How to Do Chromatography Using a Coffee Filter

Make a brilliant ink rainbow with nothing but water, a coffee filter, and a pen. The coffee filter acts as a canvas, dispersing the ink and water in such a way as to create a fun design across this "canvas". The end result can be used as a picture or added to a craft project involving paper.


  1. Image titled Do Chromatography Using a Coffee Filter Step 1
    Fill up the cup/bowl with water. Only put in a little bit, a good amount is about 1/8 of the cup's size. You won't want the ink to smear, so don't fill the cup all the way. You can adjust how much water you put in the cup, through trial and error.
  2. Image titled Do Chromatography Using a Coffee Filter Step 2
    Make a dot on the coffee filter or piece of paper using your choice of marker. Don't use a permanent marker, because it won't work unless you add ethanol into the water mix. It's easier to just use a regular marker. If using paper, turn the paper portrait style. The dot is best when it is perfectly centered and is about an inch (2.5cm) from the bottom of the paper.
    • Don't make the dot too small, because then it won't turn out as well as it could. Also, don't make it too wide, or it might smear or go off the paper. Just make a confident, bold, dot, maybe 2 mm across.
  3. Image titled Do Chromatography Using a Coffee Filter Step 3
    Put the chromatography in the water. Turn the filter or paper dot-side-down (portrait way, still) and carefully lower it into the water-filled bowl/cup. Make sure not to put the chromatography in the water past the dot, or this trick won't work.
  4. Image titled Do Chromatography Using a Coffee Filter Step 4
    Hold the paper in place. You have two possible approaches here, depending on your patience and skill at holding still. Either way, do not let the dot go under the water line:
    • Holding it by hand: You may find it is best to hold the paper by hand as the results tend to better. However, you will need to be patient and hold it very still for the best results. Perhaps grab a book to read while you wait.
    • Holding it from something balanced over the cup: If you have a toothpick, skewer, or something similar to secure the filter or paper to the side of the cup, punch it through the chromatography first, at the very top. Then balance the toothpick on the top of the cup, allowing the paper to dangle in below the dot.
  5. Image titled Do Chromatography Using a Coffee Filter Step 5
    Remove from the water. When your chromatography looks "done", pull it out of the cup. Allow the filter or paper to dry thoroughly; lay it on something like a wire cooling rack over the sink or a covered surface to allow the air to circulate quickly around it.
  6. Image titled Do Chromatography Using a Coffee Filter Step 6
    Enjoy your beautiful design. The chromatography could be used in a project or hung on the wall. Make lots and turn them into a garland or bunting across a room.


  • If you lower the filter or paper down and the water goes past the dot, quickly pull it out, then dump a little water out of the cup, and try again.
  • Try the experiment again and again, to see what works best for you. Most of all you will see how many different designs there are!


  • Don't put the chromatography in for too long, or it might not work. Ten minutes is plenty of time.
  • Don't put the dot under the water, or this process won't work.

Things You'll Need

  • A coffee filter (or any other type of plain paper you have)
  • Any type of marker, pen, or ink; it doesn't matter what color it is, you'll get a different result for every color and different writing utensil––complementary colors work the best
  • A cup/bowl to put your paper into––if you are using a coffee filter, you should use a bowl, because the coffee filters are so wide
  • Something to hold up the paper, like a toothpick (optional, and you can always do it with your hands)

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Categories: Crafts