Tuesday, October 25, 2016

My Love Affair with Alcohol Markers

Over the last couple of years I have discovered alcohol markers, and I have fallen completely in love with them. The first ones I owned were a set of 12 Copic Sketch markers that my daughter gave me for my birthday in  December 2014. I loved them so much that I asked her to get me some more for Christmas, and I also used some Christmas money from my husband and stepson to add to my small collection.
 They are terribly expensive at $7.99 retail, although many places like Jerry's Artarama, Dick Blick, and Target have them for $5.24. Even with a 40% off coupon at Hobby Lobby or Michael's they are still $4.79 each. Gradually over the past 23 months, I have managed to accumulate a good number of them, although I started buying the Ciao version, which is identical to the Sketch marker except a bit smaller. These generally retail for $5.49, but Blick and a few other sellers have them for $3.59.

There was one problem with the Ciaos, as far as I was concerned, but I discovered a way to solve it online from a lady named Asela Hopkins at Hop Art Studios. The problem was that the Ciao markers don't have the color identifiers printed on the ends of the barrels, but just on the sides. That may seem like a nit-picky detail since the lids and barrels are colored. However, the lid colors are not always completely accurate in matching the laid down colors. And many colorists have become accustomed to searching for a marker by its label. Ms. Hopkins solved this problem by drawing a bunch of little circles with the color identifiers typed inside for all 358 colors. She made this available online for free. How very nice of her! Anyone could print them off on white cardstock, color with the correct marker, and punch each one out with a 1/4" hole punch. She suggested applying each one with a small Thermoweb Zot, which is a 1/4" wide double-stick circle. Here is a link to her site: hopartstudios.typepad.com/hop_art_studios/2012/07/copic-ciao-lid-labels.html

I tried to find a comparable alcohol marker by researching online. Someone suggested that Bic Mark-Its were pretty good, and they were definitely cheaper. However, they are not refillable, and do not blend anywhere as well as the Copics. Also, there are only 36 colors, so blending would not be very subtle anyway. Copics have 358 different colors. I also bought a few Blick Studio markers which were $2.69 each, but although they work well, they are not refillable. Another good alcohol marker is by Prismacolor. I used these years ago to color cut-out figures for bulletin boards when I was still a school librarian. I remember being very impressed with the fact that they did not leave a streaky look. Believe it or not, I have a few of those on hand that still work, and I've been retired over 16 years. However, they are not refillable either.

I had heard about Spectrum Noir markers and knew that Joann's carried the 6-pack sets in my local store. They were $14.99 per set, which came to $2.50 each, or $1.50 with a coupon. Yah! So, I bought 3 sets, and found that I liked how well they blended. I also preferred the bullet nib over the so-called "Super Brush" on the Copics. I mostly use alcohol markers to color stamped or digital images to use on cards, and find that these smaller nibs get into the tiny crevices much easier. What I did not realize until recently is that the Spectrum Noirs are refillable, and have replacement nibs. They even have a brush nib, comparable to Copic's, which you can use to replace the broad nib in the end opposite to the bullet nib. In my opinion, this gives them even more of a leg up on Copics besides just having a much better price.
So far my only complaint about the Spectrum Noirs is that the colors on the lids are so far off from the actual color as to be laughable. However, taking off on Ms. Hopkins' idea, I have printed out all the color identifiers, spacing them into columns in Word. I printed them off on Neenah Solar White Classic Crest 80 lb. coverstock, and cut two small rectangles from a sheet of stencil material. These are just large enough to fit over the identifiers. They are both 6/32" tall. The smaller one is 11/32" wide and the larger is 15/32" wide. I know, I'm cursed with perfectionism! I used these and a pencil to lightly outline each identifier. Then colored around each rectangle. Some of the darker colors would obscure the lettering if colored over the writing. The last step was to use a 1/2" hole punch to create a circle that fits over the top of each lid to show the true color. A hole punch this size can be hard to find. I ordered this one from Consumer Crafts. To adhere them to the lids, I used 3/8" Glue Dots from Memory Book. Some people have complained about the lettering rubbing off the plastic lids, so this method not only fixes when that happens, but corrects to the true color of the ink.

When I only had a few alcohol markers, I stored them upright in jars or plastic barrels. When I wanted to use them I had to get up from my desk and go into the storage closet. I really wanted to have them stored right on my desk. Also, I wanted to have a way to keep them separated by color. That isn't such a problem when you only have a couple of dozen, but as a collection grows, it becomes a hassle. Also, many people recommend that it's best to store the markers horizontally. I looked around and realized that I could probably use an old wooden CD storage unit. I had found it years ago in an antique store and had been using it to store ink pads. As my stamping has evolved, I mostly use Memento Tuxedo Black, which is the most recommended ink to use with alcohol markers. I sometimes use Staz-On ink for other things, but you should definitely not use it to stamp images you are going to color with alcohol markers. It will smear and may discolor your markers, as well.
So, I unloaded all the stamp pads and moved it to my desk. Here's what it looks like with the Copics in place. I even had room left on the side to store my most often used stamp pads.
I was very happy with this storage system until I started buying the Spectrum Noirs, as there was definitely not room for both the Copics and the S.N.s in this one shelving unit. That's when I discovered the stackable trays made by Spectrum Noir. ConsumerCrafts.com has a set of 6 for only $17.97. That's less than $3.00 per tray, each of which holds 12 markers, or 72 for the whole set. Most vendors want at least $20. I did discover that it's much more economical to buy them in sets. Buying one tray at the time will cost @ $5.00. I initially ordered 2 sets of 6 trays each, and when they arrived, I liked them so much that I ordered 2 more sets to also accommodate my Copics. Those 4 units will take up less space on my desk than just the CD shelving by itself. The really good news was that I discovered they were on sale when I went to check out. So, I got them for only $13.47 each. Everything on their site was 25% off their already discounted prices. I treated myself to the rest of the Spectrum Noirs that I didn't already have. I just couldn't resist when they were only $1.12 per marker with free shipping. Here's a look at the storage trays.
The trays can be stacked straight up and down as in the picture, or at an angle with each tray slightly further back than the one below it, or even vertically if you choose, although that's not ideal for markers. They will hold a variety of markers as you see here, or anything that is no bigger than 5/8" wide.

I have just recently discovered the great difference in the types of cardstocks to use with alcohol markers. As I was reading online about these markers, I noticed that people kept referring to Neenah Classic Crest Super Smooth Solar White 80# Coverstock. Well, I already had some Neenah white cardstock that seem to work quite well with my markers (although not this specific type), so I thought I just wouldn't be bothered to pay $38 for 250 sheets. However, I occasionally did get a bleed if I wasn't super careful, especially with the Copic's bigger brush nib. So I decided to quit being a Scrooge and buy a ream. Wow! I was amazed when I tried it. What a difference. No bleeding at all.

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