Copic Color Theory

Below you will find a few simple tips to help you navigate the Copic Color Theory. 

Color Letter

The letter represents which color family the marker belongs to: E is for earth, C for cool gray, B for blue, RV for red-violet and so on.

Color Saturation or Intensity Number

The first digit represents the level of saturation a color has. More vibrant colors tend to fall in the 0s, 10s or 20s. In the example below, color B02/B06—the 0 shows that it is a vibrant color. 

Changing this first digit by just a few numbers makes a huge saturation difference. On the second cube we changed from B06 to B45 and lost a lot of intensity.

Color Brightness Number

The last digit indicates how bright or light a color is. Compare the two cubes. Here the B02 was changed to B06, the RV02 was changed to RV06, and the G02 to G07. Raising the last digit a few numbers makes the colors much darker.


Grays

Copic makes 46 different shades of gray, in four color families. Each color of gray brings its own tone and feel to a picture. Cool grays add a hint of blue. Warm grays add a hint of brown. Neutral gray is a true neutral. Toner gray is halfway between neutral and warm. These are ideal for layering over more vibrant colors to mute them.

Black 100 versus 110

The 100 is a “true” deep blue-black, while the 110 is a slightly neutral gray black. The difference is determined by the pigments used to make up each color. The 110 would be equivalent to a T11, if such a number existed on our color chart. The two blacks may not look different on every paper, but on some there is a noticeable difference.


Applying the Number System to Your Work

Before you begin coloring, think about the color pallet you want to achieve. If the piece will consist of more earthy or muted colors, such as forests or antique pictures, choose colors that are less saturated. This includes colors in the 70s, 80s or 90s, such as BG93 or G99. If you want your piece to be composed of bright colors, such as children's toys or spring flowers, it would be better to choose colors in the 0s, 10s or 20s, such as Y08, RV04 or G14.

Not all color groups follow these rules, so it is a good idea to test your colors. For example, R00s are more orangey-red, where a true red is found in the R20s. Y20s turn brown and Y30s turn orange, because as other tones are added to yellow it quickly turns brown or orange. The Es have a very mixed spectrum, since brown can be achieved from so many different combinations. Yet, in each of these examples, there is still order if we look at the color families column by column.

Picking Blending Colors

Match the middle number to determine if colors will blend evenly. The last number indicates how light or dark a color is. For highlights, pick a marker where the last number falls under a 0, 1, 2, or 3. For mid tones, choose numbers 4, 5, or 6. For shadows, choose colors with a last number of 7, 8, or 9. For best results, try to stay within a range of two or three digits between colors. 

Natural Blending Groups

Remember, the first digit represents the level of color saturation and the last digit indicates how bright or light a color isEvery color family can be broken down into smaller sequences, such as B20-B29. These smaller sequences are referred to as a natural blending group, meaning these colors naturally go well together because there is no variation in saturation, only in brightness. These colors can be blended together with the confidence that they will perfectly coordinate.

Natural blending group


Choosing Colors More Efficiently

Start with Lighter Colors

When coloring on uncoated papers, pick lighter colors than may seem needed. It’s easier to add layers to darken than it is to lighten.

Be Conservative

People often purchase vibrant colors because they catch the eye, but when they get home to coordinate those markers with a project, they find that these colors aren't as versatile.

Plan for Blending

We recommend that you purchase two or three markers within the same blending group. 

Contrast Counts

In many color families, artists may need to jump more than two digits to get colors that will blend and show a difference. That being said, most times a color can be darkened by one to two digits by simply adding another layer of the same color.

Color Disclaimer

Colors on computer screens are not an accurate representation of the marker ink color, neither are printed color charts. Color consistency can vary by paper type. To get a feel for what the colors will actually look like, it's best to fill out a color swatch.

An old trick artists use to figure out the color of something they're looking at is to isolate that color by looking through a card with a hole cut out of it. They can then compare that one spot with the colors they are working with.

Apply this technique by downloading and using a Color Match Chart. Then, simply print it on your favorite marker paper and color in each rectangle with the colors you have. Make sure to write the color number next to it. Punch a hole in each rectangle, then, line up the colored page with the area you are trying to color-match.

As you can see from this close-up photo of a dog, the grass is somewhere between G28 and G99. So, when you go to fill in this area, you would use a mix of those two colors.