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Tips & Techniques


The coloring used on our samples gives our projects an unusual depth and brightness, and the most asked question is, "What do you use to color your images?"
We use alcohol-based markers, specifically Copic Sketch Markers. There are several other brands on the market, such as Prismacolor, Tria, and Deco Art Markers.

Alcohol markers can be difficult to use at first, but only because they are different from commonly used water-based markers, such as Tombow and Marvy. You have probably noticed that when you color on regular card stock with a water-based marker, within about 7 seconds of coloring in the same area, the paper will begin to deteriorate and tear apart. If you looked at a piece of paper under a microscope, you would find that paper is made up of fibers. As the water-based product is applied to paper, it actually fills the individual fibers with liquid. When they become saturated, they burst, causing the tearing effect.

Alcohol-based markers do not fill the fibers with liquid. Instead, the ink and fluid in an alcohol-based marker sits on the surface of the paper fibers. Instead of soaking in, this type of marker soaks through. Think of writing with a permanent marker, such as Sharpie brand – if you write on a piece of text weight paper, the marker will soak through. Most of the alcohol-based art markers were developed for use by graphic artists, and do not contain Xylene. The smell is no stronger than that of rubbing alcohol.

There are some important things to remember when using alcohol-based markers. You may use these markers on any type of paper. Our favorite kinds include Strathmore and Georgia Pacific. Many of you will already be familiar with "permanent" or waterproof inkpads. There are a variety of brands available, but the common denominator is that they all work well with water-based markers such as Marvy or Tombow. The ingredient that makes these pads waterproof is alcohol. Water and alcohol do not react to each other. If you were to use a dye ink with a water-based marker, your image would run when you began to color. This is because dye inks are water-based, and water-based products will react with each other. On the same token, if you stamp an image with an alcohol-based ink and then color it with an alcohol-based marker, the image will smear. This again is because the two products have ingredients that will react with each other. Think of adding food coloring to water, they mix together. You want the ink you stamp with and the marker you color with to be like oil and vinegar – they do not react with each other. As a side note, most of the "permanent" inks on the market are not truly permanent – they are instead waterproof. The true permanent inks have a very strong smell and will completely ruin your stamp if you do not clean the ink off immediately after use.

Alcohol markers are acid and lignin free, and are perfectly safe to use in your scrapbook. They are also very resistant to fading and give you the ability to shade your colored images with great subtlety. When using alcohol markers to color, you will want to use a feather light touch to the paper. The ink will flow almost by itself. Many of these markers also offer refills and replacement tips. They will color on almost any surface, including glass, tile and metal (however, they are not permanent on these smooth surfaces – you will have to treat them with care and as a purely decorative piece unless you use a spray fixative).

To achieve a beautifully shaded image, you will begin by choosing between two and four markers in the same color family (as an example, light brown, medium brown and dark brown). Color the entire image in using the lightest color. Next, using the medium tone color, apply wherever you would like the shading to be. Generally you will shade either the entire left-side, entire right-side, or the whole image, depending upon your personal preference. Next, apply the darkest color in a thin line closest to the edge of the image. Go back to the medium color and color directly on top of the darker line, drawing the color inward and diffusing any harsh lines. Complete the process by using your lightest marker again and color over the two darker areas, once again drawing the color inward to diffuse any harsh lines. (Note: The Copic Marker Website has a wonderful tutorial that will give you a much more detailed set of instructions – You can also combine alcohol markers and colored pencils for a beautiful effect. You may either color first with pencil and then with the marker, or vice versa. The key to success is practice, practice, practice.

Here is a brief recap:

  • Use dye-based inks to stamp your image (examples are Brilliance by Tsukeniko, Ranger Adirondack, Marvy inks, etc.)
  • Do not use waterproof inks – they contain alcohol and will run when colored with alcohol markers
  • Use a very light touch when coloring
  • You can color in the same spot for as long as you like without tearing the paper, unless you are pressing too hard
  • Alcohol markers are acid and lignin-free
  • Many have refills and replacement tips available
  • Use two or more colors in the same color family to achieve shading
  • Alcohol markers can be used on virtually any surface
Many of our customers have a large collection of Marvy or Tombow markers, and do not want to completely give up one method of coloring when they still have usable products. While alcohol- and water-based markers will not react with each other, they do give a similar effect (keep in mind, however, that water-based markers are less fade resistant – this is not a quality issue but instead just a product difference. If you fall in love with alcohol markers, you can begin slowly replacing your water-based markers with alcohol markers as your water-based markers run out of ink.

To achieve a similar effect with a water-based marker, use a matte coat paper. This is a card stock with a slight coating. Choose several markers in the same color family and apply the marker colors you want to use to a non-porous surface such as a piece of glass or tile, or even a plastic food storage lid. Stamp your image using the correct ink for water-based markers. Using the lightest marker color the image in completely. Next, use this same marker to pick up a darker color and shade your image. This will not damage the marker – simply wipe it onto a paper towel when you are done to remove any remaining darker ink. Continue this process using your lighter markers to pick up the darker colors and shading. The matte coat will help to keep the ink from soaking in, but you need to work quickly and try not to color for an extended period of time in one area. By doing this, you can achieve a very nice look.

Working with Paper

Many times paper will crack or tear when folded. The reason this happens is because paper has a distinct grain which always runs one way. If you attempt to fold paper against the grain it will usually crack. However, often paper needs to be folded against the grain in order to complete a project. Most of the time the grain of the paper will run in the same direction as its long side. It is easy to check which way the grain runs by simply bending the paper. Holding it on either side, bend it slightly and note how much resistance there is. Now hold it by the opposite sides and bend again. The side that has the most resistance is the side that is bending against the grain.

In order to make a crisp clean fold line when folding against the grain, you will need a bone folder, a pencil, a self-healing cutting mat, and a metal ruler with a cork back, or a quilting ruler. Lightly mark the card stock on either side where you would like to fold it. Place the paper onto a cutting mat, and line up the edge of your ruler with your marks. Hold the ruler firmly in place with one hand, then with the other hand draw the pointed tip of the bone folder along the edge of the ruler. It is important to remember that some bone folders are very thick, so you may need to adjust where you place your ruler (slightly under your pencil marks) in order to score the paper precisely where you would like. Now, fold the paper at the score line, and using the edge of the bone folder, run it along the fold line to make it very crisp and clean.

If you are folding an extremely heavy piece of card stock, an alternative to the bone folder is an Exacto or craft knife. Make sure the blade is sharp, and very lightly run the point of the knife along the edge of the ruler. You will be letting the weight of the knife do the cutting – apply only the slightest pressure or you will cut through the piece instead of scoring it. If you are going to use this method, practice first, and remember that the ruler should be lined up precisely with your pencil marks, as the blade is very thin.

Many times directions for card projects will ask for a "mountain" or "valley" fold. A mountain fold is an upside down "V" shape, and a valley fold is a "V" shape. As an example, to accordion fold a piece of paper, you would alternate between mountain and valley folds.

Dotted lines indicate where a pattern should be folded, and solid lines indicate where it should be cut.

Many of our projects make use of matting techniques. One way to mat an image is to simply cut the image to a certain size, then cut a piece of coordinating card stock slightly larger. However, this can be hard, especially when the image you are matting is an odd size. The easiest way we have found to mat things almost perfectly is by using an Exacto knife, quilting ruler and self-healing cut mat. Begin by gluing the piece you wish to mat to the card stock or paper you are using as a mat. It doesn't matter if it is crooked or straight, as long as you have left enough room to cut the mat to the desired width. Place this piece onto a self-healing cutting mat. Place the quilting ruler directly on top of the piece to be matted, and starting with one side adjust the ruler so the edge of the ruler extends beyond that side to your desired mat width. Holding the ruler in firmly in place with one hand, cut the mat by drawing the blade of the Exacto knife long the edge of the ruler. Repeat for the remaining three sides, and you have matted your piece. You can double or triple mat simply by gluing the matted piece to the next piece of card stock and following the same instructions.

Foam Mounting Tape

Our favorite brand of foam tape is 3-M, because it will not make your scissor sticky. Many times when using foam tape you will want to layer two or more pieces to give height to your piece. Rather than cutting each piece separately, instead simply layer the pieces together before cutting (keep a strip of two layers and a strip of three layers on hand and you can cut them to size as needed).


A quick note on cutting – always remember to turn the piece you are cutting – not the scissors. You will find this makes your cutting much easier and more precise. And make sure that you have invested in the best pair of scissors you can afford – and don't cut anything other than paper or foam tape (such as wire).


To finish a stamped piece, try applying chalk in a coordinating color around the edges of the piece – this gives a wonderfully soft look and is often the subtle touch that is needed to finish the piece.
Contact Us
  • 2836 N. Brookfield Road
  • Suites C & D
  • Brookfield, WI 53045