Rainbow Paper Thin Film Science Project

The rainbow paper has a shimmery metallic appearance.

The rainbow paper has a shimmery metallic appearance.

It’s super quick and easy to make rainbow paper! The rainbow effect results from light passing through a thin film, exactly like the beautiful interference patterns you see on bubbles. While bubbles pop, the rainbow stays on paper. You can do this project as a simple way to present thin film science or you can use the paper for crafts and art. The best part? I bet you have all the materials you need within easy reach right now!

Rainbow Paper Materials

  • Paper
  • Clear Nail Polish
  • Water
  • Plate or Shallow Bowl

I used dark construction paper because I wanted to see the texture from the paper and the dark background for pictures, but you can use whatever you have available. I used clear top coat for these pictures, but I tested other types of nail polish. They work too, although honestly I prefer the appearance from the clear coat the best.

Let’s Make Rainbow Paper!

  1. Pour a bit of water into your dish.
  2. Slide a piece of paper into the water.
  3. Drip a drop of nail polish onto the water. See it spread out into a film?
  4. Position the paper to capture the film. If you mess up a bit, you can use a fingertip to adjust the position of the film on the paper. If it’s a complete disaster, it’s easy to wipe away the film from the damp paper and try again.
  5. Set your creation aside to dry.


  • Rainbow Paper Heart

    Rainbow Paper Heart

    Don’t be afraid to cut the paper into shapes before coating it.

  • Experiment with different paper colors and textures.
  • You can change the order of the steps where you drip the polish and then dip the paper into the water beneath the film to capture it. I did not have good luck with this because disturbing the water made a mess of the film. You may have better luck.
  • I did not have a problem with the polish sticking onto my dish, but it’s a possibility. You might want to avoid using your best china for this project. Disposable dishes or ones that can withstand nail polish remover are your best bet.

Thin Film Rainbow Science

How does it work? When you drip nail polish in water, it spreads out and polymerizes, forming a thin film. When white light strikes the film, some of it bounces back from the outer edge of the film, while other rays continue through the substance and bounce off the back part of the film. Light that continues into the film and back out travels a little bit further than the light that reflected off the outside. This creates waves that are slightly out of step with each other. As the waves merge, some add to each other, while others cancel each other out. The wavelength of the light changes, so you see different colors.