Paper Towel Art: A Fun & Easy Preschool/Toddler Science Experiment

5/12/22 - By Liz Baill

Looking for an art project that will wow your kids? They'll think you're a wizard when you demo this paper towel art magic trick, which also involves science for an added bonus. This one never ceases to amaze both kids and kids-at-heart and is super easy to do, making it perfect for everyone from toddlers to big kids. Plus, it uses materials you likely already have.

Here are step-by-step instructions on how to make your own paper towel art. For more STEAM fun for kids, check out our lists of 25 preschool science experiments, 64 easy science experiments for kids to do at home, and 100 awesome art projects for creative at-home fun.

Paper Towel Art Materials

  • A half sheet of a paper towel
  • Sharpies or permanent markers
  • Washable markers
  • A shallow dish of water

Paper Towel Art Instructions

Step one: easy, but crucial!

Step 1: Fold

Fold the paper towel in half. Boom—step one is done.

Step 2: Draw with Permanent Marker

Draw a picture using permanent marker on the top layer of the folded paper towel. Press hard so that the ink goes through to the second layer. You might have to retrace your drawing to get a faint outline.

Related: 25 Preschool Science Experiments: Simple Science for Toddlers through Kindergarten Kids

Let your kids' creativity run wild.

Step 3: Draw with Washable Marker

Unfold the paper towel and draw with washable marker on the bottom layer, using the marks that went through as a guide. You can color in the outline or add new shapes to the design. Note that whatever you draw in washable marker will become blurry when dropped in water, so no need to be too precise.

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Don't forget to re-fold!

Step 4: Re-fold

Re-fold the paper towel. Check.

Step 5: Drop in Water and Yell, "Ta Da!"

Gather 'round as you drop your paper towel art into a shallow dish of water. The colors on the bottom layer will bleed through, animating your drawing and bringing it to life for a brief but magical moment. The science resides in the solubility of the materials: the permanent marker stays put in water, while the washable marker dissolves and comes through the paper towel.

Helpful Hints for Paper Towel Art

It's a Magical Moment

This is an ephemeral art project, meaning the artwork basically washes away when placed in water, so prepare those artists ahead of time and consider capturing the effect on video.

Related: 30 Easy Paper Crafts for Kids for an Arty Day at Home

Watch the colors on the bottom layer bleed through like magic!

Tips for Big Kids

Bigger kids can really get into the cause-and-effect angle of this project. Try a volcano on the outside of the towel with the eruption on the inside, or a cloud on the front with a rainbow that comes through. We love to use stencils for the outside drawing, which give a nice, bold shape.

Related: A Colorful Skittles Science Experiment for Kids

Abstract art can be just as magical.

Tricks for Artists who Toddle

Collaborate with your toddler by prepping the permanent-marker drawing ahead of time and having them add the washable marker on the inside. Toddlers can also take the abstract route, making washable marker scribbles appear behind permanent marker scribbles, still creating an awesome effect.

All photos are courtesy of the author.