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What colors are brass vs bronze vs copper?

The colors of brass, bronze, and copper can seem similar at first glance, but there are distinct differences between them. In this article, we’ll take a close look at the unique visual characteristics of each metal and what causes those colors.


Brass is an alloy made from copper and zinc. The amount of zinc mixed with the copper determines the color of the final brass product. Here are some of the most common brass color variations:

Brass Type Zinc Content Color
Red brass 15-20% zinc Reddish copper color
Yellow brass 33-37% zinc Warm golden yellow
Admiralty brass 30-39% zinc Golden yellow
Manganese brass 30-37% zinc Golden rose color
Cartridge brass 30% zinc Golden yellow
High brass 37% zinc Light golden yellow
Low brass 20% zinc Reddish yellow

As you can see, the percentage of zinc content has a direct impact on the resulting color of brass. With only 15-20% zinc, red brass takes on a reddish copper tone. As the percentage of zinc increases to 30-39%, the color shifts to more golden yellow hues.


Bronze is an alloy consisting primarily of copper combined with other metals like tin, aluminum, manganese, and nickel. Here are some common bronze types and their colors:

Bronze Type Metal Composition Color
Statuary bronze 97% copper, 2.5% tin, 0.5% zinc Warm brownish red
Aluminum bronze 95% copper, 5% aluminum Golden yellow
Nickel bronze 89% copper, 10% nickel, 1% zinc Pale gold
Manganese bronze 58-63% copper, 35-40% zinc, 1-3% manganese Golden brown
Silicon bronze 96% copper, 3% silicon Warm yellowish brown

With bronze, small percentages of metals like tin, aluminum, nickel, manganese, and silicon blended with copper create an array of golden brown, brownish red, and pale gold colors.


Pure copper is an entirely different metal from bronze and brass. Here are the color characteristics of different types of copper:

Copper Type Color
Bare copper Warm reddish orange
Weathered copper Brownish green (verdigris)
Polished copper Bright reddish orange
Oxidized copper Jet black
Rainwashed copper Sky blue-green

The trademark copper shade is a warm reddish-orange when the raw metal is exposed. As copper oxidizes and reacts with the elements, it can develop a verdigris greenish-brown patina. Polished or buffed copper will appear more vivid orange-red in color.

Key Differences in Color

Now that we’ve looked at common color varieties for brass, bronze, and copper, what are some of the key differences between them?

  • Brass has a more golden, yellowish tint from its zinc content, while bronze colors are less yellow.
  • Bronze hues range from brownish red to pale gold depending on metal composition.
  • Copper by itself has a distinctive reddish-orange color different from brass and bronze.
  • Weathered copper develops a greenish-brown patina not seen on brass or bronze.
  • Brass and bronze can be similar golden yellows, so look for reddish undertones to identify bronze.

What Factors Influence Color?

Now that we’ve summarized the color profiles of brass, bronze, and copper, what factors cause these characteristic colors in each metal?


  • The percentage of zinc blended with copper significantly impacts the resulting brass color.
  • More zinc leads to a pale golden yellow, while less zinc produces a more reddish color.
  • Impurities and small amounds of other metals also influence color.
  • Heat treatment and annealing can modify the color slightly as well.


  • The specific additional metals used in the alloy affect the bronze color.
  • Tin bronzes take on warm brownish red hues.
  • Nickel bronzes have a distinctive pale gold color.
  • Manganese produces golden brown bronzes.
  • Heat treatment and metalworking processes may also alter the color.


  • Exposure to oxygen causes copper to oxidize from reddish orange to a green verdigris finish over time.
  • Polishing or buffing copper produces a vivid orange-red color.
  • Oxidation can also create jet black copper finishes.
  • Reactions with water and moisture leads to blue-green patinas.

As you can see, small differences in metal composition, percentages, and exposure to the elements can dramatically impact the final color of copper alloys like brass and bronze as well as pure copper.

How to Tell Brass vs. Bronze vs. Copper Apart Visually

Once you understand the color profiles of brass, bronze, and copper, there are some tips for telling them apart by eye:

  • Look for the distinctive warm orange-red sheen of pure copper metal.
  • Check for greenish patinas on weathered copper.
  • See if the metal has a more golden undertone, which indicates brass.
  • Look for reddish or brownish colors to identify bronzes.
  • Brass and bronze can look similar, so watch for the yellowness of brass vs. the brownish red hues of some bronzes.
  • Consider the context – if an object is very old, it is less likely to be brass, a more modern alloy.

With practice, you can train your eye to pick up on the sometimes subtle differences between copper, brass, and bronze metals.

Other Methods to Distinguish Brass, Bronze, and Copper

In some cases, it can be hard to identify brass, bronze, and copper visually, especially when trying to differentiate between brass and bronze. Here are a few other methods you can use:

  • Density testing – Bronze is denser and will feel heavier than brass for the same sized object.
  • Sound – Tapping the object can produce a slight difference in sound between the brass and bronze.
  • Chemical testing – A professional can use solutions to chemically test and identify the composition of the metal alloy.
  • Magnet test – Bronze and brass are non-ferrous alloys, while many coppers have some iron. A magnet will not stick to bronze or brass but may be weakly attracted to some coppers.
  • Scratch test – Scratching the surface with a steel object may reveal differences between them upon close inspection.

In summary, color is a useful starting point for identifying these three commonly used metals. But don’t be afraid to use density, sound, chemical tests, magnetism, and scratch tests to differentiation between copper, brass, and bronze when needed.

Interesting Facts About Brass, Bronze, and Copper Colors

Before we conclude, here are a few interesting facts about the colors of brass, bronze and copper:

  • The Statue of Liberty is made from 179,000 pounds of copper. Over time it developed the green verdigris patina we see today.
  • Bronze medals and trophies have a distinctive gold-like shimmer thanks to their copper-tin composition.
  • The brass instrument families like trumpets and tubas owe their bright golden shine to the zinc content in brass.
  • The earliest brass alloys were developed around 300 BCE but were rare until the 19th century.
  • Polished copper pans and cookware provide excellent heat conductivity thanks to copper’s reddish-orange shine.
  • Oxidized copper and bronze develop protective patinas that reduce corrosion.


Brass, bronze, and copper all have unique visual signatures. Brass has a golden yellow color, bronze appears more golden brown, while copper by itself is distinctly reddish-orange. Small amounts of additional metals like zinc, tin, manganese, and nickel create the color variations between brass, bronze, and copper. With some practice, you can learn to identify these popular metals based on color alone. So next time you see an interesting metal object, take a closer look at its color and see if it’s made from brass, bronze or copper.