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Coloring with markers is an activity that children and adults alike love to participate in. Kids use markers for crafts and school projects, while adults use them for artwork, sign making, calligraphy, and as a relaxing coloring hobby.
But while markers are fun to use and play with, they pose a hidden danger to our health. Alcohol and solvent based types contain VOCs – volatile organic compounds – that can cause serious side effects when inhaled or ingested. This is especially alarming for little children who sometimes put colorful objects like markers into their mouths.
To avoid potentially poisoning yourself or your family, you should switch to water based markers. In this article, we’ll explain why you should switch to this type of art supply, as well as list the best water based marker products on the internet.
Why Water Based Markers?
Water based markers, as the name suggests, water as the carrying and blending agent for the ink. By the same logic, alcohol based markers contain alcohol, and the solvent based type contains solvent.
These three types are not created equal. Water based markers are the only type that is odorless and non-toxic. On the opposite spectrum, alcohol and solvents contain chemicals that, though useful for markers, are toxic for humans and animals. While alcohol ink is easy to blend, dries quickly, and doesn’t saturate paper, it also carries a strong smell and emits VOCs. Solvent markers, which include permanent and dry erase markers, give off an even more powerful odor and emit even more VOCs.
Did you know that VOCs can be present everywhere in your household? If interested, check out our review of zero VOC paints, that you can use to have a less toxic environment at home.
Harmful Chemicals In Alcohol And Solvent Based Markers
A wide range of toxins is present in your alcohol and solvent based markers. The alcohol type is obviously toxic because of its alcoholic nature and can cause headaches or dizziness when inhaled. But the solvent type is even more dangerous and can contain several different harmful chemicals.
Below is a list showing each dangerous chemical present in these types and its detrimental health effects.
Xylene is a solvent used in permanent markers. According to NIOSH (the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), exposure to this chemical can irritate your eyes, skin, nose, and throat, as well as a host of other alarming problems: headaches, dizziness, confusion, and loss of muscle coordination. When ingested in high amounts, xylene can even kill you.
For this ingredient alone, it’s imperative you switch to a water based marker or at the very least keep xylene solvent-based markers away from small children.
Toluene is another type of solvent used in solvent based markers. It is just as toxic as xylene. NIOSH lists the following potential side effects that people who are exposed to this chemical may experience: eye and nose irritation, fatigue, confusion, dizziness, headaches, dilated pupils, tears, anxiety, insomnia, as well as damage to nerves, liver, and kidneys.
Solvent based markers commonly contain acetone, a solvent that you’ll also find in nail polish remover. It is not as damaging as the first chemicals in our list, but it can still cause severe irritation to your eyes, skin, and respiratory system if you inhale or ingest it.
Many dry erase markers use isopropyl alcohol as a solvent. Exposure to it can irritate your eyes, nose, throat, and skin. In high amounts, isopropyl alcohol can also cause dizziness, headaches, confusion, loss of coordination, unconsciousness, and, in worst case scenarios, death.
Best Water Based Markers
This set of 60 dual tip markers by Ohuhu is the perfect water based addition to your art supply collection. Each marker features a brush tip for coloring, shading, and blending, as well as a fine tip for detailing and writing on the other end. This set also comes with a handy cylindrical case to keep it neat and organized, and replacement tips so you can keep reusing the markers for months.
The only downside about these markers is they are not certified non-toxic. The product description does say that they are non-toxic, odorless, and acid-free, so they should be safe. But if you’re looking for a certification, you might want to skip this set and keep shopping.
- Non-toxic, odorless, and acid-free
- Comes with 60 colors, replacement tips, and a case
- Is not certified for safety
When you think of markers, you probably think of Crayola. This brand has been around for decades, and they’re good at making high-quality markers specifically for kids. This 8 pack of water-based, broad line markers is a non-toxic alternative to the regular kind, and they’re washable, too. This means if your child gets any of this ink on their clothes or skin, or even on painted walls, you can easily wash it off.
These Crayola water-based markers are also ACMI AP Certified, meaning it is certified by the Arts and Crafts Materials Institute to contain insufficient amounts of toxic chemicals to cause negative health effects.
Overall, while this set is not an artist’s dream, it is a parent’s dream. It’s safe for kids, easy to color with and easy to clean up: everything you could want in your child’s water based markers.
- ACMI AP Certified non-toxic
- Only contains 8 colors
This set by Magicfly comes with a whopping 100 different colored markers. Each marker has a brush tip on one end and a fine tip on the other, so you can do multiple types of art techniques – lineart, coloring, shading, blending, detailing, and calligraphy – without having to switch to a different set. You’ll also receive a storage bag with your purchase so you can keep your markers safe and carry them with you wherever you go.
This fantastic array of markers conforms to ASTM D-4236, which means that all potentially hazardous components of the markers are clearly labeled on the packaging. The product description also claims that these markers are non-toxic, acid-free, and unscented.
- Water based
- Conforms to ASTM D-4236
- Non-toxic, acid-free, and unscented
- Comes with 100 different colors, dual brush tips, and a storage bag
This set of real brush pens by Arteza is a wonderful option for professional artists and amateurs alike. It’s certified ACMI AP, and the ink is water-based and completely non-toxic. The brush nib on each marker is flexible and perfect for coloring, blending, and shading. They also make precise calligraphy. And you should have no problem feeling creative with the selection of 96 vivid colors.
With these Arteza markers, you can flex your artistic skill without getting frustrated by bad quality or feeling sick from toxic fumes. It’s a winner on our list.
- ACMI AP certified
- Water based ink
- Comes in 96 colors
- Real brush tip is flexible
ZEYAR’s set of acrylic paint pens gives you the freedom to add color to nearly any surface, not just paper. As long as it’s a smooth surface and not rough or porous, these markers will write and color on it. Choose from 24 vibrant colors, all made with water-based ink that’s certified ASTM D-4236, non-toxic, and acid-free. The ink is opaque and will show up well on light to medium shades, and the nib is sturdy and compact to allow you to press the color into your surface.
Let yourself run wild and draw on everything in sight with these markers!
- Water based ink
- ASTM D-4236 Certified
- Non-toxic and acid-free
- Comes with 24 vibrant acrylic colors
Out of all the products we listed above, two of them stand out from the rest.
The first one we’d like to recommend is for the kids: the Crayola 8 Ct Washable Markers set. These markers are water-based and certified ACMI AP, meaning the ink is certified by a toxicologist to be non-toxic. This is an especially important standard for markers that kids are going to use, which is why we think this product by Crayola is the best option for families.
The second set of water based markers that we think is the best for adults and artists is the Arteza Real Brush Pens set. It comes with 96 colors that you can use to create whatever picture or art project you can imagine. The real brush nibs are flexible and applicable to many kinds of marker art techniques. And, of course, these markers are ACMI AP certified, so you can rest easy and enjoy coloring knowing you’re making a safe choice for your health.
Water Based Markers Q&A
Below are some common questions and answers about water based markers.
Do water based markers bleed?
Yes. Because the ink is water based, it is often more fluid and can bleed through paper.
Are water based markers washable?
Yes. Water based ink can be washed off most surfaces.
How do you blend water based markers?
Water based marker ink can be blended by adding more water to the ink on the surface you’re marking on to make it spread.
Are Crayola markers non toxic?
Yes. Crayola markers are certified ACMI AP, which means they have been evaluated by a toxicologist and do not contain enough chemicals in it to be considered “toxic.”
Are Expo markers non toxic?
No. Expo markers are not certified non-toxic, nor do they conform to ASTM D-4236.
Are Staedtler markers non toxic?
No. Staedtler markers are not certified ACMI AP and they do not conform to ASTM D-4236.
Are BIC permanent markers non toxic?
Some of them are. This set of BIC permanent markers, for example, is certified ACMI AP non-toxic.