Invented in the late 1980s due to a high demand in marker ink that will not destroy laser printer or photocopied lines, alcohol markers initially served this purpose and have expanded into other fields. Alcohol markers are a versatile and popular writing utensil used in the various art fields including architecture, comics, fashion design, paper crafts, and product design. They are a popular choice because of the wide range of vibrant colors and their blending capabilities. Many brands can also be refilled when the ink has run out.
In addition to the re-fillability of these markers, you can replace the nibs for continuous use without the need for purchasing a brand new marker. Here is everything you need to know about getting the most out of your alcohol markers.
Table of Contents
- How to Tell When to Refill Your Markers
- Can You Refill Your Marker with Rubbing Alcohol?
- Buy Ink Refills
- Refilling: Drip Method
- Refilling: Booster Method
How to Tell When to Refill Your Markers
Markers low on ink can be highly detrimental to your project, causing mistakes, poor blending, and other deformities that cannot easily be covered up. There are three surefire ways to determine when to refill your markers, including:
White Tip or Squeaky Sound
A white tip is a clear indicator that the ink is low or has run out of the marker. Your marker’s tip should be brightly colored, showing that it is full of ink. However, through use, the ink will be used up, or it can get clogged, preventing it from reaching the tip.
Another sign is if the marker makes a squeaky sound during use. In the same manner as the white tip, when ink is lacking on the nib, it can produce a squeaking sound, because there is more friction between the substrate and the nib.
Inconsistent Coloring or Streaking
A clear sign of needing a refill is if your strokes are showing as inconsistent or streaky. This occurs when not enough ink is being dispensed from the nib, causing skipping in the stroke. To confirm this is occurring, you must compare the strokes between a recently refilled or new marker with the marker that could need to be refilled. This comparison will determine if the color has decline or the ink laydown isn’t optimal.
Can You Refill Your Marker with Rubbing Alcohol?
A common “art hack” that gets passed around online is that you can save money on ink refills by filling your alcohol markers with normal rubbing alcohol. However, this can actually harm your markers and your art.
Markers for drawing that are running out of ink should never be refilled using rubbing alcohol. As alcohol is added to the marker, the color becomes diluted and results in a lighter shade, which could throw off multiple aspects of your project. The more rubbing alcohol you add to the marker, the lighter the color becomes and drifts from the original ink shade. This is due to less ink in the concentration and more clear liquid with each refill.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. In this case, there are two:
Exception One: Ink Refills Are Not Available
The first exception is if you own markers where ink refills are not available on the market. For example, Prismacolor is a popular brand of alcohol marker that doesn’t offer any ink refills. The choice is to refill the marker with rubbing alcohol to extend its life or throw it in the trash. If the marker is being used for daily activities and not specific projects for clients, school, or work, then it is fine to refill with rubbing alcohol. Just be aware that the color will shift, so do not use these for important projects.
Exception Two: Dried Ink
The other exception to this rule is when the ink has dried out in the marker, and you have not fully used the ink. There is a high probability that there is still a decent amount of ink left inside, and the ink has only become powdery due to alcohol evaporation.
This can occur naturally over time or if you forget to put the cap back on your marker after using it. Given that the dye is still present in the dried out marker, if you refill it with rubbing alcohol, then it will regain its saturation and be refilled with the proper color.
The primary challenge to having dried ink is that it’s difficult to know how much alcohol you need to add. When refilling your markers for this reason, add just a little bit of alcohol at a time. Let your marker sit for a few minutes to allow it to reincorporate with the dye, then test your marker. Keep repeating as necessary until you reach the desired color.
Generally, a refillable marker should be refilled using the recommended inks. While situations do occur, you shouldn’t rely on rubbing alcohol to regain the life of your markers. This will prove to be detrimental to your projects.
Buy Ink Refills
The cost to refill Copic markers is 17% less expensive than purchasing a new marker. Ink refills can be purchased online at an endless number of sites and in-store at office supply shops, art stores, and craft shops.
While there are a variety of refill brands available, it is always best to purchase the refills for the specific marker you own. This ensures that the colors are an exact match to what is the marker. While Pantone numbers are used for color specifics, you run the risk of a slightly different shade if not purchasing the same brand of refill.
Another benefit of purchasing ink refills directly from the brand is that it can be used on any marker within that brand. If you need to purchase refills for many markers, you can potentially buy in bulk, which will help save more money.
Can You Use Colorless Blender Refills Instead?
Many alcohol marker brands offer colorless blender markers that are filled with a special colorless ink that helps blend your colors together. This blender is a special alcohol-based solution, and because of that, some artists may think it’s alright to use it to refill their markers. However, these colorless blender refills present the same issues as rubbing alcohol, it is just a different ingredient composition. As colorless ink is added to the existing ink, it dilutes the color. As more colorless ink is added, the color continues to fade until it eventually becomes clear.
However, colorless blender refills have their purpose. They are an excellent option for blending and fading colors, adding highlights to areas containing color, and pre-soaking the paper for alcohol markers. They can also be used for fixing coloring mistakes to improve the overall quality of the project, creating shiny effects, and adding depth to the illustration. Furthermore, colorless blender refills can also be used to awaken non-refillable markers that have some ink remaining and you don’t care about the color lightening.
Refilling: Drip Method
If the nibs on your markers aren’t removable or you don’t want to go through the hassle of removing them, the drip method of refilling may work best for you.
Before filling, it is important to create an easily-cleanable area. If you are a beginner to refilling markers, your accuracy may not be as spot-on as a professional. Therefore, always lay down some scrap paper, an old newspaper, or refill it over a trash bin. Marker inks are comprised of a dye that leaves stains that are difficult to remove.
If you’re refilling a dual-tip marker, remove both caps before refilling, not just the one you’ll be dripping the ink onto. By uncapping both ends of the marker you are equalizing the pressure within the barrel to simplify filling.
The best way to add the ink is by tilting the marker at a 45-degree angle and lightly squeeze the bottle to apply one drop of ink to the nib at a time. The tip of the refill bottle is specially designed for drop application, and the marker nib easily soaks up the ink due to the specially-design material. These parts were engineered to work together to make refilling simple.
To ensure you add enough ink but not overfill, apply around 20 drops. If you do not think there is enough ink, then limit the number of drops to 30. If the ink begins to drip out of the other side of the marker, then it is full. Do your best to avoid this, however, as it wastes your ink and creates a mess. It is always best to underfill markers and give them a top-off when necessary.
If you make a mess, which may happen the first few times you refill your markers, use rubbing alcohol to clean it up. Pre-packaged alcohol wipes are a convenient alternative, and the best option for cleaning up after alcohol markers, so keep a box handy.
Refilling: Booster Method
The second refilling option is known as the booster method. A booster is a special tool with a needle that simplifies refilling your markers and creates less risk of mess than dripping ink does. Boosters are sometimes sold with ink refills, but you may also have to get them separately, depending the brand.
In the same manner as the drip method, you want to wear gloves and cover the work area to avoid staining furniture. Stacking newspapers or using plastic sheeting over your work area will provide protection. Always roll up your sleeves or wear short sleeves when refilling to ensure your clothes do not become stained.
Once the area is prepped, remove the nib using tweezers, and screw the booster onto the refill cartridge. To remove the nib, grab it at the base using metal tweezers and firmly pull it out of the housing. Next, remove the cap from the ink refill and screw the booster securely on.
Next, insert the booster needle into the open side of the marker. It does not need to go all the way into the marker, just ensure the end is inside the opening. Make sure to hold the booster/ink refill cartridge vertically over the marker.
Add approximately 1.5 to 2cc of ink into the marker. There should be markings on the side of the ink bottle in intervals of one cc. To add the ink, lightly squeeze the refill cartridge to add the required amount.
Once refilled, remove the booster needle, and secure the nib back in place on the marker using tweezers. Apply a little force to the nib to ensure it is properly seated. Next separate the refill cartridge and the booster by unscrewing it from the tank.
As a final step, it is important to clean the booster needle to ensure colors do not become mixed during its next use. Start by pouring a few drops of regular rubbing alcohol into the opening of the booster needle where you connected it with the refill. Then rotate a cotton swab inside to remove remaining ink.
Refilling your alcohol markers is the logical and most cost-effective option. While it can be a messy process, refilling becomes a fast and simple task once you get the hang of it. It just takes patience, time, and a feel for the amount of ink required to go into the marker. Now get out there and start drawing!