Ack! My Copic Marker exploded!
You’re coloring with a Copic and life is wonderful. Sunshine and rainbows everywhere. You’re happy as an elephant in a peanut butter factory…
When suddenly ink starts oozing out the end of your marker and all over your project.
No, I’m not kidding.
You’re coloring along and just when you least expect it, the marker goes splort and you’re left with a big un-erasable puddle of ink.
I call them marker volcanoes
… but most everyone else calls them “Oh my gosh, my marker just barfed!”
Which is why several times a month, you’ll see a Copic beginner post on the internet: “Hey folks, I think I may have a bad marker. My Copic just dripped ink all over my project! Has anyone ever heard of this happening before?”
Oh yes honey, we’ve all heard of it. Now go grab your tinfoil hat, sit back, and relax. You’re about to get walloped by a whole lotta bad information.
“Don’t worry, newbie! It’s not a bad marker. Your Copic has been accidentally pressurized which caused it to leak. If it happens again, just take off the opposite marker cap. That will equalize the pressure. Problem solved!”
To which I say: Wrong, wrong-wrong, wrongitty wrong!
That is sooooo untrue it makes my eyelashes hurt.
Dear Internet, please stop talking about Copic pressure
Look, I know the whole pressurized marker thing sounds totally scientific…
Wait a minute!
No. No, it does not sound scientific!
See, here’s where I’m too wimpy. I was just about to coddle you. I was going to say something sweet, try make you not feel not-so-bad for spreading the pressure rumor. I was going to tell you that it kinda maybe sorta sounded plausible. That it almost makes sense. That I don’t blame you for falling for the lie…
Marker pressure? Really?
It does NOT make sense!
You heard the hooey and you said “Okay, sign me up! I’ll be a big believer in the mysterious evil forces of random pressurization curses!”
Stop. Let’s be smart.
If you actually think about the myth, and that’s exactly what it is; excess pressure is a complete and utter fairy tale… If you think it through, it doesn’t make a lick of sense.
Pressure from where? What kind of pressure? High pressure? Low pressure? How did it get there?
Stop telling people it’s pressure!
Copics do not leak or explode because of pressure.
Copic Markers are incapable of holding and retaining pressure
I introduced the concept of the pressure myth in tips #5 and #6 here. But let’s get technical now.
Copics are not a closed system.
They can not hold pressure because Copic Markers are designed to breathe. The nibs of a Copic marker fit into the hole just tightly enough so that they don’t fall out.
But Copic Nibs do not seal the gap. It’s not an airtight fit.
Look down into the end of the chisel nib. See the gap on either side there?
That gap means there’s no way in holy horse hockey that the ink receptacle can become pressurized.
Besides, even without the gap, even if the nib was placed with a perfect vacuum seal, the nibs themselves are porous!
Ink flows through the nib end, right? So does air. That’s what I mean by designed to breathe. In order for the ink to flow out of the nib, the plastic housing around the nib has to allow some air back into the marker.
Inflow of air makes the outflow of ink possible.
All of that inflow/outflow? That’s breathing.
If there’s airflow and liquid flow, there can be no pressurization.
Copics can not hold pressure because they are not a sealed system.
But if you don’t believe me, here’s further proof that it’s not pressure:
1. Volcanoes happen with every style of Copic
Ever notice that when 520 people hop online to say “Don’t worry, it’s just pressure!”, not one of these helpful experts ever asks if you’re using a Classic, a Ciao, or a Sketch style Copic?
Nope, they don’t care. They’d say the same thing no matter what kind of marker you’re using. Their answer is always pressure.
Hello? There are are three different kinds of Copic markers.
(If you don’t count the wides.)
Three different marker bodies, different nib styles, different cap locking systems. The Ciao is even made of completely different plastic than the others.
And yet all three markers suffer have the same exact design flaw which causes rapid pressurization and random torrential inkflows?
2. Copics do not shoot ink
Hey remember that time when you took off the cap and accidentally sprayed R59 across the desk and onto the walls? It looked like Redrum, right?
Well that spray action is exactly what could happen…
Heck, it’s what would happen several times a month if your Copic was somehow pressurized.
You wouldn’t need the Copic Airbrush System.
You could just pump ‘em up and they’d spray on their own.
But Copics do not spray. Which is why “excess pressure” advice is bunkum.
3. Copics do not explode into their caps overnight
Have you ever taken off a cap and found a giant puddle of ink inside?
Huh. So you mean these pressure problems ONLY happen when you are physically holding the marker?
And they NEVER happen when you’re not holding the marker?
Don’t you think that’s a bit weird?
Volcanoes never happen at 3am when your markers are sound asleep, tucked away in their caddy with their caps on.
And it never happens when the marker is just laying there uncapped on your desk, waiting for you to finish blending that one little spot…
More about this mysterious mystery in a minute.
4. Copics can be used at any altitude
Now I’m not saying that you can take your markers up Mount Everest or down into the Marianas Trench; but folks, they sell Copics in Sante Fe and they sell the same darned Copics in New Orleans.
Different pressures due to different altitudes. Same explosions.
There aren’t large areas of the globe listed as no-go zones for Copics.
I’ve used them on a plane and on a train. In a boat and with a goat.
Which again, is why I say it’s not pressure.
5. Volcanoes are not communal or barometrical
This is actually what first made me doubt the validity of the pressure myth. You’d never notice this unless you’ve taken lots of local Copic classes.
One student may have a volcano but you won’t see two and you’ll never see three students with simultaneous explosions.
Which is weird because every student in the room is at the same altitude, The barometer reading is the same for everyone. They’re all capping and uncapping markers like crazy.
If volcanoes were due to pressure, we’d see multiple people triggering squirt-fests all at the same time.
You don’t bring your own personal weather system to class with you. The conditions are the same for you and for the person sitting next to you!
It’s not pressure. It’s not pressure. It’s not pressure. It’s not pressure. It’s not pressure.
So why do Copics explode?
Well, I’ll be completely honest. I’m still not totally sure.
I’m working on observation here, not double-blind controlled studies or secret insider Copic factory knowledge.
First off, we need to eliminate the volcanoes caused by overfilling. If you put too much ink into your marker, it absolutely will drip until the excess ink is discharged.
But today, we’re not talking about user error.
Instead, we’re discussing the seemingly random bursts of ink. The ones that come out of nowhere when the marker was working just fine only minutes before.
What I notice about explosions:
1. They tend to happen with darker colors from certain color families
2. They tend to happen in warmer rooms
3. Certain people are very prone to volcanoes while others rarely have them
4. Some people have can have two or three volcanoes in a row, with several different markers.
Here’s the other strange thing I’ve noticed. And boy-howdy, I almost hesitate to mention it because it sounds totally crazy:
Middle aged women who are going through menopausal changes seem to have more volcanoes.
See, I told you it was weird. But hold on, because that was an important clue!
Here’s what I think is causing Copic explosions:
I personally don’t get volcanoes. I’ve had only three volcanoes in over fifteen years of coloring.
But I also have cadaverous hands. My fingers are always cold, even in the summer.
Meanwhile some of my students seem to be cursed by the volcano gods.
Some regularly have explosions. Just last night, a student had one with an N8 marker and in last month’s class, it happened to her with a dark green.
When it happens in class, I always ask about their hands. They are almost always hot-handed people.
I see more volcanoes in summer classes when the air conditioner isn’t properly cooling the classroom.
I see more volcanoes in spring classes when the furnace is still cranking out December level heat.
And I see more explosions when we use one marker a lot or when the image is fiddly and detailed. In both cases, people are gripping the marker longer and often holding it tighter for control.
All of this builds-up heat in your hands and on the marker barrel.
As liquids warm, the molecules get excited and the liquid gets less viscous and expands slightly. So if your marker is already on the full side and suddenly the ink starts getting runnier and taking up more room, then that poor marker core is going to have problems holding it all in.
You can only feed the dog so much chili…
Oops, sorry. I took that metaphor a little too far.
Here’s the kicker for my liquid-expansion temperature theory: I think volcanoes happen more with some color families.
Most explosions happen with dark colors like deep reds, dark browns, and intense violets- the markers that end in 7, 8, or 9.
Volcanoes rarely happen with triple zero markers. Explosions are tragic because they’re almost always a dark color which is hard to erase.
Why is it always a dark marker?
I’ve thought about that too.
All Copic inks are a combination of colorant and solvent. The lighter marker colors are made with a very high ratio of solvent to colorant. So a BG10 has loads of solvent in the mixture compared to a BG78 which has very little.
Solvent is a funny thing. A solvent’s job is to evaporate.
Evaporation causes cooling!
The alcohol in your marker turns from a liquid to a gas...
Now hold on. Before I explain this further, remember that this is an art blog written by an artist who hated physics class. This is Physics for Dummies written by an actual physics dummy.
The evaporation process turns the alcohol in your marker from a liquid phase to a gas phase. In order to do the phase transformation thingie, evaporation requires energy. That energy is heat.
As the alcohol turns to a gas, the remaining ink drops slightly in temperature as the hottest molecules leave the solution and float off into the air.
This is why I tell students to feel their paper during some techniques. Wet paper feels cool to the touch because evaporation is still occurring. And if evaporation can noticeably cool the paper, by logic, it’s also cooling the temperature of the marker.
Which I think explains why no one ever says “Oh look, R0000000 just splodged all over my paper!” Light colored markers are self-cooling. So are the Ys and YGs. Those two color families carry a lot of solvent, across all their numbers.
That’s my temperature + liquid expansion theory.
Feel free to poke holes in it but it makes a lot more sense to me than evil pressure demons.
Check out Amy’s favorite art supplies, click above.
volcano protection & prevention
We have to talk about this because what you’re doing now isn’t working.
Taking off both caps is pointless!
Coloring with both caps off makes you feel like you’re doing something super effective, useful, and important.
“I’m empowered. I’m problem solving!”
But coloring topless is pretty darned pointless. It’s a busy-body thing. It does nothing to stop or prevent volcanoes.
I’ve watched students have second and third volcanoes with no caps on!
It’s not pressure related, so cap removal does not solve anything.
Taking the caps off gives you a job, you’re on a mission. You feel proactive. But by the time you get the mess cleaned up and the caps off, the marker has already cooled off and calmed down. It has long stopped dripping.
If my temperature theory is correct, you solved the problem way back when you dropped the marker and started screaming “What in the royal eff is happening to my Copic?”
Setting the marker down was the solution, not taking the caps off five minutes later!
And hey, think for a minute. This means that those of you who routinely color with both caps off are damaging your markers!
No joke. I have a student who colors topless all the time because she’s beset by explosions. We recently noticed that several of her markers are quite a bit darker than everyone else’s. By always uncapping her markers, she’s leaking extra solvent every time she uses them. Over time, this has changed the ratio of solvent to colorant inside the marker. Even though she frequently refills them, constant toplessness keeps throwing the ratio off. Her B34 now looks more like a B35 or 36!
if coloring topless does not help…
what can stop a volcano?
The first thing is time.
Explosions are not a constant flood of ink. The marker gushes and then it’s done. By the time you set the marker down, it’s usually over.
So most of the time, you don’t need to do anything more than simply take your time and slow down.
Don’t rush back to the project.
If the marker does continue to drip, the only sure-fire solution is to milk the nib of excess ink.
Fold up a piece of paper towel several times to make a paper pad with multiple layers. Then gently squeeze the brush nib between the layers. The nib will go very pale when you’ve emptied it and then it will slowly darken again as it draws more ink out of the core.
You can milk the nib 3-4 times to remove the excess ink that was going to blob out anyway.
As for prevention…
One of my especially hot handed students pre-dabs her Copics before touching them to the project.
She has a paper towel pad sitting in front of her at all times. Her constant habit is to dab the pad, then color. Dab and color, dab and color. By the end of class, her pad looks like a Jasper Johns. I do think the dabbing helps because it often foreshadows a nib that’s just a little too juicy.
I’ve got another student who brings a chilly gel pack to class.
She lays her markers on it which I suppose works a little bit, even if it’s only on the one side making contact with the pad. What I think is even more helpful is that I catch her cooling her hands on it too. She thinks it feels nice but secretly, I suspect it’s why her volcano rate has plummeted. Her hands are cool plus she’s relaxing her hands and enjoying the break between colors.
Don’t refill your markers to factory fresh levels.
I weighed a bunch of brand new, never been used markers at the shop where I teach. The weights vary a bit but the Sketches are all around 14.3 to 14.6 grams each (with both caps on). I recommend that students refill their markers to no more than 14 grams. Sticking to 14 grams gives you that full marker feeling without maxing out the core.
Watch the nib as you color.
A Copic brush nib gets very dark and shiny just before an explosion. I also suspect that your coloring probably gets a little dark and juicy just before the drip happens. A few observant students have pulled away just in the nick of time, dripping on their desk rather than their paper. It definitely pays to pay attention.
Even if you’re not hot-handed, holding the marker looser can help.
A tight grip covers and warms the barrel of the marker; that part is logical. But a tight grip also generates a lot more heat than a loose hand does. Working muscles get hot and a hand in sustained contraction is going to be warmer than a relaxed hand. So to my mind, air circulation is nice but keeping the hand from burning extra calories is even more important.
My last prevention tip is just common sense: Take frequent breaks.
Set the markers down and step away from the project. Rest your hand, stretch your muscles, refocus your eyes on distant objects, reset your brain. All the while, you’re also giving your marker some time to cool down and recover. Periodic rests are good for your marker, for your body, and for your artistic soul.
I’m not claiming to have solved the volcano mystery
I could be totally wrong and I’m open to other theories.
I just know excess pressure does not make sense, on many levels.
I’m no science genius, I just see a lot of students in local classes every month and I’ve got a couple hundred people wandering through my online classes on any given day. That’s a lot of marker talk and a lot of marker observation.
The pressure theory is clearly wrong.
Liquid expansion due to hand temperature seems more correct to me, at least at this time. But I’m keeping my mind and my eyes open. It’s a working theory, not a proven diagnosis.