Solvent based Markers are Dangerous to You and Your Artwork

Who would have known that? I didn’t. DUH!

Last night I was researching markers and pens as I am in the market to purchase a set. I wanted to buy this set from the art store where I work as I do get a nice discount. Sharpie Markers were out of the question as the fumes from them make me feel ill, not high or happy, sick.

Last night I settled on buying a $119 set of 24 Prismacolor Double Ended Markers. I already loved their lightfast colored pencils so why not their markers. I was ecstatic!

I went to work today and during lunch purchased that set of 24 Markers. I was so excited until I brought them home, opened the packaging and then one marker and almost puked. I have a head ache on the right side of my head from that damn Poppy Red Marker. Upon closer inspection of the solvent-based marker itself is a sticker reading Non-toxic. NON TOXIC my ASS! Tomorrow those 24 markers go back to where they belong, locked up in the expensive artist materials jail cabinet.

I’ve re-settled on purchasing Le Plume Double Ended Markers. They are water based, rubber stampers love them, and they won’t kill me or my family members. I’ll continue using Micron, Faber Castell and check into Zig artist pens soon.

1.Markers contain a reservoir of soluble ink that is wicked onto a drawing or writing surface through a felt or nylon tip. With the exception of archival markers, most markers are not lightfast, even if they are classified as permanent.

I work hard folks to use the best artist materials I can afford. I choose artist and archival quality whenever possible. I want to be “DOING” art for a long long time and as such refuse to put my health or other people’s health in danger just for the sake of permanency. My face is so close to the paper when I’m drawing. How do you think I get that detail. I’m sorry, but I’ll not sport an activated carbon mask when drawing. I didn’t like Xylene (found in most white board markers, bingo dabbers, rubber cement, sharpies etc) in Art College and I don’t like it now. Trusting brand alone is not enough today when searching for artist materials.

And worst of all… after some searching I came across this 2.snippet,

Never use solvent based markers on a photocopy or directly on original artwork done with permanent ink! The marker will make the linework smear.

Save yourself and your artwork. CHOOSE waterbased, unscented and acid free whenever possible. Or in the least, go outside to draw or paint. I don’t have that option as we are expecting our 9th or 10th snowstorm tonight.

1. From Blick Art Materials
2. From page 172 of the book, Drawing Shortcuts: Developing Quick Drawing Skills Using Today’s Technology, By Jim Leggitt

UPDATE Found a great artsist safety site aptly named

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38 thoughts on “Solvent based Markers are Dangerous to You and Your Artwork”

  1. And from what I’ve been reading about markers it seems silly to buy strongly scented markers when it seems highly possible to achieve the same effect and line with less toxic water based markers.

  2. Now I’m interested in looking up the markers that I tend to use. The Staedler, Triplus Fineliners.

  3. I looked at those where I work Brian. Almost bought them. Might still like to try them out.

    Here is the Safety Data for those – MSDS Staedtler Triplus Fineliner. has most MSDS’s listed right along side the products prices. Just click on the little paper icon on the lower right hand side.

    They seem ok :)

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  5. Wow, quit whining. Prismacolor art markers do not smell bad at all, I even enjoy the sent, and they would not be able to say Non-toxic if they were in fact not non-toxic. Plug your nose if you have such a god damned problem with them and do some excellent art work.

  6. The above comment. Everyone has a right to their own opinion. And why settle for something that doesnt sit well with you, when there are so many more options. Duh!

  7. Blimey, that was rude, surprised you let it stay.

    On the issue of markers, I have a huge set of Prismacolor markers and have no issue at all with the smell and love them. Yes, they will smudge line work, so I colour first and do the line work later. Sharpies on the other hand=ill for me. However, you should know that Prismacolor markers unlike the pencils are in NO way even vaguely lightfast, and will fade as fast as wind in direct light (however, I have discovered a spray varnish that is archival and can be used on watercolour paper and locks in the colour…hurrah!. That’s why I don’t sell original artwork where I have used them. In fact, artwork where I have used Prismacolor markers, I scan straight away and then put the original artwork out of light and air immediately as it can lose it’s vibrancy very quickly. I believe Copic markers have more staying power, and would love some, as they are refillable, but shockingly expensive. Like you I like pigment liners and micron pens as they suit the style of artwork I do, and Sakura micron pens have become a firm favourite. Interesting post this, I might copy and paste and add my reply to my Blog if you don’t mind.

  8. Thank you for sharing your experiences with markers- and I’m sorry you had to test it on yourself. I was just starting to research the subject of markers- so your post came very handy!
    Thank you!

  9. As for the “non-toxic” label, everyone should research HOW they deem something non-toxic. My dad works in live theatre production, and during a workshop on staying safe while building sets, etc, they explained (sorry if I am only giving a general idea here): basically a certain amount of the substance is fed to lab rats for a certain amount of time. At the end of a pre-determined time lapse (I seem to remember one week?), if 1/2 of the rats are still alive, the item may be labelled non-toxic. Yep, only half have to survive. Made me look at all things for my kids a little more carefully.

  10. Shanda – yes. everyone will have differing opinions and that is what is beautiful!

    Lorrie, I don’t mind at all if you cite parts of this post but please link back to this post from your blog. It’ll certainly widen the conversation surrounding toxic and/or lightfast art supplies :)

    Joanna – I use india ink found in Faber Castell Pitt Artist Pens and Micron pens for the most part. Both are lightfast and once dry you can add watercolor on top without worrying about the ink running or smudging.

    Amy – yes, it’s awful. I remember in college a drawing teacher of mine kept telling me to wear gloves when painting using acrylic. I said “But, I’m using water based acrylic”. She replied it doesn’t matter and that the ingredients in acrylic even though it’s water based still leach into your skin.

  11. I am sick to hear about the fading of Prismacolor markers as I use them a bunch! Any suggestions as to which are best for non fade?

  12. Wendi – Faber Castell Pitt Artist Pens are fade and water resistant as they are filled with India Ink. They come in different nibs too.

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  14. I’ve used Sakura pens for a long time, and only recently began testing out Copic and Prismacolour markers. I’m not keen on the smell of the Prisma pens, and was surprised that it is described as alcohal-based – I would have guessed xylene or such. According to their MSDS sheets. Prisma markers use ethylene glycol, (as in anti-freeze). Copics use ethanol, (as in vodka, etc), plus isopropyl alcohol.
    So both are alcohol-based, but different alcohols. They both also have other resins, etc.
    I found that the Prismacolour MSDS sheet from Newell Rubbermaid was very vague- a lot boils down to “it’s not classed as very harmful so we won’t spell out all the chemicals because we don’t have to.”. Copic’s product breakdown was very specific as to exactly which chemicals and how much of each.
    None of that changes the fact that if the alcohols and concentrations used affect you, then you won’t be using them, and that’s a shame if you want to..
    But if that’s a non-issue then it comes down to a question of which you’d rather be sniffing- antifreeze or a martini cut with rubbing alcohol…
    In either case, though we are dealing with relatively small amounts, too much exposure is prudent to avoid, and ventilation is important.

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  19. This is outrageously misleading. ‘The scent made me sick’ is absolutely specific to you, and does not by ANY means make the markers ‘toxic’. It should be widely known to most (if not all) professional traditional artists that some markers and inks are bad combinations because they will smear (exactly like watercolors and water-soluble inks, but I don’t see you badmouthing those. Hmmmm.) Neither Prismacolors nor Copics are at all ‘strongly scented,’ you’re just highly sensitive to them, and obviously that’s important to you and your safety.
    But it’s inaccurate and irresponsible to spread this kind of nonsense as if it were universal fact. Prismacolors and Copics wouldn’t have such a hold on the professional art market if they weren’t safe and comfortable to use for the vast majority of their consumer base.

    Not to mention, I’ve literally never used a water-based marker that blended well and didn’t streak or oversaturate the paper. Alcohol-based markers are absolutely safe for the average consumer, and are simply in general superior tools.

  20. Non-toxic is in reference to the pigments, not the carrier-agent that evaporates. Though, being noxious is not the same as being toxic. Farts are noxious, but not toxic… Unless you count the air-born fecal matter that is full of toxic biological material.

    P.S. Never leave your toothbrush in the bathroom. Heat rises and poo sticks. Poo under water to reduce the noxious and toxic fumes you breath daily. Also, use water-colors if you color daily. Keeping in mind that water can be toxic if the pigments are toxic. If it doesn’t say non-toxic watercolors, assume it is toxic water-colors. (Containing heavy metals like lead, mercury, and other common things that non-drinking-water and most pigments have in them.)

  21. Wow, you’re um… you’re an idiot. This is so stupid it’s almost kind of hilarious.

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