Black Marker Coffee Filter Experiment – What Colors Make Black

Is black a color? How does paint or ink get its color? Which colors do you mix to create black? We were curious. So, we did the classic black marker experiment to discover and observe a bit more about what colors make black. 

Black Marker Coffee Filter Experiment

A great way to introduce this activity is to create a color wheel.  The art sequence of lessons within Montessori includes this activity and would make for a terrific exploration of primary and secondary colors. 

Black Marker Experiment Materials

  • white coffee filter
  • bowl
  • water
  • black marker (not permanent)

Steps to Black Marker Coffee Filter Experiment

  • design the edge of the coffee filter
  • roll the filter into a cone
  • pour water into the bowl (doesn’t have to be a lot)
  • place the filter into the bowl with water in it
  • observe what happens as the water travels up the filter

Questions to Ask the Children about the Science of Colors

  • What are the colors of the rainbow?
  • What do you think will happen when we place the filter into the water?
  • What will happen when the water makes it to the black marker?
  • Does one color move more quickly than the other? Why?
  • How many colors do you see?
  • Why does combining many colors of ink make black?
  • Who would use this science? Why? (Biochemists)

Science Behind Black Marker Experiment

  • Water separates the various pigments of the black ink
  • The colors’ speed depend on the size of the color molecule and how strongly the pigment is attracted to the paper
  • Because the pigments have varying strengths and sizes, they separate when the water hits the black ink
  • The science is called chromatography where a gas or liquid flows through a stationary substance
  • The ingredients within the substance move at different rates
  • Paint, for example, becomes a color by absorbing some of the colors in white light and reflecting other colors. Blue looks blue because it reflects the blue part of light and absorbs all other colors. When you mix many colors, each color added absorbs more light, leaving less light to reflect to your eye. So, when many colors are mixed together, we have black.

What Colors Make Black?

According to WikiHow, “Black paint can be made with equal parts redyellow, and blue paint mixed together on a palette. You can also mix complementary colors such as blue and orange, red and green, or yellow and purple. Mixing blue and brown can also result in a rich black.”

What Next?

  • Try red or another color
  • Experiment with different types of markers
  • Try different types of paper

Read about Color

  • White Rabbit’s Color Book
  • Mouse Paint
  • Little Blue and Little Yellow
  • Blue Goose
  • Charley Harper Colors

More Science

Marnie Craycroft

Marnie hails from Maine where she spent summers buried in sand and winters buried in snow. She is the daughter of a nearly four decade veteran of the public school systems. Teaching has always been a part of her life. She founded Carrots Are Orange in 2010.

Carrots Are Orange is a Montessori learning and living website for parents and teachers.

Marnie graduated from Wesleyan University in 1999 with a BA in Economics. She spent nearly a decade working in investment management. In 2006, she earned her MA in business from the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business.

Marnie moved to the west coast in 1999 and currently lives in Boulder with her husband and three sons. She is Montessori trained. Her work has been featured on Apartment Therapy, Buzzfeed, PBS Kids, BabyCenter, the Melissa & Doug blog, Huffington Post, and Besides writing, passions include running (usually after her three sons), photography, and outdoor adventures.

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