Copic Markers for Beginners

Zoe September 18, 2010 26

Hi Everyone,

I thought I would write up a post about my personal views on copic markers in the hope to shed some light for those of you who are considering becoming ‘addicted’ to this fabulous colouring medium. I say ‘addicted’ as I don’t know many people who begin playing with copic markers and not find they want to experiment and better their skill at colouring.

I receive a lot of questions from people who would like to try copic markers, asking what colours should they try, what tips I might have and how can I colour like you? So I am going to tell you the story of how it all began for me and the pitfalls I faced and a few things I have learned. I will tell you right here that I am now copic certified, but a lot of what I learned was from experience and lots and lots of practice. ๐Ÿ™‚

How I began

My love affair with copic markers began earlier this year. Before copic markers I didn’t really colour much and didn’t really buy those types of cutsie stamps. I had a few that I would colour with pencils, water pencils or chalks. It wasn’t really a big part of my card making. Then I came across the Magnolia range of stamps and bought a few. After looking at other blogs using these stamps my jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe how gorgeous their images looked and so I began researching what they were using to colour these images with.

I found they were using a number of different mediums but that these ‘copic markers’ kept receiving comments of how amazing they are. I was visiting my local craft store and they happened to have some copic markers. They were very expensive, around $11-$12 each from memory but I decided I would just buy two colours to try them out. I had NO IDEA at this stage about the different types of copic markers and about the colour rating system.

I decided to buy what I thought were skin colours – E00 said ‘Skin white’ on the cap & R02 said ‘Flesh’ on the cap. For those of you familiar with copic markers you may be chuckling right now. It turns out that these colours DO NOT blend well together. But as a beginner, reading the names of the markers is not the way to select your colours. I will go into this in detail further below.

The other mistake that I had made is the type of marker I had purchased, but it was quite a while and quite a few dollars later that I figured this out. I had been purchasing the ‘original’ copic markers which have a square body shape and a hard pointy nib to colour with. They are more like what we call here in Australia a ‘Texta’.

However, even though this was a mistake I made by not researching more I feel I learned a different technique to colouring with copic markers due to this experience. I couldn’t colour like the women I watched on youtube as I didn’t have the flexibility of the brush nib found on the Sketch and Ciao markers. Thus rather than colouring with small circles I found I needed to colour in small strokes which I know understand as the ‘feathering’ technique. I continue to colour this way with my ‘sketch’ markers today and personally find I get better results.

So what is so good about copic markers compared to other markers?

Unlike regular markers that are water based, copic markers are alcohol based (but they are acid free when the ink dries so they can be used in scrapbooking). Being alcohol based means when using the correct paper, the paper doesn’t ‘pill’ when you saturate the paper. With regular water based markers the paper becomes so saturated that it begins to start scratching away at the paper and it peels up leaving you with little balls of paper where you have coloured.

The other pro to this is that you can colour on different surfaces, for example, tin, ribbons, embellishments, materials and more. So with copic markers you can begin buying plain rhinestones and pearls and simply colour them to match your project rather than having one of every colour in your collection.

Because they are refillable and the nibs replaceable, your initial outlay is an investment for life. Refill inks don’t cost a lot more than the pens themselves and you can refill a sketch marker about 10 times per refill bottle. I have heard of some crafters who buy the really big refill bottles for the colours they use ALL the time. I have only just recently refilled my first marker which was a skin colour and I colour a lot!!

With the right paper their blending ability is outstanding. The colours are crisp and bright and once you learn the techniques you can achieve amazing results.

So let’s begin with the different types of copic markers.

The two main copic markers used by ‘stampers’ are the Sketch and Ciao markers. I am going to concentrate on these two rather than go over the details of the ‘orginal’ and ‘wide’ copic markers.

Ciao Markers

  1. Round Body
  2. Super brush nib
  3. Chisel Nib
  4. Hold 2cc’s of ink
  5. 144 colours available

Sketch Markers

  1. Oval Body
  2. Super brush nib
  3. Chisel Nib
  4. Holds 3cc’s of ink
  5. Compatible with airbrushing system
  6. Colour codes printed on cap ends
  7. 344 colours available

The Sketch markers were originally introduced and marketed towards artists and graphic designers. These people who had fallen in love with them had wanted to be able to offer similar markers to their childrenย  however the sketch markers were considered too expensive; so Copic designed a special marker which also included a special cap with air holes in it in case a child accidentally swallowed the cap. These were introduced as Ciao markers.

Over the last few years Copic Markers became very popular in the stamping community and one of the biggest questions is, “What is the difference between these two markers?”.

They both use the same colour inks, they both use the same nibs, they both can be refilled and the nibs can be replaced on both.

The sketch however, holds more ink so you will refill your favourite colours less often, they don’t roll around on the table, they ‘feel’ better to hold in my opinion, they can be used with the airbrushing system, you can read the colour on the end of the cap, you can buy spare bodies to mix your own colours and most importantly they are available in a wider range of colours.

My ‘personal’ preference

My preference are ‘Sketch’ markers and from what I have heard, many that begin with the Ciao markers to see what all the fuss is about end up reverting to the ‘Sketch’ markers.

I personally find the Sketch markers ‘feel’ like they are a better quality. It could be the additional weight (like when you receive a nice heavy weighted business card you instantly have a good impression), it could be that the caps are made from the same material as the body casing and the overall feel of the marker as I colour is comfortable to use. But this is my experience and yours may be different.

I definitely think Ciao markers have their place and for those starting out I can see the merritt in trying with Ciaos first. They are cheaper than the sketch markers so the initial outlay is not as expensive. They just don’t have the colour range and sometimes the colour jumps between shades is hard to blend. But that can happen with the sketch markers too.

So what is this whole colour code stuff and why?

The idea behind copic markers is to blend different shades together to create depth within your image. Rather than colouring with one shade like regular textas, you colour with two or more shades so that your image doesn’t appear ‘flat’. Usually it is recommended to blend with a minimum of three shades. A light shade, medium shade and darker shade.

But how do you select the shades?

Each marker has a letter/s and numbers associated with it which ‘describes’ the colour within. NEVER assume the colour of the cap is the colour that will come out of the marker, also be aware that different blending paper gives different results.

The letters

The letters define the type of family the colour belongs to.

E = earthy colours, G = Green Colours Y = Yellow colours, R = Red colours, B = Blue colours, V = Violet colours

Then you will get combinations of these letters

RV = Red Violet, YR = Yellow Red, YG = Yellow Green, BG = Blue Green, BV = Blue Violet

And lastly the gray colours

There are four different tones available in the Sketch and two available in Ciao

W = Warm Grays (hint of brown) available in Ciao and Sketch

C = Cool Grays (hint of blue) available in Ciao and Sketch

N = Neutral Gray (true grey) Sketch only

T = Toner Gray (half way between Warm and Neutral) Sketch Only

The numbers after these letter/s specify the saturation and brightness

First Digit

Looking at the first number first if we go back to our example ‘R20’

We have already learned that the R stands for the ‘Red family’ the ‘2’ tells us on a scale of 0-9 what the saturation of the colour is. Meaning how much ‘gray’ is added to the ink.

The higher the number, the more gray that has been added to the ink meaning the less vibrant the colour will be.

In my experience, the 20’s/30’s in most colour families appear to be the truest colour.

Second Digit

The second digit in our example ‘0’ tells us on a scale of 0-9 how bright the colour is, meaning how light it is or how dark it is.

The higher the number the darker the colour will be as more pigment is added to the blend.

In our example of ‘R20’ the colour is a light red. In my opinion a true ‘pink’ colour. It doesn’t have a lot of grey mixed into the main colour and it has less pigment than the darker colours which makes it light.

Copic Colour Wheel

Here is a link to the colour wheel created by Copic that shows how the families of colours relate to one another.

Blank hand Colour Chart

Here is a link to a blank page with boxes for you to colour with your markers as you acquire them. It is ideal to print this out onto the blending card stock you are using so that you can see the true colour for ‘that’ paper.

What’s this blender marker all about?

Well… it’s not ‘really’ a blender pen. It’s more of a colour remover. It’s one of the most useful markers in the collection. I recommend at least buying this marker as a Sketch as it is one of the markers you will likely use every image you work on.

One of the most common uses of the blender marker is fixing mistakes where you have coloured outside the lines. To fix a mistake you ‘push’ the colour back towards the line. Be careful to not add too much ink close to the line as you will ‘wet’ the surrounding paper and provide an avenue for more colour to ‘leak’ outside the line.

When fixing a mistake only push the colour toward the line a couple of times and then let the paper dry and come back to it a couple more times and so on. Lighter colours may only need a couple of times but high pigment colours will need a few ‘treatments’ and colours like the dark reds well… they are hard. Add a shadow over the top or cut your image out if it is really bad. ๐Ÿ™‚

But that’s not their only use.

You can use the blender marker to add texture to your images. After colouring in pants on a character for example after it has dried you can come in with the blender and add dots, lines etc and the colour will lighten. Give it a moment to dry as the ‘real’ effect appears as it dries. You can also add the blender ink to rags, brushes, spritz bottles etc and create some cool texture effects. Lot’s to experiment with there.

Another purpose is to soften the edges of lines. Especially if you like to outline your characters with a gray or blue colour, you can come in with the blender marker and soften the edge, feathering it slightly.

There are so many other great uses that I wont go into here but as you can see it is an important marker to have in your collection.

You keep saying I need the right paper?

Yes this is very important.

Number one reason
The ink from copic markers flow very easily. You can just lightly hold your marker to a piece of paper and the ink will begin to soak into the paper without you even moving. If you are using regular paper to blend with, you will find it soaks up a lot more of your ink and you will end up wasting a lot of ink. Plus the results aren’t too good. ๐Ÿ™‚

Number two reason
Bleeding. As you are blending your inks you will naturally be saturating the paper with more ink. A well designed and coated paper will be able to hold the ink on the surface a little longer to allow you to blend before soaking in and bleeding out the edges of your lines. naturally any paper will eventually bleed if you over-saturate it with ink so it is important to work quickly and with as little ink as possible.

So what paper?

There are a number of companies who have been researching this and trying to design the best paper to get crafters to woo and chant. It’s true! When stampers find a paper they love to use with copic markers they will scream it out from the top of a hill!

Going back to my humble beginnings, I purchased paper recommended to me where I bought my ‘original’ markers. I had a lot of trouble using this paper and although I was getting better with more research I found I was not using very good paper.

NOTE: Every paper you try is a new learning curve. They each have their own unique fibre makeup and coating etc as all the companies are trying to find the best solution. So it comes down to experimenting with the different papers and then settling on which one seems to work best for you with your particular colouring technique.

I decided to import some GinaK Luxury paper from America. This opened up a whole new world to me. It was fantastic but I kept running into an issue with the high pigment markers in the 8’s and 9’s. They would sit on the surface and not blend into the paper or other colours. At first I thought I had got some dodgy markers but after reading I found others were having similar problems. When I think back to the email I sent to Copic about my problem, they must have been having a chuckle to themselves. I guess that’s why they didn’t respond. hmmm…

A friend sent me a sample of Neenah blending paper. Personally I never liked it. I found it would bleed a lot. But this would be due to MY colouring ways.

Another friend sent me some Beckett paper. I actually like this paper but I have had trouble finding it locally.

I have also tried the Cryogen paper. This one is interesting actually. I like the glimmer on the paper already. I need to experiment more before I offer my full opinion.

My favourite though is X-Press It blending paper. It is a newly developed paper by a company in Australia.

Like all other papers it does take some time to get used to but I will explain why I like it and what I have found it’s pitfalls are.

X-Press It Paper – My personal Preference

What I have found with X-Press It paper is that I don’t have to lay down much ink to be able to blend nicely. I colour with a very light touch using stokes of colour quickly changing through my shades of colour as I blend. I rarely use the ‘circle’ blending that you may have seen elsewhere. I have personally found this lays down too much ink and saturates the paper too much.

You may have also learned and I did too during the copic course that you have blended your colours well if you turn your paper over and the ink has soaked through. Well in my experience I disagree when using X-Press It blending paper. You don’t need to add this much ink for the colours to blend. I do get this result when I blend the high pigment colours in ‘some’ areas as they can be a little harder to blend to a smooth gradient but with most colours they don’t bleed right through.

For me personally, by being light to the touch and not adding too much ink I have been able to achieve a lot more layering. I like to colour my images then allow them to dry and then come back in with grey markers to add additional depth. I could not achieve this with other papers I have tried as the ink would either sit on the surface or bleed too much out the lines.

However… X-Press It blending paper isn’t perfect.

It can still bleed when you over saturate it. For example when I attempted to recently blend pinks to white I needed to use the blender marker a lot to saturate the paper so that I could get a smooth gradient from the pink to white. Because I understood the pitfalls in doing this I made sure I started colouring in this area first so that I could come back and clean up any areas that had bled beyond the lines.

I also find that when colouring large areas, especially when I colour landscapes, grassy areas and skies the areas can dry a little blotchy on occasion. But I have noticed this on all of the papers I have tried and I think it must just be the way paper is coated.

So I suggest trying a few different papers and then deciding which works best with your particular colouring technique.

What stamp ink should I use?

Well I can tell you straight up what ink NOT to use. DO NOT USE STAZ-ON Ink!! It will ruin your nibs and you will need to replace them.

The most common ink that is recommended is memento inks. I personally haven’t tried any other inks so I can not recommend any other inks on personal experience. I have heard of other people trying other inks and they worked just as well.

Always test a small area and see if the ‘stamp ink’ bleeds or leaves a stain on the nibs.

Printer ink

Again another case of experimenting. I use genuine Canon inks with no problems. I have heard of people having problems with Epson inks but after changing their paper had better results. So simply test the inks and try different mediums.

You can also use a laser printer. The toner is ‘melted’ to the paper and thus isn’t affected. The same goes for photocopies.

So I am a beginner and I have NO IDEA what colours to choose

Well with a potential 344 colours to choose from I don’t blame you!! However it’s hard for me to sit here and tell you which colours to choose as it really depends on what you like to colour!

After the experience I went through I decided that I wanted to sell copic markers because ‘A’ I looove them and ‘B’ because I hoped I would be able to help other’s not go through the expensive learning curve I went through. I did hours of research, researching different colour combinations people had tried and found worked well together. I also played around with different colour combinations for different scenarios, skins, hairs, jeans, landscapes, flowers, leaves etc… I decided to create colour combos to try and make the selection process a little easier. I have also included sample images of different ways the colours can be blended together.

However.. you are by no means restricted to these combinations! I mix and match them all the time.

When selecting colours, the general rule of thumb is to pick a colour you like. For example ‘R83’. This becomes your ‘main’ middle colour. Then select a lighter colour and to do this the general rule is to keep the first letters the same and the first number the same (R8) and select a marker that is 2 – 3 digits lower than the last number. In this case you would select R81. You do the same to select your darker colour by increasing the last number by 2-3 digits. In this case it would be R85.

This rule works ‘most’ of the time, although there are some exceptions due to the combinations of colours used to create each colour.

When I am asked by someone who is thinking about buying Copic Markers, “What colours do you recommend I start with?” My very first response is… “What do you like to colour?”

Note: I am going to suggest the colour combinations I have created at this point as it is easy for me to refer you to these where there are examples coloured.


Skin tones

Light Skin Colour Set
E00, E01, E11 for pinkish skin
E50, E53 for a light olive complexion


Blonde hair – one of my favourites is the ‘Dusty Blonde Set
YR31, Y18, Y28

If you were taking note about blending in families you would have noticed this set has colours plucked from all over the place. This set is definitely harder to blend as a gradient however I personally like the mix of colours for hair.

Auburn hair – This is my absolute favourite mix of colours for hair. It is one that I am drawn to all the time. The three colours blend perfectly together and the result is brown with a red tinge to it.
E13, E17, E19


I would probably start with the

Rustic Blue Set – It’s easy to blend, looks fantastic on jeans as it has more of a grey washed tone.
B93, B95, B97, B99

Pretty Pink Set – Another combination that is easy to blend and will work nicely with the rustic blue. Just be warned that R89 should be used in small doses. It is perfect to achieve the additional depth but when you are first experimenting don’t use too much or it will definitely bleed due to it’s high pigment value.
R81, R83, R85, R89

Nature, landscapes, Flowers


‘Currently’ my favourite mix of browns is the ‘Dusty Brown hair‘ set
The slight saturation gives a bit of a ‘dirty’ appearance and works so well on old wooden stumps and animal fur. Plus this set blends really nicely together.
E41, E44, E47, E49


Flora Green‘ is my favourite set of greens for colouring leaves. The mix is all over the place but the results you can achieve with a bit of practice is so life like. Please view the example in the link.
G40, YG63, G28


Purple Set‘. Again this colour mix is plucked from all over the place but I found these colours perfect for colouring flowers. The middle colour is ‘bluish’ which give just enough of a blue highlight to make your colouring look natural ‘in my opinion’ heehee. Please view the example in the link.
BV00, BV13, V17

Overtime you will want to expand your collection and through experience and research you will begin to work out which colours you feel you will use most often in your creations.

This is the end of this overview and I am sure I will read over it and find areas I have missed and add to it. I will attempt to add some images as well when I have more time. In time I will create a new post on some colouring techniques yo can try. Meanwhile you may wish to view some of my copic videos I have created on colouring.

Please note that the information I have provided is based on my personal experience using the products outlined above and that you and others may experience the products differently.

I do hope that I have helped to provide you with some information you can take along with you on your research into Copic markers.

Hugs and take care

Zoe xxoo


  1. emily September 18, 2010 at 1:09 am -

    Loved your lesson in Copics. You answered a lot of my questions.
    Thanks for sharing! :o)

  2. Leigh September 18, 2010 at 1:20 am -

    Wow! I found this so helpful. I am one of those people that is on the fence….I think I might make a wish list and ask my husband to get them for me for Christmas. I appreciate the assistance, especially when it comes to paper!

  3. Julie September 18, 2010 at 1:43 am -

    Thanks so much for this. It sure is a lot to take in to get the best results. I had read many articles where copic markers were used and on asking at a local stamping/craft store I was told they were complicated to use so they would not be stocking them. Maybe they just needed to read up on how to use them too!

  4. Anonymous September 18, 2010 at 3:31 am -

    Zoe, this information is wonderful!! Thank you so much for sharing all you have learned about Copics. I have yet to try them as they are quite pricey and was unsure if I would be successful using them. I now think I may take the plunge (or dip my toe in) and give them a shot, armed with your shared experience. Thank you!!!

  5. Anonymous September 18, 2010 at 3:56 am -

    This is really helpful! Thank you for taking the time to write it out.


  6. OrangeMama September 18, 2010 at 3:58 am -

    Thank you so much for great info. Love it. I’m just planning to try them.

  7. Leah the Orange September 18, 2010 at 5:40 am -

    you are SO resourceful!
    were i to ever decide to venture into the world of Copics, you would be my mentor and muse!


  8. Dee (Sprytebyrd) September 18, 2010 at 9:18 am -

    Great article!! Thanks so much for taking the time to write it up and share it with us! I learned a lot and will be saving it to reference back to when I need it!!
    Dee x

  9. bonnie September 18, 2010 at 9:52 am -

    Thanks you so much for all the info. Very helpful. Maria from Marias Studio linked me toyour site. Thanks again.

  10. carisa September 18, 2010 at 2:38 pm -

    wow, Zoe, this was so indepth!! i love it, i can’t imagine having anything more to add. I love the history of the ciao’s, tho i can’t imagine letting my kids use them as they are still pricey IMO. LOL

  11. prita September 18, 2010 at 6:23 pm -

    Hi Zoe, this article on copics is wonderful, very in depth and you tell it how it is not how they want us to hear it. Thanks for this and everything else that i have seen you do your videos and tuts are amazing

  12. Trexxann September 18, 2010 at 7:11 pm -

    This tutorial is great! You have put a lot of time into this and have covered everything!! I am new to copics and just had my first ‘real’ attempt at using them but with only the set A of 36 markers. It took me all day to colour my first Tilda with the help of You Tube and I bravely put it on my blog! I can only hope that I become as clever with copics as you!! Thanks again Zoe for sharing your talent and knowledge. ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. Anonymous September 19, 2010 at 5:52 am -

    Thanks for all the great information. I too have the original markesrs and a number of smaller image stamps so I am good with them. I have since purchased some of the sketch and just a few caio. They are definately an investment and an addiction. ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. Haystack Creations September 19, 2010 at 10:31 am -

    This info is fantastic! I haven’t tried copics but have been wondering where I would possibly start. I’m not so daunted now.

  15. KimberleyG September 20, 2010 at 4:39 pm -

    Fab job! Helps those of us who know next to nothing about them get a better understanding.

  16. Deb September 27, 2010 at 8:33 pm -

    Thank you so much for sharing this info, I found it really useful ๐Ÿ™‚ I was thinking of buying the Copic Sketch 72 set A – I’m a beginner and instead of choosing the colours separately I was thinking of a set – would you recommend that?

  17. Colorado December 30, 2010 at 6:35 am -

    I just came upon your article as I was doing a search for paper to use with Copics. I have to say, I’ve tried to do some research about Copics before, but this is by far the best article I’ve ever found. I have not taken the expensive plunge… have been trying to learn as much as I can before putting any money out. But, so far have just not felt I knew enough about choosing some beginning colors to jump in. You have given me real, usable information and have taken away at least some of the fear of wasting money I don’t have. Thank you so much for such a well written and informative article!!!!!

  18. Carole March 5, 2011 at 8:38 am -

    Great tuto and very helpfull…
    Thanks for sharing!

  19. Trish Newman April 4, 2011 at 10:37 am -

    WOW as a beginner I found this info super informative. Thank you so much. Please keep up the good work with this excellent way of informing us on the do’s and don’ts

  20. karen irvine May 23, 2011 at 12:16 pm -

    this was very helpful. thank you so much for sharing! i really like my pencils, but love the look copics give to images! do wish they didn’t cost so much.:(

  21. emma.ernst June 18, 2011 at 3:17 pm -

    Thank you soo much for you wealth of information here. My sister has just introduced me to Copics and I’m not sure that was a good thing…it has only been one week and I am TOTALLY ADDICTED!! I have definitely saved this as a favourite as a reference forever!!….off to puchase some more online now!!
    Thanks, Emma ๐Ÿ™‚

  22. Carol June 23, 2011 at 8:39 am -

    I ordered some sketch and some original. i have the sketch but the original square ones get here in a few days. i wish i hadn’t ordered them now that i read your awesome information. can i change the nibs on the originals?

  23. Muriel July 14, 2011 at 10:59 pm -

    Bonjour, merci pour ses merveilleux tutos
    J apprรฉcie beaucoup votre site et j adore aussi les tampons digitaux
    Merci beaucoup pour le partage
    Muriel ( belgique)

  24. DeeDee Bryans July 18, 2011 at 7:32 am -

    Thank you so much for the information you posted regarding the Copic Markers. I have been thinking about purchasing them for quite awhile and was not sure which set to buy. I have been trying to use SU markers and their white cardstock, with not great results. I used to love to do pen and ink and used watercolor paper. I think that is the direction that I want to go in. Learning where my passion is has been quite expensive with all the stamps, etc. that I have purchased mostly from SU. I soooo love the digital stamps, particularly Mo Manning’s images. Thank you again for your help!

  25. Angela September 17, 2011 at 7:59 pm -

    Zoe, thank you so much for a very informative posting about copic markers for beginners. I have been wondering about getting some for a while, as some of the colouring I have seen on other people’s blogs has been rather inspiring. I just dodn’t know where to start, so now thanks to your post I have a better undertanding about the colours, the numbering/coding and how different paper can give different results which I would never had thought about. Thanks for all the time and effort you put into the post.

  26. Amy O September 23, 2011 at 1:05 am -

    Thank you! Your explanation was so informative and simple at the same time! You certainly have a way with words.