Thursday, April 15, 2010

Lightfastness: Markers

Today we continue a six-part series on lightfastness, which is the resistance of various pigments and media to fading as a result of exposure to light.

Highlighter markers fare very poorly. Fluorescent highlighters use relatively unstable colorants that convert invisible ultraviolet light into light that you can see.

That conversion of UV to visible light adds light; that’s why a yellow highlighter stripe can appear lighter than the white of the paper. But the effect lasts only as long as the molecules hang together.

The blue, pink, and orange highlighters vanished, and the yellow highlighter darkened to a brown.

Regular art markers, like these Berol Prismacolor brand Markers, didn’t do well. They faded away to the palest tints.

For this reason, if you have a marker drawing that you like, don't leave it exposed to light for very long. Put it in a drawer or between the pages of a book!

Why Do Colors Fade?
The reason colors fade is that the colorant molecules break down when they are exposed to light, especially to the shorter wavelengths of ultraviolet light, which pack more energy.

Ultraviolet light breaks the chain-like color particles into pieces, like a hammer smashing a necklace. The molecular fragments bond with oxygen to form new molecules that no longer have the same color-absorption properties.

Don’t worry: the news gets better from here on in.


Shane White said...

I keep debating on getting rid of my Chartpaks, Berols and Marvys and just switching over to doing all my color comps in watercolor or the respective paint that I'll be using.

Markers are really fun though and in many cases were used as a middle-man to a final product.

I've noticed with old comps and renderings that the colors bleed even if they are stored in a cool dry place.


John said...

Superb blog and it is just amazing.
- Offshore Software Development

Dave said...

O yes the Markers are only for the quick at heart.

K. W. Broad said...

James, in your experience have you found if different materials the pigments are placed on (Paper, canvas, etc) make a difference with how lightfast they are? Will certain papers help highlighter molecules hold to together longer than others?

James Gurney said...

K.W. I haven't systematically tested that question, but it would be a good one to try out.

Shane, I know what you mean about markers being such a convenient tool for visualizing. As long as you're storing everything in a dark drawer, they're probably OK, but if you're selling or exhibiting work, watercolor would be a better bet.

Anonymous said...

Great blog post! Lightfastness is a perennial question for any artist and can be frustrating since many pen manufacturers do not test their products as compared to paint. With that said, have you come across any transparent (do not have to be highlighters) markers that are lightfast? I bought and am testing a set from Staedtler called TextSurfer Classics that claim to be lightfast on the marker.

Hope you know of others since the colors of the Staedtler's are not my first choice for this particular project.


James Gurney said...

Hi, Jeffrey,

Sorry, I haven't really tested a lot of brands systematically--just the ones I've used most often. All those tests appear in the Color and Light book.
--James G.

jeremy said...

Windsor and Newton pigment and watercolor markers are supposed to be lightfast up to 100 years.
They don’t say this about their pro markers or brush markers though.

Darlene Gurney said...

Disappointed all these expensive markers I've bought, only to find they fade! Ugh!!

Unknown said...

how long did these take to fade?