Copic Markers are NOT Lightfast: How to preserve your coloring Projects

Copic Markers are NOT Lightfast: How to preserve your coloring Projects

Do you know that copic marker is not permanent?

Many crafters have grown quite accustomed to the term “archival”.

Lightfast, permanent, and archival products are now so standard in the paper crafting world that people automatically assume all premium products are lightfast. But that’s not true in the art world…

Copic Marker blending problems? Refill your markers for instant improvement!

Copic Marker blending problems? Refill your markers for instant improvement!

Do you rub and scrub and work really hard to make the blend smooth and it just doesn’t work? Are you beginning to think that you’ll never blend well?


Can I ask you a question?

Five MORE Mistakes Beginning Copic Colorers Make (and how to fix them)

No one is a perfect colorer…

…especially not in the beginning stages

It can be pretty easy to assume that your Copic Marker idols popped out of the womb with a Copic in one hand and a certificate of genius in the other.

But the stinkin' truth is that everyone starts out rough.

Really rough.

There is a definite learning curve to coloring with markers. It takes time and practice to develop good marker skills.

5 More Mistakes Beginning Copic Colorers Make (and how to fix them) |

I teach a lot of marker classes

And the one thing I notice is that everyone screws up.


The thing is, we all don't screw up in the same way. Every beginner has a different set of hurdles to overcome. Some people have hesitancy problems, others are over-eager.

Every student I’ve ever met has two or three technique flaws that lead to less than stellar projects.

5 MORE Copic Mistakes (and how to fix them) |

What's interesting though, is that while student A has 3 problems and student B has 3 problems, once you see enough colorers, you realize that all students make similar mistakes, the only thing that changes is the combination they come in.

So to help you diagnose what goes wrong when you sit down to color, let's look at five MORE of the most common mistakes I see from beginners.

Correct these mistakes and you're not a beginner anymore!

MORE mistakes? Yep, today we're covering Mistakes #6 through #10.

Don't miss the Mistakes #1 through #5, here.

In the last article, I used a puffy red heart to illustrate mistakes. This time we're doing blue-violet balloons.

Here's a good-blending sample. I used BV04, BV02, and BV01.

This isn't going to win me any prizes at the County Fair, especially since this balloon measures only 1” tall in real life and has now a high resolution, blown up giant...  but it is a fairly good example of the kind of smooth blending to shoot for.

Each ink color blends into the next in a fairly smooth manner. The lights are light and the darks are dark with no jarring streaks or blobs to ugly-up the image.

So now that you know what pretty good coloring looks like, let’s take a look at some typical bad coloring and how to fix it.

Improve your Copic Marker blending. Avoid these 5 mistakes beginner colorers make. Solve your blending problems to improve your artistry. | | #howtocolor #copicmarker #adultcoloring
5 MORE Copic Mistakes (and how to fix them) |

Mistake #6:  Coloring in blocks

Smooth blending should be a gentle transition from one marker color to another. The transition zones are key.

Think of a transition zone as a series of overlapping halves. You use markers A and C. Where the two colors overlap creates color B.

Where markers C and E overlap, you create color D.

To be clear, colors B and D are not actual marker colors, they're colors that are created when you transition between two markers.

In my pretty sample above, I overlapped BV04 and BV02 allowing them to magically create a BV03 section. I did not use BV03, I created it.

Same thing with BV02 and BV01. Those inks mixed and mingled to form the equivalent of a BV01.5.

It's all about the mixing.

But mixing can not happen if you color in blocky sections, as shown here.

The Fix:

5 MORE Copic Mistakes (and how to fix them) |

Block colorers are not using flick strokes and that’s why they end up with stripes or blocks rather then transition zones. 

They're physically laying down the correct colors but without the overlap, the inks barely touch each other and never get a chance to blend.

This is a flick stroke, it's a controlled pattern. I've used flicks here to concentrate the heaviest coat of BV04 down where the balloon is the darkest. As I move upwards, the flicks taper off, like little fingers. There is less BV04 ink at the top edge of my coloring and more down at the bottom.

Essentially, smooth blending is all about easing into the transition zone. Easy transitions lead to smooth blending.

It's much easier to blend finger zones to finger zones because there's less BV04 in the upper region for the BV02 to fight with.

Using flicks rather than coloring in blocks will improve your ability to blend inks in the transition zone and to form beautiful middle tones.

A quick note about blocky coloring: You may be a block colorer and not know it! If you typically color quarter-fold card sized stamps with Copics, you are likely coloring in blocks. The teeny-tiny size hides a lot of technique flaws! It’s usually not until you try coloring a larger image that your blocky habit becomes apparent.


Mistake #7: Not enough juice

5 MORE Copic Mistakes (and how to fix them) |

Here’s a scenario for you: You want to make a batch of pancakes.

Just for kicks, let's say you add only half the liquids. So instead of adding 1 cup of milk you use 1/2 cup. Instead of four eggs, you use only two.

How will the pancakes turn out? Will they be light and fluffy?

Probably not.

You're going to have powdery mess on the griddle. Even the dog won’t eat these pancakes.

You need moisture to make the pancake magic happen.

The same is true for markers. You need wet ink on the paper to facilitate blending.

The Fix:

I usually see dry coloring from hesitant students.

They're afraid to lay down too much color for fear of doing it wrong.

But trying to blend with only a little bit of ink is a like trying to do the backstroke in 6 inches of water. Your heart may be in it, but there's not enough moisture to swim.

Improve your Copic Marker blending. Avoid these 5 mistakes beginner colorers make. Solve your blending problems to improve your artistry. | | #howtocolor #copicmarker #adultcoloring

In the bad balloon above, I used a really healthy amount of BV04 but then I let it cure for about 20 minutes before proceeding.

Then I laid down a very wimpy layer of BV02.

Because I was working a light layer over a dried heavy layer, I did not have enough moisture to rehydrate the darker ink.

And surprise, surprise! It didn’t blend.

Ink particles need moisture to move.

Blending is impossible in a desert.

The best blending happens when you work wet into wet. That means not waiting a long time in-between colors.

It also means being generous with the ink on every single coat.

It's not impossible to blend wet into dried ink but the process requires more ink than wet into wet. This is because ink #1 must be re-hydrated before the blending can begin. It's much easier to hit the ink while it's still fresh.

The other thing for beginners to note is that the magic doesn't always happen on the first pass.

Sometimes the two inks won't begin to blend until you hit it with a second coat.

Blending requires a sense of both timing AND quantities.

If the blend isn't what you wanted it to be after the first application, it's okay to go back and wet it again!

5 MORE Copic Mistakes (and how to fix them) |

Mistake #8: Too much light ink

Too little ink is a problem, but so is too much ink.

Remember when I said in the last fix that blending relies on a sense of timing AND quantities?

Well, here's why you can't go overboard.

This blend was going well until I got really happy with the lightest marker (BV01).

Basically, I went back with my lightest marker and coated the heck out of everything in the light and medium zones.

Single marker fixing is a problem because now my light area is almost as dark as the dark side.

And see the weird drying line running through the transition zone? That’s a bathtub ring!

And look in the upper left area, the paper is so saturated that we’re starting to get an oil slick up there.

The Fix:

Here's something you may never have considered.

Improve your Copic Marker blending. Avoid these 5 mistakes beginner colorers make. Solve your blending problems to improve your artistry. | | #howtocolor #copicmarker #adultcoloring

One coat of BV01 equals BV01. But what does three coats of BV01 equal?

You can easily get away with a second or third coat of most inks but when you start playing with multiple layers of the same color, all those lovely transparent layers start to add up to more than your original color.

BV01 + BV01 + BV01 + BV01 = BV02.5 or even BV03

By adding too much BV01, I've darkened the top of that balloon past the middle color. I've ruined my dark to light transition.

How do we avoid this?

Do not blend with just one marker.

Balance your applications of every color.

If you're not happy with the blend, don't grab just the lightest marker to make the fix. Instead, go back with your middle color THEN go back with the lighter.

We’re not only blending, we’re also balancing.

Reblending with multiple colors keeps your lights from accidentally layering up to be darker than your middles.

5 MORE Copic Mistakes (and how to fix them) |

Mistake #9: shaggy coloring

When I introduce flicking, about half of the students do this.

It’s a tip flick which kinda wanders across the color zone. I call it “dinking around”. It’s like they’re saying “I’m an artist, so I make these sketchy artistic strokes.”

Dink. Dink. Dink.

Dinking is when you look like you’re busy but you’re not really getting anything done.

I think dinkers are so wrapped up in the fun of making pretty flick marks that they forget the ultimate goal of filling-in the shape with solid color.

Shaggy coloring is inefficient and a waste of time.

Shaggy strokes will never blend because you’re barely using enough ink to cover the white of the paper, much less make a blend.

Here’s the other bad thing I’ve noticed: even though a shaggy student might fix the problem, they still revert back to shaggy strokes when they get nervous or stop paying attention.

It’s a life-long tendency which you never really cure.

Improve your Copic Marker blending. Avoid these 5 mistakes beginner colorers make. Solve your blending problems to improve your artistry. | | #howtocolor #copicmarker #adultcoloring

The Fix:

Be mindful.

Pay attention to the look of what you’re doing and not just the feel.

Flicking only works when you're generous with both the number of flicks and the length of those flicks.

Your flicks need to overlap each other, they need to touch and get really snuggly in order to cover over the white space.

This isn't just a case of the BV04 flicks not touching each other either. We've got double trouble in this example. The BV02 flicks need to come down and lay on top of a good portion of the BV04 for the actual blending to begin.

It's not enough to have coverage, the coverage needs to be layered.

Play some Barry White and turn the lights down low. These colors need to get comfy, romantic, and downright dirty with each other. If your two inks never touch, if they sit in quarantine, like wall flowers at a sixth grade dance, then they're never going to merge and mingle and make beautiful music together.


Mistake #10: Overstroking

5 MORE Copic Mistakes (and how to fix them) |

This is not usually a first-timer problem.

This bad technique develops after a few coloring sessions, once the student gets comfortable with flicking and coloring with using lots of moisture.

Actually, this is someone who is a little TOO comfortable.

Overstroking is dancing on the edge between a pretty darned good blend and perfection.

Dancing is only cool until you tumble headfirst into the piranha tank.

If you look really closely here, you'll see a mottled texture in the upper and middle thirds of the balloon.

That’s because I blended and blended and blended and blended and then blended some more with all three colors.

I'm right on the edge of oversaturating the paper and in the process, I've used too much of every color.

There’s so much ink here that the solvent in the lightest formula is starting to break down the darker inks.

Mottling happens when the paper is right at the saturation point. The ink particles are so free and floaty that they start to coagulate and clump together into islands of pigment surrounded by pale solvent.

This is basically too much of a good thing.

Mottling can also happen when the lightest marker in your blending combination is a smidge too light for the overall blend… but most mottling is when students get way too confident, pushing the wet into wet technique more towards sopping into dripping.

The Fix:

Know when to stop.

Improve your Copic Marker blending. Avoid these 5 mistakes beginner colorers make. Solve your blending problems to improve your artistry. | | #howtocolor #copicmarker #adultcoloring

There is a limit to how much wet ink a paper can hold.

Just because you can balance on the edge doesn’t mean you should.

More is not better.

In fact, with some Copic inks, more is worse.

If you load enough moisture into the paper, some inks will not just mottle, they’ll shatter.

Shattering is when an ink breaks down into its components. With a dark gray or black you'll see greens and purples start to ooze out.

Green inks can shatter with little yellow halos that often seep outside the boundaries of the image.

Purple and orange can leak reds or pinks.

Experience will teach you to quit while you're ahead.

Good colorers step back from the project to evaluate before they add more ink.

Are you trying to fix a truly bad blend or are you trying to a flaw so tiny that you're the only one who can see it?

In my experience, 60% of your mistakes are ones only you can notice. We're our own worst critics and nothing looks awesome from 3 inches away.

Step back and put the marker down! Learn to live with good instead of killing it in the quest for perfection.


So there you go-

5 more common mistakes and 5 solutions to prevent them from happening again.

  1. Blocky coloring

    Overlap those colors because inks that never touch can never blend.

  2. Dry coloring

    Don’t be afraid to use some ink. Blends can only happen when you use adequate moisture.

  3. Using too much light ink

    Smooth out your blends with more than one marker. Use both the medium and the light color, not just the lightest.

  4. Shaggy coloring

    Don’t dink around with sketchy strokes. Cover that paper in smooth and generous flicks!

  5. Overstroking

    I know it feels artistic and oh-so-professional to blend well but too much of a good thing leads to mottles and shattering.

Don't feel bad if you're guilty of more than one!

Heck, I've broken four or five of these rules on a single project. The key is to spot it happening and mentally slap yourself out of it before you take it too far!

Correcting mistakes and flaws in your technique is part of the learning process.

It's good for you!

5 MORE Copic Mistakes (and how to fix them) |

Troubleshooting: 6 Tips to Solve Copic Marker Blending Problems


Listen to your marker strokes. The strokes do not lie.

One of the many benefits of attending live classes is that a good teacher can spot your technical problems as they occur and help you adjust your technique.

But how do you do this for yourself when coloring at home?

As a teacher and experienced colorer, I can usually look at your project and tell you why your markers are not blending well. I don't actually have to see your process, I can read it on your paper. That ability has nothing to do with my world-renowned psychic talents. I'm not an Indian guide in my free time and I can't put my ear to the ground and tell you how many horsebacked banditos are following us through the canyon...

But that doesn't mean that I can't read the obvious signs.

You can read the signs too.

Marker strokes do not lie. They're like footprints that either lead to success or odd little boo-boo areas.

Everyone has a few projects sitting at home that they're not very proud of. You don't hang these on the fridge because you know something isn't quite right. What you might not realize is that these goofs are valuable; you can learn from your previous mistakes. Failed projects can tell you exactly what you did wrong, if you're willing to listen.

So let's take a look at the 6 most common blending mistakes I see in classroom settings. Then I want you to pull out your most recent project o' shame and see if you're guilty. Spotting the tendency is half the battle to solving the problem. Once you're aware of your bad habits, you can remind yourself to avoid the same mistakes during your next coloring session.


1. Bleeding Strokemarks

6 Tips to Solve your Copic Marker Blending Problems |

Do you have hairy looking marker strokes?

If you're happily coloring along and that mean old ink is bleeding uncontrollably, with every mark you make, STOP IMMEDIATELY.

Please check your paper. Is it good quality blending card or marker specific paper?


I've met a few students who can't quite understand why they color so awesomely in class but never get it right at home.

And while I'd love to take the credit for creating a magical classroom atmosphere where unicorns dance and students tap into the universal well of artistic talent... 

Nope, there are no leprechauns under my classroom tables. The magic comes from using the right paper. I give all my students great quality blending paper, especially designed for marker use.

Marker paper is hot pressed for maximum smoothness and then coated with pixie dust (or more likely, a polymer coating) that both slows down the marker dry time and encourages blending.

So if you're coloring at your kitchen table on a sheet of Office Barn's Bargain Bin copy paper...

Do I really need to explain this one further?

If you want to blend well at home, buy the right paper.


2. Inadequate Moisture

6 Tips to Solve your Copic Marker Blending Problems |

When you bake a batch of box-mix brownies, what happens if you decide to cut back on the wet ingredients? Let's say you put in half the water and fewer eggs.

How awesome will those brownies turn out?

Tender and chewy brownies require the correct amount of moisture in the batter. Half dry brownie batter full of powdery lumps will never bake properly.

We all know this and yet we take squeaky, pale tipped Copic Markers and try to squeeze one last project out before we refill it.

I know, I'm right there with you. I don't own a bottle of refill ink for every one of my markers and there's no way to get some refilled when I'm coloring at 9:30pm in my pajamas.

Beautiful blending requires moisture. The solvent that is present in the inks is what allows the two colors of dye to swirl and merge into a third color. If you're missing out on the juice, you're simply not going to get a proper blend because you're lacking the lubrication that allows two different inks to get together and get happy with each other.

Your marker doesn't need to be at the squeaky stage to be running low. Run the edge of your fingernail up the side of the brush tip to check how juicy it is. You should see the ink shine as you press into the brushtip with your fingernail. Your fingernail should come away with quite a bit of color on it too. And lastly, that brushtip should feel smooth and slick to your nail, any trace of gumminess means it needs more juice.


3. Hesitation Blobs

6 Tips to Solve your Copic Marker Blending Problems |

When I was five, I was the flower-girl in my aunt's wedding. I got to toss confetti from a basket that was about twice as full as it needed to be. I was told to toss one handful to the left and one to the right, until I got to the stage.

What they didn't count on was a traffic jam.

I tossed like a pro. Left, right, left, right. And when the line stopped mid-way down the aisle, I kept tossing. Left, right, left, right, as confetti piled up around my feet. I ran out long before the bridesmaids all made it up on stage. Never ask 6 ladies to quickly climb stairs in long, tight column gowns.

That's how markers work too. You don't have to go anywhere for them to release ink. With colored pencil, you have to physically drag and press to make a mark. No movement, no mark.

Not markers. They gush as soon as you touch down and keep gushing until you lift up.

That feature works against people with hesitant strokes.

See the ink pools on either end of this orange stroke? That's a 1 second stop in my movement. One second is enough to put little blobs on the beginning or end of any stroke you make.

Smooth blending is the result of an even layer of color and an even dry time. Concentrations or pools are difficult to blend because they require more attention and then stay wet longer than surrounding areas.

Hesitation blobs are especially problematic when you leave one in the middle of a face or in an area of what should be smooth sky or background.

A smooth stroke will touch down, move, and lift in one smooth stroke. It's evenly timed and balanced, without leaving a beginning or end blob.


4. Walls

6 Tips to Solve your Copic Marker Blending Problems |

Walls occur when you forget to flick or feather.

It happens when you start coloring too fast and your flicks turn into a zig-zag back and forth stroke that never quite lifts up off the paper.

I've used YG67 here in a zig zag application. See the blunt tips on the left ends of each stroke? There's no lift off or triangle tapering-off, the pigment just stops dead and reverses direction.

That makes it harder for the YG63 to come along and blend with it.

Think about it- if you're building a road, you don't want to leave a big pile of unusued asphalt at the end of the road when your shift ends. By the time you get to work tomorrow, that pile will be hardened and you'll have to grind it down before you can continue the road out smoothly.

So why would you leave a big pile of pigment at the end of your strokes? You're going to have to melt down that wall before any blending can begin. Often times, you'll have to really scrub at a wall. If you taper your strokes instead of zig-zagging, you will have a much easier time blending.


5. Tip-Flicking

6 Tips to Solve your Copic Marker Blending Problems |

My most timid students tip-flick.

Maybe it's because they're intimidated by the color, perhaps they're conserving ink, or maybe they figure that small marks are easier to correct than big marks.

It doesn't really matter why you tip-flick, you make your life harder when you don't give yourself adequate space to blend.

Here's tip flicking at it's worst.

In order to feather, we need a nice build up of each color plus an area where the two colors can meld and blend and genrerally overlap each other.

So that's three zones you need:

  1. Color A all by itself

  2. Color A & Color B getting happy with each other

  3. Color B all by itself

Tip flickers cheat the first zone and leave no ink for the blend zone. You simply can't blend if you don't have enough color there to blend with. There's lots of BG05 here but who is she supposed to dance with? The BG09 strokes need to be longer and closer together in order to survive the blending process, otherwise it's going to look like all 05 by the time you get it all smooth.


6. Oil Slicks

6 Tips to Solve your Copic Marker Blending Problems |

Oil slicks happen when your paper becomes saturated beyond its holding capacity. Basically, you've dumped a gallon of ink on a one teaspoon area.

When your paper can't absorb more ink, the remaining ink begins to congeal in a jelly layer on top of the paper. It looks dark and can sometimes be sticky. With Copic inks, it will have a slight metallic sheen, just like rainbow oil spills on the street after a rainstorm.

Oil slicks usually happen for one of two reasons:

  1. You made a mistake and over-corrected with a lot of colorless blender plus a second (and third layer) of the original marker colors.

  2. You tip flicked or built a wall, then overused your lightest marker in an effort to coax out a decent blend.

What you can't see in this scan of my oil slick is the sticky area in the center. I had to use a bit of alcohol on a tissue to clean off the glass of my scanner because this picture left an ink smudge.

I have a few students that if I don't keep their hands busy, they'll go back to previously colored areas and add more. They add more to everything. They'll re-blend perfectly good areas, they'll re-smooth the smooth sections. I'm not sure why but some students have trouble just letting things be.

6 Tips to Solve your Copic Marker Blending Problems |

If you know that you have a heavy hand with your inks or that you're a frequent re-blender, you need to monitor the back of your paper- CONSTANTLY. If the backside starts looking identical to the front, you're on teetering on the ledge between a-okay and Exxon Valdez.

Once the paper gets this colorful on the backside, no good can come from adding anything more.

Oil slicks will not dry, they will not lighten. In fact, I've long suspected that oil slicks actually get darker as they get rubbery- exactly like the ketchup that congeals inside the bottle cap.


Well, there are the top six major blending errors.

I'm guilty of all of them at one time or another, especially dry-markering.

Oh boy, do I love to dry marker stuff. Nine times out of ten when the thought runs through my brain "Huh, guess you can't color very well today, Amy" it's a sure sign that I need to stop and refill the darned marker.

Instead of berating yourself for having a bad coloring day, next time take a look at your marker strokes. What are you doing to create the problem. Diagnose the problem and you can turn a gray day into B14!

What's your private pitfall? Tell us about it and let's commiserate together!