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When different metals are heated by a flame, different colors are produced.

The property of having different flame colors is used in displays such as fireworks.

Some General Chemistry

Before discussing the flame, it is best to be familiar with some general chemistry terms.
Atoms are the smallest units of matter. They are made of other particles: protons, neutrons, and electrons. Elements are specific atoms. They have the same number of protons. Compounds are the combinations of more than one element.

Above is a calcium atom. Below is a iron atom.

Different Elements
The periodic table arranges elements based on their properties. The three major element groups are metals, nonmetals, and semimetals. In this presentation, we will focus on metals and their compounds, which include elements that arent metals.

Metals are shown in blue Semi-metals are shown in pink Nonmetals are shown in yellow

Why are there different colors?

The short answer is that for every metal element or compound, there is a different arrangement of electrons. When energy is given to electrons, they jump to a position which they normally arent in. As they fall back down to their normal position, they release energy, which we see as light.

Iron (Fe) is produces yellow sparks when heated. This can be seen in fireworks, as well as when a metalworker is applying heat to iron or steel. (Steel is a combination of iron and carbon.)

Copper (Cu) is noted for its blue or bluish green color. This color is seen in its salts*, when it rusts (such as the Statue of Liberty), when it is dissolved in water, and when it is exposed to heat.
*A salt is any neutral ionic compound. Ionic compounds are the combinations of ions, such as Sodium Ion and chloride ion, making table salt (NaCl).

This flame is colored by Copper Sulfate (CuSO4)

The fireworks display is colored blue by a copper compound.

Barium (Ba) is a Alkaline Earth metal which glows green when heated. Many of the alkali and alkaline earth metals glow when subjected to heat. Barium nitrate (BaNO3) is often used as a colorant for fireworks.

Sodium (Na) is an alkali metal most commonly known for its presence in sodium chloride, or table salt (NaCl). Another common sodium compound is baking soda, which is sodium bicarbonate. When sodium compounds are heated, (either of the ones mentioned work) they produce a bright yellow color. This glow is very bright, so bright that fireworks makers are always careful so that is doesnt outshine other colors in the firework.

Potassium (K) is another Alkali metal which glows when placed in a flame. Potassium compounds often produce a purple flame. In fireworks, potassium compounds not often used as colorants, but as an oxidizer, which enhances the duration and intensity of other colors.

This flame is colored by potassium chloride (KCl)

Lithium (Li) is an alkali metal which holds the distinction of being the lightest metal and the third lightest element. When placed under a flame, lithium compounds, especially lithium carbonate, will glow red when placed under a flame.

Magnesium (Mg) is an alkaline earth metal which burns a bright white color. Its intense glow can help intensify other colors when used in fireworks.

Above is Magnesium Chlorates (MgCl2) flame

Other Flames
Element Name Calcium (Ca) Compound Color (Flame) Orange Image

Strontium (Sr)



Dark Bluish Purple


Magenta, Purple