Adding Patina to Copper and Brass: How to Make Your Alternative Metal Designs Pop

Lovely patinas!

Oh, the things you can do to copper! Many folks love the warm hue of the metal as it is (me included), but it's also the metal master of disguise in the gorgeous patinas it so easily takes on. Of all the alternative metals, copper is definitely my favorite. Here are the most common solutions for creating patinas on copper and alternative metals like brass, along with some unusual household recipes for achieving them.



Verdigris has caught my eye since before I knew what it was. Maybe I just thought of it as tarnish or something like that, when I was younger. I was in love with the idea that such a pretty, almost unnatural-looking bright blue-green could "grow" on metal like that . . . I suppose I still am! The fastest and easiest way I've found to achieve perfect verdigris patina on copper is with Swellegant patinas. They'll also give you that effect on other materials that you can paint with Swellegant colorants to look like copper first. Verdigris stick, anyone? I also somehow managed to get a pretty verdigris using just water in my electroforming experiments (as shown here; more on that below).


I recently learned another great way to create a verdigris patina on copper and brass from Kerry Bogert (author of Rustic Wrappings, a great book with a wealth of homemade patina recipes using ammonia, salt, vinegar, and more). One of Kerry's great ideas for creating a pretty verdigris green on copper and brass (her sample is shown on the left) is with vinegar and sawdust, the fine shavings of which she says gives "an almost crystalline sheen to the surface of the metal that reminds me of The Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz." Yes, please! Here's how: Put sawdust in a small resealable container, pour white vinegar on it, and mix until it's paste-like. Submerge your metal in the wet sawdust, seal it, and set overnight (or just a few hours in sunlight, which speeds the process). Let the pieces air dry and brush off any excess sawdust with a soft brush. That's it! Kerry recommends sealing the patinated metal with Permalac.

Flame Painting Rainbows

I'm also a big fan of the beauty of raku-like rainbow colors that can appear on copper when you heat it just the right way, sometimes known as flame painting. This piece was flame painted by Mary Hettmansperger in her wire-weaving DVD. It's random but fun and easy! You can give areas of your copper passes with a torch flame and see what effect that gives you, or heat the entire piece, quench, and check out your results. You can keep doing this until you get an effect you like. Also, remember that you can make the copper turn and stay red if you quench it immediately after heating. If you wait a few seconds and then quench, it'll turn dark or black. I want to try to mimic autumn leaves with the natural color of copper and some red additions.

Plain Old Water

I accidentally discovered another super easy way to create a lovely patina on copper when I was electroforming some of my found objects a few weeks ago. The instructions specifically call for distilled water, and the jug of water I had in the pantry was regular–I thought it was distilled but I must have bought the wrong one. After I'd rinsed several pieces in it and noticed a lovely patina forming on them, I checked the label and discovered it was just regular water, and the minerals in the water were creating the patina on the copper. Fortunately I liked the look of my happy accidents–it saved me a step in adding patina! The top piece has a variety of warm hues on the copper that almost look flame painted, and this electroformed shell and coral piece somehow developed that verdigris immediately after I rinsed it in plain water.

The Egg Patina Method

You probably always have an egg in the fridge, right? A warm hard-boiled egg can create a nice dark/black patina on copper jewelry for a wonderfully aged look that can really help textures and designs in the metal pop. Just put the warm egg, sliced in half, in a plastic bag with your copper jewelry creation; then zip it up and watch what happens! It can take a little time, days even, but it's very cool. I've heard that reheating the egg can help but I've also heard it doesn't help at all–I've never tried reheating it so I can't comment on that part! Eggs contain sulfur, so this technique is a play on using liver of sulfur. Speaking of which . . .

Liver of Sulfur

You probably already know about using liver of sulfur to darken your metal jewelry designs (copper and silver, but not so much brass). Simply make a solution of hot water and liver of sulfur and dip your jewelry in it (or use the Midas Gel version). You can create blues and pinks on silver and copper this way, and a variety of other effects if you keep dipping and waiting. Add a drop of ammonia to your liver of sulfur solution to make your results even more colorful. It's kind of a fun experiment to see how it will turn out! Then just scrub or buff off the excess (if you want) and you'll have dark in the recesses and shiny bright metal on the higher points. It's a great way to enhance a texture or design in your metal.

Be sure not to mix your metals in one liver of sulfur solution, however; make one for silver, one for copper. Or, you can mix alternative metals in Baldwin's . . .

Baldwin's Patina

If you design a piece of jewelry that has silver and copper both or copper with other metals in it and you want to add patina, try Baldwin's Patina, a solution that colors copper without affecting nickel silver, sterling silver, or gold alloys. It creates a gunmetal effect, not colorful, but it's handy when you're combining metals.

There seems to be an unlimited number of gorgeous patinas that you can create on metal. If you love altering the look of metals by creating patinas on them as much as I do, you'll love our gorgeous book Patina: 300+ Coloration Effects for Jewelers and Metalsmiths. It's packed with patina recipes and hundreds of beautiful sample images of colorful effects you can create on silver, copper, and brass as well as aluminum, bronze, and steel. Patina is a must-have book for any metalsmith who enjoys playing with color and creating aged or other artistic effects on metal!

P.S. We have also compiled a patina kit for those of you who really love creating patinas! It's packed with educational resources as well as patina solutions you can try at home–while supplies last. Quantities are limited.

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