How to Use Watercolor Markers

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Learn how to use watercolor markers with these simple techniques. Get easy tips for creating art with your watercolor markers today!

You might also be interested in learning how to use watercolor pencils.

hand holding markers

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Watercolor Marker FAQ

What is the difference between watercolor markers and water-based markers?

With the exception of a few brands, there is not a big difference between watercolor markers and water-based markers.

Some brands like Winsor and Newton use pigments instead of ink, which makes them work more like watercolors. This also means they are lightfast and will not fade if exposed to sunlight.

For the most part, most brands use ink instead of pigment, which is not lightfast and will fade if exposed to sunlight.

Visually, diluted ink tends to have harder edges and is more likely to develop blooms from using too much water.

bloom created by adding too much water to blend watercolor markers

The other difference is the brush tips. Some brands use a felt tip that resembles a brush, and others use brush tips with bristles.

The markers you buy will depend on your budget and preference.

(I’m using Faber Castel Albrecht Dürer Watercolor Markers and Tombow markers for these demos.)

watercolor markers

What is the difference between water-based markers and alcohol-based markers?

Water-based markers are water-based and can be diluted with water. They tend to be more gentle on paper and don’t bleed through as much.

Alcohol markers are alcohol-based and need alcohol for dilution. They bleed through paper more easily. Some brands have a strong smell.

They’re also much more expensive. Higher-end Copic markers cost about $6 each, while water-based markers are much more affordable.

However, they can be easier to blend than water-based markers.

What are watercolor markers good for?

Watercolor markers are good for sketching and journal writing since they don’t bleed through paper.

They can be used with water to create a watercolor effect, as you will see in the tutorial below.

What are some good watercolor marker brands?

If you want to create realistic watercolor effects, try the Winsor and Newton ProMarker Watercolor Markers.

I’ve also used Tombow markers and Faber Castell Albrecht Dürer Watercolor Markers.

tombow markers

If you’re on a budget and want a ton of colors, try this Arteza set. It includes a ton of colors!

How to Use Watercolor Markers

Start with Good Paper

Watercolor markers that can handle water work best on paper. Lower-quality paper can pill as you draw, so it’s best to start with a good-quality paper.

If you’re not going to be using a ton of water, you can use a smooth mixed media paper or bristol board.

Cold-press watercolor paper can be used, but it might be rougher on the marker.

watercolor paper and bristol board

I highly advise against using cheap paper like cardstock or printer paper. The paper will warp, pill when coloring with markers, and look dull.

Use Less Water than You Think

When adding water to marker ink, use less water than you would with watercolor. This will help prevent blooms from forming.

When diluting marker ink on a palette, use as much water as possible to get the desired color.

Cleaning a Dirty Watercolor Marker

As you work with watercolor markers, the tips of light colors may become dirty. If this happens, it’s easy to fix.

Scribble on scrap paper until the marker is clean again, and writes the correct color.

scribbles on scrap paper

Using as Markers vs Watercolors

Watercolor markers can be used as markers or as watercolors.

You can draw with them or draw on a palette to dilute the color and use it as watercolor paint. (This will be explained more below.)

Watercolor Marker Techniques

Blending Techniques

There are so many fun ways to blend watercolor markers.

Using the Markers to Blend

You can blend with just the markers. This creates a brighter look.

Start with the darkest color, then add a medium color. As you go, use the lighter color overlapping the darker color. This will blend the colors together.

Use a lighter color to blend all 3 of the colors by coloring over the darker colors.

blending marker colors and drawing of a cherry

Use the Markers as Watercolor

This is my favorite way to use watercolor markers. It creates a beautiful, subtle effect.

Draw on a smooth, solid surface and add water. I like to use a palette for this process.

using marker on palette

The more water you use, the lighter the color will be.

diluting marker ink to make watercolor paint

Apply the color with a brush.

diluted marker used as paint on paper

Using a Blending Marker

You can also use a blending marker.

Simply color the area and use the blending marker over it. This creates a subtle effect.

using blending marker

Adding Water After Coloring

You can also color on the paper and then blend it out with water using a brush or even a water brush.

drawing of strawberry

Wet-on-Wet Technique

Wet-on-wet is one of my favorite watercolor techniques.

Apply clean water to the page and then use the marker in the water.

You can also use a brush and diluted marker on a palette.

adding marker ink to wet shape on paper

It’s really fun to mix colors this way!

green and yellow ink diluting in water shape

Tip-to-Tip Technique

This technique is not for everyone but creates a fun gradient effect.

Touch the tips of 2 different markers and use one to color.

markers touching tips
gradient effect green to yellow

To clean the tips, scribble on scrap paper until the tip is clean.

Creating Gradients

Color an area and blend it out with water.

red marker swatch blended with water

Alternatively, you can create a gradient with more than one color.

Add the colors next to each other and use water and a brush to blend the colors together.

yellow and green gradient
Placing the colors right by each other creates a more subtle effect than leaving a gap.

Use a small amount of water when working to avoid unsightly blooms.


As with watercolor paint, you can use watercolor markers for layering. Apply the first layer, let it dry, and apply the 2nd layer.

glazing technique on blue swatch

Building up layers is a great way to add shadows or make colors darker.

Add Details with Markers

Watercolor markers can also be used to add details to a finished painting.

pink watercolor flower

Apply the marker to dry paper.

pink watercolor flower with marker details

Mixing Colors

Usually, the biggest downfall for markers is that it’s not possible to mix colors, so you need a lot more colors.

With watercolor markers, though, it’s possible to mix the colors on a palette and add water. This means that you can purchase fewer colors and get a bigger variety of colors!

aqua green swatch on paper
I mixed blue and green to make a pretty mint green color.

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collage of red paint gradient and markers

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