Every caricature artist has a preference on their marker of choice. When I learned to sketch at Sesame Over over 20 years ago we used Eberhard-Faber Design Art Markers, the preferred marker by most caricaturists at the time but were sadly discontinued because they used xylene-based ink which were incredibly toxic (not to mention the smell would make you lightheaded). The discontinuation of the good ol’ Eberhard-Faber Design Markers, along with another preferred marker called Dixon Marquette for the same toxic reason caused panic amongst caricaturists everywhere. As any professional knows, the right tools matter and for caricaturists and illustrators no marker came close to these to these two. So once the supply dried of Design and Marquette markers dried up artists were forced to wander the aisles of their local art supply store in search of a suitable replacement. The “other markers” would never come close to the perfection of the old toxic “woozy” markers, but they have to suffice to make a living as a caricaturist in the 2000’s. I’ve tried them all. So here’s a breakdown of what is out there and the pros and cons of each, plus, I’ll tell you the marker that I’ve been using for the past 15 years.
Here are some things to consider when choosing a caricature marker:
- Line variation (the ability for a marker to vary from thick to thin),
- Robustness (the marker has to take a beating and not break)
- Smell (some markers use xylene-based ink and STINK, not to mention the fumes are not good for your health.)
- How long it lasts (a marker that runs out of ink quickly can bankrupt an artist)
The classic caricature artists marker that has been used and cherished for decades. It has a bullet tip that is great for varying your line thickness, but tends to break on occasion.
Eberhard-Faber Design Art Markers
These were the best caricature markers on the market. They had just the right feel, just the right flexibility, just the right fluidity and just the right saturation. They didn’t dry out easily and lasted for ages. Then they were discontinued because their ink was toxic. The fumes and lightheadedness associated with using these markers were a small price to pay for allowing you to create artistic perfection. Wouldn’t you agree?
I worked with an artist at Philadelphia Phillies games who lived and died by these markers. They have two tips — a chisel tip and a brush tip — and use alcohol-based ink. The good thing about Copic markers is that you can buy replacement ink and refill the marker instead of trash it. Unfortunately, I lacked the focus and accuracy needed to replace the ink without making a mess so my easel would often have a black, stinky puddle under it and my hands would look like those of a mechanic. Another gripe is I push too hard to use a brush tip, and would often snap it in half.
Yep, you read that right. When I first heard another artist telling me that his go-to marker was the Crayola marker you used in elementary school I thought he was nuts. But then gave me one and I saw the appeal. You can beat the heck out of it and the tip won’t break (obviously, since they’re designed to withstand kids) and you can get different line thicknesses by how you hold it. Overall it’s a good marker, except customers and other artists alike would have a hard time taking you seriously as you’re holding that little kiddie marker.
Prismacolor Chisel Tip Markers – My Marker of Choice (Before They Were Discontinued in 2020).
Prismacolor chisel tip markers have a nice, thick tip that you can beat the heck out of and won’t break. Which is great for me because I push HARD on the marker in order to squeeze every last drop of ink out of them. Hold the chisel tip vertically for a super-thin line or hold it sideways for a nice thick stroke. You can’t refill the markers but the ink does seem to last a few gigs (which would equal about 8 hours of consecutive drawing). The second tip is pretty worthless in my opinion. It’s a thin bullet tip that lacks any personality or line variation — its not thin enough to be useful nor is it thick enough to look good, and it bleeds on the paper I use.
Pay attention to what Black Prismacolor marker you grab at the art supply store. A few years ago Prismacolor started selling a brush tip marker that looks identical to the chisel tip. There have been more than one occasion I’ve bought a handful of new markers only to realize when I get to the gig that I have to work with a dainty brush tip instead of my precious chisel tip.
In the end, it comes down to personal preference and each artist’s style.
Just like any type of job, you need the right tools to get the desired outcome. A marker is the tool of the caricaturist, and in the end it comes down to which tool the artist prefers to use, and feels most confident in the end result. I landed on the the chisel tip Prismacolor because I like my sketches to have diverse line thicknesses without having to waste time switching between markers, and I also like to press the marker really, really hard to squeeze any remaining out out of it without breaking it. The Prismacolor works for me. If you prefer thinner lines the bullet tip might be more your style. For a more whimsical look, brush tips give a very fluid line quality…but will snap in half if you push too hard. I hope this page provides some valuable insight to young artists just starting out in caricatures.
What type of marker are you using to draw caricatures?
Are you a Marquette, Design, Copic, Crayola or Prismacolor enthusiast? Do you use something completely different that isn’t listed on this page? Hit me up on social media or email me!
It’s been about a year (and 1 pandemic) since I wrote this post and alot has changed. Prismacolor discontinued my go-to marker during COVID and I was forced to try to find a suitable replacement when live events and gigs started up again. So, in addition to my anxiety of sketching caricatures at a large event and expose myself to hundreds, if not thousands, of folks, I now found myself in a position that my tried and true piece of caricature equipment is no longer available.
ChartPack AD Marker – Extremely Toxic
My first instinct was to go to ChartPack AD markers because the chisel tip was similar to the chisel tip of my Prismacolors. The nib would shift position if I applied pressure which was very frustrating, but I learned to use a soft grip and press lightly with it and got some good results. HOWEVER, I started getting serious headaches from using them in enclosed spaces because of the smell of the toxic XYLENE based ink. I do not recommend anyone use this marker.
*Here is an informative safety white paper for more details on the toxicity of Chartpack Ad Markers.
**Xylene by itself can cause changes to the nervous system, as well as kidneys, lungs, and heart. (ATSDR) Animals can die if exposed to high amounts of xylene. It is most likely that the concentration of xylene in these markers won’t do that, but the chemical is still harmful.
So What is the Best Marker for Drawing Caricatures?
With no other options, I decided to revisit Crayola Markers and this time around I put aside all my biases that they were “kiddie markers” and found that they worked extremely well for caricatures. You can push really hard on them without breaking the tip, and depending on how you hold them they give you dynamic variation of line quality. Unlike the ChartPack AD Marker, the nib doesn’t move or shift at all and the ink is non-toxic (doesn’t smell at all)! The ink lasts a really long time, but that doesn’t matter because they are extremely cheap and you can order them in bulk. Not to mention you can find them practically anywhere, which was an issue I had with my previous favorite Prismacolor Markers – they were hard to find AND EXPENSIVE (I’d pay like $6.00 per individual marker at Michaels or AC Moore).
I’ve tried them all, so take my word for it. Crayolas Markers are the best for drawing caricatures across the board – price, availability, non-toxic, line quality, and robustness (you can beat the heck out of them). give them a try and let me know what you think!