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How to Get the Most Out of Your Watercolor Markers

Watercolor markers offer you the versatility of having watercolors and ink markers at the same time. This allows them to be highly versatile so that you can sketch or paint wherever you are. If you thought watercolors in pans were your most travel-friendly media, just wait until you try these out. These markers are great to take on the road with you. Add a little water with a brush pen and you have all the expressive capabilities of watercolors with much less mess.

Credit: Rosa F Rosies Sketchbook

Use Watercolor Paper

Just as with traditional watercolor paints, watercolor pens need the right paper to look and act their best. While most traditional watercolor artists prefer cold-pressed watercolor paper for its texture and effects, hot-pressed watercolor paper makes an ideal substrate for watercolor pens. Smoother paper will allow your markers to last longer without damaging the marker tip.

It's also possible to experiment with other papers as well. To find a good paper for your watercolor marker sketches, test that it holds water without wrinkling, that it’s not overly absorbent and the colors don’t fade once applied, and that it’s fine-grained to keep the inks from spreading.

Control Your Colors

Watercolor markers allow you a lot of control over blending. Since these pens are transparent, they allow layers and a certain amount of controlled glazing, even before you add water. You can layer the pen ink dry, using them like normal markers, so that you can make use of their transparency.

Just as you would with watercolor glazing, experiment with how you layer the colors. Having different colors on the bottom will create different blending effects, particularly when you add water, as the first pigments that you stir up with the water will be the top layer.

Also experiment with dry on wet techniques, by wetting the paper and allowing the ink from the marker to spread like paint.

Use a Brush and Water to Blend Colors

To achieve the true watercolor effect, use a brush pen or water and a paintbrush to dilute and mix the ink on the page. With the water, you can soften the edges of your pen strokes, blend two colors together, or create a gradient as you would with traditional watercolor.

You can continue to work and layer the watercolor markers, to build up a glazing effect. Don’t be afraid to work your watercolor markers on a wet surface or a surface that is still moist from previous layers. Just be careful not to overwork your paper.

Washes and Color Gradients

You can create an easy and controlled color gradients by laying down different colored inks next to each other. Then, use the water to blend them together. Remember that this process will mix the color as well, so the two colors you set next to each other will blend together.

For example, if you create a gradient with yellow and blue next to each other, the gradient will transition from yellow to green to blue.

You can use similar techniques to create washes. To do this, use the markers to lay down ink and then adding water generously to spread the ink across the page.

Add Texture to Your Painting

Watercolor markers are made from very stable inks, meaning that they won't separate like many watercolors that you may be used to. While this can help you to create beautiful and consistent artwork, it can help to add a few texturing techniques to make your painting more interesting.

One common technique is color removal. To do this, wet the ink that you want to remove, and then use an absorbent material, such as a towel to soak up the excess color. You can also create organic-looking blends by using spray water filled with water to create a soft splatter effect.

You can also use the salt technique to create textures. To do this, pour salt onto a wet space of paint. The salt will soak up some of the color and water, disrupting the ink distribution and giving it texture. Make sure to wait for the area to dry completely before brushing away the salt. Coarse salt works the best for this technique.

Credit: Richele Christensen

Embrace the Versatility with Sketching Techniques

Watercolor markers give you a lot of extra control. To enjoy this, practice sketching techniques in addition to your watercolor styles. Use the watercolor markers to create solid line art, cross-hatching, and other overlapping line techniques.

Many watercolor pens have soft and flexible brush tips that allow for expressive line variation. You can experiment with different strokes and line thicknesses.

Use a Mixing Tray

If you’re not achieving the color blend that you want, you can blend your colors off the page as well, just as you would with traditional watercolor. Simply draw with the pen on a mixing dish and blend multiple colors together until you get the one you want. Then, you can dilute the blend that you’ve created with water and brush it on with a traditional brush.

This is also an interesting way of creating high-pigment gradients. Try blending a different color, and then dip the tip of a marker into the ink. Draw with it until the color returns to the original marker color.


  • When the nib becomes dirty or has a different color on it, wipe it gently with a paper towel.
  • Use a brush pen to create flowing or bleeding exactly where you want it.
  • Practice pigment removal by spreading clear water over a pigment. To achieve a flowing effect, let the water bleed. Or, if you want to completely remove the pigment, use a towel to soak up the excess.
  • Keep in mind that watercolor markers tend to dry quickly, which can help to preserve the integrity of lower quality papers. It also means less drying time in between lines and more consistent colors.

When learning to use your watercolor markers, practice and experimentation is the key. You can create color and blend charts to help familiarize yourself with their capabilities. Practice with water to see how the colors dilute, spread, and blend. Have fun with different forms of layering your colors. Remember it make not be perfect at first, but this experimentation is can be enjoyable, and it can teach you new ways to use your markers.

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