Colorful Coffee Filter Flowers

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Mother’s Day is coming up on May 14th! In this artistic STEM activity, your child will create a beautiful gift while observing how water causes marker ink to spread, separate, and change on a coffee filter. It’s a scientific process otherwise known as “paper chromatography.” Once the coffee filters dry, your child will then wrap them into paper flowers to create a colorful bouquet for Mom (or any person they love)!

What We’re Learning & Skills We’re Building

  • Early science concepts – physical changes (mixing water and ink); absorption (ink and water seeping into the coffee filter); chromatography (see the fun experiment link under the More Learning section below)
  • Experimentation – testing several kinds of markers during the activity to see the different results 
  • Fine motor skills – using the small muscles in the hands to drip, pinch, and twist
  • Color mixing – mixing colors to create new, different colors


  • Standard-size “basket” coffee filters or small cone-shaped coffee filters (alternatives: paper towels or tissue paper cut into circles)
  • A variety of markers 
  • Drinking cups or jars (clear is ideal)
  • 2-4 tbsps water
  • Art tray, cookie cooling tray, or plate(s)
  • Dish towel or paper towels
  • Scotch tape or masking tape
  • (Optional) Pipe cleaners 

(Note: Cone-shaped coffee filters are thicker than basket coffee filters and may take longer to absorb water. Colors might be less vibrant if the filter paper is tan/brown.)



1. Have your child draw on one side of the coffee filters with the markers, making designs, drawing shapes, or coloring them completely. They can use a different color on each filter or many colors on one. They can draw close to the center or only on the edges. This is the time for artistic experimentation!

2. Set the filters aside to dry for a few minutes.

*Observe: Take note of what each coffee filter looks like when it’s dry. Older children can make predictions about how the colors and designs might change once the filters are placed in water. 

3. When the coffee filters are dry, fold them in half 3 times (so they look like pizza slices).


4. Pour about 2-4 tbsps of water into each cup/jar.

5. Place the pointy part of each of the folded coffee filters into the separate cups. Wait while the paper absorbs the water (about 5-15 minutes).

*Observe: Watch as the water slowly creeps up the filters. Ask, “What happens when the water reaches the colorful marker ink? Do the colors spread? Do they move? Do they mix together? Do some colors disappear?” And if only one marker color was used, ask, “Do new colors appear?”

6. Remove the filters from the water and carefully unfold them. Place each on the cookie cooling rack or tray/plate(s) lined with dish towels or paper towels. Let them dry completely (30-60 minutes).

*Observe: Once the filters are dry, ask, “Do the filters look the same as they did before we dipped them into water, or do they look different?” Point out the differences to young children. Older children can compare the results to their own predictions in step 2 above.


Making Flowers

  1. Once the colorful coffee filters are fully dry, fold them in half 3 times (the same way as before, so they look like pizza slices). 
  2. To make a stem, pinch the middle of a folded coffee filter and twist the bottom half.
  3. Wrap the twisted bottom half of the filter with a small piece of scotch tape (masking tape is fine, but it’s less sticky). Or, wrap a pipe cleaner around the twisted bottom.
  4. Create petals by separating and spreading out the folds on the top half of the filter.
  5. (Optional) Stack two unfolded, dry coffee filters on top of each other and repeat steps 3 & 4 to create fluffier flowers with many petals. This might be easier for older children and adults.
  6. Place the flowers in a dry vase to give as a gift for Mom or any other loved one! 


(Note: Colorful coffee filters can be used to create other things, not just flowers. Check out this list of simple coffee filter crafts.)

More Learning

  • What is chromatography? It’s a complex scientific process! In simple terms, it’s separating the parts of a mixture (marker ink) that’s been absorbed into/onto a material (coffee filter) by passing it through a solution (water). Chromatography can be used to measure how many different parts are in a mixture, and how much there is in each part.
  • Marker Ink: Chromatography can also show us all the different colors (pigments) that have been blended together to create the ink for just one marker color. For example, dipping a coffee filter that’s been colored with red marker into water might show streaks of orange, yellow, and pink ink – all of these colors were mixed together to create the red ink!
  • Experiment: Draw color on a coffee filter, then use a medicine dropper or pipette to drip water over the marker ink. Or, use a spray bottle to moisten the colored coffee filter. Black markers are fun and educational in chromatography activities because there are many colors that make up black ink. Check out this fun experiment!