Should You Use Markers or Colored Pencils? How to Decide
As children, we began our coloring journey with good old wax-based crayons for all those school art projects and coloring books. Now that we are adults, we have found that coloring isn’t just for kids and a new market of coloring for pleasure was born. Sophisticated coloring books designed for adults require something as equally grown-up to color with. Choosing between markers and colored pencils may seem simple but there is always more than meets the eye when it comes to art.
Should you use markers or colored pencils? How to decide between the two requires looking at the pros and cons of each one. Choosing which medium to use also involves evaluating circumstances such as what you are coloring, the type of paper you’re using, how long you will be coloring, and sometimes where you will be doing your coloring.
For the most part, picking between markers and colored pencils will essentially come down to personal preference. Understanding the benefits and disadvantages of each coloring medium will assist you in making the right choice.
The Ups and Downs of Markers
Working with markers involves the comprehension of how ink flows from the pen onto the paper and the effects the paper has on the ink. A wet medium, such as markers, offers better saturation of color then colored pencils in less time because of the continuous stream of color. For this reason, markers are great for creating large bodies of uniform color giving the page a crisp, clean look due to the consistency of the ink’s application.
Another reason to choose markers for coloring is they create deeper intense, color in a single pass across the page instead of having to use layers of color like with colored pencils. This makes markers ideal for creating solid, definitive lines that are highly visible to the audience. In addition, a single sweep of ink color creates a smooth and even finish compared to the textured look you get from colored pencils.
Benefits of Using Markers
Because markers don’t require applying a great amount of pressure to achieve deeper, intense colors, one benefit you get from them is less wear and tear on your hand. A benefit you may not have considered is markers leave behind a cleaner work area. Sharpening of colored pencils makes messes of pencil shavings and broken tips. Markers only require you to keep tabs on those pesky pen caps that prevent the marker from drying out.
Since markers have liquid ink that flows evenly and thoroughly onto the page, it naturally fills in the peaks and valleys of the tooth of the paper. Colored pencils, on the other hand, only color the tops of the ridges leaving behind areas that appear lighter due to not filling in the valleys as smoothly as markers can.
Markers are available in a variety of tip sizes and shape making it easier to do detailing using a fine tip nib or to color in large swatches of color with an angled brush nib. The versatility of markers comes into play in that they can be used on materials other than just paper. Creating vibrant works of art on various types of fabric and cloth can only be done when using a liquid medium.
Another feature unique to markers is refillability, making it ensure an exact match to the color of pen you have been using. Colored pencils can have variances in their color, even within the same brand, making color matching a game of hit and miss. Something else to consider about markers is the that ink is more permanent than colored pencils, which tend to fade over time. Colors of marker art will remain bold and vibrant for years.
Disadvantages of Using Markers
Working with markers presents two problems:
- Ink is wet.
- Ink color looks flat.
Markers require a heavy-weight paper with a smooth texture in order to prevent ink from soaking through the page, distorting and rippling the paper, and colors bleeding together. Also, markers have a tendency to create coloring-in marks when overlapping colors or meeting up with a previously colored spot, especially when the colors are different hues.
Another issue that comes from working with a wet medium is the risk of coming away from the table with ink all over your hands. There is nothing more frustrating than ruining a masterpiece in the works because the ink has transferred from the paper to your hand and now you’ve stamped unwanted color onto a finished area of your drawing.
Ink color from markers tends to appear flat because markers can’t be made lighter or darker by using different levels of pressure like colored pencils can achieve. However, creating shades of a hue for blending and shading presents challenges that can be overcome through a significant amount of trial and error, practicing techniques, and patience.
While markers do offer a variety of tip sizes, the marker stroke size still has limitations with regard to the ability to create realistic texture and detail. Even the skinniest pen nib cannot replicate the delicate wisp of a cat’s whisker or the fine detailing of an animal’s fur. Only the pinpoint edge of a sharpened colored pencil can recreate natural-looking elements and threads of texture.
When shopping for markers you’ll find that high-quality brands are going to be considerably more expensive than high-end colored pencils. With this in mind, it is imperative that you take great care to snap the caps back on tightly to prevent the marker from drying out. If you do decide to work with markers, consider purchasing alcohol-based pens for ease of shading and blending. Some sets even come with a specialized blending pen used for creating a soft gradient between neighboring colors and other color melding techniques.
Keep in mind that blending with markers relies on the moisture of the ink. Once the ink dries it becomes more difficult to blend colors. It is impossible to remoisten dried coloring of markers, the nature of how ink sets when it dries will become visible and it’ll lose the natural look of blended colors. Drying marks will clash where new wet marker meets old dry marker, but with colored pencils, you have a consistency of color appearance and smoother blends.
Pros and Cons of Colored Pencils
Applying color with colored pencil involves using varying amounts of pressure to create friction between the pencil and the page, literally breaking down the pencil’s core, albeit on a microscopic level. This gives the artist greater control and offers a variance of color from light to dark based on how hard you press the pencil to the page. This ability to create different values of the same hue simplifies the process of generating shadow and highlighting effects.
On the other hand, acquiring dark color values requires a greater amount of pressure or additional layers of coloring which can prove to be troublesome when coloring on lightweight paper. Furthermore, the use of colored pencils limits the ability to color on both sides of a coloring book page due to the high visibility of pencil marks. Yet colored pencils provide artists more versatility in creating art with a look of natural textures through a number of marking techniques.
Benefits of Using Colored Pencils
Colored pencils are ideal for the fledgling colorer since they are easier to manipulate with an array of techniques to create bold, life-like color and texture. Colored pencils allow for a fair amount of error correction and mistakes can be erased or modified with blending and shading techniques. Compared to markers, colored pencils are best for trying to achieve the look of light and shadow that reflects the natural way objects appear.
Likewise, colored pencil techniques give artists the ability to create realistic textures and shading options that markers just can’t replicate as well. They also offer more control of the color application based on how you grip the pencil as well as how much pressure you apply to the paper. And unlike markers, colored pencils will not bleed through the paper making them usable on different weighted papers equally.
Unlike markers, colored pencils are available in more hues giving artists a larger color wheel with which to replicate colors seen in nature. Colored pencil techniques also offer more ways to blend colors and create natural hues and shades as compared to markers. A well-sharpened colored pencil is essential for highly detailed fine point elements like the eyelashes of a child or the intricate weaving of a cotton table cloth.
The purchase of colored pencils has a number of benefits over buying markers that need to be considered when deciding between the two. Colored pencils are often more affordable than markers making them ideal for artists new to coloring. Some high-end marker sets can cost as much as $300 for a set of 36 pens. Along with being cheaper, colored pencils can be found in more shopping locations, from retail stores to specialty art shops.
Disadvantages of Using Colored Pencils
In order for an artist to achieve a deeper color and darker shades, colored pencils require layers of color application. Finding the right balance between applying pressure and the number of passes across the page needed can be a daunting task to master.
Colored pencil techniques like layering rely on paper with a texture of peaks and valleys. This rough surface gives the binder of the colored pencil something to grip onto and allows for more layers of color to be applied. Paper with a smooth surface will limit the amount of color you can apply to the page.
Pushing too hard onto the paper too early in the coloring process will cause burnishing. This is where the nooks and crannies of the tooth of the paper become flattened out, thus saturating the area with color. Burnishing is a technique intended to be used as a final step to lock-in color and if used too soon, the paper won’t be able to take on any more layers of color.
A problem unique to colored pencils is known as wax bloom that occurs when the wax build-up oxidizes, similar to how rust forms on iron. It appears as a cloudy white film that can make a drawing appear hazy or out of focus. Wax bloom can be especially troublesome with some brands of wax-based colored pencils but can be remedy with a dry cloth and sprayed with a sealant.
If you are coloring a page with significant amounts of intricate areas and tiny details, colored pencils will require frequent sharpenings to maintain the fine point needed. Having to sharpen a pencil often also occurs when coloring a large section of a picture. This is because as the colored pencil becomes dull, the pigment doesn’t reach the valleys of the tooth of the paper leaving behind areas of white.
The final disadvantage of using colored pencils instead of markers is the amount of time it takes to finish a drawing or coloring page. Colored pencils require a slow and steady application in small overlapping circles or short up and down strokes as you move across the page. If you try to rush the coloring process or move the pencil in multiple directions, the pencil marks begin to take on the look of scribbling.
1. Which medium is more reliable for coloring in large areas with a consistent saturation of color?
While markers do apply a saturated color more easily than colored pencils, the more reliable medium is actually the colored pencil. This is due to the fact that markers will dry out as you color with them and can quickly lose their vibrancy. Keep in mind, however, that the saturation consistency of color when using colored pencils comes from the amount of pressure and number of layers used.
2. Is there ever a time when you would use markers and colored pencils together on a coloring project?
You can certainly use them together to gain the benefits of both colored pencils and markers. Markers make a great base coat for laying down bold color and colored pencils can be added as a way to create natural-looking textures and realistic highlighting and shadowing.
Ready to dive into coloring? Get off to a good start with my free adult coloring eBook and signing up for my email newsletter HERE
Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal or medical advice. Please consult a legal expert or medical doctor to address your specific needs.