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Activity: Fish Printing for Form and Function
NGSS Science and Engineering Practices
NGSS Crosscutting Concepts


  • Acrylic paint in trays
  • Water
  • Paint brushes
  • Towel
  • Fish (fresh, frozen, or rubber)
  • Fabric or paper
  • Cardboard 
  • Newspaper
  • Large bucket or sink
  • Cups for rinsing brushes
  • Permanent marker
  • Straight pins (optional)
  • Clay (optional)
  • Paper towels (optional)


  1. Cover the work surface with cardboard or newspaper.
  2. Choose a fish. If your fish has not yet been printed, gently clean the outside of the fish with soapy water to remove any gelatinous covering. Rinse the fish and pat it dry with a towel.
  3. Carefully lay the fish on the cardboard or newspaper.
  4. Fins, mouth, and gill covers, are important features of your fish. The following are all optional techniques for displaying fins and additional fish features:
    1. Fins: With the help of a partner, or with a straight pin, hold each fin in place. If using a pin, place the straight pin behind the largest spine of each fin and anchor it into the cardboard.
    2. Mouth: Insert a small piece of clay or paper towel to hold the mouth open the way you want it to appear. Make sure the clay or paper towel does not protrude from the mouth.
    3. Gill Covers: Support the gill covers by putting a small, piece of clay or paper towel under the gill opening. Dry the gill opening by blotting it with a paper towel.
  5. Paint the fish.
    1. Dip the paintbrush into one color of paint.
    2. Apply a thin, even coat of paint from the head to the tail of the fish. Do not paint back the other way from tail to head. Do not paint the eye. Be careful not to damage the scales when applying the paint. 
    3. Clean up any paint on the cardboard or newspaper that might get on the print.


Fig. 4.20. (A) painting the fish

Photo by Kanesa Duncan Seraphin




Activity Questions
  1. Describe how you developed your fish printing technique.
  2. What techniques produced the most detailed fish print?
  3. What are some factors that limit the detail attained from fish printing?
  4. How does fish printing compare with photography or drawings as a way of recording and displaying information about the features of a fish?
  5. Were you able to find all the anatomical parts labeled on the soldierfish on your fish (Fig. 4.9)? How is your fish similar to and different from the soliderfish?
  6. What did you observe, infer, or learn about your fish (or fish in general) through fish printing?
  7. If you printed more than one kind of fish or if one of your classmates printed fish that were different from yours, compare your specimens.
    1. How are the specimens alike and different?
    2. Which structures would you use to differentiate between different kinds of fish? Are these differences observable from a fish print?
  8. Do you think you were you able to print more features using gyotaku than if you had drawn the fish, or vice versa? Hypothesize reasons for your answer.
Exploring Our Fluid Earth, a product of the Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG), College of Education. University of Hawaii, 2011. This document may be freely reproduced and distributed for non-profit educational purposes.