Basics of Flame Painting Copper
Feel free to skip this section if you remember all the basics.
Copper flame painting can be done with just a small butane torch (kitchen torch) or with a fancier jeweler’s torch. You can also flame paint bronze in a similar fashion.
- use clean copper with scratches buffed/sanded out
- don’t touch with fingers (skin has oils)
- patience is a virtue (overheating happens fast)
- preheat, cool, then paint
- if you overheat the piece, let cool and start over
- in the end coat with clear coat
You can use many different gauges (thicknesses) of copper. The principle is that the thinner the gauge the faster it will overheat. (and the trickier it is to get good colors) Same applies to the size of the piece. For jewelry, most commonly used gauge is 22-26 gauge.
Flame Painting Durable Color
The most common question I get has to do with dull colors. It is very easy to overheat the copper piece and get not so great colors. (Especially if you are a beginner it’s hard to know when you have overheated the metal.) There is a slight sudden color “dulling” that happens that you have to watch for. If you continue after that (without letting the piece cool first) you will get no good colors. That dullness is so annoying, isn’t it?
Flame painting requires a lot of patience and attentiveness. You are not going to get nice color fast. The other issue is what I call “durability” – how well will these colors remain after you clear coat the piece. Very often many of the blues are lost, as well as some reds. The key is preheating properly, cooling completely and then painting. You won’t get durable colors with the first heating. You can keep painting over the piece (if you overheated it) without recleaning it. Many times I get the best colors at about the third attempt. The key is you need to really let the piece rest and cool for a while. The metal may seem to have cooled, but when you start painting over your preheated piece it will quickly overheat again. That’s how you know you didn’t let it cool long enough. (I’m talking about 10 minutes minimum for a small (1-2″) jewelry piece.
See the video for an example of overheating. The change is subtle and you need to be on the look out for these signs!
If you feel like nothing is working…please try again! Flame painting is an art form, it is tricky and will challenge you. Take it on! Practice makes a master. And when you get the “aha” feeling it’s priceless.
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Clear Coating Flame Painted Copper
This is more like a reminder of what you read in my original Flame painting tutorial “How to Flame Paint Copper”. Flame painted metal needs to be properly clear coated or it will tarnish and dull in no time. Copper reacts greatly with the atmosphere and the flame painted result will not last unless you clear coat it. A durable coat is needed, such as Protectaclear or similar. With experience I have come to the decision of doing three coats of liquid paintable Protectaclear on my pieces to make sure they last for a very long time with the customer. If you are just doing this as an experiment you won’t need to worry about durability.
Below are two samples of a whale tail piece before and after clear coat. You can see how the blues and even lot of the pink did remain after clear coating.