The Magical Metal: Color Titanium with Noël Yovovich

Titanium has a résumé chock full of bragging rights. Strong, stiff, and lightweight, it’s also hypoallergenic, non-magnetic, and resistant to corrosion and deformation. On top of all that, it turns extraordinary colors in reaction to heat or current.

ABOVE: In Noël Yovovich’s video, you’ll learn to color titanium with two amazing methods: heat coloring and anodizing.

This pendant, titled Going Home, is a vivid example of Noël’s signature scenes using anodized titanium and pierced silver overlays. Photo by Larry Sanders, Sanders Visual Images

This pendant, titled Going Home, is a vivid example of Noël’s signature scenes using anodized titanium and pierced silver overlays. Photo by Larry Sanders, Sanders Visual Images

Jewelry artist Noël Yovovich has worked with all sorts of metals, but coloring titanium is one of her very favorite techniques. It’s also her particular expertise. In her fascinating video How to Color Titanium for Jewelry, Noël guides us through both ways to color titanium: heat coloring with a torch and anodizing with electric current.

Noël’s Take the Long View designs are so-named for having a foreground and a background but no middle ground. Photos: Noël Yovovich.

Noël’s Take the Long View designs are so-named for having a foreground and a background but no middle ground. Photos: Noël Yovovich.

Just Like Magic: Why Does Titanium Change Colors?

As someone whose knowledge of titanium barely extends beyond bike frames, I am simply amazed at this metal’s chameleon-like qualities. Watching the metal change into iridescent soap-bubble colors before my eyes is delightfully surprising, even if it’s just on screen. As Noël says, “Even after all the years I’ve been doing it, it feels like magic.”

If you’re like me, the first question on your lips is “why?” It turns out that heat or electric current causes titanium to develop oxide layers, and applying more heat or current creates more and more layers. Though completely transparent, these layers reflect the light in such a way that we perceive the surface as different colors. And the effect is permanent! For the technical details, read Noël’s explanation on Ganoksin — but she assures us that we can still perform this technique even if we don’t fully understand it.

For making a heat-colored piece, you’ll need titanium sheet, wire for wrapping, a jeweler’s saw, and a torch firing set-up.

For making a heat-colored piece, you’ll need titanium sheet, wire for wrapping, a jeweler’s saw, and a torch firing set-up.

Heat Coloring Titanium

The easiest way to color titanium is with heat — even a crème brûlée torch will work. Since the shiny spectrum of colors lends itself nicely to aquatic themes, Noël first leads us through a beautiful fish design, which she draws and cuts with a jeweler’s saw before heating.

The surface changes colors as the oxide layers form in reaction to the heat.

The surface changes colors as the oxide layers form in reaction to the heat.

The colors appear in a predictable order as the oxide layers build, allowing you a degree of control over the look of your piece. Gold is the first color you’ll see, followed by purple, dark blue, light blue, yellow, green, and even pink, if you’re lucky.

Noël textures with a ball bur, focuses the heat to spot color, and finally wire wraps the piece to create a pin.

Noël textures with a ball bur, focuses the heat to spot color, and finally wire wraps the piece to create a pin.

Noël shares several wonderful techniques, such as how to create beautiful gradients and how to texture away unwanted color with a ball bur. She even teaches how to wire wrap your piece and turn it into a pin. Since titanium’s oxide layers create soldering conundrums, cold connections are the way to go.

Anodizing Titanium and Niobium

Another way to color titanium is with voltage. For this method, you’ll need more specialized equipment, including a micro anodizer and some trisodium phosphate (affiliate links) for making water more conductive. Of course, it’s important to be very aware of what you’re doing whenever working with current. Keep your fingers away from the water and keep the two electrodes apart.

A micro anodizer is used to color titanium (center) and niobium (right) with electric current.

A micro anodizer is used to color titanium (center) and niobium (right) with electric current.

You’ll love watching Noël create a titanium test strip. First submerging the entire piece in the anodizing liquid, she gradually lifts it out of the water as she increases the voltage. A rainbow of color appears on the test strip. (Fun fact: The colors appear in the same order as they did during heat coloring.)

This partly-anodized niobium shows a variety of coloration.

This partly-anodized niobium shows a variety of coloration.

She also demonstrates this process with niobium, another metal that reacts to current in the same way as titanium. The colors will appear much brighter on niobium, which you may or may not prefer. (Another fun fact: You can anodize niobium, but you can’t heat color it!)

Beautiful pieces such as this leaf with a silver overlay show Noël’s passion for coloring titanium.

Beautiful pieces such as this leaf with a silver overlay show Noël’s passion for coloring titanium.

Once you’ve learned the basics of anodizing, Noël takes us along on her journey to create a colorful landscape on a piece of titanium. By masking, anodizing, and texturing in a carefully planned order, she creates a graduated blue sky, a lush green field, distant mountains, clouds, and a river to boot. She loves to set her images in bezels or create silver overlays that serve as protection and decoration.

With a current running to your brush, you can “paint” color onto your titanium (and niobium too).

With a current running to your brush, you can “paint” color onto your titanium (and niobium too).

Colorful Possibilities

As you can see, this workshop has plenty of food for thought. At the end of the video, Noël even demonstrates how to hook the anodizer to the metal ferrule on a paintbrush to “paint” amazing colors right onto the metal. With this technique, the speed of your brush movements determines the colors that result. Can titanium get any cooler?

If you’re ready to experiment with these exciting techniques, treat yourself to Noël’s thorough and engaging video. Check out How to Color Titanium for Jewelry today.

Go be creative!
— Tamara Kula
Producer, Bead & Jewelry Group


Embrace Color in Your Jewelry Making!

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