Review: Winsor & Newton Watercolor Markers

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If you’ve been following my Facebook page, you’ll had seen a few posts on my first impressions of Winsor & Newton’s Watercolor Markers. I’m going to be up front and admit that the most experience that I’ve ever had with color markers has been when I was coloring with Crayola markers around the age of 12. (They were great until they started to fade. Then they broke my little heart. The color-changing markers were especially bad.) I do own both a Copic Sketch and a Prismacolor Premier marker. But they’re just to play with. I’ve mainly used markers for inking. So my experience is that of a novice when it comes to professional or artist level color markers. Let’s start with a story that I told on Facebook…

Gather ‘Round Children… It’s “Story-time!”

Hurray for W&S water color markers!

Painted using W&S watercolor markers and some Cotman watercolor tube paint for the Payne’s Grey.

I’ve known about Winsor and Newton’s watercolor markers for a few months now. I’m a long-time W&S fanboy and love working in watercolor. So I had been lusting over these watercolor markers for quite a while. A few weeks ago, I found a 50% off coupon on Michael’s website. My original intention was to use it for a tube of Winsor & Newton Designer Gouache, since I’ve been on a gouache kick as of late.

A tube of Winsor & Newton gouacheMy habit at any art and/or craft store is to do a lot of browsing. I like to look for anything different, unusual, or new. I had about crapped my pants when I saw Winsor and Newton’s watercolor markers hanging on pegs in front of me. (If I hadn’t looked up, I wouldn’t have noticed them. :P) Of course I grabbed one of the 6-packs. Just before Christmas (2014) I had purchased the Bright 6-pack at 40% off. ($20 USD. Still not bad.)

Photo of front of Winsor & Newton watercolor markers 6-pack from Michael's Arts and Crafts store int the USA

Winsor & Newton water color markers in a six-pack sold at Michael’s stores in the U.S. This set is no longer available.

Six-pack of my watercolor markers opened.

Six-pack opened. It has both form and function.

Michael’s Sets

Update – Nov 6, 2015:

As of this past October, Michael’s Arts and Crafts stores had clearance out their specialty sets and now sell Winsor & Newton Watercolor markers as open stock along with Winsor & Newton’s Pigment Markers and chisel-tip Pro Markers. Singles are priced at $5.99 USD. Michael’s has a limited selection of colors, but the range of colors isn’t too limiting. They also sell watercolor markers online, but you’ll find them at a better price else where on the internet. If you do choose to buy from one of Michael’s brick and mortar stores, have a coupon handy. They’ll usually have coupon(s) that’ll give you a good discount for the entire purchase or just a single item. This is how I quickly built up my collection of watercolor markers on the cheap.

Unlike what’s found at a lot of art supply websites, the sets in front of me were not packaged in tins, but in plastic packaging. (I guess the tins jack up the price.) The cool thing is that Michael’s sells a pair of 6-packs and four different 3-packs that only overlap with two colors. I own both of the 6-packs. The Natural set consists of Alizarin Crimson Hue, Cadmium Red Hue, Burnt Umber, Yellow Ochre, Sap Green, and Cerulean Blue. The Bright set contains Phthalo Green, Turquoise, Quinacridone Magenta, Pale Rose, Cadmium Orange, and Lemon Yellow. Both 6-packs make for great starters sets. I also recently purchased the Warm 3-pack, containing Burnt Sienna, Raw Sienna, and Raw Umber.

A scanned color sample of the W&S watercolour markers that I own.

Here’s a scan of the colors that I currently own. I had to tweak a few of the colors in PhotoShop (i.e.- Turquoise was translated by my scanner and digital camera into a close Ultramarine.) because they simply don’t convert well digitally. (You can click for a larger version.)

The 3-packs seem well thought out. For $15 USD, you can grab the Primary set, Lemon Yellow, Permanent Rose, and Phthalo Blue (red shade). There’s the Cool set which consists of Mid Blue, Cerulean Blue, and Hooker’s Green. The Dark set consists of Lamp Black, Payne’s Gray, and Sepia. (I had mistaken this for a Metallic set for some reason.) Finally there’s the Warm set Burnt Sienna, Raw Sienna, and Raw Umber. Unfortunately Michael’s doesn’t sell any open-stock. So I’ll have to order a Violet/Purple and/or an Indigo online.

Other websites like Dick Blick and Jerry’s Art sell these watercolor markers in tins containing 6, 8, and 12 markers. The 6-marker tin contains Cadmium Yellow Hue, Alizarin Crimson Hue, Prussian Blue Hue, Sap Green, Yellow Ochre, and Ivory Black. The 12-pack includes Lemon Yellow Hue, Cadmium Yellow Hue, Cadmium Red Hue, Alizarin Crimson Hue, Dioxazine Violet, Prussian Blue Hue, Cerulean Blue Hue, Hooker’s Greek Dark, Sap Green, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Umber, and Ivory Black.

Focus On The Ends

Fine or Bullet tip of watercolor marker brush tip of watercolor marker

Much like Copic and Prismacolor markers, Winsor & Newton watercolor markers sport both a soft brush and fine/bullet tip. The brush end is nice and soft, but a little stiffer than my Copic Sketch marker. The brush tip gushes with color without bleeding excessively. The fine tip is actually as big as the one on a Prismacolor Premier marker. If you’re used to drawing fine detail, you may resort to using the brush tip like I do.

The color that these watercolor markers layout are really concentrated and intense. From what I’ve read online, these markers are pigment-based. So far none of the markers I’ve used has ever laid any grainy or streaky marks. I have noticed that with a few of the colors, the fine tip seems to lay in a noticeably darker variation of the color. I’m going to assume that this is due to the markers being a pigment not dye-based marker. The more concentrated the pigment of any color, the darker.

 

Look & Feel

Winsor & Newton watercolor markers feel much like a Prismacolor Premier art marker (which I’ve just received). For big hands, they feel pretty comfortable. When playing around with my first 6-pack, The fine tip end would pop off when pulling off the cap. I’m assuming this occurred because I was being too rough. The fine tip cap has a bullet shape and a noticeable notch to help pull the cap off. Design-wise it makes some sense, but I’d rather have a cap much like what the brush end sports. I recommend using a twisting motion when pulling off the fine tip cap. The cap for the brush tip comes off pretty easily. So far I’ve never had any problems taking that side off.

 

My Blending Issues

Aside from being an admitted glazer, I’m also an habitual blender. I like blending just about anything, and if I can’t blend it, I’ll start suffering from immediate withdrawals. I just about threw a fit when first I tried these on my cheap sketchbook paper. Unfortunately my cheap sketchbook does pretty well with most mediums. I’ll even play with traditional watercolors and acrylic paints.

Sample of marks on cheap sketchbook paper.

A series of sample marks on cheap sketchbook paper. Notice how difficult it is to blend the colors. It is only possible to drag some pigment from the marks.

The color is so concentrated in these markers, they literally stain the thinner paper inside my sketchbook. Yeah, I could pull some color off the markings, but creating a smooth transition with a water-loaded brush was impossible. I was rather confounded by this predicament.

Thankfully I was able to dig up a pad of thicker watercolor paper from Strathmore (300 Series, 140 lbs, heavy weight, and cold press). I had much more success with the heavy weight watercolor paper. It takes a little more effort to smoothly blend a mark that has had some time to dry than a mark that has just been laid down. I recommend purchasing a good water brush or quality synthetic round brush, like a Winsor & Newton University Series 233. You can of course use a sable brush, but you’ll likely wear it out while using these watercolor markers. I have tried dipping the brush tip into water to dilute the color and make my smooth gradations. That works on with few colors.

Sample watercolor of manga girl

The colors blend easily without becoming muddy. These markers also work well with other watercolor mediums. I had tested them with markers, gouache, and professional grade Winsor & Newton watercolor tube paint. The colors can also be layered, wet upon dry without any issues.

During my testing, I developed the habit of laying in a small bit of color and dragged away at it with a brush soaked with water.

Laying in color for large areas with the brush tip is pretty easy. But you will experience some banding or streaking after one layer. What I learned from my Copic marker is that you need to overlap your strokes (to about the middle of the stroke’s width), and they will visual blend. A second layer will provide a somewhat smoother result. I recommend applying a light dose of water via a round brush to smoothing things out. The fine tip does a better job when laying in flat color. It makes me wonder if Winsor & Newton ever did released a set of watercolor markers with a chisel or fat tip if it’d produce as good a result.

A comparison of flat areas of color using a single and double layers of color

To the left, an area of flat color using two layers of color with the brush tip. To the right, an area using just a single layer of color, but with overlapping strokes using the brush tip.

flat areas of color with a wash applied and colored in with the fine tip

On the left, a flat area of color smoothed out with a wash of clean water. On the right, a flat area created with the fine tip.

My Verdict

I’m a big fan of Winsor & Newton’s watercolor markers. But I only have two big gripes. Out of the 36 colors, there are just a few “pale” hues. (I don’t believe “pale” means much in this context.) Even with the pale hues, the colors are so concentrated it would be pretty difficult to create anything strictly using these markers without it looking over-saturated. My Pale Rose marker is honestly anything but pale. I guess it’s lighter than a Permanent Rose, but it’s still really saturated. I would prefer colors that lay on much lighter hues, and at different levels of saturation or intensity, similar to what Prismacolor offers. If you want any variation in your colors, it’s an absolute necessity to own a round brush to blend with. But maybe that was the intent. Maybe the marketing department at Winsor & Newton assumes that people who purchase these watercolor brushes are likely to be using traditional watercolors in the first place.

Yet I can see these watercolor markers marketed as a gateway for folks with little or no experience in watercolor art. They’re competitively priced and you can either purchase a 3-pack from your local art store or buy one or two online from an online store’s open-stock. As mentioned earlier, you easily use them with other watercolor mediums. Or hell, even with acrylics. I’ll have to try that.

My other big gripe is that you need store these marker horizontally. I’ve never stored anything horizontally. (Not on purpose anyway.) I’m going to safely assume that this issue is due to gravity and the need to prevent pigment from gathering on one end of the marker. Maybe a dye-based formula might make life easier for lazy people like myself.

Otherwise I like this different take on markers and watercolor. If you don’t like how messy traditional watercolors can get, Winsor & Newton watercolor markers are extremely convenient and almost mess free. As long as you use good, heavy-weight watercolor paper, you’ll get the max benefit from these markers. (Winsor & Newton also makes spiral-bound pads specially designed for their markers.) Blending after application is pretty easy.

No these aren’t the only watercolor markers on the market, but you won’t have to pray over their quality. Yes, you should buy them. If you already use Prismacolor or Copic markers, they’ll complement them nicely. Winsor & Newton watercolor markers can be purchase at any good art store or online retailer such as MisterArt.com. They can also be purchased at Amazon. And what’s great about purchasing them at Amazon? You get them at a discounted price, plus you help to directly support this website using my link.