Developing an Early Love of Science One Experiment at a Time

Rainbows are one of the most beautiful natural wonders and can teach us so much about color science for kids. After this five minute science activity everyone will walk away with their own magnificent rainbow paper that can be enjoyed year-round, rain or shine. And if you love this activity you will want to check our Five Minute Science series and our compilation of St. Patrick’s Day science experiments that include several more ways to make and play with rainbows!

Make a rainbow paper craft that changes colors as the paper is tipped back and forth in sunlight! Create gorgeous rainbow patterns and designs while teaching children the basics of thin film interference. Add this rainbow paper experiment to your list of simple experiments for kids and creative art and STEAM projects!

Getting Ready

*This post contains affiliate links. Please see our disclosure policy.

To make rainbow paper we gathered a few quick supplies:


The rainbow paper experiment is simple, but it does take some patience to get it just right. I made dozens of pieces of rainbow paper and about half of them turned out. Then my six-year-old daughter swooped in and made several stunning pieces right in a row. Don’t worry, I made a video of her doing it below so we can all copy her fine technique!

Make a rainbow paper craft that changes colors as the paper is tipped back and forth in sunlight! Create gorgeous rainbow patterns and designs while teaching children the basics of thin film interference. Add this rainbow paper experiment to your list of simple experiments for kids and creative art and STEAM projects!

I have had some readers express concern about the fumes nail polish creates. I suggest doing this experiment in a ventilated area with good air circulation. The exposure to nail polish is so brief that it shouldn’t cause any problems, but if you have a child that is especially sensitive to strong smells it may be best to either do this experiment outside or skip it altogether.

How to Make Rainbow Paper

When my daughter was ready, all she did was drip one little drop of nail polish into the bowl of water.

Make a rainbow paper craft that changes colors as the paper is tipped back and forth in sunlight! Create gorgeous rainbow patterns and designs while teaching children the basics of thin film interference. Add this rainbow paper experiment to your list of simple experiments for kids and creative art and STEAM projects!

She waited a couple of seconds and then dipped a piece of black paper into the water and pulled it out again. That’s it!

Make a rainbow paper craft that changes colors as the paper is tipped back and forth in sunlight! Create gorgeous rainbow patterns and designs while teaching children the basics of thin film interference. Add this rainbow paper experiment to your list of simple experiments for kids and creative art and STEAM projects!

We set the pieces of rainbow paper onto paper towels to dry. It was amazing to see how different each piece turned out!

I have also had success with placing the paper under the water first and then dripping one drop of clear nail polish on top of it. The nail polish disperses across the surface of the water within a couple of seconds. Once the nail polish spreads out, it’s safe to pull the paper out of the water, coating it with a thin film of clear nail polish.

Experiment to see which technique works best for you!

Make a rainbow paper craft that changes colors as the paper is tipped back and forth in sunlight! Create gorgeous rainbow patterns and designs while teaching children the basics of thin film interference. Add this rainbow paper experiment to your list of simple experiments for kids and creative art and STEAM projects!

The nail polish dries quickly on the surface of the water, which creates a film that won’t stick to the paper. To do this activity successfully it needs to be done quickly. Be sure to dip the paper into the water within 10-15 seconds after the drop of nail polish goes in.

If the nail polish does create a dry film on top, simply scoop it off and try again more quickly!

Easily print these directions for quick reference by clicking the button below:

We did this experiment several times with several pieces of paper. It was fascinating to see how each piece came out so differently!

Once the paper is dry (this only takes a few minutes) tilt the paper in different directions to see the rainbow patterns appear. Hold it next to a sunny window for best results!

Make a rainbow paper craft that changes colors as the paper is tipped back and forth in sunlight! Create gorgeous rainbow patterns and designs while teaching children the basics of thin film interference. Add this rainbow paper experiment to your list of simple experiments for kids and creative art and STEAM projects!

The Science Behind Rainbow Paper

When you dip the paper into the water it gets coated with a thin layer of nail polish. The rainbow colors you see are caused by thin-film interference. (Read a more detailed explanation of thin-film interference on Wikipedia.)

You will notice that the colors on the paper change as the you tip the paper back and forth. This happens because light hits the paper at different angles as you tip it.

Make a rainbow paper craft that changes colors as the paper is tipped back and forth in sunlight! Create gorgeous rainbow patterns and designs while teaching children the basics of thin film interference. Add this rainbow paper experiment to your list of simple experiments for kids and creative art and STEAM projects!

The colors of the rainbow vary with the thickness of the nail polish on the paper. This is why each piece of rainbow paper is varied and unique!

This is the same effect you will see when oil mixes with water on the road on rainy days. Thin film interference is also visible on the surface of soap bubbles at just the right angle to the light.

Make a rainbow paper craft that changes colors as the paper is tipped back and forth in sunlight! Create gorgeous rainbow patterns and designs while teaching children the basics of thin film interference. Add this rainbow paper experiment to your list of simple experiments for kids and creative art and STEAM projects!
Try to find each of the following colors on your rainbow paper: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet!

There are many creative methods for making colored paper. Here are a few more of our favorite STEAM projects for making different kinds of rainbow papers with supplies we already have at home:

Each piece of rainbow paper is sturdy and resilient. They can be cut up and used for a rainbow paper craft such as a Mother’s Day card, a valentine, or paper wings on an insect.

Make a rainbow paper craft that changes colors as the paper is tipped back and forth in sunlight! Create gorgeous rainbow patterns and designs while teaching children the basics of thin film interference. Add this rainbow paper experiment to your list of simple experiments for kids and creative art and STEAM projects!

Check out the video of my daughter making her fabulous rainbow paper to see her technique! (She actually made most of the best pieces I photographed for this post.)

Science for Kids All Year

If you like simple experiments for kids, you are going to LOVE receiving them on your doorstep each month! The Little Passports Science Expeditions kits are full of science experiments related to themes that excite kids like rockets, forensic science, vision, caves and crystals, hydrology, and more.

Simple experiments for kids easy experiments for kids

Sign up now and you’ll receive monthly hands-on experiment kits that include a lab notebook, all the required materials, instructions, scientific explanations, and a 16-page comic book with a science mystery to solve delivered right to your door. It’s irresistible!

Tell Me More About Little Passports Science Expeditions!

More Simple Experiments for Kids –>

Make science fun and playful by making a magnet powered car! Make a road and see if you can push/pull your car in the right direction without touching it.

Receive a FREE Science Packet by Entering Your Email Address Below



By | 2018-03-26T15:53:36+00:00 March 6th, 2018|Art, Five Minute Science, Science, St Patrick's Day|84 Comments

84 Comments

  1. Dhiyana February 21, 2015 at 4:27 pm - Reply

    Thanks for hosting! Rainbow paper is a great idea. We will surely try this out!

    • Crystal February 21, 2015 at 11:02 pm - Reply

      Awesome, thanks for stopping by!

  2. Natalie PlanetSmartyPants February 21, 2015 at 5:54 pm - Reply

    How interesting! We have to try it out!

    • Crystal February 21, 2015 at 11:03 pm - Reply

      Definitely, it’s one of the easiest and most impressive science activities we have done ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Samantha February 21, 2015 at 8:16 pm - Reply

    This is the coolest science activity! My son would get a kick out of this! I’ll have to see if I have an clear nail polish!

  4. Christy McGuire February 21, 2015 at 10:23 pm - Reply

    Very interesting project! Diffraction is one oft favorite things.

    • Crystal February 21, 2015 at 11:04 pm - Reply

      I know, anytime you can make a rainbow it’s going to be a hit ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. The Practical Mom February 23, 2015 at 4:54 am - Reply

    We first tried with my old OPI sparkle nail polish since I was *pretty* sure it’s kind of a top coat with sparkles in it, lol. I was wrong! It didn’t work! Since the nail polish drops would just sink to the bottom.

    We tried it again, with a top coat (I went and bought some) on Monday morning. It was perfect since it took only ten minutes and cheered him up to get ready for school! Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚

    ThePracticalMomBlog.BlogSpot.in

    • Crystal February 24, 2015 at 6:38 am - Reply

      I am so happy to hear that it worked well for you the second time! And it’s good to know about the sparkle nail polish. I love that you experimented to see if it would work. Now we all know something new!

  6. Morna Piper February 24, 2015 at 5:18 pm - Reply

    This looks amazing. I wonder how old the nail polish can be – it’s been a while since I’ve had time for a manicure!! Your pictures are lovely as well. #pintorials

    • Crystal February 24, 2015 at 9:46 pm - Reply

      I know, right? The nail polish I used is very old, it kind of looks yellowish in the bottle. It worked for us!

  7. Suzie's Home Education Ideas February 25, 2015 at 4:40 am - Reply

    What a wonderful activity!! I have always wanted to do this but never really knew how to! Pinning and sharing. Thank you for posting on my facebook page.

    • Crystal February 25, 2015 at 6:22 am - Reply

      Thank you for sharing! I’m so pleased that you like this activity ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Cerys Parker February 25, 2015 at 6:03 pm - Reply

    This was so fun to do. I love the effect it’s produced Pinned it.

    • Crystal March 2, 2015 at 12:14 am - Reply

      Yay, another success!! Thanks for pinning ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Lisa R. Nelson, CWS February 26, 2015 at 4:19 pm - Reply

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Lisa Nelson February 26, 2015 at 4:20 pm - Reply

    WOW, we have to try this. Thanks so much for sharing! These are the experiments I love – easy and cool!

    • Crystal March 2, 2015 at 12:15 am - Reply

      I know, right? Sometimes the best activities are simple!!

  11. lindseyk February 27, 2015 at 7:46 pm - Reply

    This is brilliant! I haven’t done any scientific activities with my 2 and this sounds like a fun way to start. Thanks for linking. #weloveweekends

    • Crystal March 2, 2015 at 12:16 am - Reply

      Awesome, this would be a great first science activity. Easy to set up, no mess, awesome results ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. PinkOddy March 1, 2015 at 4:50 pm - Reply

    Amazing my 7 year old would love this

  13. Peakle Pie March 6, 2015 at 3:11 pm - Reply

    Thank you for linking up on We Love Weekends last week – your post is featured on this week’s We Love Weekends via Peakle Pie. Hope to see you linking up again soon!

  14. Blanca Lafarga March 14, 2015 at 5:54 am - Reply

    Me parece muy divertido y si no te importa voy a poner un enlace en mi blog.
    Un saludo.

  15. Casey Walker April 2, 2015 at 5:30 am - Reply

    I see that your target audience in homeschoolers, so this might not have occurred to you when most of your audience can control the location in which they perform this experiment, but the ONE safety concern that I’d recommend people take into account is ventilation. I wanted to do this with one of my classes (who are creating all different kind of hand-printed/etc. papers for an upcoming project), but we have no windows or ventilation unit in my classroom. Bummer. I’ll still probably do this on my own, and maybe I can take my students outside, since it’s finally supposed to get warm in NJ.

    Thanks for sharing! I love reminding students how explorations in art can be built upon understanding science.

    • Crystal April 2, 2015 at 7:10 am - Reply

      Wow, how awful that your classroom has no windows or ventilation! Perhaps with warmer weather coming you take a special day outside to do this activity. The colors are more brilliant in natural sunlight anyway ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. cute nail colors April 4, 2015 at 4:11 pm - Reply

    Howdy just wanted to give you a brief heads up and
    let you know a few of the pictures aren’t loading
    correctly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue.
    I’ve tried it in two different internet browsers and both show the
    same results.

    • Crystal April 4, 2015 at 4:54 pm - Reply

      Thanks for letting me know ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. Heather April 7, 2015 at 11:51 am - Reply

    Does it matter the thickness of the paper? Constructรญon vs. cardstock?

    • Crystal April 7, 2015 at 3:39 pm - Reply

      No, it shouldn’t matter. I used cardstock, but construction paper should work just fine. Let me know how it goes!

  18. Amy Turberville May 20, 2015 at 9:52 am - Reply

    This is so cool! I can’t wait to do this with my son! Literally my favorite pin this week! Gotta share it on my Facebook page!

    • Crystal May 20, 2015 at 9:56 am - Reply

      Glad you like it! Thanks for sharing ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. Anonymous July 7, 2015 at 6:00 pm - Reply

    This is awesome! I am a summer camp leader and I have been trying to find new experiments to do with them! This is perfect! Thank you!

    • Crystal July 9, 2015 at 9:10 pm - Reply

      Fantstic, I’m so glad to hear it! Thanks for stopping by ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. marquis sellers July 23, 2015 at 11:58 pm - Reply

    My five yr old will love this! She love anything that’s similar to painting or anything craft related. We will definatly be doing this Friday ๐Ÿ™‚
    Thank u for posting!

  21. Pete Woods July 29, 2015 at 7:20 am - Reply

    Can’t wait to try this! But the explanation of how it works could be improved: rainbows work by refraction of light, while the rainbow paper works by interference, a very different process.

  22. hannah August 3, 2015 at 1:26 pm - Reply

    Does this actually work???? Do you have to use black paper?

    • Crystal August 6, 2015 at 7:00 pm - Reply

      It absolutely does work! And yes, black paper is best, though you could experiment to see what happens when you use other colors ๐Ÿ™‚ Report back and let me know how it works!

  23. Guest August 12, 2015 at 6:06 am - Reply

    Love this project! Is it just normal black paper that is used? In the pictures it looks very thin – almost like it’s tin foil.

    • Crystal August 12, 2015 at 8:35 am - Reply

      I used black cardstock, but any kind of black paper should work: construction paper, scrapbooking paper, cardstock.

  24. Rosy September 1, 2015 at 5:45 am - Reply

    I am going to do this with my 5 year old grand daughter

  25. Gwen September 8, 2015 at 5:53 pm - Reply

    How is there not a concern with children playing with toxic clear nail polish??

    • Crystal September 10, 2015 at 5:35 pm - Reply

      If your kids are prone to eating nail polish I wouldn’t let them handle it for sure! Use your own best judgement.

      • Magic and Mayhem February 11, 2016 at 8:34 am - Reply

        I think it’s a valid point. The fumes are also a concern, as one teacher pointed out in the comments. People should be sure to have good ventilation and make sure kids don’t get it coated on their hands and such. There are risks with nail polish and care should be taken, as with most science. It’s good to note it, just as a reminder. ๐Ÿ™‚

  26. Naoko November 16, 2015 at 8:09 pm - Reply

    Thank you for introducing such a nice experiment which would be children’s favorites.
    Can I use it to Easter eggs?

    • Crystal November 16, 2015 at 9:36 pm - Reply

      That’s an interesting question! I haven’t tried it on Easter eggs, but I think it would be interesting to try it out and see what happens!

    • Debbie January 24, 2016 at 5:12 pm - Reply

      You can do this with colored polishes on Easter eggs, you just can’t eat them. Do a pinterest search for directions. We did it last year, it was fun!

  27. sundus December 3, 2015 at 11:39 am - Reply

    What is clear nail polish?

    • Crystal December 3, 2015 at 8:56 pm - Reply

      It’s just nail polish that doesn’t have a color. You can click on the affiliate link above to see an example or you can buy it wherever you buy your cosmetics.

  28. p. young January 10, 2016 at 9:35 pm - Reply

    I’m a sixth grade science teacher and thought I’d heard of everything until I saw this. Can NOT wait to do this. My sixth graders will love this with our reflection unit. Bravo!! Love the links to products, printable directions, and awesome example pictures.

    • Crystal January 22, 2016 at 10:30 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much for stopping by! I look forward to hearing how your students enjoy it ๐Ÿ™‚

  29. Holly January 15, 2016 at 8:13 pm - Reply

    We tried this exactly as instructed. It was an epic fail. We could see a small amount of refracted light on a few but never got the results in the photo. Very disappointed.

    • Crystal January 22, 2016 at 10:36 pm - Reply

      Hi Holly, I’m so sorry it didn’t work out very well for you! I have noticed that it works best when you view the paper in the sunlight and after the paper is completely dry. Sometimes I have made some rainbow paper that didn’t look like it worked, but after it dried the colors became more vibrant.

      You could try some different nail polish? I have heard that some brands work better than others. Another technique to try is to immerse the paper in the bowl of water first, then drop the nail polish in and let it spread out over the surface before pulling the paper out. Others have had more success doing it this way rather than the way I outlined in my post.

      Good luck, and please try it again! Let me know if you have more success.

    • Sharon April 24, 2016 at 12:16 am - Reply

      Hi Holly. Did you ever get this to work? I also had no success and wondered if you worked out what went wrong in your case? I used black construction paper and cheap nail polish (acetates, etc)

  30. Lisa L January 24, 2016 at 3:45 pm - Reply

    Can you use the paper when it is dry for art projects?

  31. Amanda January 26, 2016 at 11:56 am - Reply

    I am doing this with my 3rd graders today. I practiced some first. I hope they like it!

    • Crystal January 27, 2016 at 10:01 pm - Reply

      Please let me know how it went!

  32. Ivan February 14, 2016 at 4:22 pm - Reply

    Hello, Could I explain exactly how it works? thanks ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Crystal April 16, 2016 at 7:22 am - Reply

      Sure! I don’t usually go into too much detail in my explanations because typically parents and educators are here just to get some fun activities for their kids to do with an easy explanation to go along with it. But if you want to go into more detail, by all means!

  33. Tracee February 22, 2016 at 7:45 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for posting this activity! I can’t wait to try it withy kids at school tomorrow!

  34. Tracee February 22, 2016 at 7:47 pm - Reply

    Oops, with *my kids lol

  35. Tara April 4, 2016 at 2:45 pm - Reply

    Do you completely submerge the paper or just lay it on top of the water?

    • Crystal April 7, 2016 at 4:26 pm - Reply

      Completely submerge it. Just real quick, in and out!

  36. Patrick A.P. Castaรฑeda April 18, 2016 at 11:04 pm - Reply

    what kind of black paper should be used? any kind?

    • Crystal April 19, 2016 at 8:14 pm - Reply

      Yes, any kind should work! I have made rainbow paper with construction paper and cardstock and they both work great.

  37. Cindy May 20, 2016 at 5:45 am - Reply

    The sunlight is actually refracted as it passes through the raindrops, causing the light to bend into different colors : )

  38. Pati June 23, 2016 at 8:02 pm - Reply

    Cool activity. I’ve done it with kids many times, but your explanation is not just simplified, it’s wrong.
    These iridescent, rainbow-like colors are caused by thin film interference. This is a good web site written for kids that explains the different ways colors are made. http://www.optics4kids.org/home/content/other-resources/articles/color,-thin-films,-and-interference/

    Leaving kids wondering is better than introducing a misconception. Misconceptions formed early are very hard for anyone to unlearn.

    • Crystal June 23, 2016 at 9:46 pm - Reply

      Thank you for your comment, Pati! I have updated the explanation to reflect more correct scientific principles.

  39. Nancy July 2, 2016 at 8:26 am - Reply

    Does it have to be black paper? And could the paper later be used for origami?

    • Crystal July 3, 2016 at 4:54 pm - Reply

      It definitely has to be dark paper to see the rainbow colors. I have never tried anything but black, but I imagine a dark blue or purple would probably work. And yes, you could definitely use it for origami! Great idea! Once the paper is dry the colors don’t rub off.

  40. Marie October 8, 2016 at 11:18 am - Reply

    Me and my little ones loved this tutorial it was so much fun. Thanks for sharing it! Head over to my website missmariesmedia.blogspot.com to see pictures of how ours turned out. We will definitely be trying this again!

    • Janet Runyon February 16, 2017 at 6:23 pm - Reply

      Hi Marie,

      How big were the pieces of paper that you used? They look large….

      Thanks!

  41. Sondra October 24, 2016 at 9:34 am - Reply

    How big should the paper be?

    • Crystal November 27, 2016 at 10:34 pm - Reply

      I usually do a square that’s 3-4 inches on each side. It can be bigger or smaller, though, depending on the size of the bowl you are using.

  42. Leah December 2, 2016 at 3:48 pm - Reply

    Thank you so so so so much. This really helped me

  43. Shameka December 15, 2016 at 4:43 pm - Reply

    I love this project.. Does it dry like this or does it dry as a clear coat?

    • Crystal December 15, 2016 at 8:28 pm - Reply

      It dries like this! From some angles it will look clear, but if you tilt it in the light you will see the rainbows!

  44. Melanie May 23, 2017 at 12:42 pm - Reply

    Question: Is this a chemical change that is taking place? What actually takes place? Is it light?

    • Crystal May 24, 2017 at 9:01 pm - Reply

      Hi Melanie,

      It’s not a chemical change that is happening. It’s simply creating thin film interference and reflecting light. It’s exactly the same thing that happens when it rains and you see puddles of oil on the street that look like a rainbow.

  45. Angela July 8, 2017 at 2:56 pm - Reply

    The black paper you used.. was it regular construction paper or was it card stock? I want to do this with my STEM class on Monday!!

    • Crystal July 9, 2017 at 9:54 pm - Reply

      Wonderful! I used card stock in all the photos, but black construction paper works just as well. I hope it goes well in your class!

Leave A Comment