Review: Winsor & Newton watercolor marker

Apparently, I bought the Winsor & Newton watercolor marker in Payne’s gray sometime last year and promptly forgot about it, but it works out because now I can follow up on my review of the Winsor & Newton pigment marker sooner rather than later.

Winsor & Newton watercolor marker, Payne’s gray, on Bristol board.

Smudge test, 0-10 seconds.

Used as a marker, the W&N watercolor marker isn’t that great.

The brush tip is felt, fat, not very flexible, and a bit difficult to control. The fine tip isn’t that fine — about the same width as the fine tip on the pigment marker — and the ink is extremely wet and easy to smudge.

It’s also very dark for a Payne’s gray, and a bit blue? The fine tip seems to produce a darker (and bluer) color, but it could just be a side effect of denser pigment distribution. Pigment distribution in a single stroke is very uneven, too, with much more pigment at the beginning than the end, and this is obvious even in shorter strokes.

It’s a good thing it’s a watercolor marker though.

Good thing it’s a watercolor marker though.

The lines laid down by the marker react very readily to water (and slightly sweaty fingers), even after a full day has passed.

As expected, you can use a clean brush and water to push around the pigment put down by the W&N watercolor marker. The marker is really pigment rich.

The good thing about this is that there’s enough pigment that you can lift up quite a lot of it onto your clean brush and deposit it back on the page somewhere else, clean. The bad thing is that it’s really hard to put just a little bit of pigment down with the marker — you have to put down a lot. Even a dot with the marker is a ton of pigment.

(The marker is also not alcohol-proof, so mixing with Copic markers or similar will cause smearing.)

Marker only VS marker plus water. (140 lb/300 gsm Strathmore coldpress.)

Pigment can also be lifted up with a tissue, so you can “erase” if you accidentally put down too much… though the pigment also lifts up so readily that this often leads to an endless cycle of lifting up pigment, putting more down, then lifting it out again.

Manipulating the marker pigment with water and a tissue. (140 lb/300 gsm Strathmore coldpress.)

Here’s also a quick timelapse video of me coloring a sketch of a chunk of amethyst. You can see how few strokes I’m putting down with the marker, but how much pigment spread I’m getting once I add some water. You can also see how easy it is to lift out color with a tissue.

For the most part, I put down marker strokes on or near the inked lineart of these sketches because the marker lines don’t completely disappear with water, so I need to make sure they’re in places that I want for sure to be darker. Below you can see where the original strokes are still visible after brushing over with water.

You can also see how incredibly blue this Winsor & Newton’s Paynes gray is compared to my tube of Daniel Smith Payne’s gray — and that the fine tip is somehow bluer than the brush tip. Weird? I wish I had a tube of Winsor & Newton’s Payne’s gray to compare with since I’m sure their tube colors are also much closer to what you’d expect of Payne’s gray than this marker.

Squares are the original marker strokes, still visible after intense brushing over with water.

You can use wet-on-wet techniques to some extent, though they’re more effective in small areas. As with the Akashiya Sai watercolor brush, if you run the marker through a large area of wet paper, all of the pigment will wash out of the brush tip, then take some time to recover.

Marker strokes through a spot of wet paper. (140 lb/300 gsm Strathmore coldpress.)

It’s probably obvious that the Winsor & Newton watercolor marker works best on watercolor paper, which can withstand heavier water usage, but it’s not a disaster if you use it on something a bit lighter, like Bristol board. The pigment still moves around pretty easily, but of course, your page may warp a little if you use a lot of water.

There’s a timelapse of the following on Instagram.

Zebra brush pen and Winsor & Newton watercolor marker on 100 lb/270 gsm smooth Bristol.

The thickness of even the fine tip on this marker also makes it hard to use on pencil-only drawings and sketches — or at least, it’s hard if you draw relatively small, like I do. The thickness of the marker tip forces certain areas of the drawing to come out really dark, since those strokes don’t go away completely.

You can easily tell where I put down marker strokes in the below sketch:

Winsor & Newton watercolor marker over pencils, with no inks.

Smaller details (like the eyes) are entirely reliant on your being able to pick up pigment from elsewhere in the drawing. If you want to avoid a lot of dark areas in finished product though, you may need to use a different sheet of paper as a “palette,” put your watercolor marker strokes there, then use your clean brush to pick up pigment from that palette before using it on the drawing.

At that point though, wouldn’t it be easier to just get a travel set of actual watercolors?

Winsor & Newton watercolor marker.

The Winsor & Newton watercolor marker is a nice tool overall — the color is rich (if inaccurate, for this Payne’s gray) and the pigments easy to manipulate, but is probably best for adding simple values to sketches than for use on any painting. I don’t think I’d ever recommend watercolor markers/pens over real watercolors though.

I mentioned this in my review of the Akashiya Sai watercolor brush too — in the end, you’re just using water to push around pigment on the page, but you’re really limited in your control of the amount of pigment on the page. I don’t think the portability and lower price tag of markers is really worth giving up that control.

The Akashiya Sai watercolor brush does have an advantage over the W&N watercolor marker in this aspect, since it’s a bristle brush instead of a felt brush, so you have a more control over stroke width, and in turn, pigment amount. The Akashiya Sai is also the cheaper of the two — $3.50 for a single marker VS W&N’s $4.50 on Jetpens. The W&N’s pigment is thicker and richer though, and pigment separation isn’t as noticeable, but it’s because of that that it’s also a lot harder to use without water.

I think I prefer the Akashiya Sai more overall, but the Winsor & Newton is probably more readily available at most supply stores.

Winsor & Newton watercolor marker.

About the author

Kiri is an illustrator, writer, and (brush) pen enthusiast in Seattle with over 12 years of convention vending experience and an inclination towards verbosity.