Science for Kids: Chromatography Butterfly Craft

Looking for some spring themed science for kids? You’ll definitely want to explore chromatography using coffee filters and markers. The results from this science experiment can even be used to create a colorful butterfly craft for kids!

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STEM / STEAM / Science for Kids: Chromatography Butterfly Craft using coffee filters and markers



Most kids are used to mixing colors with paints or play dough, but have your children had the chance to try separating color mixtures? In this science experiment for kids we’ll be exploring chromatography (separating mixtures). We’ll use coffee filters to separate the various pigments in markers to see how each color was created! (This post contains affiliate links.)


Science for Kids: Chromatography Butterfly Craft

Chromatography experiment for kids


Materials for Science Experiment & Butterfly Craft



Procedure to Chromatography Science Experiment

1. Choose one marker to experiment with first. (Hint~ black and brown are the most exciting!)
2. Take one coffee filter. Put it on a newspaper or some kind of material to protect your table. Draw a thick circle around the center of the coffee filter where the ridged part meets the flat center. Use a pencil to write the color of the marker being used right in the center. (You’ll want to know what the original color was being  used, and the pencil won’t smear and will remain intact after the experiment.)


Preparing coffee filters for chromatography experiment


3. Fold the coffee filter in half and then in half again, resulting in a cone shape.
4. Get a short glass of water. Pull apart the cone shaped coffee filter so it balances right on the glass with the tip of the cone just touching the water. (Be sure NOT to let the marker circle go in the water, just the uncolored tip of the coffee filter cone.)


Chromatography experiment for kids


5. Let it sit and watch what happens as the water begins to flow up the paper.


6. Repeat with different colored markers. Here are ours starting out…


Chromatography experiment for kids


… and just about done!


Chromatography experiment for kids


7. After the water has reached the outer edge of the coffee filter, place it on a newspaper to dry. (Lucy and her friend enjoyed illustrating their predictions on paper while waiting for each color to finish separating.)


Chromatography experiment for kids

8. Once the coffee filters are dry you can observe the results.

Directions for Using Coffee Filters to Make the Butterfly Craft

1. Cut your black pipe cleaners in half.


materials for butterfly craft for kids


2. Take one coffee filter and scrunch it up in the middle.


3. Wrap a black pipe cleaner around the center.


4. Shape the ends to form antennae.


Science for Kids: Chromatography Butterflies


5. Tie a string to the center and hang!


Science for Kids: Chromatography Butterflies

Watch it in action!

Question to Spark More Curiosity & Critical Thinking

What colors do you see? How many colors do you see? Which one do you find most interesting? Why?

Don’t forget to follow your child’s lead and let your him/her explore some more! Lucy and her friend wanted to try all the different colors to see if they’d separate. They wondered if the marker would separate on just regular paper and came up with  a way to try it out.

After the experiment was complete, the thinking continued! Lucy’s friend was determined to have the butterflies balance just right when tied on the string. We tried different placements of the string to see the different ways we could get the butterflies to hang.


Science for Kids: Chromatography Butterflies

Want to go even further?

Even more activities to inspire creativity and critical thinking for various ages.

  • Collect black markers from different brands. Complete the experiment with each. Compare the results.
  • Record your observations by creating a picture or chart showing what you discovered.
  • Make a list of more questions you came up with as you completed this experiment.
  • Some related books: White Rabbit’s Color BookLittle Blue and Little YellowMouse Paint


Science for Kids: Chromatography Butterflies

Love awesome, hands-on STEM activities? Check out our newest book, STEAM Kids with over 50 science, technology, engineering, art, and math activities to instill a love of learning and creativity in your child or students!



STEM / STEAM / Science for Kids: Chromatography Butterfly Craft using coffee filters and markers

Science for Kids: Chromatography Butterfly Craft ~ Buggy and Buddy

Art and Science for Kids: Explore chromatography using coffee filters and markers! Fun STEM / STEAM activity for children. Turn the results into a butterfly craft- perfect for spring! ~


  1. Looks like fun! We will have to try this out!

  2. I remember doing this ‘properly’ at school – Your way looks much more fun! And let’s face it we learn much better when we are having fun… Thanks, I will try this with my little ones 🙂

  3. I love this experience. Lucy and her friend look so relaxed and I can see the complicity between them… seem to have the world’s most animated conversation. I bought a few months ago thinking filters do it but must be forgotten in some drawer. Thanks for reminding me.

  4. OMG this is so COOL! What a great experiment. My girls are very into science experiments lately and I think we will have to give this one a try, oh and I LOVE that you turned them in to butterflies! Thanks so much for sharing on We Made That.

  5. These are wonderful!! Thanks for linking up to Share It Sat. again.

  6. Very cool! What a great lesson, and such beautiful results too!

  7. Debbie @ says:

    This is great! Thanks for sharing at Mom’s Library… pinned it!

  8. I love the combination of science and art. I’ve been wanting to do this chromatography experiment for a while but haven’t yet. Will definitely keep your tips in mind! Thanks for sharing!

  9. My girls love making butterflies, and I’m really hoping they will enjoy this science experiment also. Thanks for sharing so many critical thinking and writing exercises with this fun lesson.

    • Thanks, Elisa! I hope your girls enjoy it! I think my kids would have used every single coffee filter if I had let them~ they just couldn’t stop!

  10. Thanks so much for sharing this, Chelsey. 🙂 I haven’t tried an experiment like this with my son yet, and I think he’d really enjoy it. 🙂

  11. We did a similar version of this once, and my kids loved it. I like your variation on it.

    Thanks for linking up to Science Sunday!

  12. This is a wonderful activity with a beautiful result! Thanks for sharing at Mom’s Library!

  13. Love how you turn science experiment into an art project. The butterfly is beautiful! I shared your post on Twitter and Pinterest. I am also going to feature this on Mom’s Library linky round up Wednesday (I just started to co-host Mom’s Library). Thanks again for a wonderful post!

  14. Thanks for sharing on the After School Link-Up! I’m featuring several of your posts this week on Parent Teach Play: and I’ll be pinning your posts, too. This one was my favorite!! Please feel free to stop by and grab a featured button. Thanks again!

  15. Thanks so much for linking up to Discover and Explore. I love how you built on a wonderful science discovery by also turning it into a craft. Thanks for sharing!

    Excited to see what you share for next week’s Earth Day theme.

  16. I love this butterfly activity. I would like to invite you to link up this post to my Money Saving Monday Link Up. I would love to see your post posted there!

    Thank You,

  17. oh wow, these are fantastic. I have featuring in my summer science round up coming soon.

  18. You inspired me 🙂 We have our coffee filters sitting in water as I type this! Thanks for sharing such a fun idea!

  19. Gorgeous! #pintorials

  20. Such a fun art and science activity! Definitely pinning and using this for when we talk about butterfly in a few weeks! Thanks for sharing over at the Thoughtful Spot Weekly Blog Hop! You were featured as one of my favorites this week!

  21. Hi. This is such a cool idea. I have a question on repeating the process. Do you take the filter out of the each time you draw a different color circle or do you draw all the colors first then place in the glass jar? Thanks-Melissa

    • *out of the water each time…..

    • Thanks, Melissa! We drew one circle (only one color) per coffee filter. So one coffee filter had a black circle, one coffee filter had a brown circle etc. After drawing all the circles on the coffee filters, we placed each one in its own glass of water to watch the colors separate! Hope that helps!

  22. It looks like this experiment worked well for others, so it was disappointing to me that ours turned out the way it did. The water did not want to travel up our coffee filters very well and the little it did, it simply spread a bit of the same color around but did not really separate it. Some of the colors actually got into the water and colored our water the original colors, too, and then we were left with white filters. 🙁

  23. I can’t wait to try this with my daughter! I did have a question before we dive in head first: How long does it take from start to finish? I was thinking it would be a darling birthday party activity if it doesn’t take too long.

    • Hi Rachel! I’d say we let it sit in the water about 20 minutes or so, and the coffee filters should dry fairly quickly if you place them on newspaper to dry or out in the sun! Hope you all have fun!

  24. We tried this today but I only had brown coffee filters and it was a complete bust : (. I did use Mr. Sketch markers but the circles just made the water colored. I tried with Crayola markers too and same thing. My daughter didn’t mind since she was excited to mix the colored water but I guess there is really something different about the brown filters.

    • Thanks for sharing, Lyla. Interesting. I haven’t tried it with the brown filters, but we have some at home so I think I may give it a shot and see what my results are. So sorry it didn’t work out, but glad your little one still had fun! I’ll keep you posted on my results with the brown filters!

    • Just tried a brown filter, and it worked for us. You want to make sure only the tip of the cone is in the water, not any of the actual marker circle. Do you think that could have been the problem? I’m going to edit the directions above to be a bit more clear on that. Thanks again so much for sharing!

      • YES! That was the problem! We tried it again tonight and it worked perfectly. I guess I read too fast and my 5-year old was a little overexcited to dunk them. Thanks so much for responding. Looking forward to trying all your other fun projects.

  25. Hello!
    So I’m an aspiring teacher, and I am doing a practicum at school with preschoolers. I don’t have a lot of time to do some activities. All in all how long do you think this experiment takes? The water absorbing and the drying portions especially?
    Thank you!

    • Hi Ashley~ I’d say the water takes about 20-30 minutes to soak completely through the coffee filter. If you place the coffee filters on newspaper to dry after the color separates, they will dry fairly quickly- maybe another 20 minutes. If you can place them in the sun, it will speed it up even more. 🙂

  26. MaggieLouize says:

    Awesome idea! Question tho: the Mr. Sketch markers work best.. the link is for scented markers. Are these the ones you used, or the non scented ones??

  27. What a wonderful learning activity. I am featuring this with a link on my blog.


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