COPIC 101: Everything You Need to Know about the World’s Best Marker
If you’re an artist or a crafter (or even if you aren’t), you may have noticed a new brand of marker popping up in craft stores lately. Or perhaps you are a Japanophile and are already familiar with the brand name “Copic.” If you have noticed these professional-grade pens, you’ve probably also noticed how expensive they are. And at about $8.00 apiece, these are no Crayola markers. But why are they so expensive? Do they really possess special qualities that make them worth their exorbitant price tags? The short answer is, yes, depending on what you are using them for. Needless to say, investing in a set of Copics is a big (and potentially pricey) decision, and one that can be confusing and difficult to make. As a Copic user myself, I’m here to break down the types of markers (there are several), their uses, and whether or not they are the right option for you as an artist or crafter.
Copic is the highest quality marker brand on the market, and is frequently used by professional artists. If I had to compare the markers to a more familiar medium, I would say that they are in some ways similar to paint, as the application is very smooth, the ink doesn’t bleed, and the colors blend well. They provide the coverage of paint with the accuracy and convenience of colored pencils. If using a high quality paper, it’s even possible to put down several layers before the paper starts to resist the ink (I prefer Deleter brand comic paper). “But they’re just markers,” those unfamiliar with the medium might say. Well, if used by a skilled artist, they can have incredible results.
Understanding the different types of Copic markers that exist is also important before making a purchase, as each type has a different use and price. Copic Original is a basic marker with a broad tip on one side and a fine tip on the other, and is more or less like most markers you’ve seen. This type is much better suited for basic crafts than it is for complex drawings. Copic Wide is exactly what it sounds like: a marker with a very broad tip. While great for backgrounds and large areas, these markers suck up a lot of ink, and color options are limited.
The most popular style by far is the Copic Sketch, which, like the Original, has a broad tip on one side, but features a brush tip on the other. These are ideal for fine art, and are the choice of most (if not all) professional artists adept in the marker medium. Copic Ciao is in essence a cheaper version of the Sketch. However, it does not hold as much ink, is not available in as many colors, and cannot connect to the Copic airbrush system. Ciao markers also are cylindrical and therefore less comfortable to hold, and they do not have color names printed on top (you have no idea how convenient this becomes). Although, if you need a rarely-used color or want to take some Copics for a test run, Ciao is an acceptable and economic option. But if you are looking for the best longterm investment, Copic Sketch is the way to go.
What many people do not realize (probably because it isn’t widely advertised in the States) is that Copic markers are reusable. It always makes me cringe when I see artists with multiple pens of the same color, as it is completely unnecessary to purchase more than one. Refills are made in every color, and there are even little kits you can buy to help you siphon the ink into the marker. So there is no need to go out and buy a brand new $8.00 pen when you can buy a refill that will save you a lot of money in the long run. Even the nibs on either end of the marker are replaceable! Unfortunately, however, these gadgets and refills are not widely available in the US, and at times I have had no choice but to buy a brand new marker out of desperation. The internet is probably going to be your best friend when it comes to refills, which brings us to the matters of vendor choice and price.
Put simply, Copic markers are too expensive in the US. Charging more than $6.00 for a single marker should be a crime (I’m talking to you, Michael’s). I understand that they need to be exported from Japan (where things are more expensive anyway), but in the US they are easily double the price, even when accounting for exchange rates. In Japan, when bought in bulk, the markers average about $3.00 a pen, and can be bought individually for as little as $4.00 each if you find them on sale. It probably won’t surprise you, then, when I say I nearly had a heart attack when I returned to the US and saw the price of a 6-pack. I guess exceeding the weight limit of my carryon bag by stuffing it full of Copic markers and supplies paid off after all.
But most people (including me) can’t just hop on a plane to Japan to snag some Copics for reasonable prices. So if you live anywhere besides Japan, what are your options? The internet is one, of course. Craft or art stores tend to mark up the prices of the specialized goods they carry, and prices of individual markers or even sets can rack up in price quickly. Amazon and Ebay are options as well, but be careful–Copics have a shelf life of about 3 years. The last thing you want is to open up your markers and find that they don’t work! Carpe Diem Store and Oozak are popular options, selling individual Sketch markers for $5.24 apiece. Still expensive, yes, but nothing compared to the $7.00+ you’ll end up spending in a retail store.
If you’re serious about using Copic markers for art, you won’t be disappointed with the results once you get the hang of them. If you’re a newer artist and aren’t sure what medium you’re comfortable with yet, you might want to check out professional colored pencils first, such as Prismacolor or Faber-Castell. These are still a good option for coloring but are much more affordable. Casual crafters? You’re probably better off using a cheaper brand. But if you use markers often and want some that will last a lifetime, you can’t go wrong with Copic.