Paper Chromatography Flowers

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Today, I welcome the lovely people behind Whizz Pop Bang – a new and cool Kids’ Science Magazine. They share with us this great Science come Art activity — Chromatography Flowers. Whizz Pop Bang is has a kick starter fund raising campaign (only 11 days left), so if you want to be part of something exciting and new, head over to Whizz Pop Bang Support  now and make a pledge!

Use the power of science to make these gorgeously frilly flowers. Paper chromatography is a neat little science trick that you can use to easily separate the different coloured inks out of felt tip pens…

Chromatography flower - separate out the different colours from your ink pens - as if by magic. A wonderful & colourful science come art experiment for kids

Chromatography Flowers – All you need is:

  • White paper towels (aka kitchen roll) or coffee filters
  • Felt-tip pens (children’s water soluble pens are ideal)
  • Pipe cleaners
  • A cup or bowl
  • Scissors


It’s so easy…

Chromatography flower - fun science for kids - how to separate out colours from a black pen

  • Make a cone
    Fold a paper towel in half, in half again and in half again to make a triangle. Then cut the folded paper towel into an arc to make a circle shape when unfolded. Cut a hole in the centre of the circle by trimming off the point of your folded paper towel. Finally, curl the paper towel into a cone shape.

Chromatography flower - fun science for kids - prepping

  • Prepare your stand
    Pour a couple of centimetres of water into your cup or bowl. If necessary, dry the edge (the lip) of the cup or bowl with a towel, to make sure it’s completely dry. Place your cone into the water and adjust its height by curling around more or less so that it sits slightly taller than the top of the bowl.

Chromatography flower - fun science for kids - how to separate out colours from felt tip pens

  • Draw a design
    Take a fresh paper towel, rest it on some scrap newspaper (to prevent the pen from going through the paper towel onto your table) and place a coin in the centre. Draw a design around the coin using felt-tip pens – you can do whatever design you like!
  • Set up the chromatograph
    By now the water should have wicked right up to the top of the cone in the bowl. Place your dry paper towel (complete with its coin) carefully onto the top of the wet one so that the coin is resting over the wet cone and weighing down the dry paper towel. The edges of the dry paper towel should be resting on the outside of the bowl.

The fun and clever science bit!
Watch what happens over the next few minutes. The water should dissolve the ink and spread it gradually outwards, separating the different colours as it goes. Some of the inks will get carried further out than others. The ink in felt-tip pens is made up of several different colours, which get carried along at different rates – some travel slowly and get dragged behind, whilst others travel faster and get carried further outwards. Scientists can use this technique to help identify different inks – it’s called paper chromatography.

  • Leave to dry
    When your ink has made a large enough circle (in around 5-20 minutes time), take it off the bowl and hang it somewhere to dry before cutting around it to make a raggedy circle shape (if such a thing existed!).
  • Design some more!
    Repeat the above to make more flower designs (experiment with different coloured felt-tips) – you should be able to re-use your wet cone – or you could set up two or more to develop at the same time. Some paper towels can also be separated into two layers so that each one makes two circles.

Coffee Filter Flowers & Science Experiment in One - Chromatography for Kids

  • Put your flowers together
    Take two of your designs (it works well to have a larger one behind, and a smaller one in front) and scrunch them both in the middle slightly to make a flower shape. At the back, twist a pipe cleaner around the middles of both pieces. Pop your flowers into a vase and step back to admire!

Chromatography - fun science for kids - how to separate out colours from a black pen

Or, if you don’t fancy flowers, leave your designs flat and stick them onto a window instead – they look especially beautiful with the light shining through.


If you had fun with this activity, please help us to launch exciting new kids’ science magazine, Whizz Pop Bang by pledging your support here:  Whizz Pop Bang Support . Whizz Pop Bang will be packed full of exciting science activities, interesting articles, puzzle and facts to help inspire 6-11 year-old children into science. For more information visit Whizz Pop Bang.