Paper Chromatography

In this activity, we will learn about paper chromatography and along the way we’ll also make a chromatography “flower”.


Suggested Age Group: Ages 6-12

Activity Time: 90 min

Prep Time: 15 min

Main Idea: Understand that chromatography is the chemistry of taking things apart through the use of colors.

Background Info:

Chromatography is used to separate a substance into its individual components. There are different phases with chromatography:  Stationary (solid or liquid supported by a solid) and Mobile (liquid or gas).

Most often, it is used to separate out the mixtures of different color dyes. For paper chromatography, dyes are marked out on a designated type of paper and a solvent (coffee filters and water in our case).

The solvent should be below the marks of dye. As the solvent travels up the paper, the different components of the dye travel at different rates- the more dye it has the more it will typically. This allows a chemist to determine what components came together to make a dye.


  • 1 coffee filter
  • Markers (Vis-a-Vis, washable, permanent)
  • Scissors
  • Clear cups (at least one per test strip)
  • Water
  • Tape
  • String
  • Clothespins
  • Paper towel
  • Pipe cleaner
  • Ruler
  • Wooden skewer/toothpick (one per test strip)

Prep (10-15 minutes):

  • Gather the necessary materials for the experiment. You should also decide on a design for the paper, for example, making individual “flowers” or test strips. (Flowers are great for younger ages, test strips are great for older ages).
  • For Flowers, you may want to prep coffee filters by cutting a hole in the center and preparing the “paper towel wicks”.
  • For test strips, you may choose to cut your coffee filters ahead of time into strips.
  • Prepare cups and water or have them available when ready as well as prep the drying area.

Learning Outcomes

At the completion of this activity you should be able to:

  1. TEST the process of paper chromatography
  2. PREDICT the results of your test and make OBSERVATIONS and COLLECT DATA
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