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Marker Chromatography - an amazing STEAM activity you can do at home

Marker Chromatography Art

Marker chromatography is one of my all-time favorite demonstrations to do with kids! This STEAM activity versatile enough to do with what you have on hand and definitely delivers the "WOW" factor.

It's a great project for decorating a tree, making beautiful butterflies, or for making a scientific version of a tie-dye t-shirt. Whatever you decide to do with your marker chromatography artwork, the process is the same.

Let's dig in...


You will need the following

  • Absorbent material (Coffee filter or white cotton material both work well)
  • Rubbing Alcohol (at least 80% Isopropyl or above)
  • Eyedropper
  • A coffee can (or a wide-mouthed jar or bowl)
  • Rubber band
  • Permanent markers in a variety of colors
  • Newspaper


Here are the steps you need to take to create your marker chromatography artwork:

  1. Lay a few newspapers down on your work surface.
  2. Now, have the students create a design with different colored dots in the center of the absorbent material you have chosen. (Note - Their design should stay within a 2- to a 3-inch radius as the design will spread out quite a bit.)
  3. Next, place the part of the design over the center of the coffee can or jar and secure it will rubber bands.
  4. Then, use the eyedropper to drop several drops of the alcohol in the center of the design and watch what happens! If the spreading out stops before the end of the can is reached, add a few more drops of alcohol. (Note – You will want to do this step in a well-ventilated area.)
  5. Repeat over and over again until the absorbent material is full of your students’ designs.
  6. Let it dry and then enjoy!

Results and Explanation

The students should see that as the alcohol spreads out, it picks up part of the ink – creating a beautiful design. Markers are made up of several different types of ink, which is soluble in isopropyl alcohol. The alcohol picks up the molecules of ink and carries them along the filter paper.

Some of these ink molecules are heavier than the others. So, it separates the ink into different colors by depositing the heavier molecules sooner than the lighter ones.

Wrapping it up

After you have finished making your creations, you can have a bit more fun by testing out different solvents (i.e. use water in place of the alcohol) or different types of markers to see how the results change.

Want more chemistry fun? Check out these science experiments:

Are you looking for an easy-to-use science curriculum to teach your students about chemistry? Here you go:

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