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Many celebrations around the world include huge fireworks displays. Professionals are hired to create these fantastic displays. They have developed their work into an artform. It is called pyrotechnics.

The word pyrotechnics describes the art of firework creating. To work with fireworks these professionals need to understand the chemical and physical pyrotechnic reactions. Pyrotechnics originated around the 1st century A.D. in China when black powder was invented. As a science, pyrotechnics is very young. The basics of flame and color production are now very well understood, but new effects will continue to be discovered.

Many of the fireworks displayed today are inventions of the 20th century. One example is the development of colored flames. Before the 19th century only yellows and oranges could be produced with steel and charcoal. Chlorates were added for basic reds and greens. Blues and purples were not safely developed until the 1900s. Aerial firework colors come from stars which are small pellets of firework composition containing all the necessary ingredients for making colored light or special effects. They may be as tiny as peas or as large as strawberries. A typical red star might contain Potassium perchlorate, Strontium carbonate, Pine root pitch (fuel), Rice starch (binder). Much care is exercised in selecting the ingredients. The composition must be safe and stable in storage.

Firework flitter stars are made of fine paint grade aluminium. These stars burn with a bright, luminous tail, like snowball comets. Starmine fireworks are charged with flitter stars using coarser aluminium. Gold glitter mine fireworks continue their glittering while they descend, creating a cloud-like effect.

Pure colors need pure ingredients. Even the smallest amounts of sodium impurities will quickly ruin the colors. Potassium does not interfere with most colors and potassium salts can usually be used. Organic fuels, such as pine root pitch, various gums and rosins and synthetic resins, cannot generate at high temperatures as metallic fuels. The pyrotechnist may use powdered magnesium and aluminium for brilliant stars, because they provide an easy method of raising the flame temperature and increasing the brightness. Blue stars are never very bright.

Over the years, professional fireworkers have solved most of the problems of colored flame production. Excellent formulas exist for yellow, orange, red, blue and green stars. The next problem for the professionals to conquer is the production of deep forest green.

With the science of pyrotechnics, we can enjoy beautiful firework colors that light up the sky. It's a science that makes people all over the world smile!