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Black Magic (Color Chromatography)

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Black Magic (Color Chromatography)

With a coffee filter, a black marker, and a cup of water, discover the secret colors hidden in black ink. This activity explores capillary action--how water moves up paper--and chromatography--how different elements of the ink are carried along at different rates, allowing you to see that black ink is actually made up of many different colors.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
5 to 10 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
1 cent - $1 per student

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity


Materials List (per student)

  • scissors
  • white paper coffee filter or paper towel
  • black non-permanent marker (water-based)
  • coffee cup or mug
  • water


  • Physical Sciences
    • Light and Optics
      • Reflection and Refraction
    • States of Matter
      • Liquids
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
      • Mass and Weight
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations

Informal Categories

  • Crime Science


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



  • All Rights Reserved, Exploratorium, ©1998


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