Water-based vs Alcohol Markers

Last Updated: February 7, 2022

Altenew Alcohol Artist Markers

Alcohol Artist Markers

Art markers (whether water based or alcohol based) are a niche tool for art enthusiasts in any field. Whether you are a child, beginning to learn art in school, or if you are a professional artist, markers are invaluable. These specialized pens help to achieve effects similar to those that we get with paint. They are easily portable, come in tons of gorgeous colors, and may be double-sided with different tips (brush, chisel, fine, bullet, etc.). Their versatility in producing smooth solid lines, or brilliant layered hues is what makes them so popular in the paper crafting universe..

Hawaiian Shores Brush & Fine Tip Pens

Hawaiian Shores Brush & Fine Tip Pens

The two most trending types of markers are water-based markers and alcohol-based markers. Each has their own set characteristics, and are essentially the opposite of each other. How are these markers distinguished? The ink in these markers is what differentiates them from each other. This ink is composed mainly of two parts: the pigment (which is the actual colored dye particle) and the solvent (the liquid in which the color is suspended). In simple language, alcohol markers use alcohol as their solvent while water markers use water. Each of these compositions gives the ink their distinguishable properties, like drying time, blendability, permanency, vibrancy, etc.

Altenew Watercolor Brush Markers

Watercolor Brush Markers

What are water-based markers?

Fun Fact: Water-based ink is lighter and can give a unique watercolor look to any artwork.

 Card Sample using Altenew's Hawaiian Shores brush & fine tip pens

Watercolor With Brush and Fine Tip Pens!

Water-based markers have a significant appeal to all starting from students to professional artists. Water markers have water-soluble ink, which means they are perfect for water coloring. Since water markers can be reactivated after they’ve dried, you can add color, and make it darker (once the paper is dry), or you can add water (and remove some of the ink with a paper towel). Because one of the main compositions is water, very obviously, these pens are cost-effective, chemical-free, odorless, dry slower, and are safer for children to use. Water-based markers are amazingly versatile. The ink in a water-based marker is usually less heavy than that in an alcohol-based marker, hence causing lesser bleeds. Water markers are therefore preferably used in coloring books and journals. Though water-based markers do not come with a vast color range like alcohol ones, their color variations can definitely compete with those of alcohol markers. Water-based markers can be used as watercolors. How? Simply paint over with water to have the color spread, lighten and act like a watercolor. This means that with just one marker you can create lighter shades by just adding water or using a blender brush.

Card Sample using PAF Himalayan Poppy and Hawaiian Shore Brush & Fine Tip Pens

Paint-A-Flower: Himalayan Poppy Outline Stamp Set

Fun Fact: With a water-based marker, you can dip the brush in the water, and then use the brush to apply more colors, or remove colors with the marker.

What are alcohol-based markers?

Fun Fact: Drawing with alcohol markers is a dream. The colors are so vibrant and versatile that you can create anything from hand lettering to anime.

Sample Card using Altenew Artist Markers

Artist Markers on Colored Cardstock

Alcohol ink markers are highly versatile. Their ink is made up of dye pigments suspended in alcohol. This ink is permanent, vibrant, and highly saturated. Because it is made up of alcohol, it also dries very fast and the colors remain vibrant!. With alcohol markers, not only is blending a dream, but the ink is also buildable. Therefore colors may be layered on each other to create brilliant shades, tints, and ombré. A well-planned set of alcohol-based markers can go a long way if strategically used. Alcohol pens in most companies have refillable inks, and replaceable nibs/tips. One downside of alcohol markers is that they do tend to bleed and therefore are not recommended for use in journaling or double-sided coloring books.

Card Samples using Altenew Artist Markers Set D

Rock Garden Artist Alcohol Markers Set D

Fun Fact: Since the fluid ink in alcohol markers tends to bleed through paper, it is best to put something porous under the paper being used. This helps the porous surface to absorb some of the ink and control the bleeding!

Alcohol Markers vs. Water based Markers: What’s the difference?

Alcohol Markers Water Markers
Ink Type Alcohol-based Water-based
Cost Affordable to expensive Mostly cheap
Hue options Fantastic range Limited range
Blendability High Low
Drying time Fast Slow
Permanency High Low
Effect on paper Bleeds through paper May warp paper
Refillable Yes No
Reactivate No Yes
Paper Bleed Yes No
Waterproof Yes No
Fun Fact: If you wish to use your alcohol marker with your water marker, make sure to start with the alcohol marker first, and then move on to the water-based one because the alcohol can dissolve the water-based ink if used last.

 Sample Card using Altenew Watercolor Brush Markers

2 Easy Floral Cards Using Watercolor Brush Markers

Water based vs alcohol based markers: Is there a clear winner?

 Sample Card using Altenew Hawaiian Shores Brush & Fine Tip Pen

Floral Card With Paint-A-Flower: Himalayan Poppy Stamp Set

The answer is no. Neither marker type is perfect, but both are unique in their own ways. It depends on what effect you are trying to achieve with your markers. Deciding between alcohol ink markers and water based markers is like picking between apples and oranges. Both have their distinguished advantages and disadvantages. 

While water-based ink is lighter and can give your artwork a glorious watercolor appearance, the brilliant blendability of alcohol markers, along with its huge range of hue selection, can take that very art to a whole different level. The key is to understand and know how each marker works. While it is ideal to reach for water-based markers when looking to play with water and color, it is similarly ideal to reach for alcohol markers when looking to create detailed, layered, colored illustrations!

Sample Card using Altenew Artist Alcohol Marker

Color Rosa Floribunda with Alcohol Markers



  • Altenew

    Hi, Phyllis! Since alcohol markers may bleed and water-based markers may warp paper, it’s good to use heavy cardstock, marker paper, or alcohol ink-friendly paper. These are better than regular paper since they are thicker, sturdier, and smoother. Hope this helps! :)

  • Phyllis Herbert

    What card stock is best for alcohol markers vs water markers? I have purchased paper thinking it was a good brand but for my alcohol blending to really bleed. Can you recommend paper based on the type marker used. Thank you.

  • Altenew

    Thank you for stopping by, Kathie! We’re glad you found this content helpful. Happy crafting!

  • Kathie Oldham

    That helps a lot in choosing which one to use, and how.

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