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In Depth | Tim Holtz Distress Markers

Tim Holtz has finally brought his Distress line to pen form in 37 glorious colors. Distress Markers are a product I’ve long dreamed of, but assumed they hadn’t been able to formulate it to work. The exciting part is that I don’t have to wait long – the pens are now beginning to ship to retailers, and will soon be available at local stores as well as online. Today, I will be taking an in-depth look at these pens, and at various ways to utilize them.

At first glance Distress Markers appear to be just your standard pen. They have a brush tip on one end, and a fine detail point on the other. This is my preferred tip selection for dual-tip pens as it allows me to do larger areas and color stamps easily, as well as to write or do small areas. What makes these Distress pens stand out is that they behave exactly as Tim’s Distress ink pads and stains do. They blend with each other, are reactive with water, and can be used in any of the same ways or with the same techniques that you would use with the existing Distress line. This is really great because it means users don’t have to learn a whole new set of techniques.

We already brought you a video from CHA Winter 2012 of Tim Holtz demonstrating the pens, that can be viewed here. In that video, Tim talks a lot about having a water brush and using that with these markers. I look forward to trying that technique, which sounds fabulous. For this article, though, I wanted to see what else we could do with these pens without the help of a water brush.

(stamp pictured above: Tim Holtz Mixed Media)

Above you can see a tag that was coated with Distress Stain, stamped some dots with Distress Ink, edged with Distress Marker, and then squirted with water. You can see that although I used the same color, the stain is slightly lighter than the ink, which is also slightly different in color from the pen. It’s very subtle, and I really like that because it means you can create a watermark-like effect by layering various forms of Distress. (I did a tag tutorial on my blog showing the stains plus the inks in the same color a few months ago that you can see here, if you’d like to see more about that.)

So are Distress Markers a product you should be running out to buy? It really depends on a few things. If you like the Distress line, if you would use the blendable properties of the pens, and if a smaller, more controllable form of Distress ink appeals to you, then Distress Markers are an absolute must. However, if the kinds of things that can be done with them such as blending, writing and stamping don’t appeal to you – then no, I wouldn’t recommend them to you.

(stamp pictured above: Tim Holtz Compass)

Above you can see a series of experiments I did with a compass stamp and several colors of the pens. I found that starting with the lightest color, then adding spots of darker colors was the best way to work for me. Adding water or mist onto the image after stamping, or even doing so directly onto the stamp before stamping, as I did at the top left, can really give you a fantastic blurry image. The subtle blending and ability to really get in and color a stamp has me very excited. Here’s a bird I stamped:

(stamp pictured above: Hero Arts Newsprint Bird)

As you can see there are no harsh lines where my colors blend, and in fact the colors can blend to become new colors entirely. Another great quality of these pens is that you will not contaminate them with other colors of Distress by blending. Just one swipe on a piece of paper and my pen was once again clean (if I had used a lighter color onto a darker color and could see a dark spot on the pen tip).

(stamp pictured above: Hero Arts Untitled Key)

Above is another colored image. This time I did not mist or add water to it, but you can see how the colors flow together and how detailed you could get with your images.

(stamp pictured above: Hero Arts Four Hearts)

Another option is that you stamp with a waterproof ink such as archival ink first, then color the stamped image as I have above. The left shows the stamp colored, on the right you can see what happens when I squirted it with water. Because I used Ranger Archival Ink (Staz-On would also work) the text of the stamp design did not bleed, just the Distress Marker pen. You can see that the Distress colors stay true – just another reason I really can’t say enough good things about the Distress line. I’m a huge fan!

One of my favorite techniques so far is creating confetti-like dots with my Distress pens. Just draw little streaks all over your craft mat, then take paper that has been spritzed with water and press it down onto the color, repeating as desired.

You can see how this looks – and adding more water, or misting again after coloring the tag is an option to get even more of a blurred look. I used the tag on the right to create a finished tag project, all using Distress Markers on my stamps to get some great layers of color.

Below you can see two tags created with Distress Stains. The one on the left, as seen before, has stain, ink, and pen used on it.

The tag on the right uses only Distress Markers, except for the edging which was done with an ink pad.

There is one of the markers that stands apart from the rest, and that is the Picket Fence (white) pen. It is more opaque, and also works on dark colored papers beautifully.

Above, you can see how well it shows up on cardstock, and of all the white pens I’ve used, this is by far the best. Not only does it work well alone, but you can use it in combination with the colored pens. Just to show an example, I have used the Picket Fence pen on Kraft cardstock and then colored over it with two different Distress Marker colors just so you could see how it would look.

The Picket Fence pen I feel is great for any crafter – whether they intend on doing Distress techniques or just want a quality white pen.

Here are my suggestions if you’re deciding what colors to start with:

  • Pick a few colors that are your current favorites or most-used Distress Ink pad or stain colors to start out with.
  • Choose a few shades within a color family that would blend well together for more monochromatic looks.
  • Think about where and how you would use distress markers, and choose colors based on that vs the colors you find to be the prettiest.
  • View past projects and see where and how you’ve used colored pens or inks and let that guide your choices
  • My six personal favorite and most used Distress colors are Brushed Corduroy, Wild Honey, Tumbled Glass, Worn Lipstick, Faded Jeans, and Peeled Paint.

I can tell you that I have used and loved every color of Distress, so you really won’t pick a bad color. I will also tell you that while I’ve been experimenting with these I keep thinking of slightly different applications and ideas, but mostly my use of these revolves around stamped images.

 To end, there are a few things I will tell you that I learned while playing with these markers:

  • They are reactive with water so that means journalers beware. If your writing gets wet, it will bleed.
  • To stamp with them, you can take your time. When you are done coloring the stamp, just “huff” a breath onto the stamp to add moisture before you stamp. You will see Tim do this a lot in his demos.
  • Water really is the key to unlocking the potential of blending and special effects with these.
  • Copics are an entirely different breed of pen, almost the complete opposite of Distress Markers, so I would not try to compare the two products in any meaningful way.
  • I found in coloring stamps that it worked best if I first cleaned my stamp, then began coloring with my lightest color and worked to darkest color. You don’t have to do this – lighter pens do work over darker colors too – but if you want the lightest shade to stand out, it works better.

The bottom line is that these bring the high quality of the Distress line to pen form. With the stains we got a bigger format, they made working with larger areas faster and easier. Now, with Ranger’s Tim Holtz Distress Markers, we have a very small form available. Whether you use them to accent stamped images, create custom backgrounds, create watercolor effects, or anything else you can dream up – these pens are a great tool, and reasonably priced.

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31 Responses to In Depth | Tim Holtz Distress Markers

  1. Victoria Sturdevant February 27, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

    Great review! Thanks for the examples.

  2. Laura C February 27, 2012 at 12:31 pm #

    Thanks May! Nope, I don’t need these but I was wondering :0)

  3. Helen February 27, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

    May, this is a terrific review of these pens – I already know that I really really want them, but now I can see that I need them too…!

  4. Deb February 27, 2012 at 1:32 pm #

    Thanks for the review! I’m sure I won’t see them in my small town for quite some time (if ever!) so it really helps to hear someone’s experiences with them.

  5. Bunnyfreak February 27, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

    Thanks for giving us permission to just start with a few markers.

  6. Altered Ermie February 27, 2012 at 4:07 pm #

    Thanks for some great ideas, I was lucky enough to pick up a full set at a craftshow at the weekend, can’t wait to get 5minutes to play with them :-)

  7. Christina Sedor February 27, 2012 at 8:36 pm #

    You did a really good job, showing the different techniques of
    using the distress markers, can’t wait to see them in the
    stores!

  8. Pam February 28, 2012 at 4:35 am #

    Thanks, May!

  9. Ali MacDonald February 28, 2012 at 6:43 am #

    Great discussiion and tut with examples, May! TY so much! I don’t need these but it’s great to see what’s avail. :) TY again!

  10. Gab February 28, 2012 at 7:41 am #

    Thanks May for the fantastic article. I just per-ordered the whole set from my fave Aussie online store!

  11. Maria February 28, 2012 at 8:08 am #

    Thanks May! I was so on the fence with these after seeing his demo. Your article helped me figure out that I should start with 4 or 5 (one being picket fence) and go from there. Thanks for an awesome write up :)

  12. CIndy deRosier February 28, 2012 at 9:11 am #

    Thanks for a great review. I didn’t think I needed these and you confirmed that… except for that awesome white! Picket Fence is on my must-have list now.

  13. Candy February 28, 2012 at 10:26 am #

    Nice, thank you. I look forward to seeing examples with these pens.

  14. Patti C February 28, 2012 at 10:55 am #

    TFS I had have an appreciation for these. Interesting examples!

  15. Marissa February 28, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

    Thanks! I can’t wait to get these :) Any idea if the tip can be pulled off and the pen filled with reinker?

    • may February 28, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

      No, the pens are not refillable. The formula of the ink pads & reinkers is not the same.

      • Marissa February 28, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

        Thanks for the reply!

  16. Donna C February 28, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

    Brilliant review Miss May! I know i want the whole set for my Distress collection!

  17. Vicki J February 28, 2012 at 2:54 pm #

    Thanks for the great review– Ever since I saw that they were coming out I knew there would be a few colors that had to be added to my stash… So glad to hear that Picket fence works!!

    Any idea how long they will last?

    • may February 28, 2012 at 4:46 pm #

      Ranger has a reputation for quality and long lasting products, I’m sure these are no exception. I do believe it would be impossible to guess how long my markers will last, and I expect ones I use a ton would run out of juice long before ones I rarely use…

  18. Mimi February 28, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

    Sigh! I need these.
    Great review, thank you.

  19. Gina Torres February 28, 2012 at 4:26 pm #

    My markers will be on their way soon! I knew that I would want these and now, with your review, I know for sure! I can’t wait to create with these and thanks for all of the great tips!

  20. Kathy K February 28, 2012 at 4:58 pm #

    Great review – thank you very much. The white pen is a must have – not sure I want to spend the money on the complete set, but definitely would like a few of them. I also was wondering how long they last, since they are not refillable?

    • May February 28, 2012 at 6:36 pm #

      As I said before “how long do they last?” is not a question I can answer as they are brand new and obviously one hasn’t run out of juice on me. not only that, but your personal use would also determine the lifespan somewhat. I wouldn’t expect a pen I use daily to last as long as one I pull out once a month or less.

      Ranger has said they are designed to be long lasting, and they are a company with a reputation for great products so at this time I take their word for it and expect the pens to provide me with a lot of coloring fun.

  21. karen keiper February 29, 2012 at 6:31 am #

    yay,yay!! mine are ordered and hopefully will be in my hot little hands soon. thanks for all the ideas.

  22. Cheryl Macy March 3, 2012 at 11:15 am #

    Excellent information. Thank you for all of the details. It helps seen the pictures of the product used in various different ways.

  23. Cheryl O March 3, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

    What great information about the product and wonderful examples. Thank you so much for your time and clarification. What a terrific review, sure shows the the uniqueness of this product.

  24. Kim March 4, 2012 at 11:45 am #

    Thank you so much. This was a beautifully written piece that helped me make a good decision about whether these markers will be for me or not. I appreciate your thorough review!

  25. Ismail N December 13, 2012 at 12:33 am #

    Excellent piece – very informative! My wife has been most distressed on which colours to choose for her first ever distress markers. This should give her some ideas & put her mind at peace.

  26. Melvin May 6, 2013 at 11:14 pm #

    Hi, nice information. But I need to know if the markers are refilable?

    • Nancy Nally May 11, 2013 at 8:20 pm #

      No, they are just regular markers.

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