Empty Montana Markers Full of Candy Colored Goodness

It's no secret that I love pens and markers. When I find something that I love, I tend to fall hard and fast for it. 

I've been experimenting with empty paint markers off and on for the last couple of years now. I've tried a few different brands and hands down, the best (so far) are the empty Montana markers. My main problem with the Molotow markers is that I had one "eat" the tip when I pumped it on scrap paper, I must have pushed it so hard (which I don't really push them that hard but whatever I did was enough) that it fell back into the barrel of the pen. Now, I'm recommending the EMPTY Montana markers. I don't love the Montana inks that much but their pen design is fantastic. They're too chalky (for lack of a better word) for me. My favorite paint marker is the water based Sharpie paint markers (especially the extra fine tip ones.)

You don't have to take the metal ball out. I'm just showing you the marker components.

If you've never used a Montana marker, you should know that the pen screws counterclockwise. Confusing at first but you get used to it. Don't lose any of the pieces that are in it. You unscrew the pen. Then take your fingernail and pop out the little piece of plastic that is at the top of the barrel (see photo above.) Leave the little metal ball in there. Before you fill the pen, shake up the ink or paint that you will be pouring into the barrel. Fill up the barrel about 3/4 of the way (do NOT fill it up more than that. This enables you to shake the ink in the pen. Some ink will settle so leaving this space is important.) Pop the little plastic piece back into position. Make sure it's pushed down tight like it was before. Screw the top of the pen back on. Put the cap on and shake it to get the ink moving. Take the cap off and on a piece of scrap paper, pump the tip up and down to get it flowing down through the tip of the pen. You may need to pump and shake a few times to get the ink going (ALWAYS shake with the cap on unless you want ink splatters all over you and your walls.)

Not only have I been experimenting with different empty markers and pens but also different inks and acrylics. I've created a two page color chart of various pens and markers testing them across plain white cardstock, coated black paper and handmade paper so that you can see how each ink works on the different surfaces. I've also told my students that if they're not sure if a pen will work, test it on a similar piece of scrap paper first. ALWAYS TEST YOUR PENS before using them on your artwork! Keep a piece of scrap paper handy. I can't stress this enough:

Each pen will do something different based upon the kind of pen/marker it is, the surface that you are using it on and the ink/paint that is inside of it. 

Inks and Acrylics Tested (letter grade next to each brand*):

Higgins-my least favorite. Very watery. The color is barely there. Don't like how it flows in the marker.  F

Dr PH Martin's Perma Draft-*LOVE* this ink (best on light color, uncoated paper.) This is an old bottle that I've had for several years. Dr PH Martin's has always made great inks. A

Liquitex Ink-So far, I am frustrated with the Bright Gold (opaque). It's not flowing through the pen even after pumping and shaking the pen. The Deep Violet (transparent) works fine but the Bright Gold isn't working flowing right in the pen. C

FW Acrylics-Another fine maker of inks. Flows well in the pen. Yummy colors. A

Golden High Flow Acrylics -Great colors that flow in a pen. Keep in mind that these are transparent colors. A

Noodlers Ink- Not shown. Works great on light color paper. Does not come with a dropper. B

*The grade reflects how the ink worked for me in the pen as well as on paper. 

This page is full of "as is" paint markers. I didn't fill them with anything special. They are the paint markers (all extra fine or fine.) Top to bottom:
Water based sharpie extra fine
Montana Fine and extra fine
Molotow Fine and extra fine

Overall? When I want a paint marker (not a gel pen or my trusty Rapidosketch) I still reach for my water based sharpie paint markers first. If I was heading to the store in search of a new color, I would buy Dr PH Martin's, FW Acrylics and Golden High Flow Acrylics before any of the other inks. I also have bought Molotow refills and poured them into empty Montana markers. Just remember, it all depends on what YOU want and need. 

My favorite white marker? I buy either the Molotow or Montana white refills and put it in a Montana marker. The white water based sharpie gets too watery over time (this ONLY happens with the white markers.)

I color the end of the markers (see the top picture) with whatever color is in the pen. I also label the side of the pen with a piece of tape stating what kind of ink/acrylics it is and the color.

If the ink that you are buying to fill your pens with doesn't come with a dropper or the nozzle won't fit the barrel of the pen, buy a few empty droppers. It will make your life so much easier (all of the inks above came with a dropper or were easy to pour *except* the Noodlers ink. I should've taken a picture of the contraption I rigged up because I didn't have any droppers on hand.)

If you use the Golden High Flow Acrylics, only pour a little bit at a time. If you pour it really fast, it tends to flow quickly and it can spill. Just be careful with it.

Make sure that the inks or acrylics that you are using are fluid like. You don't want to use anything too thick in the pens (regular acrylic paint is too thick.)

I use my paint markers on paper (of all kinds), tape (of all kinds), transparencies, canvas, dried acrylic paint and mediums.

Always make sure that your surface is completely dry before you use a pen or marker on it. 

Always make sure that you cap the pen tight when you are done.

Store your pens flat and in a cool place (don't leave them near a heater.)

Shake and pump the markers before you need to use them. This will get the ink flowing. Remember, inks and paints settle so this gets the pigment moving.

If you buy the fine or thicker paint markers, you can use them on your rubber stamps as ink pads, too. Just make sure that you clean them immediately afterwards.

One funny story, I bought the empty markers at a few local L.A. art stores. I had the same reaction at almost every store I went to! The looks on the employees faces when they realized what I was doing was priceless. I love watching others get excited about new possibilities with art and art tools!

I hope that this has been an informative post. I do NOT work for ANY of the companies. I work for my students, my family and for me. All of the products above were bought, paid and tested by me. I have NOT been compensated for this post.

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Lisa said…
Great Post Kelly! I too love the empty montana markers filled with Golden High Flow Acrylics. I didn't even think to put inks like F&W in. India ink would probably work too. I wish it were easier to get a hold of the empty markers though!
Kelly Kilmer said…
@Lisa Thanks! Most of the local art stores will order them for you.
Anonymous said…
Thank you so much. This was a great post and so helpful. Thanks from another pen/marker addict.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for taking the time to write this! I took a gamble and bought two filled and two empty montana markers last week. I had some high flow paint to add and it worked great. I really like to write over acrylic paint and I'm so much happier with this result vs the sharpie markers. I will have to try some white high flow in an extra fine...Thanks! Beth
Kelly Kilmer said…
@Beth just be aware that the High Flow Acrylics from Golden are TRANSPARENT so the white may not be as white as you are thinking it will be.

Thanks @Boo! :)
Seth said…
This is truly an incredibly useful and thorough post. Thanks for all the work here. Going to tweet and spread the word!
Diana Ryman said…
Thanks for this informative post Kelly! I've purchased and used both the Molotow markers and the Montana markers and for the art journaling and doodling I do, prefer the Molotow 2mm pens. In fact, I'm in the process of moving all my Montana paint into empty Molotow markers. Had been thinking that other acrylics might work in there, but you are way ahead of me! Thanks for saving me lots of time in trial and error!
Curiouser Alice said…
Thank you for this post! I wish I'd read it before trying to open my empty Montana marker. I ended up with a couple of scrapes on the sides because I tried to unscrew it with a pair of pliers, lol. My engineering friend finally said "Are you sure it doesn't unscrew the other way?" Ha!

I love these, because I was FINALLY able to have Titan Buff in an easy-to-use marker. It's just so lovely for subtle writing and adding little touches of the color. I read on Golden's website that if you're having any trouble getting the High-Flow acrylics to flow in a paint marker, just add a tiny bit of water, too. Works like a charm.

I also love that the nibs on the markers are plastic, and have the grooves for the ink to flow down. I can't imagine wearing these nibs out for a very long time. I also love that when I had the Titan Buff in there for a long time, and hadn't used it, it was just an easy cleaning to get it all working again.
Anonymous said…
Very interesting post! Wondering if you could help with me with a small dilemma. I have a white and a black of these markers, I've had them for about two months and neither of them are working for me now. They have ink in them still and it isn't dried. The top on the white looks a bit dry. I keep them stored sideways, capped. Any suggestions?
Kelly Kilmer said…
@Anon, have you tried shaking and gently pumping the tip on a piece of scrap paper until the ink flows? Then gently (on uncoated paper) just make marks until the ink flows. Hope this helps. Also, sorry for the delay in responding.
Jturner said…
I'm painting an exterior sign and have exterior house paint I want to use. Do you know if these will work for that purpose?
Kelly Kilmer said…
@Jturner As long as the house paint is completely dry, I would imagine that these should work. Make sure to let them dry and you can use a sealer. They're basically markers of acrylic paint. Hope this helps!
Anonymous said…
So if I were to fill my empty Montana pen I can fill it with any other acrylic based paint? It doesn't have to be specifically Montana? Sort of a dumb question I know but the story clerk wasn't very helpful but I wanted to confirm before I opened it and can not return it. Thank you!
Kelly Kilmer said…
@Anonymous, They have to be a fluid acrylic or else they will clog. Golden Fluid Acrylics and some calligraphy inks work great in them.
Unknown said…
Is the Dr PH your recommendation for white ink, as well?

I have the bleed proof, but it seems a bit thick for a paint pen. White paint pens are the most difficult to find!!

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