Soap-Film Painting

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Make a big canvas of iridescent color with pvc pipe! In this Exploratorium Science Snack, you'll need to cut and assemble some PVC pipe, but the pay-off, the soap-bubble canvas, is big. Explore rainbows and color with this fun activity.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Learning Time:
5 to 10 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
1 cent - $1 per student

Age Range:
Ages 6 - 18

Resource Type:


Materials List (per student)

  • For the sides of the frame: two 30-inch (76-centimeter) lengths
  • For the top and bottom of the frame: two 26.5-inch (67-cm) lengths
  • For the soap-film bar: one 25-in (63.5-cm) length
  • For the vertical leg segments: four 5-in (13-cm) lengths
  • For the horizontal leg segments: four 7-in (18-cm) lengths
  • For the bottom of the soap-film frame: two 3.5-in (9-cm) lengths
  • For the handle: one 1/2-in (1.25-cm) length (you can substitute another small object to act as a pull handle and keep the string from slipping through the screw eyes on the top bar)
  • Eight 1/2-in PVC elbows
  • Two 1/2-in PVC crosses
  • A few extra pieces of PVC pipe (for activities)
  • PVC cutter, hacksaw blade, or other way to cut PVC pipe
  • Eight screw eyes (size 112 works well)
  • Wallpaper tray (PVC dimensions noted above and shown in the photo accommodate a wallpaper tray with dimensions 33 × 7.5 × 4.5 in [83 × 19 × 11.5 cm]; adjust dimensions as necessary if a different-sized tray is used)
  • Strong string, about 10 ft (3 m)—good-quality braided twine or braided fishing line both work well
  • Electric drill
  • Drill bit—a 3/32-inch drill bit works for size 112 screw eyes (note that the drill size for the string holes depends on the string used; the holes should be large enough to let the pipe travel freely on the string)
  • A variety of objects to experiment with such as sharpened pencils, knitting needles, paper cups, and so on
  • Bubble solution made from 2/3 cup (150 mL) Dawn™ dishwashing liquid, plus 1 tablespoon glycerin (available in drugstores) mixed into one gallon (3.8 L) of water. Note: If you have trouble making good soap films, try using distilled water instead of tap water. Aging the solution overnight before use significantly increases the lifetime of the soap films (and bubbles).
  • Optional: a partner, siphon or lab syringe, epoxy


  • Life Sciences
    • Cells
      • Cell Structure and Function
    • Human Senses and Perception
      • Vision
  • Physical Sciences
    • Vibration and Waves
      • Diffraction and Interference
    • Light and Optics
      • Reflection and Refraction
      • Sunlight and Color


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Access Rights:

  • Free access