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Why Some Colors Don’t Show on Black Paper

Why Some Colors Don't Show on Black Paper

Have you ever wondered why some colors don’t show on black paper? Or why they don’t show up as well as other colors?

The reader who asked today’s question wanted to know the same thing. Here’s what she had to say:

Why is it some coloured pencils don’t show clearly on black paper? I have bought the best quality pencils and different types of black paper but I am at a loss. Can you help?


Why Some Colors Don’t Show on Black Paper

All colored pencils are translucent when layered onto paper. Every color you put on your paper affects the way every other color looks. That’s why you can layer yellow over blue and get green or red over yellow and get orange.

The color of the paper also affects the way the colors look. The colors are the most “clear” on white paper because the white doesn’t change the way the colors look. Layer red on white paper, and you get red.

If you layer red on yellow paper you get orange.

So when you layer colored pencils on black paper, the paper color makes the colors look darker. The same red color you layer on white paper to get a bright red looks dull when you put it on black paper.

Here’s yellow layered on black paper. Not only does the paper make the yellow look dull; it gives it a greenish tint. That’s because black and yellow colored pencils mixed makes green.

Why Some Colors Don't Show on Black Paper

The same applies to any other color of paper you might use, though the results will be less dramatic on lighter colored papers.

Some colors are also more translucent than others. So the color of the paper affects them more. Which colors are more translucent than others varies from brand to brand, so I can’t give you a specific list of colors that don’t show up on black paper.

How to Make Colors Show Up Better

The best way to make colors show on black paper is to begin with an under drawing in a light value color. Most of the time, white works. But white tends to change the appearance of the colors you put over it. Layering red over white, for example, makes pink.

So if you need a bright red on black paper, try yellow or light orange for the under drawing in that area.

I didn’t have a piece of black paper, so I used the darkest gray in my paper stash.

I chose three colors, from top to bottom, Yellow, Orange, Windsor Violet, and Indigo Blue.

The first column shows what each of those colors looks like applied directly to the paper. I started with light pressure and one or two layers on the left of each swatch, and increased pressure and number of layers to the right.

Why Some Colors Don't Show on Black Paper

In the right column, I did an under layer with white at the top of each swatch, and yellow at the bottom of each swatch. I layered those colors the same way I layered the first column.

Next, I layered each of the colors over the under layers with light pressure/few layers on the left end and heavy pressure/more layers on the right.

You can see the difference between the colors applied over an under layer and those applied without an under layer.

You can also see how much difference is made by the color you choose for the under layer.

A couple of the featured artists for CP Magic have provided tutorials using black or dark paper. Helen Carter was the featured artist for June 2020, and her tutorial was an orange octopus on black paper. She used yellow for the under drawing to get the vibrant colors she needed.


Getting vibrant, clear color on black paper is more complex than this. For one thing, the type of paper makes a difference, too.

But I hope I’ve explained at least in part why might have problems getting some colors to show on black paper.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Ask Carrie!

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