Abstract Liquid dielectrophoresis is exploited to initiate rapid, transient flow of aqueous liquids along co-planar electrodes patterned on insulating substrates. The flow induced by the non-uniform electric field leads to a new electrostatic equilibrium. A reduced-order model predicts the transient motion of the rivulet. When the field is removed, capillary instability breaks up the rivulet into regularly spaced droplets. Periodic circular bumps patterned on the structure, when spaced according to the most unstable wavelength based on Rayleigh's inviscid theory for the cylindrical liquid jet, lead to uniformly spaced and sized droplets. A correction factor, based on the dimensionless Ohnesorge number, accounts successfully for the effect of viscosity.