Letraset Aqua Markers—Lightfastness Test

April 12, 2012

120407LetrasetAquaMarkerCropLeft: Color test chart for the Letraset Aqua Markers. Click on the image to view an enlargement, and read below for more details. Note: Left side was exposed to light, right side is the control—but that's really obvious.

A while back I purchased some Letraset Aqua Markers because I saw them in a catalog and if you really could use them as described they would be an interesting tool.

These pens have a broad tip on one end. The other tip is a fine point.

VERY IMPORTANT: Letraset sells two products that look similar in shape and packaging. This product is called Aqua Markers. Their other product is called Aqua ProMarkers.

I was sold the inferior Aqua Marker, as if it was the Aqua ProMarker. The advertising copy talked about all the qualities the Promarker had. (I don't blame the catalog company, I think they were actually confused. I know I would have been.)

Be VERY CAREFUL which markers you purchase from Letraset.

They push the Aqua Marker to "Scrap bookers and Rubber Stampers and also to Water-colour illustrators as an alternative to paint-based media."

That claim is nonsense. Supposedly you can wet the lines made with these pens and wash them out like watercolors by touching the lines with a waterbrush. However, I found that the pen lines do not dissolve equally well depending on time lapse (when you get at them with water). The type of paper use use them on greatly effects their action as well, and that makes sense given differences in paper sizing and texture, but I would have expected a bit more control in the product over different paper types.

For best results you'll want to use them on relatively smooth paper. Plate Bristol and other such papers, that aren't typically used for watercolor. You can see how one dissolved in my video review of the Stillman & Birn Epsilon Series Sketchbook. I rated that sketchbook highly for marker use, and these would be a great marker to use in that book if you don't care about the other product issues.

From the lightfastness test results I got I wouldn't recommend these for use to scrapbookers or rubber stamp artists at all. I certainly would caution any illustrator against using them.

What about the Aqua ProMarker? Well since I was was tricked into buying a different line by advertising copy that promised pigmented, non-fading inks (which clearly the Aqua Markers aren't) I am not going to spend more money buying the next product line to test them. You can follow my link to ProMarkers and read about the product and make your own decision. Perhaps if you do a lot of Manga art these pens would be useful to you.

Beyond use as a slightly soluble marker I don't recommend the use of Letraset Aqua Markers at all. Even for greeting cards and rubber stamp work.

As you can see from the lightfastness test of these colors most of the Aqua Marker colors fade considerably. You will have the best results using their black, rose carmine, royal purple, twilight blue, and sepia. But even in those colors only the first two were without any noticable fading. The yellow used in any of the pens faded out the most drastically. While the scan of the cards may show little difference before and after for Gold Ochre for instance, upon in-person viewing you can easily see the color shift as the yellow fades out to leave a less interesting hue.

So use at your own risk. I found the pesky to use, difficult to graduate and blend, and because they fade so badly, I'm not interested in using them for anything, except perhaps an occasional heading in a journal.

NOTE: I didn't write down the name of the pen I was using to write the color names. That black ink faded drastically. I know it was a fine point pen based on the small size of the lettering, but only my cramped writing indicates to me that it might have been one of the several "fountain pen" type pens I was trying around that time. It was not one of my regularly recommended pens. The darker, large writing on the card was made with the incomparable Faber-Castell Pitt Artist's Calligraphy Pen, black of course. That ink is not going anywhere. You can use that pen with confidence.

  1. Reply

    Thanks for the heads up Roz. I hate it when shit like that happens.

    • Christine F
    • April 12, 2012

    Have you succumbed to Copic markers at all? I’d be interested in how light fast they are.

  2. Reply

    Christine, the Copic markers have a smell that I don’t care for so except for a brief test period with them when they first came out years and years ago and Tracy Moore started using them, and another look see at a Wet Paint demo a couple weeks ago by artist Ken Johnson (yep they still smell too much for me), I haven’t used them.

    I did a quick google search and found this post by Marianne Walker whose profile says she’s the product specialist/product director for Copic markers.

    In it she says Copics are dye-filled and will fade in harsh light.

    I’d worry about that. I have found that a lot of dye-based products fade even when not exposed to light because the dye just keeps breaking down. If you do use those markers I would scan your originals, color correct the digital scan to reflect the original work on paper, make your usual digital back ups (for computer failure etc.) and then rely on the digital scan as your “original” for purpose of longevity. (Which isn’t great because with all such archives there are retrieval issues over time, but you get the idea, I wouldn’t be invested in your paper original.)

  3. Reply

    Donna, I’m having a lot of colorful notes on post-its to remind me to do things, as long as these markers last, and that’s about it.

  4. Reply

    Roz, this type of Blogpost is sooooo valuable and I am very glad you took the time to write it 🙂
    I have recently been using the Pitt Big Brush pens which are Indian Ink. Like you, I think Faber Castell makes a wonderful product. Honestly I was pretty surprised about Letraset, but *really* glad to hear the heads up. Thanks again.

  5. Reply

    Christine F.: As I own many (many!) Copic Markers because of the joy I have when using them in my journals, blending and mixing — I love them — I can assure you these are NOT LIGHTFAST!

    Depending on the paper some colours even change inside a closed journal, most yellowish colours and the rose/red hues in general fade badly. I notice that every year when the company issues new colours and I do new colour charts I hang beside my desk, not in direct sunlight. fading starts to be visible by april/may for some colours, after a year is gone you can notice it with most colours, especially compared to the new colourchart.

    In general you can be sure that everything marketed to “designers / illustrators” instead of “artist / archival quality” is not lightfast. (Was this advice from you, Roz?)

  6. Reply

    Mary Beth, I’m glad you found it helpful. I love the Faber Castell Pitt Artist Brush Pens of both sizes. I haven’t tested all their colors, but the ones I use (and the black of course I use all the time—and also use the Calligraphy one of theirs in black) are rock solid and I love them. I’m glad you’re using those!

  7. Reply

    Julie, thanks for writing in with more info about the Copic Markers.

    I worry when anything is dye based, that it will keep fading even in closed books. (Kate Johnson had that problem with a drawing done with Derwent Graphitint watersoluble pencils.

    I do say the last bit about things marketed to illustrators and designers not being lightfast, so you may have read it here. I’m concerned that companies don’t take more time to make distinctions about their products that are more straightforward for people to grasp immediately. Since they fail to do that I think the only way I can respond is to look at how carefully the parse their ad copy and if they use, illustration, design, and some other key words and it’s for a product that I’m interested in for archival properties I don’t buy.

    Less heartache that way.

    I do think it’s sad the letraset is selling these to scrapbookers who really want their work to be around for families.

    On the other hand there are products that I will use that aren’t archival, because I love them so much.

    It sounds that the Copic markers are such a product for you—because you love them. But you’ve made your decision based on information.

    The different papers you use them on may also have different ph ratings which will effect the dyes differently.


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