Review: Blick Illustrator Markers

I went into my local Blick store for the first time in ages recently, and stacked right up front were 24-piece sets of Blick Illustrator Markers on sale for a cool $20. Under a dollar a piece for a dual-tip, alcohol-ink marker?? This ain’t Daiso!!

Blick Illustrator Marker, front packacing
Blick Illustrator Markers, front packaging.

It was a hard deal to pass by, but I made a rule a while ago that I wasn’t allowed to buy products just for review until I’d cleared out my entire backlog of things I have to review… and these markers would indeed be just for review — I’m not looking for a Copic-alternative.

My friend was with me though, and they’d never really used markers for art, so I told them I was gonna buy the markers, review them, then give them to them for Xmas. That’s… within the rules, right??

Unfortunately, I don’t think I can actually gift them as intended. I don’t want my friend’s first experience with alcohol markers to be these. 😬

Blick Illustrator Marker, back packaging
Blick Illustrator Markers, back packaging.

Why does Blick Illustrator exist when there’s already Blick Studio?

At checkout, I asked the cashier what the difference was between the Blick Illustrator Markers and the Blick Studio Brush Markers. They seemed uncertain, but said that Blick Studio was water-based while Blick Illustrator was alcohol-based. This is incorrect. The Blick Studio Markers are also alcohol-based and have long been their Copic-alternative offering, which was why I was surprised the Illustrator Markers existed in the first place, and at such a low price!

Blick’s FAQs for the Blick Illustrator Marker states this as the difference between the two lines of marker:

The Blick Illustrator Markers are offered as an economic, limited availability option for an alcohol based marker. The Blick Studio Brush Markers feature a higher quality, German-made ink and a superior, Japanese-made nib for better performance and handling.

So the Blick Illustrator is supposed to be “limited availability,” with inferior inks and nibs.

This seems like a weird decision. Aside from random Chinese e-commerce brands, Blick Studio is already one of the cheapest mainstream options for alcohol markers at $5.49/ea for singles. But sure, even as one of the cheaper options, those markers aren’t cheap. A 24-piece set of Blick Studio costs $75.231.

Blick Illustrator Marker, available colors
Blick Illustrator Marker, available colors swatched on 300 series smooth Bristol board. I tried to match the order on the back of the box, even though none are named there.

Was the Illustrator set to lower the barrier to entry even more? I got my set for $20 plus tax, but its regular price was only $24.992. Why else would Blick put out a competing set of alcohol-ink markers, except if they didn’t think it’d complete with Blick Studio at all? Blick Illustrator only seems to exist as a 24-piece set, so these are all the colors you get. The only way to expand is by upgrading to Blick Studio (or another brand’s alcohol marker).

1 Blick lists the MSRP of a 24-piece Blick Studio set at $125.98, but this seems disingenuous considering… they’re the manufacturer and that’s not their list price. Blick does note that “[f]or Blick and Utrecht brand products, [they] establish MSRP based on those of third-party vendors whose products closely resemble [theirs] in quality and size,” but this still feels misleading to me.

2 The Blick Illustrator set is $90 “MSRP.”

Blick Illustrator Markers, both caps post
Blick Illustrator Markers, both caps post.

The Actual Marker Review

The Blick Illustrator Markers are plain and cylindrical, with color-tipped caps on each end.

Both caps post on the the other, and both caps have roll-stops on the edge, though in practice, I found that the roll-stops did basically nothing if you set the marker down with any kind of momentum — like, you need to set them down very gently for them not to roll off the table, but who actually does that?

When you’re coloring and switching between colors, you’re just throwing markers down all the time, and that momentum is more than enough to overpower the roll-stop and have the markers roll all over and off the table. A non-cylindrical design, or a more substantial roll-stop, would’ve worked a lot better.

I also didn’t like the double roll-stops, with one on each cap. This did nothing to improve the roll-stopping mechanism, but it made it more annoying to take photos with the branding showing, because it wasn’t always clear at a glance which roll-stop was the one affecting the positioning. :V

Other design failures: the marker color code and name is only on the cap. All of the marker bodies are identical and if you took the caps off everything, you’d no longer be able to tell which was what color by looking. Also: the color codes on the Blick Illustrator Markers don’t match Blick Studio at all, instead mimicking Copic’s code system closely. Why even bother having color codes if they never intend to expand the set anyway?

Blick Illustrator Markers writing sample
Blick Illustrator Markers, initial test scribbles on 300 series smooth Bristol.

The inferior performance of the Blick Illustrator Marker was clear immediately, but it came from an unexpected place: the brush tip.

The brush is stiff and inflexible, and its tip is fat and imprecise. It’s hard to get lines where I want them, at the thickness I want them. The entire point of brush tips is flexibility and versatility, but the amount of flex in the Blick Illustrator is so little that it might as well be a stubby fixed tip.

Blick Illustrator Marker, brush tip test VS Copic Sketch
Blick Illustrator Marker VS Copic Sketch on 300 series smooth Bristol, brush tip range and flexibility comparison.

The brush tip’s failure is very specific affront though, and it probably says more about me than it says about the marker.

If I didn’t use markers in the exact way that I do, I may not care as much — but I do! I’m all about the brush tip! The chisel tip is an unimportant accessory I basically only use for swatching, so the brush tip being garbage basically ruins the entire experience of the marker for me.

Blick Illustrator Markers, example coloring
Inks with Tombow Fudenosuke. Colors with Blick Illustrator Markers on 300 series smooth Bristol. I was super frustrated at how thick all of the marker lines were; I want to be able to get tiny dots of color, but this was impossible with the Blick Illustrator.

It doesn’t matter how good and blendy the ink is if I can’t get it down on the page the way that I want. In fact, the blendiness of alcohol-ink markers is probably one of the least important attributes to me.

But the ink is decently good and blendy, as most alcohol inks are, though the very limited color selection makes this harder to demonstrate.

Colors of similar hue, and particularly of similar value (how light or dark the color is), look better when blended together than colors of wildly different hue and value. While E18 and E17 are close in hue, E17 and R2 are way closer in value, so the latter pair blends better.  This is true across all alcohol markers, but basically every other line of alcohol markers has more than 24 colors.

Blick Illustrator Marker VS Copic Sketch, ink blending.
Blick Illustrator Marker VS Copic Sketch on 300 series smooth Bristol, ink blending.

The Blick Illustrator Markers blend comparably to Copic Sketch of similar colors. I find this to be true of most alcohol markers and have said before that performance differences between alcohol marker brands tend to be minor (though in most cases, that statement also included the brush).

Whatever differences there may be in ink formulation is trivial. All alcohol inks are vibrant and vivid. Blick says their Blick Studio markers have superior ink, but I doubt most people would be able to tell one way or another.

Blick Illustrator Marker VS Copic Sketch, ink
Blick Illustrator Marker VS Copic Sketch, ink blending and coloring on ~90lb smooth paper (this is a Punctuate sketchbook). Lighter colors layered on top of darker colors. Look at how much feathering there is with the Blick compared to Copic in the color codes on each side! The second swatch for Blick is “E17,” which was distinct when I wrote it, but immediately became a blobbed mess.

Testing the Blick Illustrator markers by doing a similar coloring exercise with Copic made me really appreciate the number of colors I have available in Copic, but you can see that the performance difference in the inks really isn’t that dissimilar.

Both markers are a little unpredictable when blending two very different colors, and sometimes the inks dry in unexpected, splotchy patterns — both Blick’s E18/E17 blend and Copic’s E47/E15 blend dried kinda weird. On an actual piece, this would require a bit of workshopping by re-mixing or re-layering colors, but the best remedy is to not try to mix colors with as much contrast in the first place.

Blick Illustrator blends with Copic just fine though, and this would be true with other alcohol inks, too, so if you have existing alcohol markers, you can solve some of the color availability problem by just combining your disparate sets.

Blick Illustrator Marker VS Copic Sketch, coloring precision
Blick Illustrator Marker VS Copic Sketch, coloring precision.

The feathering on this marker is also out of control. I’m not sure if it’s the ink or the brush, but ink spreads out from the contact point with the page a significant amount, making coloring inside lines, or even writing legibly, annoyingly difficult.

You can tell in the above example that it was way harder to get sharp points to define the white shiny bits in the character’s hair with the Blick Illustrator’s brush tip. To be honest, I wouldn’t normally have white shine on the very tips of the hair of the left-side character, but I had zero confidence I’d be able to stay in the lines if I tried to color the black to the edge.

(There was also lots of out-of-lines coloring with the purple-haired dude, but it’s less obvious because of the lighter color. I was also trying like three times as hard to color in the lines since the point of that example was ink blending, which always causes excessive feathering anyway, which is one of the reasons I don’t actually try to blend colors often.)

Blick Illustrator Marker VS Copic Sketch, writing sample
Blick Illustrator Marker VS Copic Sketch, writing sample on index card. Same writing pressure used, but look at how much the ink spreads with the Blick.

While alcohol-based markers have become popular for a variety of crafters and hobbyists, one of their biggest markets is still cartoonists and illustrators, so I feel like being able to color inside the lines for sharp, spiky anime hair is really important for this product?

If the brush tip is so inferior, they should’ve just gone with a bullet tip. Bullet tips are categorically inferior to brush tips in terms of versatility and minute precision, but at least you’d know that going in!

Blick Illustrator Marker VS Copic Sketch nib tips
Blick Illustrator Marker VS Copic Sketch, brush and chisel tips. You can see how not-fine of a point that Blick brush tip comes to.

Honestly, aside from the brush tip, the Blick Illustrator Marker is fine!

Good, even, when you remember they were 83 cents a marker (at the sale price; $1.04/marker at the regular price). The Blick Illustrator Marker is an incredibly low-cost entrant to a pricey category of art tool, and it’s from an actual established company with more than 60 retail locations across the US, making it way more accessible than e-commerce brands like Ohuhu.

Most alcohol marker brands have a non-brush version, including the original Copic (in contrast to Copic Sketch/Ciao). Blick Studio mimics this with the original Blick Studio (in contrast with Blick Studio Brush) — so obviously there are people who don’t care about or use the brush tip. For those people, the Blick Illustrator could be a great way to get into alcohol markers.

Blick Illustrator Marker coloring example
Blick Illustrator Marker, coloring example on 300 series Bristol. This probably looks fine to most people. Maybe it’s just me that’s infuriated by the lack of subtly in the “brush” strokes.

I can’t let that brush tip go though.

It’s so bad!! It shouldn’t even be called a brush tip, it’s so bad!! Why couldn’t they just have made it a bullet tip? Then I wouldn’t have any expectations!

Blick straight-up says Blick Illustrator isn’t as good as Blick Studio, but is it just the brush? Does it cost that much more to make a brush tip that doesn’t suck? Have we been wrong to assume all this time that the expense in alcohol markers was the alcohol ink? If the Blick Illustrator Marker’s ink is roughly the same quality as most other alcohol inks, then why is it so cheap?

Why were these 24-piece sets stacked right by the entrance of the store while the Blick Studios are locked behind a plexiglass tower?

Blick Illustrator
Blick Studio Brush
Copic Sketch
Copic Ciao
Ink type
Alcohol-based Alcohol-based Alcohol-based Alcohol-based
Brush tip Bad!! Good Great Great
Brush control
Low High High High
Ink vibrancy Great Average Great Great
Ink smell Low Low Average Average
Ink feathering
High Average Average Average
Ink bleed Average Average Average Average
Ink blending Good Good Good Good
Color selection 24 143 358 180
Nibs replaceable?
No Yes Yes Yes
Ink refillable? No Yes Yes Yes
Price (Singles) $3.95/ea List $7.99/ea MSRP $5.49/ea MSRP
Price (24-piece set)
$24.99 List
($1.04/ea)
$75.23 List
($3.13/ea)
$191.76 MSRP
($7.99/ea)
$131.76 MSRP
($5.49/ea)

1/7/22 Update: Got those Blick Studio Brush markers.

(This chart is killing me with the blanks for Blick Studio, but I had to include it just for the price differences if nothing else… I’m mad because I now desperately need to know how the Blick Studio compares. We’ll see how long my rule stands, but if someone wants to send me some markers or sponsor a Blick Studio review, get in touch, lol…)

Is a good brush on your alcohol marker worth a 300% price increase for the Blick Studio Brush, or a 500% price increase for the Copic Ciao? (Copic Sketch and Ciao use the same brush tip.)

For most people, the answer is probably no. For me, though: yes. Yes, I will pay that much more for a marker I will actually use, because I’m not going to use these Blick Illustrator Markers. I kind of hate them?

I still haven’t decided if I’m going to pass them onto my friend.

About the author

Kiri is a Seattle-based artist, writer, and (brush) pen enthusiast with over 12 years of convention vending experience and a lot of opinions.