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How to Render With Marker Pens

Updated April 17, 2017

Marker "renderings," or realistic drawings, were long the standard in fashion illustration, commercial illustration and concept art for the film, architecture and automotive industries. Though digital illustration has largely replaced marker rendering, many designers still use markers -- particularly during preliminary, exploratory sketching. To render with marker pens, use professional art markers to shade and colour a line drawing.

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  1. Layer a few sheets of scratch paper on your drawing surface to protect it from ink bleeds.

  2. Place a tester sheet of marker paper onto the scratch paper. Take a primary colour marker and begin sketching freely to test how the paper responds to ink. Notice how the ink flows across the page, how the paper takes colour and how quickly it dries. Keep testing until you have a feel for your paper, then put the tester sheet aside and lay down a new piece of marker paper.

  3. Sketch your subject with a soft pencil on the new sheet of marker paper. Go over the final lines with the pigment pen and wait for the ink to dry. If you do not want pencil or pigment pen to show in your final drawing, place another blank sheet on top of your line drawing and tape both sheets to a light board. Draw with the markers on the blank top sheet, using the line drawing below as a guide.

  4. Choose what colours you will use and put the rest of the markers aside. Quickly test out your markers on the tester sheet before you begin to render details on your line drawing.

  5. Begin sketching with the lightest colour in the drawing. Fill the area by moving the pen in a continuous elliptical path, slowing pushing the leading edge of the nib outward toward the border where the next colour begins. Vary drawing pressure to change line width and ink flow. You may need to go back over some sections with more than one layer since marker ink is translucent. Continue until you have filled all highlights.

  6. Fill in the mid-tone areas, sketching with the same elliptical technique.

  7. Fill in the darkest colours and shadows.

  8. Use a neutral or colourless blender marker (sometimes called a "white" marker) to blend edges and streaks. If your marker set doesn't include a blender, use a dried out marker dipped in paint thinner.

  9. Tip

    Markers are emotive and organic compared to even, predictable digital paint and colouring tools. Embrace accidents as part of the learning process. If you make mistakes, scan your rendering and use it as the basis for a digital mixed media final. Leading professional graphic art marker brands include Prismacolor, Letraset and Copic. Once you have gained some experience and confidence rendering with markers on smooth grain paper, try watercolour paper for a challenge. Marker can look beautiful on textured paper, though it can get "pilly" when saturated with ink. Concept artist Mark Randall recommends combining markers with pastels. Other artists add opaque highlights with colour pencils or white gauche. Use low-tack sticky paper or magic tape to mask areas where you need a crisp line.


    Individual markers may bleed differently depending on their age and ink saturation. Test each colour on scratch paper before using it on your drawing. Rub any marker you've used for blending on your scratch paper until it returns to its expected hue. If you begin with a digital line drawing, use a toner-based printout. The alcohol in marker ink can make inkjet printouts bleed.

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Things You'll Need

  • Marker paper
  • Soft pencil
  • Fine tip pigment pen
  • Professional art markers
  • Smooth grain scratch paper
  • Light board
  • Paint thinner

About the Author

Tim Hesse

Tim Hesse has been writing professionally since 2000. He has written and edited for a variety of print and online publications, including Salon.com Tech Tips, FOXSports and Automated Homefinder. Hesse enjoys covering music, film, the open-source movement, education and the arts. He studied cinema and television production at the University of Southern California.

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