Demystifying the Copic Color System

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, with the latest addition of another 12 colors just last February. Glancing at the end of your Copic Sketch marker, you may have noticed that in addition a the color name, each Copic color has its own 3 or 4-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!

Did you know that in addition to a number of extremely helpful and handy tutorials and guides, the ability to create your own Copic Artist profile and Art Gallery via CopicColor.com, and a convenient way to order all of your Copic markers and accessories, Copic also provides you with a multitude of official Copic guides and resources? If you’ve never checked out the Resources page of the Copic site, it’s worth a look. I recommend downloading the color wheel and color chart and printing yourself a copy – I’ll be using it for much of the following guide!

Copic color chart

So what is the Copic Color System?

The Copic Color System is a system in which each Copic color is identified and labeled, based on the color’s individual Color Family, Saturation Number, and 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)

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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.

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 as colors approach the center of the wheel, they become more gray, and as they approach the clockwise end of their respective color region, they become darker.  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? 

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 to 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.

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 “hand color chart” that you can use your own colors to make your very own Copic color swatch chart! The next time you visit your local art supplies store that sells Copic, 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!

Find Jackson on the web:
Web Site: http://www.jacksonroot.com
Copic Color: http://www.copiccolor.com/Jackson


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  • Mari Harpham

    I found your information very useful.

    I thought I understood the “caps” pretty well. I had never thought about using the saturation number to blend from different color families.

    I am most anxious to try making the reddish grays.

    Thanks so much for sharing this!

    Mari Harpham

  • MaBeLula Arte

    Thank you so much, very important information , Maribel Fonseca MaBeLula Arte

  • Sandra

    This helps me a lot. I’ve always been confused about the numbering and how to blend & use the colors. This makes it much clearer to me. Thanks!

  • Priscilla

    Thank you! Your explanation is so much clearer to understand the numbering system and color wheel. It will make it easier for me to explain it to other Copic coloring crafters.

  • Carolina

    12 new colors?

    • http://www.copicmarker.com/ Kacy @ Copic Marker

      Hi Carolina! There are no new colors for 2013, but we still have 358 awesome colors to choose from :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/sylvia.goergen.9 Sylvia Goergen

    The Copic Color System seems to be based on the Munsell Color System – is it the same or only similar?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Janice-P-Ellis/100001412787090 Janice P Ellis

    I just discovered Copic markers a few days ago. So excited to learn about and use this amazing product for my small business! Great article!!

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  • Arela

    If I want to start out with three markers from each color family, which ones are the most popular or basic? Is there a basic set available? Also if I want to draw a picture and not stamp, what type of pen would you recommend so it doesn’t run?

  • Shu

    Could anybody tell me how to use the “0 – colorless bender” copic properly? I mean, when I use it above the other colors, it just ruined the colors. Thank you

  • Jacki

    How do we get a blank color wheel so we can color in the ones we have? Thank you.

    • http://www.copicmarker.com/ Kacy @ Copic Marker

      Hi Jacki! We don’t have a blank color wheel at this time, but you can find our blank color chart here: http://www.copicmarker.com/resources