How to Make Colored Smoke Bombs Work

Tips and Tricks for Making Colored Smoke

Blue Smoke Bomb
Colored smoke is made using a solvent or disperse dye, not by burning a chemical. Henrik Sorensen/Getty Images

Regular smoke bombs are easy to make and produce stunning, reliable results. You might think making colored smoke is as easy as adding a chemical that burns with... well... colored smoke. However, it is more complicated than that because most chemicals produce white, brown or at best yellow smoke. There are formulations for colored smoke that involve mixing in a special organic dye that will produce a colored cloud when the dye is vaporized.

The project is straightforward, but it's trickier to get great results because the goal is to heat the dye, but not ignite it, and then force it into the air. Here are some tips to ensure success.

Use an Appropriate Dye

You can't burn any old dye for colored smoke bombs! Laundry dye, for example, won't work. Examples of compounds that do work include para-nitroaniline red, auramine (yellow) and synthetic indigo (blue). There are several other dyes that will work. You can mix the dyes to get different colors.

Measure by Weight Not Volume

The proportions of ingredients are important. The volume of the ingredients may be affected by how they have been processed, so the weight is the best means of measurement.

Use Finely Powdered Materials

Even if you have the exact chemicals you need, you won't be able to get good results unless the consistency of the mixture is fine enough. This is true for most pyrotechnic formulations, so you may be aware of this.

If you aren't seeing good results, re-make the mixture, processing the ingredients separately in a coffee or spice mill before mixing them together. Never mill the oxidizer and the fuel in the same container, since a fire may result. Use a separate grinder for chemicals like potassium chlorate and potassium nitrate.

Reinforce the Canister for a Smoke Grenade

If you are making a smoke grenade, which is intended to shoot out a dense stream of smoke, you need to reinforce the paper or cardboard so that it won't blow apart under pressure, ruining your effect. It is common practice to glue cardboard circles onto the bottom of cylindrical smoke grenades. You can wrap strapping tape or masking tape around the container to give it strength. Tape around the fuse so that the smoke will have a small opening. This will cause the smoke to shoot out further.

Bend the Fuse to the Side and Tape It

Similarly, you don't want the smoke bomb to blow the fuse out of the canister before the smoke really gets going. If you bend the fuse to the side and tape it down, rather than leaving the fuse standing straight up in the tube, you'll reduce the chance that the smoke bomb won't light. Don't worry, the flame will still travel down the taped fuse into the smoke bomb.

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