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Splitting Ink: Marker Chromatography

Use paper chromatography to explore the colors used to make different colors of marker ink!

Three paper chromatography strips marked with different colored ink soak in three cups of solvents

What color dyes are in your favorite marker ink? Try paper chromatography to find out!

What color dye molecules are combined to make your favorite marker color? From creating with paint or colored pencils, you probably know that mixing certain colors makes predictable colors. Blue and red makes purple, for example. But what color molecules are used in a purple marker? Do different brands of purple markers all use the same color molecules? How about the ink in black markers? In this family science activity, families can experiment with a home version of paper chromatography using ordinary coffee filters, water, and water-soluble markers. With paper chromatography, you can separate the color of a marker into its individual color molecules. You may be surprised at the colors that combine together in one black marker compared to another!

Experiment with paper chromatography in either an independent student science project or a family-friendly science activity:

Making Connections

Paper chromatography can also be used to explore the pigments in leaves and flowers and even the dyes used to make the bright colors of hard-shell candies! The Candy Chromatography Science Kit is a convenient science kit that can be used to investigate the color composition of candies or ink using paper chromatography.

For students curious about chromatography, there are a number of other chromatography projects at Science Buddies, including Column Chromatography: Can you Separate the Dyes in Grape Soda Using Space Sand™?.

Waters Corporation is a proud sponsor of Science Buddies.

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