Home > Artist Tips, Product Reviews > Sharpie Markers Are Not Art Supplies

Sharpie Markers Are Not Art Supplies

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I called the company and learned that Sharpie markers are not archival or good at all for the creation of long term art work. I loved Sharpie markers when I was in high school and all of the drawings I did with these pens are ruined.  They have radically faded and discolored.  I was mostly trying to draw comic books and do line art.  I had gotten tired of India ink with dip pens and liner brushes, and the fine point Sharpie pens were really easy to use.  All of my black Sharpie drawings turned shades of greens, purples and browns.  Areas I filled in with India ink or another kind of marker are still jet black.  These drawings were not exposed to sunlight, either; they have been kept in my portfolio since I made them and were on artist grade drawing paper.

Yeah, don’t hate.  I was trying to do my own Advanced Dungeons & Dragons inspired comic book when I was a teenager.  The original is so faded and pale brown, I slammed it in Photoshop to make it more visible above. The line art had been jet black.  It is now a pale washy greenish-brown and not even faded a consistent color from area to area. 

Sharpie has a lot of advertisements and their website imagery [such as the colorful drawing at top of this post] promotes the pens as art supplies.  They took out a lot of advertisements in my art college magazines and publications.  I was hoping the contemporary Sharpie was a better product than the ones of the past.  I was being lured in again by the Sharpie felt-tipped goodness and the wide range of colors and metallic hues available.  They are easy to use and the felt pen tips are great; I found the permanent-when-dry quality of the ink stable enough to not bleed or wash away for under drawing on canvas for acrylic painting.  Unfortunately, even the new Sharpies do not have long term permanence.

Here is a comparison of more of my teenage comic book art from 1992. This image: most of the art was done in black Sharpie marker and way too much hatching, lol. Large flat areas I filled in with a brush and India ink from a bottle. This is an unmodified camera phone photograph. The paper was artist grade sketch, probably Utrecht brand since that was where I bought my stuff then.

comix-1992-A

This comparison shows another comic from 1992 (on the right) where 1) my friends and I got bored and switched from AD&D to White Wolf’s Vampire the Masquerade, and 2) I used India ink from the bottle, brushes and dip pen for the line art. The paper is brighter because it was Paris paper. These two comic pages are the same age. All of the art had been jet black but the Sharpie ink has decayed badly.

Comix-1992-B

I spoke with Beth at Newell Rubbermaid Office Products [800-346-3278] the parent company of Sharpie markers in Oak Brook, Illinois.  She advised me that Sharpies are alcohol based and are not archival in any way.  The same is true for the oil-based Sharpie paint pens; those will rapidly decay and discolor also.  

This is sad for my HBBF and everyone else who are sports fans because contemporary professional athletes autograph player cards and memorabilia exclusively with Sharpie felt tip pens.  All of those lovingly collected player autographs are going to have a short shelf life.  I saw discoloration and changes in my Sharpie drawings in as little as ten years.  Worse, fans and autograph hunters often pay -sometimes large sums- to get their items signed by players and usually wait in long lines.  Therefore, Sharpie ink is only good for ephemera. You cannot count on it to look like it does years in the future so use it for throw away sketches, kicks, street art and anything you do not want to have long term.

UPDATE 11/13/2012:  I mailed my Sharpie markers and paint pens back and got a refund check for the retail price, sales tax and the cost of shipping with a very polite apology letter.  If you want to return yours, mail them to: Newell Rubbermaid Office Products Attn: Consumer Affairs 2707 Butterfield Rd., Oak Brook, IL 60523-1278 USA and include a letter explaining the reason for the return.

UPDATE 3/01/2013: Bic has a similar product that is advertised as acid free / neutral pH but is no better and will also fade and discolor over time.

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  1. Debi ♥
    April 26, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    Thanks for the information I didn’t know this. In my illustration class we were required to use sharpies but the archival issue was never addressed. Maybe that’s because most illustration work is photocopied. Had I know this I would have researched alternatives; I am going to do that for future work. Thanks again 🙂

    • April 28, 2013 at 1:15 pm

      You’re welcome! It seems markers in general are very inferior to paints in lightfastness and colour preseservation. They are convenient to use but overall the quality is low. Markers are made for rapid work to be discarded. It’s very annoying because Sharpies are being promoted heavily as art supplies and have not improved at all in quality in over two decades.

  2. May 7, 2013 at 9:05 pm

    Is your HBBF going to start carrying his own pen for autograph sessions? What pen would work?

    • May 8, 2013 at 11:38 am

      He’s resigned himself to Sharpies. :/ Sharpies have inserted themselves as the ‘industry standard’ for sports autographs and are even a sponsor of the Chicago Blackhawks. A number of his older autographs are already degraded, too. I guess the old timers that sign through the mail with ballpoint pens look better now. I posted a product review of another “acid free” permanent marker brand and have seen similar products crop up recently but calls and emails to the manufacturers reveal there is no claim of actual colour retention, lightfastness or fading prevention: they are just marketing the same crap as Sharpie with different labeling. I can’t recommend a good substitute since sports cards and photographs are plastic-y and glossy. Maybe a paint marker or scrapbooking type marker would be a viable substitute but I do not have anything specific to recommend. It’s just been my overall experience that although convenient, markers are terrible art supplies.

      • Jo
        September 18, 2015 at 8:59 pm

        Fyi:

        For archival quality, try Sakura Micron pens. They are archival, uv resistant, and don’t even smear or run when you hold freshly inked paper under running tap water.

        They’re seriously amazing. 😄

      • September 22, 2015 at 12:29 am

        Yes, they are one of my favorites. Part of the benefit is that they are pigment-based ink and not dye-based.

      • Melody Celestine
        August 14, 2016 at 9:18 pm

        What about Le’ Pen…I think that’s it’s name. It’s much higher priced and has felt tip. I like sharpies, but I write so hard I run out of tip before I run out of ink. I’ve begun using a bold roller ball gel. Still get a fairly bold line, but can use the whole barrel of ink.

      • August 16, 2016 at 4:19 pm

        I do not know anything about LePen. See if the manufacture has anything about light-fastness or archival quality online. ☺

      • Sonja
        August 16, 2016 at 11:05 pm

        Hi – just to let you know ballpoint pens for autographs are as bad or worse. My DH has a soccer ball signed by all the members of the Ajax team in about 1974 & they are mostly totally faded away now. A New Zealand art museum curator warned us that would happen about 10 years ago when we were discussing a NZ artist known for his ball point pen dot pictures.

      • August 19, 2016 at 8:05 pm

        Oh, sorry for your loss. 😦 I can say that if kept out of the light, it seems most ballpoint inks seems to hold on. Sal has ballpoint autographs, photos and signed books, and they have held on to their color.

  3. September 26, 2015 at 11:38 pm

    Great post. I have been curious about this. I’ve found older art work I’ve done with Sharpies and yes, the colors are distorted. I still use them for work I will scan, but I thought perhaps the formula had changed and have been really tempted to use them in original art work. Thanks so much.

    • September 27, 2015 at 8:21 pm

      The Sharpies drawings I have go back to 1990, so I can only account for up to 25 years ago to present.

  4. Harry Slaughter
    April 24, 2016 at 7:25 pm

    Also don’t confuse ‘acid free’ with ‘lightfastness’. Acid free defines a neutral Ph balance and mostly applies to wood based surfaces such as paper. Acidic paper will turn yellow over time, like an old newspaper. Lightfastness is the ability of the pigment to withstand time and exposure to light and not lose it’s value.

    The Micron pens mentioned above are a high quality, lightfast alternative to sharpies.

    In 300 years when they find my drawings in a landfill somewhere, they will see all my mistakes just as they were drawn.

  5. Alison
    May 3, 2016 at 10:44 am

    Sorry, must be very upsetting for you, but I actually like the brown ones, I think they look lovely. I also liked the one with the black ink areas and brown sharpie too. I am at Art college myself and have only just bought one black sharpie marker, so thanks for telling me before in spent a fortune on the big coloured packs.

    • May 5, 2016 at 3:43 pm

      I like the felt tips but the ink is sadly rubbish.

  6. Dijon
    May 13, 2016 at 2:28 am

    Thanks for this info. I’m sorry your Sharpie artwork faded, but I still really like it.

    I would go state-the-art digital myself, but I am dirt poor. I am making a 110 page comic, using various Sharpies in a hardback sketchbook. It’s a bummer that it will fade, but maybe I can scan it somewhere/how first. I don’t know, being so poor, it’s like art has left me behind. I’m missing all the modern conveniences. It’s a MAJOR handicap.

    • May 13, 2016 at 12:43 pm

      There are solutions! I am here to help. First off, Google your area for a Hackerspace / Makerspace and any printmaking or artist collaboratives. There may be a space with shared equipment in your back yard. Often you pay a reasonable monthly fee and have access to the gear at the site, but often people can volunteer in exchange for access. Also, check in with your local public library. Maybe see if there is a community college or commercial print shop with equipment and a scanner. There has to be some spot with a scanner that can be borrowed. Also, have a peep at local Craigslist, eBay and yard sales, because a lot more people buy scanners than actually use them. I have seen good ones go for ten bucks. If you have a laptop, see that the scanner is compatible: older ones have pin cords, not USB cords, you need drivers and make sure it scans without banding. Find a friend interested in comics and cartoons who may be nice and let you use their equipment. If you were in Chicago, we would be scanning stuff right now!

      Next, Adobe is the industry leader with Photoshop etc. but not the only game in town. Go download the current version of GIMP for whatever operating system your computer has (Windows, Apple/Mac, Linux). GIMP is a free, open-source built graphics program that has morphed over time into a really nice Photoshop clone. Awesome computer geeks built it for free for you! There are a lot of blog posts and videos on how to use GIMP. Also, hunt around for free apps you can use, see the animation hack I put up on this blog (need a tablet or smartphone). Apple store has a free version of Comic Life. There has to be an app or two you can use that will work with your current computer.

  7. Dijon
    May 23, 2016 at 1:51 am

    Wow Shellie! I really like your positivity & enthusiasm, it’s a real boost, thanks!

    I don’t see any Hacker/Makerspace here in tiny Kingman, AZ. There is a Cmty College… I don’t have a computer. I use my PS3 for casual stuff.

    BTW I’ve completed 60 pgs of my 110 pg BW HB Graphic Novel. I’ve worked on it intensively for 27 of the last 31 days. I’m doing it to get away from my high detail/slow going acrylic paintings. It has an extremely skeletal story outline, & each line drawn is final. I’m skipping the pencils & scripting to keep it fun & in the wild spirit of the book. Still LOTS of detail.

    I wish I knew how to get it out there when it’s done. Not for the $$$ but just to finally get a comic published & see if I could entertain anybody the way others have me. Or who knows? Maybe do it for a living. I’m 41, I’ve been drawing for 38+ yrs. I’m ready!!!

    If you like, google “flickr joel claunch” I have some old paintings up of varying effort levels, if you’d like to see a bit. Thanks! JÖL.

    • May 24, 2016 at 10:40 pm

      You need a PC or laptop! At least to get online would be nice. Maybe a tablet would be good with the right apps and a good enough camera, over 10 MP.

      See if there is a Free Geek near you or check their online stores. We have a Free Geek organization in Chicago. The main, first location in Portland has an awesome online store, check it out:

      http://www.freegeek.org/thrift-store/free-geek-online-sales/

      Free Geek rocks. The point is they recycle and refurbish parts and computers and sell them, recycle what cannot be saved, get people deals, teach people how to build and fix computers and keep tech out of the landfills.

      There are a lot of options for publishing.

      You can send your work to a graphics novel publisher to see if they want to publish it. Ask each publisher what their guidelines for submissions are and follow their rules. Send photocopies, not your original art. Don’t take rejection letters too personally either, maybe they like the work but it is not a good fit for their publishing house. Aim for independent publishers. Ask for whom may be interested in your work if you get rejected, try to get a lead out of it. Check your library for the most current copy of the Writer’s Market guide and any indy graphic novels on the shelves [i.e. NOT Marvel, D.C., Dark Horse $etc. Also Google some indy comix publishers.

      You can find a POD [print on demand] vendor where people can order a copy, the book gets made and sent to them from the printer, you get a percentage of each sale. Compare several POD services for the best deal.

      You can look into digital publishing. Maybe a PDF download that people can buy directly from you for a reasonable amount is good if you are not super panicked about bootlegged copies. There are ways to sell digital books on Kindle, iTunes and Amazon but you have to pick just one to go with and they have some restrictive or crappy copyright rules where you may lose ownership of the work. I have been advised by some people in the Manga community eBooks are very poor for handling images compared to printed text.

      You can make a blog and put up a page a day. The blog can be your engine for publishing and can be taken down if you go with another form in the future. Advantage: free + exposure, disadvantage: people can grab your stuff. I with free + exposure because I can always sue a Or have an art thief if needed. :3 Or have the stolen content and its website taken down by its host for theft of content. Another advantage: proof of publication and ownership, especially dates.

      You can pay to print a short run of copies, but that is money out of pocket which I why I mention POD. One thing though: black and white is way cheap to publish! It is color printing that is murder to pay for. There is a certain risk to “vanity publishing”– do not buy more than you can afford or have a market to sell. I have a friend that has a three truckloads of his books stuffed in his garage. They did not sell well, it seems.

      Then there is the small-time DIY method, making zines for very small print runs or photocopied self published zines. You could consider breaking the book into chapters and making each a zine. I do very short works, so zines fit good for my stuff. I can send you some samples of zines of mine and other people so you can see some of the many styles that may be of interest. Send me a snail mail address to my email address under About on this blog. Many people doing DIY comics go with a two-page fold format and staple the center. There are people who sew and bind their zines in various ways. There are a number of online sellers and independent book stores that sell zines, like Quimby’s here in Chicago, and also Zine Fests in various cities.

      Also, check out that community college. Maybe there is a cool art person or librarian there that can help you digitize. If you are super-screwed on getting digital help, we can talk. I do good Photoshop clean up on high res scans. I can cut you some mad deal, starving artist to starving artist, to get your work out there. You are doing the most important part: actually DOING the work. Keep it up!

  8. May 24, 2016 at 10:56 pm

    Checked the Flickr, your work fits with the R. Crumb, Evan Dorkin et al underground / alt / indy type. Maybe see if you can get to CAKE or similar event and network:

    http://cakechicago.com/

  9. July 11, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    Hi! Thanks for the information. Would be careful with markers. However, is there a way to preserve the drawings already done by sharpie markers on paper and canvas …perhaps by using any kind of fixative/ varnish/ sealer? Or any other way?

    • July 19, 2016 at 1:47 am

      I cannot imagine a sealant helping because the one I would think to use would be a UVA / ultra-violet light blocking sealant like GOLDEN makes; the drawings that faded and discolored were never exposed to light. The ink is just unstable and fades because it is very likely a dye in alcohol. There is no pigment or other solid material making the color of the ink permanent.

      Your best hope for conservation is DSLR high resolution photography or scanning the works.

      Weirder though, the drawings I did with Crayola markers that are circa 1990 on the same artist papers are fine and did not fade or discolor. Are they water-based media with pigment, basically very thinned down watercolor paints, I wonder? I tried to contact the manufacturer about archival qualities for Crayola but got no responses to my inquiries.

  10. August 13, 2016 at 8:25 pm

    Interesting, and very good to know! It makes me wonder if any marker out there is good enough 😉 they are just so darn convenient. Sharpie that was on acrylic, was it sealed with a topcoat after?

  11. Wendelyn Anderson
    August 14, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    I work for a university in the textile design & technology programs. Some years ago I ran some vastness tests with sharpies on fabric. The bright & light colors faded of course but the dark colors – blavk, blue & red, did very well.

  12. August 15, 2016 at 10:07 am

    Hey Shelly, you are a fountain of information and advice. Seems like you know a lot about Chicago; do you live here?

  13. Raul Rivera
    August 17, 2016 at 2:40 pm

    Good to know! I tend to use Sharpies in my sketches, chisel-tip and fine-tip. I was wondering about sealants/varnishes/fixatives too, but if it only protects against light and not ink discoloration, I’ll have to give up on sharpies.

    Prismacolor markers are also alchohol based, and seem to be also tied to Newell Rubbermaid office products, I’m guessing they would also discolor over time too?

    • August 19, 2016 at 8:03 pm

      I would not bank on them lasting. Alcohol + dye based inks will fade and discolor. Pantone and probably Prismacolor markers were from the pre-digital days of making rapid mock ups, usually for advertising, and not for permanent art.

  14. January 4, 2017 at 3:36 pm

    What is a person to use? Can you recommend a drawing pen?

    • January 8, 2017 at 11:12 pm

      I try to stay with Sakura Pigma Micron pens. Molotow acrylic paint pens are interesting. It depends on what you are trying to draw and on what surface.

  15. March 23, 2017 at 7:17 pm

    What if you
    spray your Sharpie image with Kamvar or a varnish…does that protect the Sharpie mark making?

    • March 23, 2017 at 9:07 pm

      I doubt any sealant spray will help because the ink is alcohol-based and more of a dye, a chemical color solution which has no solid pigment base for the color. Pigments -solid matter like found in paints (titanium, cadmium, cobalt, etc) – is what is chemically stable and does not fade, and there is no pigment in Sharpie markers. Sakura Micron Pigma pens are pigment-based permanent ink pens but come in smaller sizes. All of the stuff that faded were drawings on top grade artists paper (Utecht heavy weight drawing of Bristol board), kept out of sunlight the whole time in a professional artist portfolio and had comparisons to other inks being 20+ years old and stored together. Basically, in high school I used whatever I could get my hands on. to save on Sharpies, there were areas I used India ink to fill in fields of black (which is pigment based) and were still jet black. Anything drawn in Crayola markers was still in vibrant color, no fading or discoloration. I hope that helps.

  1. December 7, 2012 at 2:08 am
  2. June 13, 2016 at 8:55 pm

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