copic alternatives

Copic Alternatives US

Mar 22, 2021 | Traditional Illustration Materials US

The Best Copic Marker Alternatives In 2021

As a professional illustrator, I’ve used a fair number of markers in my time. I worked my way through art college and university before working full time for Hallmark Cards and, from there, became a freelancer. In all those years of experience, there’s one question I keep getting asked again and again “why are Copics so expensive?”

The answer is quality. Alcohol markers, especially Copics, have high-quality control associated with every respect of them, meaning there’s more labor needed to produce markers that deliver better results.

That explanation doesn’t mean anything to a beginner that doesn’t have $250 to drop on a marker set, though. That’s why rather than just explain why Copics are worth the money, I’m going to break down how you can find alternatives to Copic that are going to deliver stellar quality without breaking the bank.

Beginner and intermediate artists alike can make use of these tips. The trick to finding alternatives that work for you is to recognize why you want Copics and how much of that you’re willing to sacrifice for the sake of cost.

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** FEATURED PENS **

What is the Best Alternative to Copic Markers?

Rather than outright tell you what the best alternative to Copic markers is, I’m going to help you find what set of pens works for you. I’m doing this because my needs as an artist are not the same as yours. You need to recognize what you’re looking for out of your art yourself, recognize your limitations, and use that information to find a set that is going to deliver without costing you a fortune.

By helping you learn how to do this, you’re going to be able to apply this method to other art supplies, as well.

budget copic alternatives

Budget

If I’m being cynical, the factually best alternatives to Copics are another set of professional alcohol-ink markers, like Arteza Everblend Art Markers. These markers aren’t Copic, are still great, but still cost over three digits for a set.

So, that’s no good because that set is too expensive, meaning we need to set some financial caps for the lower tier, middle tier, and high tier markers and pens to act as Copic alternatives.

I’m going to cap the lower tier pens at $30, the middle tier at $70, and the higher tier at $100. You can use those benchmarks to find the best Copic alternatives for yourself, but don’t feel pressured to. Those numbers are a guide, but your financial situation is unique to you.

Either way, though, I recommend asking yourself what tier of Copic alternatives you want because that’s how you set a budget for yourself.

For example, brand names like Spectrum Noir manufacture alcohol-based markers that are incredible and cost a little over $30. The issue with sets at this point, even though the quality of the pens is fine, is that you need to replace the markers when the ink runs out. The more you spend on your alternatives to Copic markers, the higher the chance you’re getting pens with refillable ink.

That might not seem like a big deal, but if you need to replace that same set three times throughout the year, which is entirely possible for a lot of artists, then you’ve spent almost $100. In contrast, you could have spent that $100 outright to get better quality markers with $5 refillable ink bottles.

Color Selection

One of the biggest things that Copics have going for them over other pens is the color selection available. The brand has 358 different colors, all of which can be bought individually as ink refills and even mixed to create your own shade.

You’re not going to find many brands, Spectrum Noir included, that offer that kind of variety without paying big bucks. However, that’s not to say that you have to settle for a set of matte primary colors.

What kind of colors you need to have is going to fully depend on what kind of art you do. If you’re an architect or designer, you need to find an alternative set that comes with a lot of grey color options. That gives you the ability to add depth to your drawing through the use of shadows.

For someone that exclusively draws characters, greys aren’t that important, but skin tones are. Further still, a background artist that uses watercolor paint is going to need different brightnesses and saturations for their work.

Identifying what color group is more important to your work is imperative to finding a set of Copic alternatives that are going to suit your needs.

You should already know this information, but if you don’t, have a look at your sketchbook and recognize which alcohol marker colors you’re using the most, and go from there.

Ink Quality

Alcohol markers and pens are almost always going to be more expensive than a water-based set. The ink quality you get with markers that are alcohol-based is simply higher. The colors are more varied and vibrant, and it’s far easier to blend them.

However, going for alcohol over a water-based set comes with a number of different cost-factors.

First and foremost, the marker and any ink refills are going to cost you most than the water-based alternative. However, you also need to think about how the type of ink you’re using affects your paper.

When markers are alcohol-based, the ink is heavier. This means that your paper is going to tear and bleed if you’re not using specific alcohol paper or a sketchbook built from thick cards.

Both of these paper types cost more than standard paper, meaning you need to pay a higher price tag for the marker, the ink, and the paper.

You need to analyze whether or not it’s worth paying this extra cost for alcohol-based ink. It’s going to allow you to bring more details into your art, but not everyone needs to blend and shade.

Nibs

Copics have replaceable nibs. That, combined with refillable ink, contributes to making Copic markers one of the most used brands in the world. You buy the marker set once, and you have it for life. All you have to do is buy ink and replacement nibs every once in a while.

Most cost-effective alternatives and brands aren’t going to have replaceable nibs. Even if you do find an affordable set that caters to extra nibs, this is pointless without refillable ink.

Therefore, you should be looking at markers that already have the nibs you need. For this, your best bet is to seek out double-ended art markers. These markers come with two different nibs on both ends, giving you the option of using either one.

Most decent illustration markers, both Copics, and alternatives feature this. It isn’t a cost-limited feature, either. Markers as affordable as Prismacolor to ones expensive as Arteza Everblend Art Markers come with two different nibs so that artists have more control over their work.

There are a ton of different nibs out there, so hopefully, you already know what type you prefer. For a quick-starter guide, the most common nibs you’re going to use are brush nibs, a chisel nib, a fine tip, or a bullet nib.

Most Copic alternatives are only going to be two-tip alcohol art markers, meaning you only get two of the four common nibs. This means you need to recognize what you need and prioritize that over others.

Other Factors to Consider

When you’re shopping for alternatives to Copic markers, those are the main things that you should be on the hunt for. However, there are a number of different variables that span far more than I could ever hope to cover here.

While the factors above are the most important, here are a few other things you should consider when looking for brands that are an alternative to Copic.

Extras

Does the marker set you’re getting come with any extras? This is typically something like a carrying case.

It’s far from a make-or-break deal, don’t get me wrong. After all, you can always throw your markers in a pencil case. However, given that we’re on a budget, every bang that you and I can get for our buck needs to be accounted for.

Obviously, the features of the markers themselves are far more important, but if you’re stuck between two sets at the same price-point, one of which comes with a carrying case, get the carrying case.

Vividness of Color

When you use Copic markers, one of the features you might notice is how each individual color is labeled. Copic divides its colors and pens up into different color families, and then it divides them further into saturation, then even further into brightness.

Out of all the features that these art markers have going for them, this is probably the most important. It allows artists of all types to use Copics and gives you the ability to do some incredible things on paper. I’ve seen artists that are traditionally figure painters, switch to Copic and produce work that was just as good, if not better, than when they were using paint.

You’re going to struggle to find alternatives that provide this range of colors if you can find brands that offer it at all. If you do, you’re certainly not going to be getting them on a budget.

That means that even with the best Copic marker alternatives, you don’t have access to pens with that same range of vividness, so we need to work with what we have.

What we have, is color vividness. Rather than saturation or brightness, focus on how well the colors pop on your page, especially the primary colors.

A lot of markers are made from poor quality ink that dulls out once it hits paper. This is common among the cheapest marker sets out there – the kind you find in your local art store that’s 20 markers for $5.

Alcohol-based markers don’t suffer from this issue as much, but it can still be a problem from brand to brand. So, before you buy any alcohol-based markers or water-based markers, make sure you see a demonstration of how the ink turns out on paper.

Flexibility and Durability of Nibs

We’ve already talked about the different types of nibs and what you should be looking for in them. What we haven’t discussed is the quality of your chisel nib or bullet nib once you find it.

Despite what you might be thinking, especially if you’re a beginner, sturdy nibs that stay in place are no good. Sure, you might be able to use these markers for your nephew’s coloring book, but good luck using them to build a portfolio to get into art school.

If you want your work coming out as good as possible, the nibs you buy need to be both durable and flexible. The nibs should last as long as the marker itself and have the range of motion that allows you to control your strokes.

Different nibs are going to have different levels of flexibility. A bullet tip isn’t going to have as much motion as a brush tip, for example, so keep that in mind.

In general, though, you want nibs that work with your hand rather than restricting it. Otherwise, you might as well be working with chunky permanent markers.

Refillable Ink

Let’s touch a little bit more on refillable ink.

Alcohol-based markers are expensive, even if you find cheaper alternatives to Copic. $30 might not seem like a lot for a professional, but god knows that it is for a student. Therefore, being able to buy refillable ink for whatever set you get, whether from Art n Fly or your local crafts store, is a major plus point.

Refillable ink in alcohol markers is going to save you a lot of money over the course of one or two years. It means that you don’t need to replace the marker every single time you run out, paying a few bucks for an inkpot that is going to last the marker multiple runs. It could take the maintenance cost of your markers down from being upwards of $100 to around $20.

If you have to pay a few dollars more to get alcohol markers that can be refilled, do so. You’re going to be saving money in the long run, and the chances are that you’re going to be getting better quality markers for that increased price point.

Leaking and Bleeding

Alcohol brush markers, including Copic markers, have always had an issue with leaking and bleeding. While the ink might be high quality, it’s heavy, meaning it’s going to eat through printer paper like acid.

Even high-end card sketchbooks can suffer bleeding from Copic markers, which is why if you need to see the kind of leaking and bleeding your markers come with before you buy.

Given that you’re looking for Copic alternatives that are more affordable for a small budget, the chances are that the markers you find aren’t going to bleed as heavily as Copic markers.

As I said before, though, if you get markers that are prone to bleeding, you’re going to end up spending more for higher price point paper, further increasing the amount that you’re out of pocket.

The easiest way to gauge the leakage of alcohol markers is to do the same thing you did while testing for color vividness. Look at demonstrations and pictures of work done with the markers. Better yet, read a comprehensive review on them.

Other Factors to Consider

That’s a whole lot of information to consider when you’re looking for alcohol markers. Particularly, we’ve talked about the markers themselves and what to think about there. However, there’s also a human element to think about when you’re looking for Copic alternatives.

A marker that is amazing for one person might be dreadful for another. That’s why it’s important for you to think about the who, what, where, why, how, and when of your Copic alternatives, as well as whether or not the alcohol markers are any good.

Who are the Markers For?

This isn’t as much of a question if you’re buying alcohol markers for yourself. However, if you’re purchasing them as a gift, you need to think about the recipient.

If they already have a professional set of Copic markers that they use regularly, there’s no point getting them a set of Touch pens at a lower price point.

If the person you’re buying for doesn’t have Copic markers, then you need to think about the kind of art they make and the needs that come with that.

You can use the same method to identify this as you did with yourself. Take a look at their style and what colors they use and use that information to make a decision.

Do You Even Need Copic Alternatives?

Think about why you don’t want to use Copic markers. If it’s a matter of cost, then consider getting a Ciao set of Copic markers.

This brand of Copic can be bought at a price point of around $30 and are a great starting point for a lot of beginners and students. I used to use Copic Ciao markers myself before I moved to professional illustration. Of course, you’re not getting a whole load of colors with these sets, so if that’s a deal-breaker for you, then so be it.

If it’s a case that you can afford Copic markers but don’t want to use them because you don’t trust the brand, you should really give them a go.

I’ve been a user of them for years now, as have professional artists around the globe. Trust me when I say that all the hype surrounding these markers is well deserved.

If you’ve used Copic markers before and had a bad experience, then you should also try and give them one more shot. You’re going to get a bad marker or two from time to time, although it’s exceedingly rare. Give the brand another chance to see if that was a one-off occurrence or not.

FAQs

That’s a comprehensive guide all about how to shop for alternatives to Copic markers. However, I’m guessing that you still have a bunch of questions. In this FAQ section, I’m aiming to answer as many of those as I possibly can.

Are Copic Markers Being Discontinued?

No, Copic Markers are not being discontinued. If you’ve seen Copic and discontinued in the same sentence anywhere recently, it’s referring to the refillable ink that the markers use.

Prior to 2020, the alcohol ink bottles that we all had to use to refill a Copic were incredibly slow and painstaking. You had to refill the Copic drop by drop, slowly applying the ink to your brush nibs or chisel tip. This took a long time and was incredibly messy, not to mention you could end up spilling alcohol ink on your work area, which is obviously not a good thing.

Instead, Copic switched to a new system that involved a bottle with an elongated neck. Rather than applying the ink to the chisel tip or brush tip, you take the tip-off and apply the ink directly into the barrel of the marker.

This means less spillage and much faster refills.

Is Ohuhu Better than Copic?

No, I don’t think so. While Ohuhu pens are definitely a worthy alternative to Copic markers and a great buy, there is a difference in quality between the two.

Ohuhu is cheaper than Copic. However, for that reduced price, you’re getting pens that are less predictable and more prone to bleeding and leaking. There are also fewer color options, and the pens don’t blend as well.

Don’t think that I hate Ohuhu because I don’t. If you’re looking for an alternative to Copic, it’s a great choice. However, Ohuhu pens are just that – an alternative.

What are the Most Trusted Copic Alternative Brands?

Copic is a trusted brand that is known to produce great pens and set options. One disadvantage of looking for alternatives is that you’re shopping in a market of brands that don’t have that kind of reputation.

That can make finding a manufacturer to trust difficult. That being said, Copic doesn’t have a monopoly on the art world, so there are plenty of great companies that you can trust to deliver quality.

I’m personally a fan of Spectrum Noir, Arteza, Zig KC, and Bianyo. All of these brands are an alternative to Copic that features similar quality and are more than worth the price point that each one is at.

Are Copic Markers Worth it?

I tried to address this in the intro, but let’s talk a little more about it here.

I do think that Copic markers are worth it. I understand that spending over $200 might be a bit extreme for a lot of people, but that price is actually a bit deceptive.

Copic markers are built to last you for several years. It’s one of the features that makes them so great. The fact that you can replace the tip and purchase refillable ink means that once you buy one set, you never have to buy another one again.

Compare that to a mid-range alternative that costs $40 and has no refillable cartridges. Over the course of a year, I might need to buy three or four replacements. That’s $160 on markers with lesser quality than Copic.

Even if you don’t go through that much ink, over the course of several years, you’re going to buy a Copic set worth of disposables.

With my Copic markers, I buy a handful of $8 refills and a few tip sets per year. After three or four years of doing this, I’ve actually saved money by using Copic.

That’s not the only reason why I think Copic markers are worth it, though. There’s also the undeniable fact that the quality that this brand produces is unbeatable. Sure, there are alternative sets like the Touch Twin Brush line that come somewhat close, but Copic has been king of the hill for so long for a reason.

Every single marker is tested for quality before it’s shipped out, and Copic takes genuine pride in the quality of its products, and that’s not something that comes cheap.

Can You Blend Copic Markers with Alternative Brands?

Absolutely you can, provided you’re mixing your Copic with alternative alcohol pens. You don’t have the option of mixing ink types, so whatever you do, don’t do that.

However, Copics and alternative alcohol brush pens do give you the ability to mix and match with each other.

Which is Better: Copic or Prismacolor?

Copic.

Prismacolor produces some great brush markers, especially for artists on a budget. However, the quality of all Copic markers compared to the Prismacolor brush markers is self-explanatory. You’re getting more potent and longer-lasting markers when you buy with Copic.

Where Can I Buy Copic Brush Markers?

Copic doesn’t actually retail its brush markers, brush tip, chisel tip, or refillable ink itself. Instead, the company produces the products, which then go to wholesalers and eventually to retailers.

This means that while you can’t buy Copic replaceable nibs, ink, or markers on the Copic site, you can from almost any decent arts and crafts store, whether in person or online.

You shouldn’t struggle to find a local website or store that stokes Copic products. To save you having to Google search, you can find our top picks on this page.

Brush Nib or Chisel Tip?

One of the biggest things that you need to consider when buying your pens is whether you want a chisel tip or a brush tip. This is especially true if the pens you’re buying don’t support replaceable nibs.

In general, a lot of pens come with both. However, if you do have to choose, I recommend you get a brush tip.

Chisel tips are more suited to calligraphy work rather than traditional art. A brush nib, on the other hand, works a lot more like a paintbrush.

Are Touch Markers Worth It?

Touch Twin Brush pens aren’t the best Copic alternatives out there, but it is a fine manufacturer to get a case of markers from.

The brush pens come with a nice range of colors that pop well and don’t entirely destroy your paper. The quality isn’t the same as that of the best Copic alternatives that I’m a fan of, but the markers are more than worth it. This is especially true since the markers are refillable.

I've Been a User of Low-Quality Markers for Years. Should I Upgrade?

If you’ve been consistently using your markers for years, whether just as colors or as brush pens for more detailed art, then you should absolutely upgrade.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional or just draw recreationally; the fact that you have enjoyed this profession or hobby for years means that you can more than justify treating yourself to a nice case of brush pens.

You’re going to get access to more vibrant colors and tip options that are going to blow your old markers out of the water and take your art to the next level.

Should I Keep My Markers in a Carrying Case?

You don’t need to, but you can if you want. The only thing you really to monitor when it comes to storing your marker set is that the cap is securely put over the tip and that it isn’t hot enough to dry the ink up.

A marker case is an option if you’re worried about damage. If I was traveling overseas, for example, I would put my supplies in a hard case. For day-to-day use, though, a pencil case is fine.

Does Art n Fly Make Good Pens?

There are a lot of great companies that produce stellar art pens out there. Art n Fly is definitely one of them.

The colors that Art n Fly pens offer are fantastic, as is the quality of the ink that each marker uses. You get access to a decent range of tip types and even the option to purchase refillable inks.

While I do prefer to use a Copic marker over an Art n Fly, there’s no reason for you not to get a set if you’ve been thinking about it.

What Colors do I Need to Start Art?

When you buy your first marker set, you’re not thinking about tip type or refillable ink. You’re thinking about colors.

After all, the primary purpose of markers is to add color to illustrations. Otherwise, we would all be using fine liners and charcoal pencils.

While I’d recommend that your first set is an inexpensive, comprehensive one that covers all the bases, you do have the option of being selective and getting individual colors from popular and expensive brands.

If you do want to go this route, I recommend you get 12 different colors:

  • Get yourself each of the primary colors: red, yellow, and blue, and also pick up green for good measure.
  • Try to get four different shades of one skin color. This is going to let you add shadow, shape, and depth to any characters you draw.
  • Lastly, pick up four grey colors with a nice and even gradient between them. Not only does this enable you to have shadows in your drawings, but you can also use these colors to blend and shade your primary colors.

Conclusion

Phew, okay. I think that about covers it.

There is A LOT to consider when you’re looking at decent Copic alternatives. It goes far deeper than having different colors, and that surprises a lot of people. You have to consider whether you want a chisel tip or a brush tip, your budget, what you’re using the pens for, and so much more.

Ultimately, though, the bottom line is that if you find a set of pens that you like the look of, get them. Don’t let arbitrary things get in the way of letting you enjoy your art.

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Adam has made a name for himself in the illustration industry and is a passionate blogger and writer on the subject of art, illustration and graphic design.

His artwork has been featured in countless publications and used for very well-known media projects. As a professional illustrator for over 20 years, Adam's wealth of knowledge and experience enables him to consult and advise artists and illustrators all over the world.

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