Ode to an Art Supply: The Beauty of Copic Markers

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I’ve gone through quite a few phases of preferred tools as an artist and designer. One month it’s ballpoint pens, another month it’s mechanical pencil. Sharpie the next and so on. I had three distinct stages of marker loyalty during my time in design school. It all started with Letraset markers. They were great. Then I was gifted a massive set of PrismaColors, and those were fun for awhile, too. But when I first tried Copics — and they didn’t roll off the table — I had to switch entirely.

I couldn’t get enough. Warm greys, cool greys, neutral greys — ALL OF THE GREYS.

I couldn’t get enough. Warm greys, cool greys, neutral greys — ALL OF THE GREYS. As you may know, high-quality markers like these aren’t exactly cheap. I had some hungry nights dealing with this obsession. But it meant everything to me to be using the same tools that the pros I aspired to be like were using.

drawing anime with copic markers
A drawing by the illustrator Anika Kinka done up with vibrant Copic colors.

Dipping a toe into digital drawing

Fast forward to my time as an intern at Autodesk working on SketchBook and Alias. I was staring at a computer screen all of a sudden. With a Wacom Intuos tablet, stylus, and a little app called  SketchBook Pro 2.0, I was lost. Digital sketching was an entirely different beast, and I was not 100% confident I could make the transition. All of my coloring workflows and habits had to change. But I went for it, committed, as you do at any job. And it didn’t take long for me to start feeling comfortable in my new environment. With digital drawing, everything was so clean. No inked up fingers or marks on the table. No eraser bits all over the place. It was very strange.

comic marker GIF
Truth be told, sometimes I would still hustle home to use my markers and get my hands dirty a little bit.

Fast forward again to 2011. SketchBook and Too Corporation (the Japanese company behind Copic) partnered up to include Copic markers and the Copic Color Library directly inside SketchBook Pro. As both a long time Copic fanatic and a fully converted digital sketching fan boy, I was elated. My two worlds combined.

How we made Copic digital

At that time, translating something as distinctive as Copic markers into the digital world required us to think hard about the many ways we’ve used these well-loved markers in the past:
The 7 Passes Rule

We were intrigued by a detail the people who make Copic markers shared with us. They design their markers’ “flow” so that it ideally takes seven passes of a marker to reach full saturation. That’s the kind of thing we can do programmatically in the app so that it completely matches the real world.

Colorless Blender

If you use Copic markers for coloring, you know they have a “colorless blender” marker (labelled ‘0’) that is essentially a “blank” marker that lets you put down colorless ink. It can be used to thin out your ink, or you might use it to add textured dots or dashes, in much the same way if you were using an invisible marker. (Remember those?) We added a Colorless Blender option to our Copic Color palette so it would match real-world Copic markers.

copic nibs coloring
There’s a special Copic Brush Set inside SketchBook Pro if you want to imitate nibs.
Copic Brush Set

Copic isn’t just about color, it’s also about the size and feel of the markers and marker nibs. So we knew we needed a special Copic Brush Set. The Colorless Blender option is designed to work only with the Copic Brush Set, which you’ll find pre-installed in SketchBook Pro. We wanted to give users default shapes and sizes that match real Copic markers, so you’ll find a half dozen options from very fine to extra broad. Of course you can duplicate these and customize them to your heart’s content.

Complementary Colors

When we were thinking about how to make our Copic menu as useful as possible, one thing we decided to add that doesn’t exist in the real world is a list of suggested complementary colors. That’s one of the benefits of computers — they can instantly calculate related colors that follow the “science” of color. Of course, color picking for some people is all about instinct and feeling and even emotion and not at all about science, but if you want to know what colors in theory should work great with the color you just laid down, these options are here for you.


Copic naming conventions and customization

It wouldn’t be Copic without their distinctive naming system, so of course we had to include that. It’s easy to find the digital version of your favourites. And you can organize them into your own set. We start you off with a few suggested distinctions: Illustrated vs. Design Copic options. But you are strongly encouraged to drag the ones you like into a tray at the bottom of the Copic Library pane.

Why I still use both real and digital Copic

Essentially, when you sign up for SketchBook Pro you get the equivalent of thousands of dollars in markers and ink refills built right inside the app. (If you purchased each marker in every color they offer — which would be crazy, of course — you’d spend something like $12,000 CAD.) The marker tips never dry up or bend, and the yellows never turn brown/black. Some of  you might say there’s nothing like the feeling of that well-established, trooper of a marker on the verge of running out of ink, and I would agree with you. But there’s a Density setting for that in the brush editor! You can have a perfect level of ink flow, and it will stay that way forever. Computers are amazing.

That said, as much as I love the Copic tools in SketchBook Pro, it’s important for me to have markers readily available at any time. To keep my skills somewhat alive — but mostly for the smell. Here is a prized possession of mine: the Limited Edition Copic 25th Anniversary set with the black body:

25th anniversary copic marker set with black body

I have hundreds of markers drying up in the basement at home because I’m mostly dedicated to digital sketching and rendering these days, but I still have these beauties in the office to get me through long meetings and phone calls.

Speedpaint video: drawing digital with Copic