When I first heard about Copic markers, the sheer number of colors intrigued me. When I saw the Copic Color Wheel and grasped the logic and order of the system, I was one step closer to “needing” them. Of course, after I was able to get them in my hands and blend with them, I was totally smitten: resistance was futile. (If you have ever sat for an hour and blended with them, you’ll understand!)
Today’s In Touch topic is the Copic Color System. Whether you are just beginning to choose your Copic markers, or adding to an extensive collection, understanding the Copic Color System will help you to make better color choices. Let’s start with some basic background theory on color, value, and intensity.
Somewhere along the way you have probably heard of primary colors, pure colors that are the most basic building blocks of color: yellow, red, and blue. (Note: In this article, I am referring to subtractive color—as in colors of paint--rather than additive color—colors of light.) Secondary colors are the colors that are in between the primary colors, created by mixing the primary colors. If you were mixing paint, yellow and blue mix to create green, blue and red mix to create violet, and red and yellow mix to create orange. Mixing two primary colors gives us secondary colors: green, violet, and orange. If we mix still further, mixing one primary with its neighboring secondary color all around the color wheel, we get our tertiary colors, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, red-violet, red-orange, and yellow-orange. (The name of the primary color always comes before the name of the secondary color in a tertiary combination.)
Look at the Copic Color Wheel now. (Used with permission; click for a larger version, and the largest version is found here.) Yellow is on the bottom, red on the lower right, and blue on the upper left—your three primary colors. If you will look between these colors, you will see most of the secondary and tertiary colors. (The exception is between red and yellow. Instead of having red, red-orange, orange, yellow-orange, and yellow, the Copic Color Wheel has red, yellow-red, and yellow, AND it adds in the Earthtone series and grays toward the center of the wheel.) If you look at the cap of a Copic marker (other than Earthtones or Grays), you will see a letter or two and from two to four numbers (usually only two numbers).
The letter or letters, called the Broad Classification, shows color type. If we start at yellow and go counter-clockwise around the Copic Color Wheel, we have:
Y for Yellow,
YR for Yellow-Red,
R for Red,
RV for Red-Violet,
V for Violet,
BV for Blue-Violet,
B for Blue,
BG for Blue-Green,
G for Green,
and YG for Yellow-Green.
(We might look at the Earthtones and Grays in a future article.)
After you see how the color part of the Copic Color Wheel works, you aren’t quite finished; you still need to understand both intensity and value. Intensity refers to the color’s clarity/vibrancy or grayness, while value refers to the lightness or darkness of the color. Look at the cap of your Copic marker again: the first number following the color type is the color number, and it denotes the color’s intensity. A 0 immediately following the color letter or letters indicates a pure, clear, intense color, while a 9 in that position indicates a very muted, grayed color. (The Earthtones do not follow this same logic, so apply it only to the primary, secondary, and tertiary colors.)
Looking at that marker cap again, the final number (or numbers in the case of some very pale colors) indicates the value of the color. A pale value may have a 0 (or even 00 or 000) in this position, while a very dark value of a color may have an 8 or 9 in this position. Would you believe that getting the value correct in your coloring is more important to creating a convincing three-dimensional look than getting the color correct? I was skeptical the first time I heard that as well, but I’m convinced; perhaps we’ll have an article on that topic in the future!
Going back to the Copic Color Wheel, notice that the more intense, clear colors are all toward the outside of the color wheel, and the grayed, muted colors are closer to the center—closer to the grays.
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Now let’s apply our Copic color knowledge to something practical: choosing markers.
- If are looking for olive green hues, you know that you need to look in the Yellow-Green family, YG. Olive tones are generally muted, so you would look for a higher number following the letter(s), YG9-’s. What value of olive are you looking for? A light olive? Then start with a lower final number, YG91 or YG93. A mid-olive? Try YG95. Are you looking for a deep olive? Then choose a higher number for your final number, YG97 or YG99.
- Let’s say that you have a true red marker that you love, such as R29, Lipstick Red. How do you know what other markers would work well with this marker to get lighter or darker tones? First, this is already a dark tone, so you are probably looking for lighter versions of the same color. Anything in the R20’s would blend well with R29—R20, R21, R22, R24, and R27. Generally you can skip about two or thee values and still achieve a nice gradation. It’s a matter of personal taste, but I generally grab an R22, R24, and R29. If I happen to need a deeper shadow for R29, then I would leave my R20’s family and choose an R59 or R89.
- What if you don’t have the exact color that you need? Let’s assume that you are trying to coordinate Copic colors with some vintage patterned paper in warm aqua tones. A quick look at the BG’s in the Copic Color Chart would show you that the pale aquas are are all relatively bright/clear/intense. What can you do to tone down their intensity without altering their value? Try pairing a pale aqua such as BG11 or BG13 with a toner gray (the gray below the BG’s in the color wheel) of the SAME value--a T1 with the BG11, and a T3 with the BG13. Need to tone down a Red-Violet color? Try a cool gray of the same value as the color that you need to mute.
If I want to subdue the brightness or intensity of the aqua without changing the value, I could use T1 over the BG11, and T3 over the BG13. Here I maintain the value and the aqua color, but it is toned down, muted.
However, my goal is to use the bird image with a vintage aqua paper from the Cosmo Cricket Early Bird Mini Deck. Rather than using the T grays (toner grays) that the color wheel suggests, here I am using the W grays (warm grays) because they will help the pale aqua colors coordinate better with my patterned paper.
Can you see how combining grays with the marker colors you already have can shift them? Look once more at the first image (BG11 and BG13) contrasted with the third image (to which I then added a few more colors below in order to finish the image). The image with the warm grays added to the BG11 and BG13 is noticeably better coordinated with my chosen patterned paper.
A basic knowledge of the Copic Color System can improve your color choices and perhaps even your coloring skills. Thank you for visiting the In Touch blog today!
Copic Design Team Member and Certification Instructor
Twelve-Step color chart is public domain, found on Wikipedia.
The Copic Color Wheel chart is used with permission. More useful charts can be found here on the Copic website.
A helpful color mixing video by Robert Gamblin is avaialable here (recommended by Marianne Walker, Copic Product Specialist).