- Watch the video.
- Make your own marbled cards.
- Read below about the science involved.
- Tell us about it in your journal
- What colors did you use on your card?
- Did the food coloring “float” on the shaving cream?
- Why didn’t the food coloring dissolve into the shaving cream? Hint … read the science section below.
- Share a picture of the cards that you made.
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Explore The Science
The following explanation of the science involved in paper marbling comes from the Science Buddies website:
Paper marbling is an artistic method in which colors floating on a liquid surface are transferred onto paper to create a marbled pattern. The art of paper marbling dates back to the 10th century where Japanese artists developed a technique called “suminagashi,” which means “floating ink.” Oil-based ink is dropped into a shallow pan of water where it floats on the surface. Next, paper is laid on top of the floating ink and the color transfers to the paper’s surface.
Another paper marbling method that originated in Turkey and Central Asia involves a thick liquid, called size, made from substances such as carrageenan or cornstarch. In this method, the liquid has to be thickened as the colors used are water-based and would otherwise not float. To make the colors float and spread even better, they are mixed with surfactants then dropped onto the size, which results in a pattern of floating color that can similarly be transferred onto paper.
Although they might not have known it then, this art technique involves a lot of science! The colors float because they are less dense than water. It is also important that the colors and the water do not mix. Whether a liquid mixes with another depends on their individual molecular structures. The molecules that make up a liquid can be either polar or nonpolar. The simple rule “like dissolves like” says that polar substances dissolve in polar liquids and nonpolar substances dissolve in nonpolar liquids. Water is a polar substance while oil is nonpolar, which is why they don’t mix.
Substances that dissolve in water are called hydrophilic and substances that do not are called hydrophobic. Surfactants are added to the colors because they influence their spreading behavior. Surfactants are special molecules that have a hydrophilic and a hydrophobic end, allowing them to spread out better by decreasing the surface tension of water. Surface tension holds the water molecules together at the surface as water molecules are slightly attracted to one another; at the water’s surface, they are more attracted to the other molecules around them than to the air above. This forms a thin “skin” of strongly attracted water molecules that are difficult to break through.