Radial Chromatography

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How many colors make black? Gather as many water soluble black markers as you can find. You will be amazed as black magically turns into vibrant purples, blues, greens, magenta, and more with just a drop of water! Draw a small circle in the middle of a coffee filter with a black marker, then use an eye dropper to drip water on the mark. A radial pattern of color spreads before you! This activity introduces the concept of chromatography. Chromatography comes from the Greek word chroma meaning "color" and graphia meaning "writing". Chromatography is a fun way to explore the separation of color pigments.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
1 cent - $1 per student

Age Range:
Ages 4 - 18

Resource Type:


Materials List (per student)

  • all the water soluble black markers you can find laying around
  • coffee filters
  • scissors
  • eye dropper
  • paper cups
  • water


  • Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
      • Solutions
    • States of Matter
      • Solids
      • Liquids
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations

Informal Categories

  • Arts and Crafts


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



  • All rights reserved, Science Museum of Minnesota, 1995

Funding Sources:

  • Unisys
  • Science Learning Network
  • National Science Foundation

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