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The right pens for the right look

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Getting the look you want is more than just the pen color you choose; it’s also the pen itself and the appearance of the color on your print or canvas. Mainly, I’m talking opacity and how obvious the brushstrokes are. But also, how rich the colors appear. Some of us love the bold colors, while others prefer a more subtle pastel look. 

Choose pens that will give you the look you want. Let's look at some options below.


In the image above, you can see samples of how colors look on the museum-quality print. From left to right, I’m showing Copic Sketch Markers, Letraset ProMarkers, and Sharpie Fine Tip + Brush Tip. While I realize there are plenty of other markers and mediums you could color your map with, these are the three I have experience with and recommend. Cheers.

May this little rundown help you choose pens that will make you a happy mapper. In this instance, here’s how I’m using these terms:

Opacity: How translucent or opaque the color looks on the map

Performance: How the ink flows from the pen

Vibrancy: Availability of shades from rich, bold colors to subtle pastels

Copic Sketch Markers

  • Opacity: Of the pens I recommend, the Copic colors are the most translucent. What that means for you is that you can see your brushstrokes rather easily. Not good or bad, just preference.
  • Performance: Dreamy. Like painting with butter. But much better. Goes on real smooth, particularly with the brush tip on the Sketch Markers.
  • Vibrancy: With 352 colors, you can find more than you’ll ever need in any range from super dark to shades you almost can’t see on the canvas and print.

Letraset ProMarkers

  • Opacity: These pens do have some translucency, but not as much as the Copic do. There’s variance in the color based on how many passes of the pen you make and where they overlap, but this is mostly noticeable on the larger prints, not so much on the smaller sizes.
  • Performance: I have over 80 of these pens and of those, 1 was dripping and 2 were too dry (so I exchanged them at the art store). You do not want ink dripping down on the material like it’s bleeding or there to be too little so that you have to work hard to get the color to transfer. Life can get hard, but coloring your map shouldn’t be.
  • Vibrancy: You’ve got great range at 150 colors and can find colors from super dark to super light.

Sharpie Fine Tip + Brush Tip

  • Opacity: The most opaque of the recommended pens, at times it can even look matte in finish. Brushstrokes are the least noticeable in my experience. And yes, you can tell the difference between a Fine Tip and a Brush Tip.
  • Performance: In terms of ease and no smearing, the Brush Tip are more fun to use; the advantage the Fine Tip has is that it comes in more colors and is sometimes more available. Have yet to see a dripping Sharpie, but do come across dry ones more than I’d like.
  • Vibrancy: Including the Fine Tip, Sharpie offers around 30 colors. They do limited edition sets that usually have 4-5 limited run colors. Colors definitely tend to be darker and richer than light.

I highly recommend when possible that you head down an art store and try the pens out either on a Color Tester or the back of your canvas. Unless you’re not worried about it. Ha.

Would love to hear how it goes for you, and tips you discover or other pens you find.

May your pens flow easy,


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