Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Product Review: Letraset AquaMarkers

Update:  See Part 2 of this post for an in-depth tutorial on using AquaMarkers to color an image...

I rarely go "all in" with a new-to-me product and purchase the entire color range without first doing some research and/or preliminary testing with a small sampling.  However, I had encountered more than a couple mentions of Letraset's AquaMarkers in my blog travels and the concept was appealing: water-based pigment ink in a marker that can be smoothly blended even after the ink has dried.  So, in a moment of weakness, I jumped right in and purchased four sets.  At first, I was extremely frustrated but after much experimentation and practice, I have to say that these markers rank as one of my very favorite illustration tools.  The following is a summary of the pros & cons of AquaMarkers from my perspective.

Product Details:

AquaMarkers have two tips: a soft, thick, "brush" tip and a hard, bullet nib.  Currently, they come in 39 colors and are available open stock or in sets.  There are two sets of 6 and two sets of 12 and all four sets have different colors.  If you were to purchase all four sets, you'd end up with 36 out of 39 colors available. (Teal, Peacock Blue and Grape are the three remaining colors you have to purchase open stock to say you own the complete color palette.)  The 12-marker sets also include a clear blending marker.

The markers contain a water-based, water-soluble pigment ink that is archival and alcohol-free.  This means they are non-toxic and have no perceptible odor.  This also means that you can blend this ink with water just like you would traditional watercolor.

Pros:

* Convenience and portability:  I love traditional watercolor but I don't always want to drag out everything required to paint so these markers are an easy way to get the watercolor look without all the set-up.  They tuck right into any travel journaling kit; just add a water brush for watercolor-to-go.  The ink in AquaMarkers can be beautifully transparent so you get the ease & control of markers with the radiance of watercolor.

* Price: These markers are affordable, especially in comparison to some other markers on the market.  Open stock AquaMarkers at Dick Blick will cost you $2.30 each.

Left sample on watercolor paper; right sample on gesso
*  Color Options:  With 39 colors in the AquaMarker palette, there is a good mix of pastel colors and brights.  This means I can work from the pale colors to the more intense colors, layering bit by bit and producing a nicely shaded illustration.  And since these are designed to be blended and are transparent, layering two or more colors one top of one another will create a new color.

* Smooth Blending:  In reality, you can thin any water-based marker with water to produce a faux watercolor effect.  However, often times you will get permanent lines in your blending or layering where two colors overlap.  Note in the above chart how the AquaMarkers perform in blending tests compared to other products.  AquaMarkers can blend seamlessly IF you follow certain guidelines for use.  I'll discuss that in a minute but first...

Cons:

* Quality Control:  I had an issue with quality and have spoken to someone else who had the exact same problem so I know it isn't just me.  4 of the 39 markers I purchased had ill-fitting caps and the pens arrived completely dried up.  Check all of your markers when you receive them; the lids should snap on with an audible "Click!"  Make sure you hear that click when replacing the lids after use.  In addition, I have one marker ("Rose Blush") that produces two completely different colors from each nib.  I'm not sure if that is unique to the marker I own but it is annoying because I use the brush tips almost exclusively and in that marker, the ink from one end isn't even close to the other.

Ease of Use:  These are NOT a simple tool to use!  I tested these markers on many different types of paper and found that for best results, a sturdy paper with tooth (i.e. 140 lb cold press watercolor paper) is a must.  Paper labeled "mixed media" just won't cut it and smooth paper becomes a disaster very fast.  Even on high quality watercolor paper, the marker nibs will pull up tiny bits of the paper and make the surface rough if you're not careful.  Blending these markers correctly takes time and a gentle hand.  It also takes a little bit of speed because although they can be blended when dry, it tends to be more difficult to produce a smooth, line-free blend.  Essentially, you need to work on small areas at a time and work fast.  These various concerns caused my initial frustration with this product.  It took some intense trial & error before I found my way. 

Conclusions:  

So, given all that, how do I really feel about Letraset's AquaMarkers?  Personally, I'm really into illustration work that I can do a little bit at a time, "slow art" as I call it.  As I work with these markers, I like the time it takes to get the blending just right.  I like using AquaMarkers as foundation color that I can then accent with other markers or colored pencils.  The final effect is much more luminous than traditional markers and more convenient than traditional watercolor.  Over time, these really have become my go-to tool for my cartooning and illustration projects.

* I am a Amazon affiliate which means that if you click on a product link at my blog and ultimately purchase something with that link, Amazon lets a bit of change tinkle my way.  I only include links to books and products I have personally read and/or tested and that I can recommend.

6 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this and I can't wait for your next tutorial. I bought these markers because I love watercolors but don't always want to take them out. There is a learning curve to these markers and I'm very frustrated. I put them aside before I throw them out the window!

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  2. OMG thank u for doing this i just this morning posted on a new forum i joined how i am so disappointed with this product i bought the two sets of 12 for $66 aust dollars and i am so regretting the purchase so i cant wait for your next post on these markers ..thank u again , i have u on my google reader and love your blog and work

    hugz bev

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  3. Absolutely brilliant, unbiased look at these - thank you so much!

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  4. Thanks, Michelle,for all the info on these markers!! I learned so much from reading this blog entry and feel now that I will be able to cope with the eccentricities of these pigment markers, and a good thing, too, since I bought them all last month!

    XOXO Ellen

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  5. I enjoyed your comments about these markers. I have a few of them and I think I prefer the Tombow markers...I have a a few new Prismacolor Premier ordered from Dick Blick so I will be trying those out as soon as they get here. I enjoy your art work and you ICAD's were great!!!
    Mary

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  6. Michelle, I have been slowly working my way back through your blog and am totally in awe of all your work. I know you don't have time to sleep, but when do you eat? LOL Seriously, you are so inspiring. I don't know if you are notified of new comments on old posts, but if not, maybe some new reader will benefit from my small contribution. I don't have the AquaMarkers, but following is how I use my Tombows and Pitts to create a watercolor-like effect. Instead of touching the marker directly to the paper, I scribble a little bit with it onto a small piece of hard clear plastic. I then pick up a dab of the color with my waterbrush and apply that to the paper. It blends beautifully and seamlessly. You can easily create new colors by mixing dabs on the plastic. It's just like using real watercolors without the hassle.

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Thank you for visiting my blog and taking a moment to comment! If you would like a response to a specific question, you are welcome to email me directly at lostcoastpost@suddenlink.net

Thank you again for the time you've spent here. Most sincerely, Michelle

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