How to Flame Paint Copper

flame painting copper tutorial
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Flame painting copper is a real art form, but you can get nice results even as a beginner. It is a great way to create something beautiful in a very short time and get a feeling of accomplishment. 

Clean Your Copper

Start your experiment with clean copper. You will get better color results on “new” copper versus recycled pieces.  The copper piece to be flame colored should be evenly clean and free of any oils.

You can use sandpaper in different grits (end with 600 or higher), I use a buffing wheel and then finish the piece with hand buffing using steel wool. If you have grease stains, clean them off with soap and water or abrasive cleaners like Bon Ami, or baking soda. Then proceed to buffing. (Of course torching the piece will clean impurities off, but then you have to buff it shiny again.)

Flame Painting Facts

Copper goes through a series of color changes when it is heated. This order is pretty much the same every time, but there are environmental factors that affect the color results. Probably the biggest changes come from changes in humidity, you will note that you get different colors on a rainy day than on a dry sunny day! Even changes depending what time of day it is. How fun! And challenging. See the video for the full process.

flame painting copper

There are varying opinions on heating the copper for color. I believe most experts go with the “double heat” method, meaning you heat the entire piece first so it goes through all the color changes once and ends up dull looking “purple haze”. Let the copper cool and then start flame painting. Some people just go for painting the colors right away, or use quenching in water in between. It is an art of practice and experimentation and you will get differing opinions. My suggestion would be, do the preheat, let cool and then paint. I sometimes use the quenching method to get textural patina effects. I have noticed that when you quench and heat the same piece several times over, it will start creating something I call “patina swirls” that remain on the surface. For this mermaid tail design, that effect seemed to add more interest to the jewelry piece.

flame painting copper - you need a propane torch and clean copper
All you need is a simple propane micro torch (you might already have one for cooking!)
Various clear coats

Protecting the Flame Painted Finish

You will want to clear coat your flamed artwork after you are done to preserve the colors. (As you know copper tarnishes quickly in nature – just look at the Statue of Liberty…) There are various clear coats from hardware store spray to special jewelry coatings. Some people use renaissance wax, but it doesn’t last for a very long time or seal the copper properly. Spray coats work great for beginners and they can last for a long time, depending on use. (spray about three thin coats). I use Protectaclear by Everbrite – it is a special clear coat that is very durable, but is is also a bit more expensive.

Flame painting is a wonderful hobby – the results are always unique and there are no limits! (at least I don’t think so…) It is very rewarding to get a result you could not believe possible with flame only. So start experimenting!

Mermaid tail flame painted earrings
Flame painted Ginkgo earrings
Mermaid tail flame painted copper earrings
Flame painted mermaid tail earrings
Fused Northern lights earrings
Fused Northern lights earrings

30 thoughts on “How to Flame Paint Copper

  1. Nathaniel DeYoung says:

    This is so cool! What type of torch setup are you using? I have never done this before but really want to try it!

    • Mari says:

      Hi! It’s just a standard handheld butane torch. You don’t need a lot of heat for simple flame painting. If you want to get more detailed then you could benefit from a jeweler’s torch with special tips. It’s fun, just experiment!

    • Kathie f. says:

      I tried following directions but never got the intense colors, did i do something wrong or just not do enough. With jeweler’s torch- low flame? Or? Thank you so much i am anxious to try again. Kathie

      • Mari says:

        Most often the reason is the copper is too hot. Especially with smaller pieces it overheats very quickly. Also, keep in mind the weather conditions, some days you get certain colors, other days it’s just not happening. I would keep experimenting (that is really the key), you can try it on the same piece as many times as you wish. Copper doesn’t get “ruined” with flaming it. Not sure what type of bit is on your jeweler’s torch – it might be hotter than you need. (This is why I use the basic butane torch for small jewelry pieces.) If you see the colors getting “dull” no matter what you do, the metal is too hot. Let it cool and start over, and remember to let it cool in between when you apply heat to paint more. Experimenting is one of the best parts with flame painting, you get a feel for it the more you practice!

    • Mari says:

      Many different gauges will work, I mostly work between 22- 26 gauge. It’s really more about applying the heat, not letting the metal to over heat (And you can imagine thinner metal will heat quicker than a thicker gauge.) Also, if you have a bigger piece it will stay cooler for longer for flame painting, with a thinner and smaller pieces you are always having to try to cool the piece enough.

    • Mari says:

      I feel that the liquid Protectaclear will apply thicker, that’s currently the one I use. I’ve used many different spray on coats and I feel like the coat ends up being thinner. You may want to read more about it and see what will best work for you.

      • Cat says:

        Hi again, Mari… I’ve read the pros and cons of protectaclear and I’m willing to give it a shot. I’d hate to create a great piece and have a customer disappointed if the colors fade or the finish starts flaking. Have you had any problems with the pieces you’ve made having the colors dull or the finish flaking off?
        Thanks so much for the help.

  2. Mari says:

    What is really the best about this technique is that you have endless chances to experiment. Copper is a very forgiving metal, you can repolish it and try the flame painting again. If your flame painting did not come out the way you wanted, try again. Don’t give up! The atmosphere has its effect on it, how you apply the heat is so important. Experiment, “read” the metal and feel like you are in charge.

  3. Cat says:

    Hi again, Mari… I’ve read the pros and cons of protectaclear and I’m willing to give it a shot. I’d hate to create a great piece and have a customer disappointed if the colors fade or the finish starts flaking. Have you had any problems with the pieces you’ve made having the colors dull or the finish flaking off?
    Thanks so much for the help.

  4. Mari says:

    The finish has never flaked, it’s not really prone to do that. In theory, eventually any protective coat can wear off depending on use and the environment. I apply three coats of Protectaclear and haven’t had issues with copper. I have had some issues if I use it on brightly polished brass. (not sure why, brass with patina or even color created with fire doesn’t seem to turn) I believe if you expose the piece to humid atmosphere by the ocean for long periods of time there might not be a jewelry clear coat that can handle that. You don’t want to coat it so heavily that it ends up looking like plastic! I did talk to a craftsman in Maine who mentioned an old fashioned coat of boiled linseed oil. (I don’t really know much about that, you would have to research it.) Also, I guess there are clear coats for the automotive industry that are probably really thick, but again, you don’t want your metal creation to look like plastic. I have talked to other crafts people in bigger shows that make copper wall art (even large pieces) and they were also using Protectaclear. It seems to be the choice for jewelry makers and other artisan crafters.

  5. Carlie says:

    Thanks for your tutorial. I find that after I torch color a copper piece and then dip it in the Protectaclear or use a spray sealer the brilliant blues and purples I had achieved on the copper just all turn to an orange copper tone. The sealer takes away all the wonderful color. Is it just because I went with the first wave of colors that looked great and did not quench or do multiple color layers? Thanks for your advice.

    • Mari says:

      It is most likely because you went with the first wave of colors. I have noticed the colors become more resistant to the dulling effects of clear coat if you preheat and then paint (or sometimes I repaint over once painted, even twice). Not sure what the chemical explanation is, but the colors seem to get “sturdier” after the piece has already been heated. I was just looking pictures of some of my flame painted pieces (before and after clear coat) and if you get good blues a lot of them will remain after clear coating, although slightly maybe more purplish or lighter blue in color (and not as bright). So I think try again with proper preheating!

      • Lyz says:

        Very nice. I accidentally got into flame pained a class right after and started using a disc cutter ting when I was fold forming a lot of copper and really loving the colors I was accidentally getting as part of the annealing process. When I started a class soon after and started using a disk cutter for the first time my work went in a very different dirrection. Now with shelter in place and working at home instead of our communal studio it’s changing again. I said I was posting 40 pieces for lent they are really all over the place style wise. I think I need to finish and photograph 12 or 13 more before Easter let’s see what new breakthroughs happen.

        On the subject of colors getting dull if you coat them I have found that doesn’t happen with my dapped pieces, so maybe the trick is to work harden them with a wooden mallet or a half or so in a shot polisher? Toughen them up and bring up the color,

  6. Donna says:

    Thank you. Yours is the best tutorial I have found on this subject . 2 questions : you say humidity affects it – is a bad way , or just different? and then do you know the color progression ? thank you 😉

    • Mari says:

      Thank you for your comment! Humidity as well as other air quality factors affect the colors (chemicals, barometric pressure). It’s not anything bad, you will just get a different result. If the atmospheric conditions are always the same you can predict the results better. (For example if you want to create the same piece over and over looking the same.) Some people use a dehumidifier in their studio or even an air purifier.The general idea is that the hot colors go on first, then the cool colors. (I don’t know the exact order.) In theory there are 14-15 possible colors.Like the master flame painter Skip Mathews says “We are not trying to shoot for a specific color, that’s pretty close to insanity.” You try to create contrast and composition in the piece.

  7. Ludmila says:

    In Russia, there is a special varnish for metal, it is called TSAPON. It is used to protect metal from aggressive media, it is liquid, gives a thin layer but very glossy

  8. Mark says:

    Hi there! Great video! I did some heat painting with beautiful results but when I went to clearcoat, the second the coating touched the surface of my piece, the heat painted color disappeared!! What did I do wrong? It went from magenta and turquoise and deep yellow to all burnished orange when I clearcoated.

    • Mari says:

      You may want to read my tutorial on how to flame paint durable color! There is a trick to get colors that won’t fade as much when clear coated. It has to do with preheating the piece properly before doing the final colors. Also, some colors will dull more than others and the clear coat will always dull the whole piece somewhat due to how light reflects from the surface.

  9. Marie-Ange says:

    Hi Mari!
    I received a beautiful bracelet as a gift. The colors were beautiful at the beginning but in just few days they became dull. Is it possible to revive them? If so, what kind of product can I use? Thank you for your help 🙂

    • Mari says:

      It sounds like the bracelet you were given wasn’t coated to protect the flamed colors. (I’m assuming it was flame painted and not done with some other technique.) With flame painted copper it is not possible to revive the colors (the copper has oxidized), it would need to be redone. (flame painted over again)

    • Mari says:

      There are spray on coats that you can get from the hardware store that have different finishes. I tried those at first, but they really don’t last as long as Protectaclear. Haven’t tried any other ones, would be interested to hear if you find one.

  10. TLO Jewelry Love says:

    Omg… I can’t thank you enough for the specific instructions s regarding NOT having to pickle and start over each time one gets undesirable results!! I learned about flame painting copper several years ago and played around with it a couple of times but absolutely hated cleaning every time I started over. It was very discouraging but I did successfully make one pair of earrings despite the inconveniences. The instructions I was given in a YT Tutorial or random web article said I had to clean my jewelry in pickle EVERY TIME I needed to start over and since I use salt and vinegar pickle, it was taking FOREVER! (You know first hand how long it can take using a salt and vinegar pickle! LOL!) Learning that I don’t have to do that gave me the inspiration I needed to try again. It will really save me a lot of time especially considering I’m new at this and it’s taking me a long time in the first place to get colors I want. I don’t have good lighting in my home so I may need to relocate my project outdoors but I’m very anxious to do (or redo) my next earring project and I will use your preheat method again as well. I almost have my desired results of vibrant reds, purples, greens and blues but the parts that aren’t vibrant seems to lean towards a very blah and mundane brown. Yuck! I suppose I will repolish with sandpaper for a mirror shine and start over. This has been lots of fun and I very much appreciate your publishing this info publicly. For all your efforts here, I hope you are repaid with many random acts of kindness and blessings.

    Have a great day!

  11. TLO Jewelry Love says:

    I don’t know if you will see this to provide an answer but I’m going to ask anyway just in case…

    I use ProtectAClear on all my copper jewelry and I was wondering if using ProtectAClear on the flame painted pieces would give it a better shine or possibly enhance the appearance of the vibrant colors I have achieved on a pair of earrings I’m making?

    If you are able to answer this question I would really appreciate it. Also , I meant to tell you I think you do beautiful work. ❤️
    Thanks so much and have a great day! 😊

    • Mari says:

      Protectaclear will give some amount of shine (I think the product has two finish options, crystal clear or satin.) I use the clear. As you probably read in my tutorial any clear coat will dull the flame painted colors (or you could say change) somewhat. It depends on the color how much it changes. Has to do with how light reflects from the metal surface and how the eye works. You will get an idea how the clear coating will change the color by wiping it with alcohol. When it’s wet you get a similar change as after you clear coat it. (sort of like a preview)

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