How to Color Candles
London with Particle Goods started making candles in 2017. She loves scent's link to memories and emotions. Learn more about how she got started in this interview. She previously shared her amazing tips for How to Make Soy Wax Candles and now she's sharing her color expertise. Learn more below!
There are a multitude of candle dyes on the market, and quite a few off-label colorants you might be curious about or tempted to try in candle making such as micas, oxides/pigments, crayons, and food coloring. After considerable testing, I can tell you that not all colorants and dyes are the same when it comes to functioning in your finished candle, especially vegetable wax candles like soy and coconut.
So, let’s start with the ones you have around the house that seem like they SHOULD work.
The standard food coloring used for tinting your favorite desserts seems like an obvious choice. They are ultra-concentrated, economical, and come in an array of colors. The problem with these liquid and gel colorants is they contain ingredients like water, propylene glycol (which attracts water), glycerin, citric acid, alcohol, high fructose corn syrup, agar gum, and other complicated additives that are unable to bond with the wax.
This test was the easiest, because it was clear from the beginning that the food coloring would not blend or bind, and it immediately beaded up and sank to the bottom. No amount of stirring would incorporate, as you can see in the photos below. It should also be noted that some additives, which are perfectly safe, can become dangerous in an application such as a candle, which involves an open flame. As tempting as it might be to reach for those tiny food coloring bottles in your next candle project, this one is clearly a fail!
Who doesn’t have a few miscellaneous crayons in their art stash? Using crayons to color candles has been widely popularized by DIY YouTubers. Their logic seems sound at first glance. After all, crayons are made of wax, and candles are made of wax, so this should be a match made in heaven right? Not quite.
Crayons are made primarily of wax, specifically paraffin, but they also contain insoluble pigments/oxides which are powder colorants added to the wax. Some crayon hues require more pigment, meaning they are denser and contain more powder particles.
These particles will produce a beautiful color in your candle wax, but will quickly clog the wick. A candle works through capillary action, meaning the wax melts and is drawn up the wick. Colorants such as crayons are too dense, and your candle will most likely burn itself out well before reaching a full melt pool. You’ll likely notice a change in texture and smell while burning as well.
For this test, I used a cerulean blue Crayola crayon at 0.5 grams to 8 ounces of wax.
Let’s take a look at some ingredients that work well in other applications, like soap making, but might be a little more challenging in candle making.
Powder pigments are effective in coloring a wide variety of cosmetic and beauty products, as well as art tools such as the crayons we just covered. These powders are often oil dispersible but not soluble, which means that you’re bound to experience the same issues we did with the crayon. Pigments vary in particle size and cannot fully incorporate or melt into the wax.
You’ll see in our trial that the Ultramarine Pink Oxide quickly fell to the bottom of the glass pitcher and the finished candle. During the test burn, the flame struggled to stay lit and eventually burned itself out about 30 minutes in because the particles are too large to travel up the wick. While the color was quite pretty, this is not a functioning colorant for candle making.
Micas have been used in cosmetic and beauty products for ages. Mica is a naturally-occurring mineral found all over the world, and many micas are often coated in additional minerals such as iron and tin oxides. Mica has a beautiful reflective quality much like glitter, but it's finer in consistency and particle size.
After several different trials, I found that while not the best option for a colorant in candles, mica can still be used as a finishing touch to your candle if used carefully. The main issue with using mica as a sole colorant again has to do with the particle density and insolubility. The mica does not fully incorporate into the wax and at best will sink to the bottom or produce uneven color. The mica will inhibit the candle’s ability to burn properly by clogging the wick and causing it to self-extinguish. Mica would be suitable for a project such as wax melts/tarts where there is no wick, and the effects are stunning!
For the first test, I incorporated purple mica directly into the wax before pouring at a ratio of approximately 1/32 teaspoon to 1 pound wax. The mica did color the wax, but the majority of the mica settled at the bottom. The candle did not self-extinguish during the burn test, but it struggled to maintain a healthy flame and burned unevenly. It didn’t quite reach a full melt pool and left some wax hang up on the sides.
For the second test, I only topped off the candle with wax containing white mica in a layer less than 1/8” thick and using remains of mica-infused wax. This time during the burn test, the flame struggled and self-extinguished within 30 minutes.
A final option was to gently rub mica on the surface of a cooled candle and burn. This yielded the best result during the burn test and I was able to achieve a strong flame and full melt pool with no issues.
Candle dye is a synthetic chemical specifically formulated for use in candle wax. Most commonly made from anilines (an oily chemical substrate), these are water soluble and provide optimal color and function in your candles. Candle dye can come in liquid, flake, or block form. Liquids are great for mixing colors and achieving high color saturation, while block and dye flakes work best for medium and pastel shades.
The Bramble Berry dye flakes all achieved medium and vivid saturated colors with less than ½ teaspoon per pound. When using dye specifically formulated for candles, you should not encounter wick clogging issues if using the proper ratios. Your color will be even and well distributed.
One note, some fragrances may alter the finished color. When looking at fragrance oils that have high amounts of vanillin in them, testing would be encouraged. Essentials like sweet orange oil can also change the colorant’s finished hue or can change over time in the finished candle.
Dyes are UV light sensitive, so when working with these, I recommend not curing them in front of a bright window and keeping them stored in a shaded area not in direct sunlight. Using a UV inhibitor should help your colors stay vivid over time and reduce the likelihood of fading or discoloration.
As I noted earlier, soy dye flakes are generally recommended for pastel to medium colors. That being said, I found it easy to achieve deep shades with these flakes. Always add the dye when the wax is at its hottest to ensure it fully melts. Around 185° F is the recommended temperature to add them, or if you’re using the double boiler method you can add them in with the wax and melt it all together.
The dye flakes vary in size, so the best way to ensure consistent measurements is to break them up with your fingers before measuring. Unlike a dye block, where a significant amount of stirring is needed, or liquid dye that can be a bit messy, I felt the dye flakes were incredibly easy to use and yielded consistent results.
- For a medium shade, the recommended usage is 1/4 teaspoon to 1 pound wax.
- For a dark shade, 1/2 teaspoon to 1 pound wax should be plenty, and it may require less to achieve the desired color depth! I found that some colors naturally varied in intensity, such as the Strawberry Red, which has a high amount of opacity even at a high temperature so that when mixed it’s pretty true to the finished color.
How to test your color
To test the shade of your color before pouring, I recommend a paper test. Take a small strip of parchment paper and dip it into the wax (you can also use a spoon to place a small amount onto a piece of paper) and let it cool over the next minute or so.
As the wax cools, you will be able to tell what that color will look like in your finished candle. We recommend testing your color before adding fragrance so that if you need to add more dye flakes and place back on the double boiler, you don’t lose any fragrance.
Color effects and mixing
You can mix your dye flake colors to make additional colors. Keep a log to record your measurements so you can recreate them! Layering is a fun way to incorporate color into your candle projects, but might take a little practice. Here are a few fun examples.
When layering your colors, always allow to cool completely (fully opaque and no longer warm) before pouring the next layer. It’s recommended to pour at a cooler temperature, no higher than 140° F, to ensure the colors do not bleed. Some frosting effects or loss of glass adhesion may occur, especially if you wait too long to pour between layers and the wax has time to contract from the glass.
For the rainbow striped candle, I used 1.25 ounces of wax for each color at the medium 1/4 teaspoon in 1 pound usage rate and poured at 135° F. For the geometric layered candle, I varied the usage rate to create more color contrast, but also poured at 135° F for each layer. The watermelon candle used a medium color ratio and the amounts were estimated by eye while pouring.
Another effect I attempted was swirling/marbling. This proved to be a bit of a challenge, but I think with practice some interesting effects can be achieved. The trick is getting the consistency of the wax just right.
Pouring at high temperatures/adding the wax at different temperatures while trying to blend them did not yield good results.
First, I used a pipette to drizzle colored wax all around the edge of the glass and let cool completely before pouring the white wax at 160° F and 140° F. This resulted in a splotchy-looking candle at both temperatures. (The Charcoal Dye Flakes may also have not fully incorporated due to my own error, so it also resulted in a more variegated color).
I also poured white wax at around 150° F and let cool to 135° F, then used a pipette to drop in colored wax at 160° F. Result was muddy and didn’t resemble a swirl or marbled effect.
I also alternated pouring each color, both at 135° F, into the container until full. I paused for a minute or two between layers to allow wax colors to pool together and set up a little. This yielded a result closest to the marbled/swirl effect I was going for. Let sit in between pours for about 1-3 minutes for the best effect.
This blending technique works well in a mold and sets up quickly, which makes it perfect for a project like wax melts. Like everything, practice makes perfect!
Adding color to your candles can really give your candle personality. Show us how you’re using these techniques to add color to your candles using #BrambleOn!