Japanese Enamel Number System Made Simple
By Master Enamelist Merry-Lee Rae
Merry-Lee has explained here the numbering system of the leading manufactures of Japanese enamels..
Color numbers for Japanese enamels.
There are currently three manufacturers of Japanese enamels.. The numbering systems of each can be difficult to understand. We have behind us many years of numbering systems changing. Some due to formulas changing as laws prohibit the use of hazardous chemicals some, materials no longer being available.
Here Merry-Lee has cleared up the three major manufacture numbering systems for today’s enamelist.
Ninomiya is the most widely Japanese enamel known so I will start with it. The N series of transparents were formulated for work on silver. This does not necessarily mean that they are not silver reactive. It just means that they look pretty on silver. They are N plus a one or two digit number.
The L series of transparents are formulated for copper. They include most of the deeper shades as they work well over copper. They are L plus a two digit number. In their opaques, they also have L series, copper formulated and designated by L plus a three digit number. There are also Opaques in the B series which also have three digit numbers. I can theorize that they are formulated for silver but once again there are colors that are silver sensitive.
Their Opals ( which technically are not true opalescent but rather semi transparent or translucent. They are not tricky to use and are very straight forward) all begin with NG and are followed by three digits.
The semi-Opaques all begin with P and are followed by three digits.
In addition there are a few orphans, I am not sure why but include SL5, ND65, ND66, and two others but I am drawing a blank. All transparent. Ninomiya simplified their Lettering system 10-15 years ago. At the time there were some H transparents which were changed to N. Example N13 used to be H13. There were some LT transparents that became L for example LT61 is now L61. Oh yes- there is one N Opaque. N2 opaque white. They currently have no plans to confuse us further by changing their numbering systems.
Unfortunately some distributors change the numbers to make them proprietary. Gah!
Nihon Shippo Japanese enamel has a transparent series G formulated for silver. (Plus three digits) Unlike the other manufacturers of enamels, many of the G pinks and reds are silver compatible. Many of the G series have three different versions of the same color. They standardize those variations with a suffix of A being the lightest, no suffix being Medium and C suffix being the darkest. Let’s call them color families. As an example G701A is super light pink, G701 is light pink and G701C is a slightly darker pink.
Nihon Shippo has copper formulated transparents also. They use no letter. Most are three digits, starting with a 1. Once again they have color families. For example- 109 is a deep orange, 109A is a medium orange and 1090 is a peach or pastel orange. Carrie, who is the product manager at Enamel Art Supply thinks that the 0 (zero) on the end of 1090 is probably an O (oh) and so you will see her writing 1090 with a slash through the second O. Or 109O if you can see the difference. That way all three are 109 but two have a suffix.
Are you guys still reading? Maybe someone should put this in a place where I can find it again!
Thought I’d better post that before I lost it. Nihon Shippo also make Opaques. They are mostly 2 digit numbers. They also make semi-Opaques which are three digits starting with a 2.
On to Hirosawa Japanese enamel. They make a series of transparents formulated for silver that begin with S-. Truthfully Hirosawa calls them HS- but at Enamel Art Supply, we took off that H to try to make them less confusing. They also have color families. For example S-9 is a medium grey. That family includes S-9AAA, S-9AA, S-9A, S-9, S-9B. S-9AAA is the lightest and S-9B is the darkest. Their second series of transparents are H- and two digits formulated for copper. There are two transparent ST that are spectacular silver friendly pink and red.
Hirosawa’s Opaques are H- and three digits.
Their translucent have a prefix of P or PS.
I think all three companies have used systems that work for them and probably developed over time to accommodate a changing product line. By the way, I use the silver and the copper formulas on both silver and copper.
This is very helpful and thank you Merry-lee for bringing all this info together for the world of enameling artist!
Let’s jump in and learn more on a fabulous technique “Painting Enamels”
A student called for some help to learn more about painting enamels. And it seemed that I had never shared much on the technique.
Check out the Sunshine Enamels as they are very bright.
Now let’s use these in our enameling projects. Shirley has a project request from a customer for a dog portrait and I think the painting enamels is a great possibility. She mentioned making the hair and sent a beautiful drawing she made.With helping her visualize the hair and how to create them I referred her to my jewel I made for Andre 3000 shown here.
Enameling on Steel
The enamel easiest to use for enameling on steel is a liquid, called Ground Coat. This liquid enamel can be found on Thompson’s website and here is your direct link.
Read what they have to say about mixing, applying and firing of liquid enamel for enameling on steel.
Coating Large Steel Panels by Spraying – Outdoor Sculpture and Signs
Larger works can be made from coating low carbon steel panels for sculpture, architectural panels and signs. Most often a ground coat (GC-16) is applied as the first coat. The ground coat adheres well to the steel and other enamels applied as subsequent coats adhere well to the ground coat. Low carbon steel is required as other types of steel create too much fire scale for good adherence of the enamel. Low carbon steel has a carbon content of .02% to .04%. Thompson carries low carbon steel in various sizes.
Steel should be free of rust, grease or oil. Grease and oil can be burned off at a low temperature and heavy rust removed with emery paper. The entire surface of steel should be coated prior to the first fire. Although enamel powder can be sifted on, it is easier to use liquid form enamel for the first coat. Both sides can be coated by spraying or dipping and fired at the same time. Subsequent coats can be applied with normal techniques used on copper, silver, etc.
Mixing Instructions for Dry Powder:
For small items a simple way to mix is to place a half teaspoon of powder into a plastic spoon. Using an eye dropper add drops of water until the mixture is the consistency of ‘milk’. Apply to copper with a brush. Always make sure the powder and water have been stirred right before application as the glass falls out of suspension in the water very quickly.
For larger quantities mix 1/4 cup water to 5 oz. powder. To make a gallon of liquid, mix 14 lbs. of powder to 2 qts. of water. The water to powder ratio may be adjusted up or down if needed for your particular project. If the liquid dries out, you can grind it back smooth in a mortar and pestle to re-constitute.
Tips for Using Liquid Form for Enameling on Steel
- Before application, always mix well as the glass quickly falls out of suspension in the water.
- The water content is extremely important to the application firing result you get. Too little water and your result may look like cottage cheese. Too much water and the coating may fire dark with little color.
- Colors can be intermixed when in liquid form to create new shades of color.
- Left over liquid form enamel that dries out can be re-constituted and used again. Take dry material and place in a mortar and pestle to break down any dried clumps. Add water and use again.
Make sure enamel product is completely dry before firing. For small pieces (less than 2” in diameter) fire at 1450 degrees F. for 1-1/2 to 2 minutes. For larger items (up to 6” in diameter) fire at 1450 degrees F. for 2 to 3 minutes. For much larger work firing times and temperature should be determined for your specific project. Firing times and temperatures are meant as a guide only. You may need to adjust up or down for your own situation/equipment.
Yes, Two of the most important things of Enameling an artist needs to learn is:
1-Understand your available fluxes.
2-Test all your enamels.
I was young once, ha and still am at heart, and remember how anxious I was to make something beautiful. I also did not want to take the time to really understand what enamels were. So instead I jumped in and made plenty of messes.
There was only one book I could find and no classes or instructors in my area.
But today there are many books and many classes. Do yourself a favor and cut many years off you bad side of the journey. Study first.
Start here https://alohilanidesigns.com/vitreous-enamel-flux-comparison/ and read my site. I have shared here for 12 years.
And if you would enjoy a one on one class join me or contact me and I am happy to help you find a great instructor in your area.