Blending Smooth Color with Alcohol Markers

Blending Smooth Color with Alcohol Markers

This week’s Q&A question comes from a reader who is having problems blending smooth color with alcohol markers. Here is the question.

I’m having trouble when I try to blend large areas of colour with the colourless (alcohol based) blenders. I’ve tried Prismacolor and Winsor & Newton blending pens and different papers, but the backgrounds come out blotchy.

I want to blend that way because the colours come out more vibrant, plus I want to be able to add additional layers without filling up the tooth of the paper.

I have tried blending on Fabriano Artistico 140 lb hot press, and Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Vellum 100 lb. Both seem to turn out poorly.

What am I doing wrong?

Blending Smooth Color with Alcohol Markers

I have used blending markers, but it’s been years. I think I used one marker and decided they weren’t for me for a number of reasons.

First, I had a lot of the same problems this reader is having.

Second, the markers tended to get dirty quickly. That makes sense, because any time you use solvent on colored pencil, you remove some color.

But the biggest reason I didn’t buy another blending marker was that the first one dried out too quickly. It just wasn’t cost-effective or convenient.

Having said all that, let’s talk about how to use alcohol markers more efficiently.

Blending Smooth Color with Alcohol Markers

So what is this reader doing wrong?

I strongly suspect the answer is attempting to blend large areas with a tool designed for small areas.

Markers are, by nature, designed for small areas. The marker I used had two tips: one small and round, the other wedge-shaped. But even the wedge-shaped edge was no more than an inch wide and probably not even that big.

Alcohol also evaporates very quickly; sometimes almost instantly. It’s very difficult to get smooth blends when the surface dries from one stroke to the next. Even overlapping strokes and working quickly isn’t always the solution.

How Do You Blend Smooth Color with Alcohol Markers?

Save the blending pens for those small areas that can be blended quickly. If your marker has two tips, use the largest tip that will fit the area you want to blend.

Blend the entire area as quickly as you can, and overlap strokes. Then let the paper dry.

If the color looks good after it’s dry, you’re finished.

If it needs more work, add more layers of color, then blend again. The beauty of alcohol markers is that they don’t fill the tooth of the paper, so you can layer and blend almost indefinitely.

What about Blending Larger Areas?

For larger areas, try ordinary rubbing alcohol.

Rubbing alcohol is not the same type of alcohol found in alcohol markers, but it behaves in much the same way. It breaks down the binding agent that holds the pigment together, allowing you to blend color. It does evaporate quickly, but not as quickly as an alcohol marker.

You can also use cotton swabs, cotton balls or brushes to blend, so you can more quickly and easily blend larger areas.

Blending Smooth Color with Alcohol Markers
Using a flat bristle brush instead of an alcohol blending pen to blend a background with rubbing alcohol.

What to Remember when Blending with Alcohol Markers

They are made for small areas, so save them for blending those small areas.

Try rubbing alcohol to blend larger areas.

Don’t be afraid to layer color, blend, then layer again.

For more specific information on blending colored pencil with rubbing alcohol, read How to Blend Colored Pencil Drawings with Rubbing Alcohol, which I wrote for EmptyEasel.


  1. Patricia Wilson

    Interesting as I mostly use alcohol markers and wonder how people get such a great result. I guess everything takes practice as feel I have gotten better but your tips certainly helped allot. Thank you.

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