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 yellow colored pencils on black paper 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 colored pencil, for example, makes pink. (I don’t know why that happens when red colored pencil on white paper doesn’t make 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. The results aren’t quite as dramatic as they would be on black, but it demonstrates my point.

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.

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! magazine 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.

Carmen Barros also did a tutorial on black paper for the September 2022 issue.

Their methods differ, but both of them achieved stunning and vibrant color on black paper.


Getting vibrant, clear color on black paper can be more complex than this basic explanation. 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.

Got a question? Ask Carrie!


  1. Gail M Jones

    I did Carmen’s class for working on black paper and if you lay down a white under drawing as you mention here, it works! Even the red turns out red if you add enough layers over the white.

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