Demystifying the Copic Color System

Posted On: 11/05/14 By: Jackson Root

Here's your chance to learn how to get the most from your Copic marker collection! Follow along as Jackson Root, a talented illustrator and Copic fine art instructor, explains the Copic Color system: Copic Sketch Markers

At first glance, the Copic color chart can seem pretty intimidating - a vast array of colors, currently totaling 358. Glancing at the end of your Copic Sketch marker, you may have noticed that in addition the color name, each Copic color has its own three or four digit identifying color number, located on the marker itself and centered on each end cap (with the exception of Ciao).

Believe it or not, these numbers not only describe the color, but also can act as a guide for navigating the Copic Color system and for picking other colors that will correspond and blend nicely in tone, saturation and hue!

Copic also provides you with a multitude of official Copic guides and resources? I recommend downloading & printing the Copic Color Wheel and Color Chart—I’ll be using these in this tutorial!

Check out the Downloadable Resources page of the Copic site for more items like these.

Copic color chart

So what is the Copic Color System?

The Copic Color System identifies and labels each Copic Color based on the color’s individual: Color Family, Saturation Number & Brightness Number. Copic color system

  • The Color Family indicates what sort of color, i.e. red, blue-green, orange, etc.
  • The Saturation Number indicates how “rich” or how “dull” the color will appear (higher number = more dull)
  • The Brightness Number indicates how “dark” the color will appear (Higher number = darker)


How can this help me to navigate the Copic Color Library?

Just by glancing at the digits on the cap of a Copic Sketch marker can quickly tell you what color (hue), how brilliant or dull (saturation), and how bright or dark (tone) just by understanding the numbers involved! You may be asking yourself, “so my beloved Baby Blue B Twenty-One is really B Two-One?” All semantics aside, it’s true. Knowing that the numbers are to be read individually can really help to understand how the color will appear and where it will sit on the Copic Color Wheel.


What is the Copic Color Wheel?

The Copic Color Wheel is an extremely handy piece of literature to help understand and explore the Copic Color library.

Copic color wheel

Copic color wheelI’ve highlighted two main areas of the close up version of the color wheel.

  • The colors within the yellow lines are all of the same saturation, but with varying darkness.
    • The colors within the red lines are all of the same darkness, but with varying saturation.

As you look at the greater picture of the Copic Color Wheel, you can see that colors towards the center of the wheel become more gray, and they become darker near the clockwise end of their respective color region. 

The only exception to this rule is saturation for the earth tones, as they incorporate a number of colors, from reds to oranges, yellows and greens; you can see that they have their own system goin’ on!

But wait, is that 4 gray families I see?  Yes! Copic has 4 gray families, ranging in warmth from Cool Gray being the coolest, Neutral Gray being a little bit warmer, Toner Gray a tad bit warmer than Neutral, followed by Warm Gray, which when used in conjunction with Cool Gray can almost appear red, which can be handy for gray-tone drawings when you want to indicate skin tone versus metallic surfaces!

What should I look for when buying my next batch of colors? If you want colors in your collection that will blend nicely without looking muddy, I recommend picking at least 3 colors in a Color Family that have the same Saturation Number (the first number).These colors will all have the same “grayness” and will play nicely together on paper. The same rule applies for blending across color families. For example, a BG13 will blend nicely with a B14 and G17, but I would avoid blending a BG34 with a B16 and so forth (it can be done with more time and transitional colors, but gets complicated).Copic blend Copic blend

Closing Thoughts

When I learned to read the Copic Color System, it greatly helped me in my understanding of how the colors will appear when dried. To an extent, understanding how to read the digits on the cap is a better way to anticipate the color than the color of the cap itself!

Also on the resources page is a downloadable “Blank Color Chart” that you can use your own colors to make your very own Copic color swatch chart!

TIP: The next time you visit your local art supplies store that sells Copic markers, ask them if you can test a few colors on your chart, and fill your collection of swatches. It's the best way to see exactly how a color will appear in your artwork—and you'll be able to better plan which markers to add to your collection!

Find Jackson on the web:

Tags: Artists, Copic Color System, How To, Inspire, Jackson Root, Color theory, Guest tutorial,