The Benefits Of Coloring With Colored Pencils

Colored pencils offer many benefits, which would explain why they are one of the most popular artist mediums. Colored pencils give artists the ability to work in vibrant color and produce painting-like effects, without having to mix paints. Colored pencils are also very convenient to use. There’s no lengthy setup time, and clean up only involves putting away your paper and pencils. This makes them ideal for artists that enjoy working outdoors. When you use artist quality colored pencils, they’ll have a high pigment load giving artists the ability to produce intense colors that are typically only seen in paintings.

Colored pencils can also be blended using turpentine to produce an effect that looks more like a painting than a drawing. There are also ink-based colored pencils and watercolor pencils that will allow you to create painterly effects in your work. Even when you are creating painterly style effects with colored pencils, you can still work with a great deal of precision. Precise control of color is what sets colored pencils apart from other artistic mediums. With a finely sharpened colored pencil, you can work in great detail, attaining a level of intricacy that no other artistic medium can easily match.

Colored Pencils Allow A Great Amount Of Control 

While A Marker’s Ink Is Incapable Of Offering Dramatic Variances When deciding whether you should use colored pencils or markers, keep in mind that colored pencils are a much more precise artistic tool. If you plan to work and create fine details and have a very tightly controlled piece, then colored pencils should work well for you. Artists who like control love working with colored pencils. Now, if you work with markers and don’t mind a bit of randomness to sneak into your composition, then you’re all set. Markers can be used with precision, but it’s not nearly as easy to do as it is with colored pencils. Markers bleed, and they use liquid ink. Whenever you are using liquid ink, there will be a level of unpredictableness involved.

Concentration Of Color

When you use high-quality artists, colored pencils, you are going to be working with a tool that has intense, vibrant colors. Many beginning artists make the mistake of using colored pencils too lightly. They color over an area, and the white of the paper is still readily visible beneath their work. This isn’t how you should use colored pencils. You should embellish your artwork and render it. Don’t be afraid to apply a little pressure to put more pigment down. Colored pencils were meant to be layered to attain a deep saturation of the color, while still allowing a high level of control for the artist.

Accuracy And Control

What’s the first tool you used to draw with? Probably a crayon or a regular #2 pencil. Colored pencils are a bit like a combination of both of these mediums. While you may have drawn with a crayon first, chances are that you spent far more time drawing with a pencil than anything else. So, you’re probably very familiar with how precise your control level is with a pencil. When you have a sharp pencil, you can work wonders. Well, colored pencils offer this same level of accuracy and control. Most professional-caliber colored pencil lead is firm enough to hold a fine point but soft enough to allow careful blending. 

Colored pencils are convenient, and they allow you to work with color with a level of accuracy and control that you would have a hard time matching with anything else.

Please look at this drawing and sketching video course I have createdUse this link.

Graduating Color Gradients

If you’ve spent any time honing your craft as an artist, one thing you’re probably acutely aware of is the fact that there is no such thing as black and white in the real world. There is black, white, and various shades of grey. If you are working with color, that means that there are many different gradients of that color. For example, if you are drawing a brown wall, there will be different variations of brown that make up that wall. If there is a bright light source, some of the browns will be very light, and if there are shadows, some of those shadows will be very dark. Colored pencils can be applied with varying levels of pressure giving the artist the ability to control the intensity of a color. You can also layer colors, by using the complementary color of your primary color, you can create dark and warm shadows.

Colored Pencils Can Be Blended Light Or Dark

If you aren’t familiar with colored pencils yet, then you may not realize that they can be used from light to dark or dark to light. Working light to dark is more comfortable, but if you are careful and layer your color the right way, you can put lighter colors on top of darker ones. This is impossible to do when you are working with markers. If you are using a paper or other drawing surface with sufficient tooth, then you can layer multiple layers of lighter color on top of a darker color to create highlights on top of dark areas. If you ever attempted to do this with markers, you’d fail miserably. So, if you are the type of artist that likes to be flexible, then you should use colored pencils. You can change up how you work from piece to piece, or even in the same piece. Markers have their strengths, but this isn’t one of them.

Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils

When working with colored pencils, it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that higher quality pencils produce higher quality results. Should you start out practicing your colored pencil techniques using expensive Prismacolor Premier Colored pencils? 

Probably not, at least not if you don’t want to be wasting your money. But, if you are planning to complete a piece that you intend to show or sell, then using the best- colored pencils will give you the best results. Will Prismacolor colored pencils make you a better artist? No, but using substandard colored pencils with a poor pigment load can cause even a talented and experienced artist to struggle to achieve their vision.

Markers vs Colored Pencils
Prismacolor Premier Softcore Pencils

Prismacolor Premier Color pencils are more expensive than other brands, but if you are serious about your work as a colored pencil artist, they are an investment worth making. Prismacolor colored pencils are more vibrant and blend more easily than other cheaper colored pencils, making them a superior tool. If you are just starting out and don’t want to spend a lot of money to practice with, then practicing techniques with cheaper pencils is fine. But when you are ready to move up and take your work to the next level, then you’ll need a better tool. That better tool is Prismacolor Premier Color encils. Prismacolor Colored Pencils. Artist quality pencils made using high-quality pigments. Click here to view the latest prices on Amazon.

Prismacolor Color Pencils come in a wide range of values. Each value offers an exceptionally high level of pigment saturation, and they are pigments that blend very easily. There are even transparent blenders available that you can use for blending two colors together. Because the lead of these pencils is moderately soft, they will retain a sharp point for some time, while still remaining soft enough to blend well. Prismacolor Color Pencils work well on many surfaces. If you prefer precision in your work, then try using the bristol board. If you like a rougher look for your drawings, then try drawing on cold press watercolor paper instead.

The Benefits Of Coloring With Markers

The Benefits Of Coloring With Markers
The Benefits Of Coloring With Markers

If you’ve ever drawn with markers and been hesitant to try them again, that’s probably because you were drawing with cheap markers. There’s a big difference between markers you find on the shelf at a drug store and high-quality markers like Copics. Professional illustration markers have intense ink colors that allow you to layer color similar to how colored pencils can be layered. Markers aren’t as precise as colored pencils are, but they make up for that by allowing an artist to put down color more quickly and easily than you can with colored pencils. You don’t have to apply a lot of pressure, you just start drawing and let the ink start flowing.

Many people who haven’t experimented with professional-caliber markers aren’t aware of the fact that markers can be blended. When you use an alcohol-based ink, you have a short amount of time where that ink stays liquid on the surface of your paper. During that time, you can lay another color down next to it and blend them together. The ability to blend markers takes a lot of skill, and you have to be able to work quickly. If you aren’t going to be able to work in a secluded environment alone without distractions, then attempting to blend markers will likely leave you frustrated. 

Markers aren’t a tool for artist that like to take their time, you have to work quickly. But, if you learn how to do so, you should be able to attain a higher saturation of color more rapidly than you can if you work with colored pencils.

Excellent Levels Of Color Saturation

If you like to work with intense colors, then markers are going to be your best friend. Have you ever looked at an ink drawing and marveled at how intense the colors are? Well, you can achieve the same level of color intensity by using markers. You can achieve intense color saturation very quickly when you are using quality artist markers. If you are the type of person that’s short on time, then you probably don’t want to spend countless hours rendering a colored pencil drawing. Markers will let you attain fantastic color saturation with a single layer, something that colored pencils could never do. If you don’t have the patience to sit there and carefully render color pencil art, then give markers a shot. If you’ve never used them much, or you’ve never used professional-quality markers before, you’ll probably be astonished at how quickly you can lay down color, and how intense that color will be.

High Levels of Color Density

What is color density? Color density is another way to describe color saturation. If you are the type of artist that likes to use vibrant colors, then markers can be Ca great tool for you. What you won’t be able to do with markers is to create soft tones easily. Now, if you use a blender and markers with great care, you should be able to have some success. But, the amount of time, effort, and precision that it takes to create this type of effect with markers makes it a technique that really isn’t worth the trouble. Now, if you like to work with bold colors and you work quickly, then there aren’t many tools that are better than artist-quality markers.

Vivid Colors

Both colored pencils and markers can produce vivid colors, presuming, of course, that you are using quality materials. If you are using cheap pens or colored pencils, then you aren’t going to get the most vivid color. 

But, if you are using Prismacolor Color Pencils or Copic Markers, then you should be able to get vivid colors when you are working. The big difference here is the amount of time and effort that it’s going to take. With colored pencils, you have to render and use a lot of pressure to attain high levels of color saturation. With markers, you get that color saturation automatically.

Easier To Use?

Are markers easier to use? That depends on who you ask. If you ask an artist that’s been working with markers for a long time, they’ll probably tell you that they are straightforward to use once you get used to them. But if you handed someone who has never used markers before a set and told them to draw something, they’d probably struggle. But that’s true for any artist medium. One of the reasons that many beginning artists are drawn to markers is their ability to lay down intense colors quickly. Colored pencils can produce intense colors, but you’ll have to render carefully to approach the intensity that quality markers provide. Quality markers can create large fields of color quickly, and once you master them, you should be able to produce flat washes of color.

One of the reasons that people struggle with markers is that they are a very unforgiving medium to work in. If you make a mistake with a marker, fixing that mistake isn’t going to be easy. You can paint over it with white paint and then use markers over the top of it, but even if you are careful, you can usually tell when a cover-up has been done.

What Are The Challenges Of Coloring With Markers?

Markers are not a very forgiving medium to work in. In fact, many times, it’s easier to give up on a piece that you made a significant mistake on than it is to try to fix it. 

Can you cover up some mistakes? Yes. Is it easy to do? Not at all. One piece of advice when working with markers is to start with the most challenging part of a drawing first. Many artists like to warm up as they work, so they start working on the periphery of a drawing first. This is fine when you are working with pencils or colored pencils, but not with markers. But, if you are working with markers, you’re better off working on the harder parts first. That way, if you make a mistake, you won’t have committed a lot of time working on the drawing before having to start over. It might be a little intimidating to approach a drawing like this, but it’s the reality of working with markers.

Color Marks Often Bleed

If there’s one bain for every artist that uses markers, it’s the fact that markers bleed. This is another instance where experienced marker artists can learn to modify their approach to account of how markers bleed. Now, once you are experienced using the type of markets you prefer, you should learn how they bleed on different types of paper. Once you do, you can adjust your artwork to accommodate the natural bleed of ink on paper. For example, if you are drawing an apple, and you want the color to stay with the outline of the apple, then you would stop using the marker slightly before the edge of the apple. The ink should continue to bleed outward for a moment. How much space should you leave? That depends on the paper you are using. The best way to figure out how to control the bleeding of marker ink is to practice a lot. But, then again again, that’s what you should be doing as an artist working in any medium.

What Are The Limitations Of Color Markers?

The main limitation that you’ll come across with markers is that you have to work light to dark. If you are experienced working with markers, this shouldn’t pose a problem. But if you are new to using markers, and are used to other mediums like paints, then the working process for using markers can seem a bit foreign. If you want to create different gradients of color when working with markers, you always have to start with lighter colors and work your way to darker colors. More luminous markers will never cover up darker markers. Remember that part, lighter markers will over cover-up darker markers. Most other artist mediums can be worked light to dark or dark to light, but makers must always be used light to dark. If you do have areas that you need to lighten, you can still use paint, a paint marker, or colored pencils to lighten it up.

Why Use Copic Markers?

If you are a fan of markers and want to produce professional-caliber artwork, you are going to need a professional-caliber tool. That means that you need Copic markers. Copic markers are the gold standard when it comes to artist markers, and the reality isn’t anything close to their quality on the market today. They use an alcohol-based ink that is very vibrant and can be mixed and blended as long as you work quickly. While cheaper markers might seem like a better bargain, they won’t last as long as Copics will, and they won’t produce the same vibrant colors. Copic markers are designed to last for a long time. Their tips are durable, so unlike other types of markers, they won’t bend and deform unless you abuse them. Their ink supply is long-lasting, and when it does dry out, they are refillable.

Are Copic markers more expensive than other markers? They are, but you definitely get what you pay for. They last longer, blend easier, have permanent ink, are vibrant, are refillable, and they come in a vast assortment of colors. They come in different sizes so you can lay down large swathes of color, or work with more precision. The bottom line is that if you love drawing with markers, then you can’t go wrong with Copics. Click here to read the latest reviews on Amazon.

Figure Out What Works For You Then Practice…A Lot

Now that you’ve read a little more about the strengths and weaknesses of markers vs. colored pencils, you should be better equipped to decide which medium to devote more of your time to. This is an instance where you really do need to practice and try new things. Don’t accept that markers offer superior covering power until you try it yourself. Don’t accept that markers won’t blend as easily as colored pencils, maybe you’ll have more luck with it than I have. Try new things, experiment, and try using markers and colored pencils in new and innovative ways.

Both markers and colored pencils can be used to create amazing works of art. Both can also be used to draw or to paint with. Wait, how do you paint with markers or colored pencils? It all comes down to the situation of color. If your art has no white paper showing and is heavily saturated with either color pencils or markers, then you can call it a painting. Before making a decision one way or the other, take the time to experiment, mixing these to excellent artistic mediums together. Colored Pencils and markers were practically made to be used together, so don’t sell yourself short by settling for one or the other. Try both, you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised at the results you can achieve.

Create Art With My Favourite Drawing Resources

General Drawing Courses. I like Udemy if you want to develop your knowledge of drawing techniques. Udemy is an excellent choice due to its wide range of creative courses and excellent refund policy. They often have monthly discounts for new customers, which you can check here. Use my link.

Sketching and Collage. Take a look at this sketching resource I have created. Use this link.

Proko. Is one of my favorite teachers who surpasses in the teaching of Anatomy and Figure drawing. Prokos course breaks down the drawing of the human body into easy-to-follow components aiding the beginner to make rapid progress. For this, I really like Proko.

Art Easels. One of my favorite ways to draw is by using a drawing easel, which develops the skill of drawing on a vertical surface. The H frame easel is an excellent vertical way to add variety to the style and type of marks you create when using a drawing board.

To see all of my most up-to-date recommendations, check out this resource I made for you.


Ian Walsh is the creator and author of and an Art teacher based in Merseyside in the United Kingdom. He holds a BA in Fine Art and a PGCE in teaching Art and Design. He has been teaching Art for over 24 Years in different parts of the UK. When not teaching Ian spending his time developing this website and creating content for the improvedrawing channel.

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