Winsor & Newton Watercolor Markers

October 24, 2014

141015_JonnyLeeMillerWCMarkersLeft: Quick monochromatic sketch from TV using a Winsor & Newton Watercolor Marker. 8.5 x 11 inch Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media paper. The gray tone at the eye is a contaminated brush. I didn't properly clean my Niji before starting.

I have mixed feelings about the new Winsor & Newton Watercolor Markers. 

First let me tell you about the pens: they are dual tipped with a solid felt/fiber brush tip on one end and a finer point writing tip on the other. They come in a variety of colors and contain pigmented watercolor. 

This last statement should make me happy because it indicates we can expect some lightfastness from these pens, whereas most watersoluble markers are dye based and filled with fugitive ink.

I'm concerned because while they do list the pigments used (in teeny tiny type) on the pens the colors names sometimes contain "hue" which means they are mixing pigments to get a color a single that a typically more expensive and lightfast pigment would yield. And some of the names like "mid blue" are just not the usual art-pigment names. That makes me worry a bit. But let's put this aside for a moment and look at the pens.

The pens are waterbased and have no chemical or floral or odd offputting odors of any type!

Julia Farrer is the subject of a short video at the link I've provided and I think she says it best "I have results I couldn't get in any other way…You can do things with the pens I don't know how I'd replicate in another way. They have their own quality. And I have to find out how I will use that."

That's sort of where I feel I am today, but less hopeful than that artist.

141015_JonnyLeeMillerWCMarkersCRLeft: Here's a close up of the eye area. You can see that as with any watercolor product you will need to be careful when restating a color by adding another line of color as I did in the eyebrows. You will have to gauge the time you need to wait based on the water used and the softness and sizing of your paper. This Strathmore paper is pretty resilient and accommodating, but I can see that I really needed to wait for the paper to dry a bit more.

In general I don't enjoy using solid fiber-tipped pens. I find that they make me too tight in my drawing. I also find, in general, when using markers meant to wash out (and there have been some pens from Letraset that were not lightfast) that there isn't enough "umph" in the ink. When I wash it out it doesn't have the same "power" as one gets with watercolor paint (tubes or pans). 

II have a couple swatches at the bottom of the full page and you can see that this is a bit of a problem with these too—you have to watch yourself. Most of the values I built up in today's image were done by washing out lines to create shadows and then going in for a second pass with color on my Niji—I stroked the Niji across the pen tip to pick up color and then deposited that color where I wanted in the drawing.

The strokes didn't completely wash out on the Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media paper so if you want to hide your lines completely you're probably going to want to do ALL your experiments on heavily sized watercolor paper brands and not mixed media papers.

In short I'm going to have to do a lot of fiddling to see what I like about these pens and what I don't like. I think I might enjoy them best for making initial sketches under my gouache paintings. I can cover lines I don't care for that way and create some interesting effects by drawing the line color out into the gouache color. They could also be useful when adding really tight details. We'll see.

In the normal course of events I would follow my own usual advice and spend this weekend sketching only with these tools. Right now, however, I'm embroiled in another project and don't want to take a break from immersion in those tools. I just had to get to these markers this month to see what they could do when they were still "fresh."

I think I'll have fun with the Payne's Gray. I actually have great hopes for that pen…

With many pens there is an on-going discussion of whether to store them flat or upright and whether it matters. These pens state right on the package that you should store them flat. This makes it difficult for me to think about carrying them around because the pens I take into the field with me all live in an upright position in my case. I'll just have to remember to keep taking my pens out to store them flat each evening. Hmmm. That's high maintenance for me.

Also I find the snap on and off of the caps is awkward. First there is the way the inner part of the cap sits right next to the nib, you can actually hit the nib repeatedly if you're in a hurry putting it on. While the snap is loud and clear there is play in and out up to the locking point (about 1/16th of an inch). That doesn't break the seal but I've found that in transport some pens have come uncapped. (No leaking, just exposed tips.) Another disappointment is that one pen, opened only 3 times broke apart with the fine tipped end coming away in the cap when it was removed.

You'll find the pens in 3-pen sets at Michael's but I don't think that's a very good deal—you end up with colors you may not want just to get the color you do want. (Well I did!)

Wet Paint has them now in open stock and because of that I ended up buying several of my favorite pigments individually. So I now have 9 or so of these pens. Come to think of it I'd better schedule a weekend pretty soon to work just with them.

If you like the idea of watercolors in a pen form I recommend Bienfang Watercolor Brush Pens. They are advertised as containing pigmented watercolor, but I've been been burned before by watersoluble pens so I did a lightfastness test chart on the Bienfang Watercolor Brush Pens, and they held up. The only place I've found Bienfang Watercolor Brush Pens is at Cheap Joe's online. I keep buying them, even though there has been at least one dud pen in every set I've purchased, because they are so fun to work with. I used them for sketching at life drawing and I also use them in my mixed media work.

Be careful when purchasing other brush pens that are watersoluble. All the others I've found are dye-based inks and not lightfast. To name just a few: the Pentel Art Brush Pen, the Pentel ColorBrush, the Kuretake Zig Wink pens, the Pilot Fude-Makase Color Brush Pen, the Tombow dual tip markers (one end is a solid brush tip), and the Akashiya Sai Watercolor Brush Pens. If they don't say that the ink or paint the pens contain is pigmented then it is probably a dye-based ink and fugitive. Ask the vendor if you're uncertain. If you're ordering on line Jet Pens is particularly forthcoming in providing this information before a purchase and they have a wide selection of such pens. Many of the pens mentioned in this paragraph, and others like them, are great fun to use. (I use the Pentel ColorBrush Sepia and Black when I want to sketch monochromatically and pull out a lighter wash from a line [or add a lighter wash by stroking my waterbrush across the tip of the brush pen to pick up ink].I also have a range of gray Tombows around.) Just know what you're getting into when you buy these pens.


    • garry
    • October 30, 2014


  1. Reply

    Janine, I picked these up with less expectation than you had. I assumed they would be more marker like and therefore diluted. In general I’ve been underwhelmed with them. I’ve had a couple which were dry almost immediately, one that was dry immediately, so the quality is inconsistent. And the pen malfunctions are annoying.

    I gave all of mine away at a fall studio swap at the Journal Collective last year. With the exception of the Payne’s gray (I think, I’m not sure where it is but I think I kept it because it’s OK to sketch with if you want a maker sketch.)

    My minimal expectation was for a watersoluble marker that was PIGMENTED and therefore lightfast, and these are that, so for SOME artists who want that these are going to be useful. Not for me though.

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