Are Copic markers worth it?

The short answer is unequivocally yes.

The long answer is, as always, “it depends.”

Part of my Copic Sketch collection
Part of my Copic Sketch collection, accumulated one marker at a time over the last 14 years. I don’t have all of them, but I probably have more than I need.

I’ve been using Copic markers since 2007.

I had $70 store credit to spend at the university bookstore and spent a whole hour fussing over which colors I wanted for my first handful of markers. $70 was only going to get me 11 markers after tax, so I had to really think it through!

I built my collection gradually over the next decade, grabbing a few new colors here and there when I found a good deal. Copic Sketch markers were around $6.99/ea MSRP, and I tried to only buy them when they were on sale for $5 or less. This kept my acquisition rate slow, but it was always exciting when I got to pick up a new marker or two.

My first 11 Copic Sketch markers
My first 11 Copic Sketch markers: C3, C5, C7, YR00, E33, E15, YR23, Y19, Y11, YG03, and B26. That last one is the only one that I didn’t end up using a ton. The rest were great picks for colors I’d need very often.

Copic Markers 101

Copic markers were developed in the late 80’s and early 90’s specifically for manga artists in Japan. In the mid-2000’s, there was really no question that Copic offered the best professional-grade markers for drawing. They were (and are) the industry standard, and this attracted a generation of aspiring cartoonists to the brand.

Copic has three lines of markers: Original, Sketch, and Ciao. (There used to be four, but the Wide has been discontinued.) All Copic markers feature non-toxic, alcohol-based ink, are refillable, and all their nibs can be replaced when worn. Compared to water-based inks, alcohol-based inks offer superior blending properties, even ink saturation, color vibrancy, and permanency, making them ideal for professional work.

While not lightfast, illustrations colored with Copic markers can still retain their vibrancy for a long time if cared for properly. Ultimately though, these were markers developed for use in a fast-paced environment where illustrations were meant to be reproduced in print, rather than kept forever.

Drawing of a mourning gecko, colored with Copic markers
Drawing of a mourning gecko, colored with Copic markers, available here.

The Original Copic has a squareish shape and comes with a bullet and chisel tip by default, though there are numerous other nib options you can swap in.

The Sketch line has an oval body and comes with a brush and chisel tip. The durability and versatility of this brush tip made the Sketch the most popular of Copic’s offerings, as evidenced by it being available in 358 colors — far more than any other line. The Ciao, which also has a brush and chisel tip, is a round-bodied, smaller, and slightly more affordable version of the Sketch.

As I recall, the only other contender in the alcohol marker space in the 2000’s was Prismacolor, but the comparison debate was barely worth having. The only category Prismacolor won in was price. Prismas weren’t refillable. You couldn’t replace the nibs. They didn’t have a version with a brush tip at the time. They weren’t available in as many colors. And they smelled horrible while Copics only had a light odor.

Prismacolor has since added a marker with a brush tip, and there are tons of other competitors these days. Nearly all alcohol markers are described as “Copic alternatives” though — not by the competing brands themselves, of course, but by everyone else. Is that just because Copic is the oldest incumbent on the market, or is it because Copic is actually still the best?

Drawing of a ball python colored with Copic Sketch markers
Drawing of a ball python colored with Copic Sketch markers, available here.

Copic VS The World

It’s 2021 now. Most major art brands have introduced a line of alcohol markers.

There’s also been a flood of alcohol markers from new e-commerce companies like Ohuhu and Bianyo, who show up a lot in Amazon search results with stunningly cheap prices, but for which substantial human-based information about the company (such as founders, origin story, etc) is non-existent.

Both Ohuhu and Bianyo have generic “About” pages, and basic sleuthing suggests that both are owned by a Chinese parent company based in Yiwu, a huge base for wholesale trade — that’s all fine, really, but I wish they’d be more upfront about this stuff. Despite Ohuhu’s website catering specifically to artists, their “Business Partner” page alludes to other products, which their Amazon store is filled with.

I haven’t personally tried any of those budget contenders, though reviews are generally positive, especially when taking into consideration the rock bottom prices.

The handful of Copic alternatives I have tried are mostly from name brands like Winsor & Newton’s Promarkers, Tombow’s ABT Pro, and Marvy Uchida’s LePlume — they’re more readily available and easier to impulse buy. But aside from convention samples, all of this has been on my own dime. There’s no way for me to test everything unless someone wants to sponsor those reviews and buy markers for me. ;)

Tombow ABT Pro VS Copic Sketch
Tombow ABT Pro VS Copic Sketch. Differences are negligible.

Performance

To be honest, the actual performance difference between alcohol-based markers from quality brands is largely negligible.

Each company has their own specific formula of ink, but they’re all still alcohol-based inks, and therein lies the a majority of the benefits — blendability, vibrancy, saturation, etc. Some brands blend better than others, but not enough to really tip the scale in any direction. Most brush shapes are also relatively similar, and differences in flexibility and control are minor.

I can’t say whether this is the case for the cheaper alternatives, having not personally tried any, but there are some reports that the ink in some of those brands are thinner and runnier.

Still, if we class all long-standing brands together and all newcomer brands together in terms of quality, the rest just comes down to price, color availability, longevity, and to a lesser extent, marker design, ergonomics, and comfort.

Winsor & Newton Promarker Brush VS Copic Sketch
Winsor & Newton Promarker Brush VS Copic Sketch. W&N actually blends a bit better than Copic, but they’re non-refillable, which is a dealbreaker for me.

Price

Copics are expensive. This has long been the biggest hurdle for those interested and is the root of all “worth it?” questions. It doesn’t help that Sketch markers saw an increase in MSRP a few years ago — they’re now $7.99/ea. But Ciaos are only (haha, “only”) $5.49/ea, and this matches or beats the price of singles for 80% of the competitors I looked at for this write-up.

Singles for Tombow, Winsor & Newton, Prismacolor, ShinHan, and Chartpak markers are all more expensive than the Ciao. Blick Studio singles are the same price. Spectrum Noir Illustrator markers are the only ones that are cheaper ($3.95/ea, open stock). Ohuhu is the only Chinese alternative that is even available as open stock (and this was a recent development); most come in sets only, as that’s most economical.

At MSRP, Copic, unfortunately, does not offer any volume discounts on its sets. Even in the smallest 12-piece sets, the cheaper Copic Ciao isn’t cheaper than anything except the ShinHan Touch, which also doesn’t offer any volume discounts and is $7.50/marker, and the Tombow ABT Pro, which has only a tiny volume discount and comes out to $5.83/marker.

The Chinese Amazon brands, meanwhile, get down to a dollar or less per marker in sets, with Ohuhu hitting 72 cents a marker in its 48-piece set. Mind-blogging! That’s 86% cheaper than a Copic Ciao. I can see how it’d be easy to excuse even the worst quality product at that price. (I excused the Ohuhu Calligraphy Brush, after all.) That’s even cheaper than Daiso’s alcohol markers, which come out to 75 cents a piece!

Winner (Established brands): Spectrum Noir Illustrator Marker
Winner (E-commerce brands): Ohuhu Art Marker

Copic Sketch markers
Building a collection slowly, a few markers at a time, really worked out well for me. This is the priority 72-case of markers I’d bring to conventions to work on commissions with, so there are among my most-used colors. It took me years to fill this case. Pre-curated sets are nice, but you often don’t need as many markers as you might think.

Color Availability

The Copic Sketch is available in 358 colors. The nearest competitors — Spectrum Noir and Ohuhu, each with 216 colors — don’t even come close. The Copic Ciao is only available in 180 colors, but this is still a better selection than about half the alternatives.

Most companies offer a colorless blender, but only a few offer empty markers in which you can mix inks to create new colors. That’s limited to companies that have refillable inks, which excludes a swath of the mainstream brands, including Winsor & Newton, Tombow, and Prismacolor.

Arguably, there is a point of diminishing returns for color selection, especially when blending is an option — if not in an empty marker, then at least on the page. I have a dozen each of reds and purples, but really only use about 2-3 of them on a regular basis. Combining a grey with a color is a decent way to get a darker version of that color, and the difference between some of the ultra light colors is barely perceptible.

Still, color availability, especially for greys, browns, and lighter skintones, can be really important depending on what you’re coloring, and there’s no harm in a wider selection, even if you don’t want or need them all.

Winner (Established brands): Copic Sketch
Winner (E-Commerce brands):
Ohuhu Art Marker

Comparison of Copic's BV00, BV000, BV0000 and RV00, RV000, RV0000.
Comparison of Copic’s BV00, BV000, BV0000 and RV00, RV000, RV0000 — there are differences, but pretty much only when compared directly. Most coloring projects probably don’t require you to have 3 subtly different shades of very light pink, so the availability of these colors doesn’t present a huge advantage.

Longevity

I still have each of the original 11 markers I bought in 2007. I’ve only needed to replace a nib on one of them in the 14 years since. These are among my most used markers — I spent an hour picking those colors for a reason! My C3 grey marker has gone through five or six of Copic’s older, 25 mL refills. It’s my most used marker by far, and it wasn’t even the one I needed to swap a nib out of. (That was the YR00.)

I can’t speak to the longevity of other brands, but I still don’t understand why companies even bother to enter the alcohol marker space with products that aren’t refillable when their main and oldest competitor has had that option from the start. Disposable alcohol markers are just so wasteful, since their nibs will almost certainly outlast their ink supply.

Most markers that are refillable also have replaceable tips, since they’re usually refilled by removing the tip and dripping ink directly into the marker body’s reservoir. Ohuhu is a weird outlier — their nibs are reversible, so you can pull out a worn nib and flip it around: the back end of the nib is another nib. Some reviews do report that the nibs wear out and fray much faster than Copic’s though.

Ohuhu is reportedly working on making refillable markers and offering replacement tips, but in the meantime, it is possible to refill most non-refillable markers with another company’s inks if you can find a similar enough color. If the nibs aren’t removable, you can drip ink directly onto the nib — it will absorb into the nib and then drip down into the reservoir in the marker body. This is a super slow, annoying, and potentially messy process though.

Winner (Established brands): Copic Sketch1
Winner (E-commerce brands):
Ohuhu Art Marker

1 It does feel a little unfair to declare Copic the winner here since I haven’t personally tried most of the other refillable options, but given the age of most competitors, longevity is difficult to measure — no one can say they’ve used the same Arteza marker for 14 years because Arteza didn’t exist 14 years ago (they were founded in 2015). I think ShinHan Touch and Chartpak Spectra AD are the only other markers I looked at that’ve actually been around long enough to compare.

Copic Sketch tip wear
The leftmost marker (T5) is one I’ve barely used. The other seven markers are all from my original 11; only the YR00 tip has been replaced and that was about three years ago. Tip wear can vary a lot. The C3 (second to the left) is my Most Used marker, but shows less wear and deformity than YR23 (rightmost), E15, and E33 (middle two), which have some slight pinching in the tip. (For the record, the ink stains on the markers are easy to clean off with rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover; I’m just lazy.)

Comparison Table

Here is a comparison of several brands — I included only dual-tip markers with a brush tip (the other tip is usually a chisel, but some are bullet tips). All listed prices are MSRP, or my best approximation thereof.

Copic Sketch
Copic Ciao
W&N Promarker Brush
Tombow ABT Pro Prismacolor Brush Marker Blick Studio Brush Marker
Price
(Open Stock)
$7.99/ea $5.49/ea $5.99/ea $5.99/ea $6.50/ea $5.49/ea
Price (12-set)
$95.88/set
$7.99/ea
$65.88/set
$5.49/ea
$59.70/set
$4.98/ea
$69.99/set
$5.83/ea
$77.76/set
$6.48/ea
$65.88/set
$5.49/ea
Price (24-set) $191.76/set
$7.99/ea
$131.76/set
$5.49/ea
$99.99/set
$4.16/ea
$161.46/set + zipper case
$6.73/ea
$119.99/set
$5.00/ea
Price (48-set)
$199.99/set
$4.16/ea
$322.80/set + zipper case
$6.73/ea
$239.99/set
$5.00/ea
Price (72-set)
$575.28/set
$7.99/ea
$395.28/set
$5.49/ea
$465.56/set + stacker storage
$6.47/ea
Ink Refillable
Yes Yes No No No Yes
Nibs Replaceable Yes Yes No No No Yes
Colors Available 358 180 72 108 196 143
Spectrum Noir Illustrator Markers
Chartpak Spectra AD ShinHan Touch
Arteza Everblend Ohuhu Art Marker Bianyo Professional Brush Marker
Price
(Open Stock)
$3.95/ea $6.55/ea $7.50/ea $2.49/ea
Price (12-set)
$44.95/set
$3.75/ea
$67.30/set
$5.61/ea
$90.00/set
$7.50/ea
$38.99/set
$3.25/ea
Price (24-set) $134.60/set
$5.61/ea
$180.00/set
$7.50/ea
$19.99/set
$0.83/ea
$29.99/set
$1.25/ea
Price (48-set)
$269.30/set
$5.61/ea
$360.00/set
$7.50/ea
$34.99/set
$0.72/ea
Price (72-set)
$228.99/set
$3.18/ea
$69.99/set
$0.97/ea
$74.99/set
$1.04/ea
Ink Refillable
Yes Yes Yes Yes No No
Nibs Replaceable Yes Yes Yes Yes Sorta No
Colors Available 216 95 204 120 216 72

Marker Design & Ergonomics

While quality, price, color availability, and longevity might directly influence the decision to invest in a marker or not, I don’t think marker design is likely to sway most people in the same way.

I kind of hate the design and feel of the original Copic marker, which is squareish and awkward to hold. I hate that their design choice influenced the designs of tons of knock-offs and competitors. I’m grateful every day that the Copic Sketch has a much more comfortable design… but even if it had been the same shape, if everything else were the same, I’d still be using the marker.

A bunch of green Copic Sketch markers
A bunch of green Copic Sketch markers.

Short-term VS Long-term Investment

Are you going to be using markers for a long time, or are you just experimenting? This is the real question to consider when asking whether Copic markers, or any of its mainstream competitors, are “worth it.”

If you (or your kid or student or whatever) are just getting into drawing or coloring, and you don’t know how long you’re going to stick with it, then I would never suggest investing in Copics out of the gate. Cheap alternatives are perfect for testing out a class of product — alcohol-based ink markers, in this case.

Ohuhu is definitely an attractive option for that, and I think the risk of a poorer quality product straight-up isn’t that important when you’re just messing around. The low cost of entry makes the experimentation worthwhile. You aren’t likely to be able to tell the difference when you’re first starting out anyway, even if you did a side-by-side comparison — this was the case for me and watercolors for a long, long time.

It was years before I moved from my $10 set of Reeves basement-grade watercolors to a Winsor & Newton’s student-grade Cotman set, and years again before I added professional-grade Daniel Smith paints into the mix… and if I’m honest, I still have a hard time telling them apart sometimes. I only use watercolor occasionally though, not nearly as often as I use markers, and so I haven’t developed the acumen to really appreciate the quality differences.

Drawing of an American Robin, colored with Copic Sketch markers
Drawing of an American Robin, colored with Copic Sketch markers, available here.

But if you know you’re gonna be in it for the long haul, then I can’t recommend Copic markers enough.

They revolutionised the industry in many ways and remain the gold standard for a reason. Most name-brand competitors can’t actually compete: not on quality, not on price, not on colors, or longevity.

Color availability is the main consideration when choosing between Copic Sketch and Copic Ciao, but you can always start out with Ciao and add Sketch later if you decide you want more colors. Though really, since most alcohol markers play nicely with each other, there’s nothing wrong with mixing and matching brands, if you don’t mind a chaotic collection.

Ohuhu and similar brands win on the price, but that’s about it, and for long-term investment, it’s better to go in on something that’s already proven it will last, isn’t it?

My Copic Sketch collection
Cat hair on everything I own sure makes blog photography difficult. :P

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.