How to Make a Test Plate of Enamels

Demo for the Week! Making Color Test Plates of Enamels 

How to make a test a plate of enamel. Necessary to see the true enamel color once fired. What you see in the container un-fired is not what it looks like when fired.

First big reason I go about it this way, is all colors of the same family are here. Making a color test plate as you see below allows me to see how close the colors are to each other which gives me the opportunity use them to shade from light to dark.

Second and even more important is to see the different melting times of each enamel. These enamel dots were all applied at the same time and fired all at once. One did not melt = means it is a harder firing enamel.  If you lay it down next to one that melts quicker you will have cracking between the two enamel colors.

Third, I can see which pink enamels have yellow in them or blue in them. This tells me the ones with a yellow base will burn sooner than ones with a blue base.



On to making the plate,

You can pause the slide show when you need to.

* Clean the Copper sheet of 18ga. using comet cleanser or penny brite.

*The copper will be bright and the water should run off. A good sign the metal is clean.

* My counter enamel is moist and I add a mixture of one part Klyre-Fire to five parts water. The Klyre-Fire acts like glue to keep the enamel from falling off when you flip it over the add the flux on the front side of your test plate. Add counter enamel to the back.

* Remove excess liquid with the brush, turn the test plate over and add enamel flux to the front of the test plate.

* Here in images 5 & 6 I am sifting on the flux to the front side of the test plate. If I wet pack the flux and get too much water it can disturb the enamel on the back of the test plate if it runs under. This is the only time I sift enamels, as I do not care for it to be airborne.

*Fire the enamel test plate,  I use 1450 degrees, for 1 minute to 1minute and 15 seconds, in my kiln. Images 6 & 7 front and back fired.

*Next prep fine silver foil, using 120 grit sand paper.

*This is accomplished by burnishing the fine silver foil on the sand paper with a small flat tool, like a ruler. This puts small holes in the foil so it will not trap air bubbles when fired. I am using foil to fire test of transparent enamels on instead of using fine silver sheet. It is just less expensive. 

*Gently brush off the back of the fine foil so no sand from the paper is on it.

*Lay the foil on the fired fluxed side of the test plate of copper.

 *After removing the plate from the kiln burnish the foil down.

*And fire in kiln. This image shows the foil fired on and 1/2 had flux added, then fired again. This way I can test transparent enamel on flux and the same colors without flux. Info I might use later.


* Last 2 images shows my color dots of enamel I wanted to test. These enamels were washed in distilled water before applying. Then fired in the kiln.


Now you know how to make a test plate of enamels

 This test plate is for enameling on Fine Silver. If you want to enamel on copper just skip adding the fine silver foil. Also if you are enameling on copper turn the temperature up to 1550 and fire to get a beautiful gold color to the copper sheet.


I would like to mention this plate with all the pink colors on it is .5″ x 3″. And the dots are small that would equal one layer of enamels. Not very much. Just remember you want to see the true color of the enamel and be able to see through it specially if you are enameling on fine silver.  If this is one layer think about how much it will darken also with 4-5 layers. 


When to Use Hard Medium and Low Firing Enamels

A question came up today about when to use hard, medium, and low firing enamels.

Hard firing enamels are fired at a higher temperature as in the 1500’s degree range or longer in the kiln.

Medium firing enamels I think of using in 1400’s degree range, or at higher temp as 1500 degrees, but less time.

Low firing enamels maybe fired in the 1300’s or even in the 1400’s with less time.

The purpose of all this is to balance two things.

First the  expansion of the metal being used.

Second your technique being used.

Starting  with copper as it is used most commonly in enamels.

Copper oxidizes the fastest of the metals we use in enameling. We balance this by using medium firing enamels so they melt or fuse before the copper has time to oxide. And using higher temperatures. If it oxidizes the enamel is likely to flake off or just discolor, but many enameling on copper use the oxidation to get some beautiful colors.

Another way to balance this is to use finer grit of enamel. The finer grit will fuse quicker than a larger grit of enamel without allowing oxygen to get to the copper. Without oxidation the enamelist  achieves that beautiful gold or stunning golden orange copper color.

It is best to know the fusing points of all your enamels not only so you know which ones to apply as a base coat of enamel known as flux, which should be the hardest enamel, to avoid the lower layer to rise above the secondary layers as seen below.


Low firing enamel on bottom

Low firing enamels vs high firing enamels


Above the flux was a lower firing enamel than the top coats. So as the top layers melted the flux rose up along the edges and the top layer of enamel puddled in the center.


2) Same here,

Low firing enamels vs hard firing enamels

Low firing enamels vs hard firing enamels



In this next image flux coat of enamel was not hard enough to prevent the following layers of enamel  from touching the sliver. And the brownish color of enamel is burning.

In cloisonné we never want our warm colors to touch the silver. It causes burning. Silver is going to hold heat longer than copper so we use a hard firing base. And in some incidences we will use several layers of the hard firing flux before layering in our warm colors to be very sure the red never touches the silver base.

Along the wall of the fine silver cloison wires I will put a fine line of blue to keep any warm color from burning.

Enamel burning

Enamel burning along the cloison wires.


A comment to address

“I’m torch-firing, I always have my work in my sight so I just watch for signs of melting, which happens very fast.  I’ve had “pull through” with Titanium White.  Titanium White really reacts nicely with copper and you can get some really lovely, but unpredictable, effects.  With a little over firing the enamel turns a beautiful rust color and in spots will be green.”

Yes these effects can be used to your advantage, this is the oxidation of the copper coming through. And in torch firing I realize you are not going by temperature and have the advantage of seeing all that is happening.


Enameling on copper, as in painting enamel  in this piece,

Hard firing enamels

When you need hard firing enamels

It is necessary to use a hard firing enamel = flux as it will be fired many times and I do not want the painting to disappear into the base coat of flux. Also in repeated firings the copper can still oxidize through the enamel and show a color change after many firings.  As I paint my image I need the painting enamel to adhere to the base coat of flux by firing the piece, then I can continue layering my painting with enamel colors (soft firing enamel) that fire at a lower temperature or less time. The domed metal add strength or less expansion. So it can handle a harder firing enamel without so much expansion or movement in the enamel. If the base coat was a lower firing enamel it would become soft enough in firing the image would distort as the enamel base or flux would move before the image enamels fuse. Painting enamels are a soft or low firing enamel= as they are ground to a face powder grit.


Make color plates

Make color plates

The enamel dot fourth from the left is still grainy after all the rest are fused. If you have three enamel on a plate, one hard firing, one medium firing, one low firing and fire the plate once, you will see they melt at different speeds.

If you want to use them all in one project just remember the hard is on the bottom then the medium and then the low firing enamel. This is also why you can use unleaded with leaded enamels as long as you put the unleaded on the bottom as it is a high fire enamel.

Happy Enameling!


Those Tiny Bubbles in My Enamels

A couple of things tiny bubbles in enamels can be from,

First the addition of Klye-fire.  I do my best not to use this but I realize in some designs we need it. The last time I used Klyre-fire, a mixture of 1-5 parts distilled water was best. It helps on a 3d surface but I could still see a few tiny bubbles. Klyre-Fire is very helpful on plique a jour. But you do see time bubbles.

Second way you can get those frustrating tiny Bubbles in enamels can be from sterling silver that has not been depleted properly. The more you fire the worse they get.*(

And last that I have seen, specks that usually come from old or deteriorating enamels. When you wash them  you see tiny white specks in the container. On your first few firing you will see some are white in your enamel, then continue  firing some look like beige-brown goo, and sometimes they turn into bubbles.


Cracking In Your Enamels

There are several reasons enamels crack. The most common reason enamels crack is there is not enough counter enamel on the jewel. Counter enamel is enamel on the back side of the jewel. Your base metal expands as well as the enamel when heated, and contracts when cooled. Without enamel on both sides of your base metal one side is going to expand more causing the opposite side to crack. If enamel is placed evenly on both sides of the metal you can eliminate this cracking. Sometimes this happens as it is cooling, when this happens there is very little enamel on the back. But I have seen the enamel crack years later when the enamel was not even on both sides of the base metal.

In some cases you can also dome a piece of metal and use less counter enamel as in a bead. But if you plan to put a thick layer of enamel on the front of the metal you then need more counter to avoid cracking.

Another reason enamels crack is if you use a hard firing enamel next to a low firing enamel. Hard firing enamels take longer to fire, and low firing enamels take less time to fire. Great reason the make test plates and see when each enamel melts first when they are all fired at the same time on the same plate. You can see on my test plate dot #4 is still grainy while the others are smooth. So #4 is a harder firing enamel and if placed next to #5 and you fired it long enough that both enamels were smooth in time the jewel will crack.

Cracking takes place in leaded enamels as well as unleaded enamels. Unleaded enamels are harder firing enamels than leaded enamels so if you combine them on the same jewel you can experience cracking. If you need to use them together use the unleaded first then layers of leaded to avoid cracking.

Are Your Reds Turning the Color of Mud?

Many enamelist have difficulty using warm colors. There are a couple of things that help.

First start with a hard firing flux. Flux is the base coat, it is like a primer used in painting.  It keeps the enamel away from the metal, as many are not compatible  with the metals we use to enamel on. The hardest leaded enamel for silver is Bovano’s #3. For Gold it is #2 And for copper is # 1

Bovano flux #3 also has a blue base tint that does not turn yellow. I have noticed in some manufactures flux for silver, if accidentally fired too high will turn yellow. With a hard fire enamel flux the warm colors are less likely to come in contact with the base of fine silver, gold, copper or sterling silver. When you are firing too long or too high the base gets hot = the fine silver and holds the heat. Then the flux gets liquid and the color layer you are firing mingles with the flux coat and eventually comes in contact with the fine silver =  a phlegmy looking yellowy brown= burnt enamels. So if you fire a bit lower temp, the flux will not get  liquid as you only need to melt the top layer of color. Your color enamels are  lower firing enamels =melts faster than your flux. So you need to choose the temperature and firing time just enough to melt the last layer you have applied.

In the technique, you will also know you are over firing, if your enamels are climbing up the walls of your cloison wires. And think about that. If your enamel is climbing up the wires that means you have less flux at the base. So now your warm color is closer to touching the fine silver and burning.

I only want to fire my warm colors a couple of times. With too many firings they burn out and get dull.  To help with this I  use the flux in the cells of the warm colors each time I fill the cells of my cool colors until it is at my last several layers. Also just in case I crack the piece in setting or it was dropped or damaged in the future I will have the opportunity to re-fire the jewel without my colors burning out.

There are some warm colors that have ash or blue bases and will not burn as easily.

If you do test plates you can see this, such as Ninomiya H24 and N26, yellows with ash bases. Oranges also, look at the test and you can see it has an ash base, like Ninomiya N21. It is not as bright of an orange but if you put N24 first then the N21 this brightens your orange and you will not have to worry about burning.

You really have to do the test plates and analyze the colors. On my pink color plate with 14 colors I can see some have a yellow base and some have a blue base. Use the blue base first then the yellow base one to get a brighter color, in the same color family. Do color plates and use all your warm colors, one of all reds and one of all yellows, and fire several times to see which of the reds and which of the yellows burn first. Then you really know which can handle more firings. It takes time but when it is all over you will be very confident of the end result.



 Here are comparisons of fluxes available for fine silver to enamelist. See in the test plate below the 5 fluxes I have tested to determine which is a harder firing flux. 

Left to right Ninomiya 3, Nihon Shippo G-110, Old Thompson 757, and Soyer #3. I fired at 1400 for 1 min.  All the fluxes except Soyer #3 fused. In the second Image you will see after another firing at 1400 degrees for 2 min the Soyer fused also. 

You might ask why is this so important? Working with reds is why. If you have a low firing flux the red enamel is very likely to reach with the silver and turn the color od mud. 

The only time I use any flux other than Soyer #3 is if I need a low fire flux, and that is only in Plique a Jour.



Fluxes for Enameling, Firing Temperatures, and Color Charts

Fluxes for transparent and medium firing enameling. Firing time varies on the size of your jewel. I work small and like to start around a min and go up in seconds. Just a quick peak in the kiln at eye level you can see if the enamel has fused.


What is flux? it could be thought of as primer when you are painting a wall, or gesso on and oil canvas. It is a base coat of enamel that allows enamels of a wide range of physical properties to be use in this technique and not burn.


Fire at 1450 and up to 1550 degrees

Thompson’s Unleaded 2030 Flux. Here is a link to Thompson’s Color Chart of Opaques for Copper

Thompson’s Color Chart of Transparents for Copper

Ninomiya’s   Leaded L11  Flux   Here is a link to  Enamel Works Color Chart of Opaques for Copper

Enamel Works Color Chart of Transparents for Copper

Enamel Works Color Chart of Opalescents for Copper

Bovano’s   Leaded #1 Flux   You can down load their color chart here,

Bovano’s Color Chart of Opals, Opaques, and Transparents for Copper

Fine Silver

I make enamel and cloisonne jewelry. And Fine Silver is my choice of metals. The weight of the jewel as well as the strength is a factor and in choosing the gauge of the fine silver. For pendants I prefer 20 gauge and for earrings 22 gauge.

Fire at 1425 – 1450 degrees

Thompson’s Non Leaded 2020 medium firing or 2040 for a hard firing fluxes. In my work I like a hard firing flux on my bases.   Here is a link to Thompson’s Color Chart of Opaques For Fine Silver

Thompson’s Color Chart of Transparents for Fine Silver

Ninomiya’s Leaded  N1 Flux                         Enamel Works Color Chart of Opaques for Fine Silver

Enamel Works Color Chart of Transparents for Fine Silver

Enamel Works Color Chart of Opalescents for Fine Silver

N3 = Leaded pre – washed flux

G 110    Leaded hard flux

Bovano’s     Leaded  #3 this is a hard flux with a blue base, this is my favorite flux on fine silver.

Bovano’s Color Chart of Opals, Opaques, and Transparents for Fine Silver

Sterling Silver

Thompson’s Non Leaded 2040 flux.    Thompson’s Color Chart of Opaques For Silver

Thompson’s Color Chart of Transparents for Silver

Ninomiya Leaded N1 or N3 Flux      Enamel Works Color Chart of Opaques for Silver

Enamel Works Color Chart of Transparents for Silver

Enamel Works Color Chart of Opalescents for Silver

Bovano’s #3   Leaded Flux, both of these are hard enamels and I think it is helpful in keeping the surface contamination down of the sterling silver away from the layers of enamels.

Bovano’s Color Chart of Opals, Opaques, and Transparents Silver


Fire at 1425 – 1450 degrees

Bovano Leaded #2 Flux and a link to, Bovano’s Color Chart of Opals, Opaques, and Transparents for Gold

Stainless Steel

Fire at 1250 Degrees – 4-8 min.

Low to Medium expansion Enamels     Thompson’s Color Chart of Opaques for Stainless Steel

Thompson’s Color Chart of Transparents for Stainless Steel

Finishing Fluxes

Ninomiya’s Leaded N4

Bovano’s  Leaded 619

Brass  Today is Gilded Metal

Today many are asking about enameling on brass. It needs to be gilded metal , which means it has 5% zinc and no more to be successful, with 95% bronze. You can obtain this from Thompson’s Enamel and use their unleaded enamels used for copper as long as you have no more than three firings.