How to Create Iridescent Art: A Colorful STEAM Bookmark Activity

Scientists use nanotechnology to create this effect, but you just need clear nail polish to learn how to create iridescent art! 

Iridescence is the phenomenon of certain surfaces that appear to gradually change color as the angle of view or the angle of illumination changes. It can be found naturally in animals like fish for camouflage in the water and for attracting mates, or in the wings of butterflies and bird feathers. It is also seen in bubbles and you won't believe how simple it is to find out how to create iridescent art yourself!

Materials you will need:

  • Black paper
  • Clear nail polish
  • Permanent marker(s) that can write on black paper
  • Shallow container (like Tupperware or a frozen dinner tray)
  • Scissors
  • Tweezers (Optional)
materials for how to create iridescent bookmarks


Step 1:

Cut out whatever size and shape bookmark you want to make. Smaller is easier to work with. Make sure it fits in your shallow container!

cut out shape of iridescent artwork

Step 2:

Write something or draw a picture on the paper with your markers.

draw art that will be under iridescent

Step 3:

Add enough water to the container so that it is about a half-inch deep.

pouring water over iridescent art

Step 4:

Hold one end of the black paper and slide it into the container until the paper is fully underwater.

slip paper under water

Step 5:

Add a single drop of nail polish onto the surface of the water above the paper. Make sure to just use one drop! Too much will ruin the effect!

The nail polish will dry quickly on top of the water. If it does, it will create a film that won’t stick to the paper. If the nail polish does create a dry film on top, simply scoop it off and try again more quickly!
It can take patience and practice to get this activity right!

add nail polish to water to create iridescent effect on your art

Step 6:

Now lift the paper out of the water, carefully dragging the face of the bookmark along the nail polish.

remove iridescent art from water

Step 7:

Leave your bookmark out to dry for about 10 minutes. Then check it out in different lights from different angles!

And that's it! You've mastered how to create iridescent art! Share your creations with us on social media by using #OrlandoScienceCenter or uploading it to our Science Showcase

finished Iridescent Bookmark art

Expand on the Activity!

Learn the science:

The nail polish spreads out into a super-thin film across the water, and then you transfer that film to the bookmark.

The film is only a few hundred nanometers thick, about as thick (or thin!) as a soap bubble. However, small differences in the thickness of the film change the color it reflects, so it creates the iridescent effect!

Can you think of any examples of iridescence in nature? Many bird feathers, butterfly wings, shells, and beetle shells have nano-sized, semi-transparent layers that create an iridescent effect when they reflect light. Scientists are also using nanotechnology to create iridescence for various materials and devices!

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