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Water-based vs. Alcohol-based Markers: A Quick Comparison

Written by Laura Walker

Fact checked by Leilani Carroll

water based vs alcohol based markers

You’ll surely encounter debates about water-based vs. alcohol-based markers throughout your artistic pursuit.

Therefore, we decided to lay out comparisons between the two if you want to plan how you’ll use them in your projects.

Reading this post will also give you insights into the pros and cons of water-based or alcohol-based markers. Answers to commonly asked questions await, so let’s start!

Summary of Comparisons

Water-Based

Water-Based

Alcohol-Based

Alcohol-Based-Marker

Solvent Water Alcohol
Color Range Less Extensive

(Up to 120 colors)

Extensive

(Up to 358 colors)

Can Be Reused No Yes
Blend-ability Low High
Drying Time Slow Fast
Tendency to Bleed Bleeds on most papers other than watercolor paper Bleeds on thin or low-quality paper.

Should be used on non-absorbent surfaces

Works Best On Watercolor paper Tight-weaved papers
Works On Non-porous Surfaces No Yes
Easy to reactivate? Yes No
Lightfastness Prone to fading More resistant to fading, but will still discolor with time
Cost Affordable Initial investment is expensive but economical over time.
Health Hazard Nontoxic: Child-friendly Contains strong toxic odor: Safety precaution is suggested for people with allergies.
Best For Art or school projects Professional works

Water-based Vs. Alcohol-based Markers

1. Solvent

The main difference between water vs alcohol markers is the solvent used so that the dye can smoothly blend on the paper.

A water based marker uses water and dye, while an alcohol-based marker uses alcohol as its solvent.

The consistency of alcohol is ideal for the even distribution of the dye particles, which causes fewer streaks.

In contrast, some dye particles in water tend to build up at the edges of each stroke, which causes an uneven look.

2. Color Range

alcohol-brush-tip-markers

An extensive collection of colors is needed to create more realistic drawings. Alcohol markers offer a wide variety of colors and hues. Meanwhile, water-based varieties are not as diverse due to the limited range of water-soluble dyes.

For instance, Copic – one of the most famous alcohol-based markers, is available in 358 colors. Imagine the freedom to choose colors from such an art markers set! However, the largest collection of water-based markers you can find will only contain around 120 colors.

3. Reusability

Are you looking for markers that you can use for a long time? Then, alcohol markers might be for you since most brands have refillable ink and replaceable nibs.

It means you don’t have to throw them right away once they run out of ink or their nibs get frayed. You can purchase refills or replacements at art and crafts stores or shop online, and voila! You can use them again!

In contrast, water-based markers are perfect if you need markers for a one-time thing. You’ll also be able to save money since they are cheaper. However, it’s harder to come by open-stock watercolors than alcohol ones.

4. Blendability

water-vs-alcohol-markers

Fantastic blending is needed to make flawless artwork with illustration markers. If you compare the two types, alcohol markers blend more smoothly than water-based markers.

However, products like Master’s Touch alcohol markers can dry very fast, leaving beginners little time to react.

On the other hand, water-based colors dry out slower and can be re-wet for further blending.

5. Drying Time

Applying multiple layers with alcohol markers seems inconsequential since alcohol dries quickly. In addition, due to how fast they set, alcohol-based markers are less likely to smudge.

On the other hand, water-based markers dry slowly and thereby can create a hole in the paper if it’s too thin. That said, the drawn-out drying time can be in your favor if you’re slow at blending shades.

6. Tendency to Bleed

The ink of your art markers bleeding on the next page of your sketch pad is unsightly. The sad truth is that you cannot entirely avoid this phenomenon with water- or alcohol-based markers.

However, since water-based markers have less viscous ink than alcohol-based markers, they are less susceptible to bleeding. In addition, they can easily help you create a watercolor effect without seeping into the other side of the paper.

Apart from the consistency of the ink, the amount of pressure you apply on alcohol brush tip markers also affects the tendency of the marker to bleed on the other side.

7. Works Best On

Watercolor paper is different from ordinary paper since it is thicker and more absorbent, making it ideal for drawing water-based markers art. It won’t easily get damaged when exposed to the moisture of markers’ ink.

As for alcohol-based markers, they work best on tight-weaved papers, such as cardstock. These thick papers will ensure that the colors from alcohol-based markers don’t bleed through too much, thereby tearing the surface.

Testing Ohuhu water based vs alcohol based markers on various types of paper will give you a better idea of what to choose between the two.

8. Works on Non-porous Surfaces?

Wondering what surfaces you can use these two types of markers on? Well, alcohol markers work fine on both porous and non-porous surfaces.

On the other hand, water-based markers only work on porous surfaces, such as fabric or watercolor papers, as suggested above. Non-porous surfaces like glass, plastic, and metals will not be able to absorb the liquid dyes.

9. Easy to reactivate?

Are alcohol markers waterproof? The ink of these markers won’t quickly get smudged with water, which means they are more permanent than watercolor markers. In other words, it’s next to impossible to reactivate these markers.

On the other hand, water-based markers are washable and can be reactivated. Thus, correcting mistakes, such as lightening a dark area, will be easier by applying a small amount of water to the illustration.

10. Lightfastness

You cannot expect markers’ vibrancy to last a long time. They will surely fade over time, but which will last longer?

Regarding how long do alcohol markers last in comparison with water-based markers, the former prevails. Their ink is more vibrant in the first place, so alcohol-based markers will still look colorful once they start to fade.

If you are wondering, are water-based markers permanent? You probably have an idea that the answer is no.

11. Cost

art-markers-set

The cheapest markers you can find in the market are mostly water-based markers, while the most expensive art markers are alcohol-based. For example, one alcohol marker costs around $5 to $8, while an average water-based marker has a selling price of $3 to $6.

The quality of alcohol markers can explain the price gap. They have more vibrant and available colors and impressive smooth blending abilities.

Moreover, investing in alcohol markers may be more expensive, but most have refillable ink and replaceable nibs, which may cut a lot of cost over time.

12. Potential Health Hazard?

Water-based markers’ ink is primarily composed of dye and water, which makes these markers non-toxic.

However, alcohol markers may contain small amounts of toxic chemicals that can be harmful when inhaled, so wearing a facemask if you have allergies is a must. That said, non-toxic variants can be found in more premium products, such as those from Copic.

13. Best For

Since watercolor markers are affordable and washable, they are suitable for children’s art projects. In the same vein, these coloring pens are ideal for those who are just starting out and thereby may need to go back to correct their mistakes.

If you are a professional artist who expects to use markers in the long run, we suggest alcohol markers because they have refillable inks and replaceable nibs.

Water-based Markers

illustration-markers

Pros
  • Non-toxic
  • Little to no odor
  • Affordable
  • Harder to blend
  • Creates watercolor effect
  • Can be easily reactivated
  • Washable
  • Suitable for children and beginners
Cons
  • Limited colors
  • Produces more streaks
  • Prone to fading
  • Only a few brands offer open-stock colors
  • Do not work on non-porous surfaces

Alcohol-based Markers

cheapest-markers

Pros
  • Extensive collection of colors
  • Vibrant hues
  • Blends smoothly
  • Dries quickly
  • Works both on porous and non-porous surfaces
  • Smudge-proof
  • More resistant to fading
  • Economical over time
  • Refillable ink/ Replaceable nibs
Cons
  • Expensive initial investment
  • Bleeds on thin paper
  • May be toxic
  • Slight to strong odor

Frequently Asked Questions

Are alcohol or water-based markers better?

These two types of markers can be used for different purposes, so choosing which is better based on one general criterion is not fair.

Water-based markers are better if you have children who love to create fun drawings. Affordable markers are the way to go when you expect to use them for a short time.

Moreover, water-based markers are non-toxic and washable. There will be less headache when dealing with the mess afterward.

If you are a professional who values quality and longevity, choose alcohol markers. After all, you should be willing to spend more to create a reputable drawing.

Are alcohol markers water-based?

The obvious answer is no. From their name, you can already guess that alcohol markers’ ink primarily consists of alcohol and dye. The consistency of alcohol makes it possible for the dye particles to spread evenly in the solvent.

Conclusion

Water-based vs. alcohol markers? It is now up to you how to use the unique qualities of these two types of coloring pens.

Also, remember that no one can define the beauty of your work based on how cheap or expensive your markers are. It still depends on how well you convey your message.

Do you want to know more about art markers? We wouldn’t mind if you’d like to drop your suggestions. Au revoir!

5/5 - (2 votes)

a few words from the author

Laura-Walker

Hi, I am Eveline Kessler, a content creator. My love for colors and arts draws me here to join the Intermediarts team with Leilani. I am responsible for testing new products and techniques with her and providing honest reviews and tips based on our experience.

Laura Walker