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Paper Chromatography vs. Column Chromatography: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on May 19, 2024
Paper chromatography separates compounds using a paper strip as the stationary phase, while column chromatography uses a column filled with a solid stationary phase.

Key Differences

Paper chromatography operates on the principle of partition chromatography, where components are separated based on differential partitioning between the mobile and stationary phases. Here, the stationary phase is a special paper. In column chromatography, the separation is based on the differential adsorption of substances to the solid stationary phase within a column.
In paper chromatography, the stationary phase is a strip of chromatography paper, and the mobile phase is a solvent that travels up the paper by capillary action. Column chromatography utilizes a column packed with a solid stationary phase, and the mobile phase is a liquid or gas that passes through the column.
Paper chromatography is commonly used for educational purposes and simple separations, such as identifying components in inks or plant extracts. Column chromatography is more widely used in complex sample purification, such as in pharmaceuticals, biochemistry, and industrial applications.
The resolution in paper chromatography is generally lower compared to column chromatography. Column chromatography provides higher resolution and is more efficient for separating complex mixtures due to better control over the process.
Paper chromatography is suitable for small-scale, less complex analyses. Column chromatography, on the other hand, can be scaled up for larger quantities and is capable of handling more complex separations.

Comparison Chart

Stationary Phase

Paper strip
Solid material in a column

Mobile Phase

Solvent moves by capillary action
Liquid or gas flows through column


Simple separations, educational
Complex mixtures, industrial uses


Generally lower
Higher, more efficient


Suitable for small-scale analyses
Scalable for large quantities

Paper Chromatography and Column Chromatography Definitions

Paper Chromatography

A method employing paper for the stationary phase in partition chromatography.
They utilized paper chromatography to analyze the components in the herbal medicine.

Column Chromatography

A technique involving the passage of a substance through a column for separation.
Column chromatography efficiently separated the different proteins from the cell lysate.

Paper Chromatography

Paper chromatography involves solvent movement through capillary action on a paper medium.
The different ink colors were easily identified using paper chromatography.

Column Chromatography

Column chromatography utilizes a column and different adsorption affinities for substance separation.
The plant extracts were fractionated using column chromatography for detailed analysis.

Paper Chromatography

A chromatographic technique where analytes are separated on a paper sheet.
Paper chromatography revealed the composition of the food coloring used in the cake.

Column Chromatography

A method where a mobile phase passes through a stationary phase in a column.
They optimized the column chromatography procedure for maximum yield of the purified product.

Paper Chromatography

Paper chromatography is a method using a paper strip as the stationary phase for separating substances.
In the lab, students used paper chromatography to separate the pigments in a leaf extract.

Column Chromatography

Column chromatography uses a column packed with solid material for separating compounds.
Column chromatography was used to purify the chemical compound from the reaction mixture.

Paper Chromatography

Paper chromatography, a simple chromatographic technique, uses paper as the matrix for separation.
Paper chromatography was chosen for its simplicity in separating amino acids in the sample.

Column Chromatography

A chromatographic method where separation occurs in a packed column.
The lab technician employed column chromatography for isolating the active pharmaceutical ingredient.


What are the typical applications of paper chromatography?

It's used for simple analyses like identifying plant pigments or ink components.

What is column chromatography?

Column chromatography involves separating compounds using a column filled with solid stationary material.

What kind of mobile phase is used in paper chromatography?

A liquid solvent that travels up the paper by capillary action.

How does column chromatography function?

It separates components based on differential adsorption to a stationary phase in a column.

What types of stationary phases are used in column chromatography?

Solid materials like silica gel, alumina, or various polymers.

How does paper chromatography work?

It separates substances based on their different rates of migration across a paper strip using a solvent.

What is paper chromatography?

Paper chromatography is a method using paper as the stationary phase for substance separation.

Is paper chromatography suitable for complex mixtures?

It's generally used for less complex mixtures due to lower resolution.

Can column chromatography handle large sample volumes?

Yes, it's scalable and can handle larger sample volumes and complex mixtures.

Is paper chromatography expensive?

It is a relatively low-cost method suitable for basic laboratory settings.

How do the resolutions of paper and column chromatography compare?

Column chromatography typically offers higher resolution than paper chromatography.

Can paper chromatography be automated?

It is a manual process and less amenable to automation compared to column chromatography.

What factors affect the separation in paper chromatography?

Factors include the nature of the paper, solvent, and the properties of the substances being separated.

How is the mobile phase chosen in column chromatography?

It's chosen based on the nature of the sample and the stationary phase to achieve optimal separation.

How versatile is column chromatography?

It is highly versatile and can be adapted for a wide range of separations.

Can paper chromatography separate colored substances only?

While it's often used for colored substances, it can separate colorless compounds with appropriate detection methods.

What are the limitations of column chromatography?

It requires more setup and can be more time-consuming and costly compared to simpler methods.

Is column chromatography suitable for educational purposes?

While useful, it may be too complex and costly for basic educational purposes compared to paper chromatography.

What are common uses of column chromatography?

Column chromatography is used in complex separations in pharmaceuticals, biochemistry, and industry.

Can both techniques be used for quantitative analysis?

Yes, both can be used for quantitative analysis, but column chromatography is generally more precise.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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