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.
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.
15 thoughts on “How to Flame Paint Durable Colors on Copper”
Thanks. Very good info
Hi, I found your tutorial very useful in order to get more colors during flaming but after the application of the protective coat I see that most of the color faded away. I used an acrilic trasparent spray. I wonder if you have some suggestion about this, Thank you again for your tutorials. I wish you a Merry Christmas
Hi and thanks for your comment! I suggest you read my basic flame painting tutorial with all the comments. Clear coat always dulls the colors. (It has to do with how the light reflects from the surface of the metal.)There are more durable colors and with practice you will find to create contrast in the piece that will handle the clear coating better. Preheating the metal properly is a key factor, and then painting maybe not once but several times over to produce the best contrast.
Have you ever covered a piece with resin?
No, haven’t used resin for clear coating. It will be much thicker than a good quality jewelry clear coat and I think it might make your piece seem a bit “plasticky”. But, I am not an expert on resins, there might be a type of resin that could work. I would ask someone who does resin art for details.
Hello! Thank you for this! I’m going to be working on a project soon that I hope to flame paint and also stamp. Do I need to stamp the piece before flame painting? And if I want to fill my impressions from stamping, would I stamp first, then flame paint, and then clear coat lightly, then fill the impressions/lettering?
Thanks for your question. I would definitely stamp first. Flame painting is such a surface treatment, it could get disturbed pretty easily. (But, you could try both ways and see, experimenting is the fun part! I wouldn’t do it, but there are always many ways to do everything- depends a lot what the end result you’re aiming for is. )With filling the impressions, it may depend a little on what you use to fill them. I have used liver of sulfur, then clear coated. I have not combined all three together (flame painting, stamping, filling medium)so can’t say I can give an expert opinion on that. I have done stamping with coins on copper and flame painted with no other treatment than clear coat. If you fill before flaming the heat may change the color or burn your filling medium. I’m not sure why you would ever add anything after clear coating since the purpose is to seal the piece. It’s a finishing treatment to seal the end result. Of course, you can always try anything (pretty much), sometimes that’s when you come up with a new technique. I generally do all treatments and then clear coat to finish the piece.
Can you do this with copper leaf?
Am artist I know does this, she hasn’t been explicit with how though so I’m curious if you do it after copper leaf applied to base or before while it’s on the wax sheet (or the protective sheet, not sure of name)
I only work with pure copper with flame painting so I have no experience with using a leaf. I would think a big part would be what you apply it to and how it conducts heat. Note that the torch is hot so you wouldn’t be able to heat anything that burns or melts under it.
Thank you for this amazing website!
I just received a beautiful flame painted bracelet and the colors are dull after a few days. Is it possible to revive them? What product should I use?
Where did you get the bracelet? The artist who made the bracelet probably didn’t use a clear coat. Any flame painted copper piece must be coated or the colors will dull rather quickly because the copper oxidizes. You might want to contact the artist and find out. In my opinion people should not sell flame painted items that are not coated with a high quality clear coat. And to answer your question, it cannot be revived with any product. It would need to be flame painted again.
Do you tumble the pieces to work harden them after flame painting?
Flaming temperature doesn’t anneal the copper so there is no need to do that. I’m also thinking it may ruin the flamed surface.
Can I use a smith little torch with oxy/acetaline setup?
I think you can use any torch as long as you have a suitable tip that’s not too hot. It’s really all about temperature and how to apply it.