Review – Copic Ciao Markers

Copic Markers are a professional artist’s staple and set quite a high bar in terms of how a marker performs. I personally don’t have the skill to utilize them effectively, but I have seen the wondrous products of many who swear by them. Getting to that level takes practice, and while one can learn with other markers, it’s never too soon to get attuned to the markers you intend to be using for a long time. That’s where the high price-point of Copic markers really starts to become a problem. To build up a library of the markers would cost hundreds of dollars, and when starting out one doesn’t know what tints and shades they need or prefer (the markers are refillable, thankfully, but that doesn’t change the upfront cost, just the upkeep). There is a budget option, the Copic Ciao, which at $4 are a dollar and change less expensive than their bigger brothers, but that price is still up there. Are they worth it?

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The markers are roughly cylindrical with a ⅜” diameter. There is the smallest of bulges in the center for the purposes (I assume) of aiding grip and disincentivising rolling. On either end there is an inch-and-a-quarter long color-coded cap with a quarter-inch step down on the end that allows either cap to be posted on the other. Near the base of each of these caps there is a small nub that makes it easier to remove and also helps prevent the marker from rolling. Each tip has a butte-esque taper leading from the body to the felt “brush”. The chisel tip is molded in the same plastic as the body, while the brush tip (the one you’ll most often be using) is a darker plastic that extends to an easily visible band underneath the cap. Which ends are which, what color the ink is (both descriptive and in code), and every other needed piece of information is nicely printed on the sides, and it appears underneath a shiny finish to prevent wearing with use (after all, these markers can be refilled).

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I’m not an expert when it comes to actually using these (or any) markers, but a quick search online of what people are able to create speaks for itself. What I can say is that the tips are well-made and hard-wearing (and they’re also replaceable, decreasing future expense). The chisel is sturdy and unyielding while the brush easily bends to create lines ranging from 1/32 to ¼ inch. The ink is alcohol-based and goes right through absorbent papers, feathering and drying quite quickly. It’ll still bleed through fairly heavy and high quality papers, but it doesn’t dry as quickly, allowing it to be blended more easily either with other colors or the colorless blender (which, as far as I can tell, just contains alcohol). Once down, the ink is essentially impervious to water and alcohol-based attacks, but they are sensitive to sunlight (as per their website) and, being solvent-based, aren’t the most “archival quality” things in the world.

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In my opinion, even forgoing the financial difference, the size and shape of these smaller Ciao markers is just more comfortable and easier to use. And they allow an artist to build up a collection of various colors in a much more consolidated space if they are willing to lose the color labels on the end. But they’re still expensive, and getting them won’t make you a better artist or a blending magician (as I can attest to). If you’re unsure if you want them or can utilize them I’d recommend starting out with only a few (greys would work best in this scenario) and getting more as you need them or improve your skills (the sets are quite expensive, especially if you end up not using them). But the bodies will last forever and the refills/replacement(s) (felt tips) are fairly easily available and extend the life of the marker significantly. This is a fine (and for some superior) version of a marker that is trusted by professional illustrators around the world.

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Review – Cross Jotzone Notebook and Pen

Notebooks are quite handy things, but most of the common ones look a little unprofessional. If the standard spiral and composition books won’t work for you, and Moleskine just seems a little cliché, maybe Cross has the answer for you with its Jotzone series of notebooks.

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I feel I need to put a bit of a disclaimer here at the front. I usually carry a notebook around with me and try to get through about a quarter of the pages before I do a review on it (that’s why I’ve done so few notebook reviews: it takes time), but on this one I certainly didn’t get anywhere close to that, for reasons that will be explained in a moment.

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The cover of the book is a nice, smooth faux-leather, black save for a triangle on the lower right of the front where the color varies (mine’s blue). It covers the full 5.5” x 7” paper part of the book, with a ½” extra bit around the spine, which is hollow, creating a “tube” where pens can be stored (it also helpfully says “Cross Jotzone™” on the spine) . “Cross” is nicely but subtly stamped both on the back and the triangle in the corner. An elastic band is attached to the back in a novel way, so that when it is being used to hold the book closed it lines up with edge of the colored triangle. Inside there is nothing special behind the front cover, but inside the back is a small, simple cardboard and paper pocket. It is attached so it is accessed from the top, a decision that with its small size seems to have been made only to avoid comparisons with Moleskine.

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The paper is very good, a nice 100gsm (70lb) that is smooth, but not too smooth in my opinion (it certainly isn’t as smooth as the Clairefontaine paper fountain pen people love). It handles fountain pens and liquid roller balls quite well; with minimal feathering and show-through under normal usage conditions (I’ve done no test with flex pens or triple broads) and the dry time isn’t that bad, though far from instant. The pages themselves are nice and white with a ¼” grey ruling that stops before the page ends, and a stupid grey triangle in the corners right under where the triangle is on the cover. This area helpfully says “Cross Jotzone™” on every page, and it’s supposed to be where you put your quick summary notes or something so you can easily riffle through the pages and find what you’re looking for. I think this is dumb (and I hate pre-printed words on the pages of my notebooks) but nobody asked me and the paper is good enough that I could easily ignore that (and the ruling that is far too large for me).

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But now for the reason I haven’t used the book that much, and wouldn’t buy another one. I admit it’s quite petty but I use my notebooks a lot, and I want them to look good. That’s why I still use Moleskine classic hardbacks, it’s very hard to find a notebook that resists damage (page corners bending, cover denting/ripping/bending etc) better than those books. And this one is, cosmetically speaking (it feels easily strong enough to not fall apart structurally before being used up) is the worst I have encountered. After sitting for a day or two in my bag, with the only other items in the bag being non-spiral notebooks the cover became covered (no pun intended) with irreversible scratches and scrapes that are quite noticeable. Basically, if you want to maintain the “Cross” professional look, it’s a desk notebook, and I have reviewed it like a desk notebook. It’s a pretty good if gimmicky one, but I personally couldn’t stand to look at the satin faux-leather cover getting so beat up over time (and I wouldn’t recommend using the spine pen holder, as its made out of the same, easily damaged material). I feel like it wasn’t really thought out, and is more of an “executive gift” that no one is expected to really use, and that’s a shame because it comes with a great pen.

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The pen is a very simple chromed metal pen (I would say steel from the weight, it’s quite heavy for a pen of its size) with a smooth cylindrical non-tapering barrel. There is pointed-ish cap finial at the back and a cone at the front leading to the point. It’s retractable, with a twist action, and there is a clear mark and band signifying where the pieces come together (and it is the smoothest action I have ever felt in a pen). The adornment and the clip are minimal, probably to be inexpensive, and while it’s a little ugly, the simplicity makes it easy to overlook. The cartridge is a short version of the standard Cross cartridge in a medium point. It, like most Cross pens, is very smooth, in this case especially when writing cursive. It does have some startup problems, especially when left unused for a time, but that problem can be solved by using it more or getting a new cartridge.

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In the end it’s an alright notebook, and a good pen. I wouldn’t purchase them for myself, but it does make a very nice looking gift, and it’s functional, with good paper and a nice writing pen. It’s a desk notebook, and a heavy desk pen (but I like the weight) made of good quality materials, but essentially with a disregard for useabilty. I can recommend them as desk materials, but not as daily users.

Review – Sharpie Colors Part 2 Blues – Blue, Navy, Turquoise, Sky Blue, and Blue Ice

Now in the second part of my Sharpie color reviews I’ll be talking about the blues, a nice and varied set of colors.

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Blue – Blue is a very classic color and it looks quite a bit like the standard blue we’ve come to expect from various markers and pens. This one is a bit darker, though. The ink is more wet than the other standard colors and bleeds a bit. It’s also too dark to be natural and almost too much to be organizational, it is a bit too close to black in dark conditions, but with good eyes it can work. Still, it is very blue.

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Navy – This color is very close to the classic navy color, a bit close to black in low light, but it looks like a lot of navy colors. It’s a very dry color and has very little bleed and feathering/spreading. It’s a nice-looking color, but not a very useful one.

Turquoise – Turquoise is a difficult color to get down in ink, and none of them look quite like the stone. This one’s a bit dark, but it does make a good blue-green tone. The ink is very wet, and bleeds easily, but has very minimal feathering. It’s a very natural and pleasant tone, great for organization and for artistic purposes.

Sky Blue – This blue, like most of the blues in this set, is darker than it really should be. It’s more of an evening sky blue, or a wispy-cloudy blue. It bleeds a bit more than the turquoise and the blue, and is just as feathery. It’s a very nice looking and easily identifiable color that many office and artistic uses can be found for.

Blue Ice (Possibly Mystery Blue) – This color is the most contentious of the colors in my current review lineup. The package of markers I received was not marked, and of the other blue colors I looked at this one seemed closest. If you believe I am wrong in my categorization, I encourage you to leave a comment. This blue is a cool blue that I would say has no direct natural counterpart (certainly not ice, as this is the least aptly named), but it could be used as a substitute in many cases. I prefer it to the sky blue as a light blue. It can be used in art if one is creative and is very distinguishable from other colors for organization.

Overall, I really like the blue Sharpie colors. They are a bit bleed-prone, but they have a variety of uses and in many cases are work-appropriate. The tones are very natural and appealing. They’re a good set to get, if one can.

Next time I’ll be looking at a few of the greens that Sharpie has to offer.

Review – Sharpie Colors Part 1 Neutrals – Black, Brown, Slate Gray

I’ve taken a look at several of Sharpie’s products in the past, from their regular markers to pens and liquid pencil. But their main product comes in a large variety of colors I have not yet covered. I received a gift of a set of 24 Sharpie pens some time ago, but haven’t looked at them until now due to the fact that I didn’t know what the colors actually were. Sharpie and several other well-known pen brands are notorious for not having their colors easy to identify, so this series took more research than usual. I will say that I might not have identified all of the colors correctly, so if you see something that seems like it has been misidentified here, please leave a comment and I will reevaluate it.

With that said, let’s get to the pens.

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The first set I’m going to look at is the neutrals. There are only a few, which makes sense. But these are some of the most useful: they show on many surfaces, are not an eyesore in general, and are workplace appropriate.

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Black – Black is the gold standard Sharpie color (except for the actual gold ones) and it is very good. It is quite dark and professional. It does have a tendency to shade as most dark inks do, but if gone over a second time there are no problems. It’s pretty waterproof (they all are so I won’t mention that again), has almost no spreading or feathering, and is tied for the least show/bleed-through with navy. It’s a great, well writing color, but it can be a bit dry.

Brown – Next is brown, a color that doesn’t seem that popular (but I’ve ended up with a few, take that as you will). It is a very dark brown, distinct from black in even poor lighting, but it looks more like a gray in that case. It is also fairly dry, and thus feather- and bleed-resistant, though not as much as the black. It’s good for sorting, but not for art, really.

Slate Gray – I don’t know where the trend of having “slate gray” be standard gray started, but it continues here. This is a “just over the dark line” gray. It’s not a very natural color, and isn’t even something you’d really see in a city. It is very wet and really does feather and bleed, meaning it’s not the greatest for use on thinner paper. It is almost the same on both sides in that case, and it even goes through card stock a bit. I’d say it holds the title as wettest, and is just a boring color.

And that’s the neutral colors. They’re good for office use, and for sorting things by color, but for art applications they are limited. Next time I’ll take a look at a few of the blues Sharpie offers.

Review – Expo Ultra Fine Pink, Purple, Orange, and Brown

I’ve looked at the 4 most common Expo marker colors (specifically in the Ultra-Fine tip) in the last few weeks, and this week I’ll look at 4 of the lesser-seen colors: pink, purple, orange, and brown.

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Pink- to start with, the pink is a nice, dark pink that looks much more pleasant than the common pinks found in writing utensils. It’s rosy, and very consistent; the line width is medium, though.

Purple- next, the purple is a very bold writer, it goes on smoothly and with a lot of ink, but there is more variance in the color when dry. It is a nice, dark purple, and unmistakably so. It might be confused with black from far away, but is generally distinguishable.

Orange- the orange is very thin, both in line and in color. It’s sometimes hard to tell it’s there at all, and there is a wide color variance within it. I’m not a particularly big fan of it.

Brown- and finally the brown, which is another wide-writer. It writes smoothly, with the only color variance being in the tips. It’s a dark enough brown to be easily read, and still distinguishable from the other dark colors.

Overall, these 4 are a nice addition, though they aren’t my favorites, either in performance or in looks. I like them, but if I were just getting these for a class I would skip them. For organization, note-taking, and art, these colors have a better purpose, but those aren’t the main purpose of dry-erase markers.

Review – Expo Ultra Fine Red, Green, and Blue

Last week I looked at the Ultra-Fine Expo markers as a whole, and the black color specifically. This week I’ll look at the more common colors in most dry-erase ranges in this size and brand, and see how they work.

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Red- The color red is a problem with many pens, and dry-erase markers are no exception. The red goes on smoothly enough, and is one of the thinner “sticking” inks. The lines it makes are solid, but the shading and their thin-ness is more pronounced. The color is also quite washed out and pink, which I’m not really a fan of, but seems to be a theme in reds.

Green- The green is one of the thicker and smoother colors. The lines are bold and solid. But the color, while pleasant, is also washed out. While it is definitely in the green spectrum, it’s more of a sea-green or something similar.

Blue- And finally the blue. In writing characteristics, it’s more of a mixture between the other two. The lines aren’t as bold or thick, and it’s not quite as smooth as green, but more so than red. The color is the most true and least shading of the bunch. It goes well with the black, and is easy to read even from far away, though it isn’t too dark.

The first set of colors is standard, and while lackluster, they get the job done. I can’t really complain as they weren’t created with art in mind, but rather for ease of use and low odor, which they have. Next week I’ll take a look at some of the less-standard colors available in the lineup.

Review – Expo Ultra-Fine Point Dry-Erase Markers

When it comes to dry erase markers, Expo is almost the only brand people recognize out there. Their chisel-tip markers are almost ubiquitous in any place that requires a white board, and are generally what people replace the cheap in-package markers from home magnetic boards with. And while I like the markers and always have, I do have a problem with their tip size. Even the fine point markers are large enough to be hard to use for people who like to write fine lines, like I do. Fortunately, there are slightly-less-popular, but still easily available Expo markers with an “ultra-fine” tip. Are they much better?

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The body design is almost identical to the fine tip versions, with a slight taper from the middle to the ends. There is a step-down on the rear to allow for easy posting. There is also a step-down from where the cap is removed to the section. The cap and all of the writing on the pen is loosely in the color of the ink. The section can be a bit slippery, but it’s never a problem. It ends in a small cone with the point that is indeed very fine for a dry-erase marker. The information presented on the side is standard and useful enough.

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The tip is very fine when compared to a regular fine marker. It gets down to a medium/broad on a regular ball or fountain pen. The ink flows smoothly and erases easily, as one would expect from the Expo brand. The black is the standard Expo black, and does the job. It doesn’t start to wash out at this size and is perfectly readable.

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For anyone who needs to mark something with a bit of a finer point (like on a map), wants to write regularly on a dry-erase board, or for those who are artistically inclined and were frustrated when they couldn’t get the various line sizes they needed out of the more standard Expo markers, these work very well. They are of the same quality as the other markers in the line (which is to say as good or better than competitors) and offer a much smaller and more manageable line.