Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Experimenting with Color: Chromatography

This past week I decided to get my 2.5-year-old involved in a little science experiment.  She loves coloring and crafting, so I decided to take a twist on her favorite past-time and "break down" the concept of color.  We set out to separate the colors found in our washable markers and find out what colors are combined to create our favorite hues using a technique called "Chromatography."

For this experiment we gathered a few items:

  • Washable Markers
  • Water
  • Drinking cup
  • Coffee filter
  • Tape
  • Clothes Pins (optional, but what cloth diapering parent doesn't have these?)
I cut the coffee filter into long strips about 1/2-inch thick.  Next I asked my daughter to make a dot (or line) on the strip about 2 inches from one end.  She selected the color markers to use: a purple and a green in this experiment.
I placed a small amount of water in the bottom of the cup, and hung the coffee filter strip into the cup so that the bottom of the filter was submerged, but the marker dot was above the water line (this is critical because if you submerge your marker dot, all the marker will simply diffuse into the water).  The strips were secured to our tape using the clothes pins.

Now we waited.  It takes about 30 minutes for water to draw up the filter paper and drag the marker color along with it.  As the water crept up the filter paper, it pulled the different hues in the marker color at different rates and we began to see two colors separating from each color: Purple (red and blue), and Green (yellow and blue). 

We repeated this experiment again with primary colors (Yellow and Red) and saw no color separation: the colors stayed as yellow and red.  This is because primary colors (red, yellow, and blue) are combined to make all other colors, but they themselves consist of only a single hue.


  1. This is really neat! I'll have to remember this for when my daughter is a little older.

  2. GREAT idea! Thanks for sharing it on Artsy Play Wednesday! Off to pin it for you :)

    1. Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed reading.

  3. Very neat activity to do with a young child. I will keep this in mind for when my daughter is older.

    1. This is a tough concept. Our 2-yr-old is still too young to really understand everything we did- but she still liked coloring and seeing the colors. She also kept the finished color strips and played with them for several days. We'll have to try this again when she is older and we can talk more about the "science" behind this activity.

  4. Very cool! I will definitely be doing this!