These chromatography butterflies not the best example of chromatography, but are lots of fun to make and a fun demonstration of how the ink in most felt-tip pens contains a mixture of different colours. If we were to do this properly we’d use strips of blotting or filter paper, make a dot at the bottom with a felt pen and place in water. We’d then see the colours separate up the filter paper.
We mostly used the filter paper to make pretty pictures, but the children loved watching the ink spread through the paper.
What is paper chromatography?
Paper chromatography is used to separate mixtures of soluble substances. Mixtures separated this way are often coloured such as inks and plant pigments.
The different substances move through the chromatography paper at different rates which separates them.
If you want to see chromatography in action this candy chromatography investigation is great fun.
What you need to make chromatography butterflies
Decorations – pipecleaners, googly eyes
Felt Tip Pens
Other pens to test – sharpies/washable pens, whiteboard pens
Tray or plate
Instructions for Chromatography Butterflies
Place a piece of filter paper onto your tray or plate and use one type of pen to make dots either in the centre of the filter paper or all around.
Carefully drop water onto each pen mark and watch as the colours run.
Once you’ve finished decorating your filter paper leave to dry and turn into a butterfly.
Chromatography using felt tip pens
Do some colours run more easily? The left hand side paper started out as a black dot, you can see that the ink from that pen has started to separate, while the pink pen has not.
Try different types of pens and inks? Are some more water soluble than others?
We found the water had no effect on white board pens and with very washable felt tips the colour completely left the filter paper.
Once we’d finished playing with filter papers and pens we left them to dry and then turned them into butterflies and pop up cards.
We combined the pretty filter papers with our pop up cards to make a pop up Valentine.
More Chromatography Experiments
Did you know you can separate the colours in candy or food colouring using chromatography?
Buggy and Buddy has some beautiful chromatography flowers.
Playdough to Plato has a great leaf chromatography investigation
If you want to learn about caterpillars and butterflies try our edible butterfly lifecycle.