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Water-Based vs Alcohol-Based Markers (Which is Better?)

water based vs alcohol based markers

Water-based vs alcohol-based markers – what are the differences? Is one kind better than the other? Knowing the differences between the two kinds of markers saved me a lot of trouble.

In my experience, cleaning a water-based marker requires a different method than cleaning an alcohol-based marker. Just being aware of how differently these markers function allowed me to identify which projects suit them better. Here’s how these two types of markers differ.

Water-Based vs Alcohol-Based Markers

The Primary Difference

The major difference between the two types of markers is the solvent they used. Marker inks have two primary components: dye or pigment and solvent. The dye or pigment particles determine the color of the ink, and the solvent is the liquid that carries the pigment or dissolves the dye.

Some people mistake the coloring agent of markers for pigments. That is not correct. These two types of colorant have their differences, the primary of which is that dyes are soluble while pigments are not.

As their names imply, water-based markers use water as their solvent while alcohol-based markers use alcohol. This primary difference gives the two kinds of markers different functionalities, drying times, blend-ability, constancy, and more.

Now let us look at each of these markers more closely.

Water-Based Markers

Water-based markers are usually disposable and cheaper compared to alcohol-based markers. Because water is the solvent used, the pigment or dye is washable with water. Water-based markers are great for kiddy art projects or other situations where mess is highly probable.


Water-based markers are my preferred tools for an art project. They give a watercolor look when I use them. And because the water does not dry immediately, I can manipulate the ink as it runs around the paper before it dries – it allows me to create some unique artwork.

Another great benefit of using a water-based marker is that it does not bleed through paper – unless I soak the page too much.


My main beef against water-based markers is that they damage the paper. The paper absorbs the water and if it gets too wet, it crinkles when it dries.

Additionally, the paper tends to tear when I pass the marker over the same area a few times or with too much pressure.

The paper tends to pill with water-based markers. Pilling is when the surface of the paper peels up and forms little balls like that of a sweater.

Another problem I have with water-based markers is I can see the strokes I made when the ink dries on the paper. Although I can use this “feature” creatively, I prefer smooth blend-ability where I don’t see the stroke lines. This problem is more evident when I stroke on one area of the paper multiple times with varying directions.

Lastly, water-based markers require porous surfaces to work. A water-based marker will not write on metallic, plastic, or any other non-porous surfaces.

Alcohol-Based Markers

water-based markers

Unlike water-based markers, alcohol-based markers tend to be quite expensive and are marketed as higher-quality markers. And since most alcohol-based markers are refillable, they are meant for longer-term use compared to water-based markers. I believe that alcohol-based markers are cheaper over time because I don’t have to buy a new one every time the ink runs out.


There are a lot of things I like about alcohol-based markers. The first one is that some markers have interchangeable nibs. This means that I can switch styles of writing. Although alcohol-based markers are commonly found in office or professional settings, I can use these markers creatively.

The second thing I like about alcohol-based markers is how blend-able they are. The alcohol does not soak into the paper, thus the ink moves easily across the paper.

The third thing I like about these markers is that they can write on more surfaces than water-based markers. They can write on metal, plastic, wood, fabrics, and more!


Alcohol-based markers also have a lot of disadvantages.

The biggest problem I have with the marker is how it smells. Its fumes are actually harmful, which is a worse problem than how it makes me uncomfortable. It is best to use alcohol-based markers in areas with exceptional ventilation to prevent any problems.

The next problem I have with alcohol-based markers is they bleed through paper. Even a piece of paper with an extremely high GSM (grams per square meter, measurement used to quantify the thickness of paper) is not likely to prevent the ink from bleeding through it.

The last problem I have with alcohol-based markers is their permanence, which might not be a problem for others. This is a con for me because it makes cleaning a stray stroke from the marker harder.

Conclusion: The Final Comparisons

Water-based and alcohol-based markers have a lot of differences. They have differences in functionality, components, blend-ability, permanence, and more.

Water-Based Alcohol-Based
Solvent Water Alcohol
Functionality Better for art projects Better for office/professional use
Blend-ability Low High
Permanence Low High
Health Hazard None, unless congested Inhaling the fumes is dangerous
Bleeding Tendency Low High
Surfaces Porous surfaces only Porous and non-porous surfaces

Water-based vs alcohol-based markers – which is better? In my opinion, water-based markers are good for creative projects. It allows me to create unique and interesting artwork. Though I can use alcohol-based markers creatively, I almost always use them just in an office or professional setting.

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