I was sent a set of Chameleon Markers (22 Pen Set) in exchange for an honest review. Other pens and materials were also used to create the final image, these will be listed accordingly. You can find more about Chameleon Markers via www.chameleonpens.com.
If you are artistically minded then chances are that you have heard of Chameleon Pens. With targeted advertising being the way it is on Instagram, Facebook and almost everywhere else, it was inevitable that I would be hankering after a set of these pens. For those of you who don’t know, Chameleon Pens are a new art innovation which claim to “create stunning 3D effects, smooth transitions, highlighting, shading, gradations and blending, ALL WITH ONE PEN!” Now, as I am sure any artist would attest, the idea of only using one pen to create a whole range of colours is an incredibly economical, useful and efficient innovation, that I for one was very excited to try out.
Before I begin to talk about the pens themselves, first allow me to talk about the packaging (because first impressions are important). The box itself is made of a sturdy black cardboard which I personally prefer to the usual plastic/acrylic pen boxes simply down to the fact that it will not crack during transport. As you know, I go to a lot of conventions and my plastic carry cases for other marker pens have seen some battering over the years which can often lead to nasty little plastic shards getting loose and occasionally scratching my bags interior (luckily I have not lost any artwork to them as yet). The case also works as a work station, with the lid folding underneath the box to allow the pens to lift off the desk and all lids/colours to be easily accessible. It also comes with an instruction manual teaching you some of the basic techniques and, of course, how to use the blending system, which is what we all came for.
Using the pens may seem complicated at first, but once you get into the rhythm of placing the nib of the colour you have chosen into the mixing chamber and waiting for the toning medium to seep into the pen, it is just a case of rinse and repeat (or tone and repeat). This may seem like a bit of a chore, but when you count this against the amount of different pens you would have to de-cap use, cap, replace, in order to get the same effect, it works out to be much more time efficient than you would think (and even more so after practice I would imagine).
I decided to conduct my first run with the markers on a previously inked up sketch card of Glaceon from Pokemon (it being Pokemon’s 20th Birthday after all). This was inked up using Uni Pin Fine Liners on 3.5″ x 2.5″ Bristol card stock.
I will not lie, the technique of shading from light to dark took a bit of getting used to. I generally work from dark to light when shading and tend to fill in my shadows first, so working in reverse was a bit of a learning curve. It also took me a while to get a steady and fluid gradient when working over larger areas, but this is down to my being unfamiliar with the technique than the pens themselves. Using only one pen (BL3 Sky Blue) I was able to get the wash you see above.
After completing the initial wash of the torso, I went in with two more colours, BL6 Royal Blue and BG4 Aquamarine. I found working on the details a little more difficult due to the fact I was, again, adjusting to shading in a different direction. I am so used to directing my pen upwards (from dark to light) when I shade, that going from side to side with my pen to achieve a light-dark gradient was very strange. But, as you can see (while a bit haphazard due to it being my first run) the variations in tone are brilliant and would usually take the mixing of quite a few different pens with other alcohol based markers. I used the CB Colorless Blender to go in afterwards and clear up some of my more blotchy errors and make the gradients smoother. This added to an almost watercolour effect.
The background (BV4 Blue Violet) was where I ran into some trouble. I originally wanted a dark base leading up to a lighter top, but this was quite difficult to achieve on a first run as larger areas seemed to be a bit more difficult to navigate. Again, this is something that I know will come with practice and more knowledge of the timings of the pens (how long to leave the pen nibs in the mixing chamber). Once again I used the colourless blender to wash the gradient afterwards and this helped rectify a few mistakes without leaving any unsightly ‘bald’ areas as some correction pens might.
From my experience of using these pens so far, I would probably say they were best used over smaller areas, which makes them perfect for sketch cards or modern adult colouring books (due to the intricate nature of the images). However as they are alcohol based and often require repeating a wash over an image a number of times, they would not be suitable for double sided pages such as those in Colour Me Mindful or Draw Your Way To A Younger Brain, as they would bleed over to the next page. So I would stick to single page colouring books or photocopies with these pens if I were you.
I went in with the RD4 Crimson Red Chameleon pen to finish the small details on the mouth and found the bullet nib to be very accurate. I also did not encounter any bleeding despite having just saturated the page with the blue tones. While the brush pen went over my line art quite a bit (due to the nib slowly being ‘broken in’) it was easily cleaned using the colourless blender and did not have the tie die effect of bursting out into the other colours that many alcohol based markers do when you are working on a quick piece that you do not leave to dry.
At first I was a bit worried that the brush pen nibs were crushing too quickly and thought it might have been my own technique, or me being too forceful when pushing them in the mixing chamber, but the instructions state that this is all part of the natural ‘breaking in process’ and that nibs are “inexpensive and easy to replace” with the intention being that the fibers will separate and “perform more like a paintbrush”.
Above shows my final piece before going in with my Uni-Posca White Paint Pen and thickening up the holding lines with the Chameleon 0.6mm Detail Pen. I ended up adding some highlights and cell shading using my Copic Ciao Markers as well as blending in a few hues that I wanted, to make the colouring of the character a bit more accurate. The one criticism I do have of the Chameleon Pens would be that although in only 20 colour pens there are over 100 tones and hues, there is something to be said for having a pen or two that are the one colour you are looking for. If the base colour of the Chameleon Pen is not the colour you are imagining, then any tonal variation of that will not be sufficient.
The bonus of the pens’ mixing chamber technology, however, is that you can use them with your existing alcohol marker collection to create new variations of those colour tones, so it essentially amplifies your current collection.
Finally I used the Chameleon Detail Pen to outline Glaceon and add some shadows. I then used the Uni-Posca White Paint Pen to create a thick white holding line (no real reason except I love that style), highlights, snow effects and an icy sheen. Overall this piece took me about an hour due to having to figure out the mechanics and techniques of the Chameleon Pens, but that is something that will improve with practice.
Not including the other types of pens that I listed in my descriptions, the tones on the final piece were created using only 5 pens(!) from the 20 colours as well as the colourless blender and detail pen. The quality of the final image is one which I am incredibly happy with and the idea of taking the one set of only 22 pens to a convention, rather than the far larger amount of other alcohol based markers it would take to achieve this image, is definitely a huge selling point for a commercial artist.
I am looking forward to experimenting more with these pens in the future, especially for images where subtle gradients would be a highlight of the image (seascapes or skyscapes for example). I am also curious how well the pens work with varying skin tones and blending with each other (which I only slightly touched on with Glaceon’s eyes which are a mixture of Aqua Marine and Royal Blue). Until then, be sure to check out the final image on my Instagram and visit the Chameleon Pens website for more information. They have a bunch of useful tutorials and videos which explain how the pens work.