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What colors are each element?

What colors are each element?

Elements make up all matter in the universe. The periodic table arranges the elements according to their atomic number and groups elements with similar properties into columns. While the properties of elements are defined by their atomic structure, we often associate them with different colors as well. So what colors correspond to each of the 118 known elements?

The colors of elements can vary based on their physical state and compound form. However, there are some commonly accepted colors used to represent them. In this article, we’ll take a look at the typical colors used for each element and why certain colors have become associated with them over time.

Noble Gases

The noble gases are located on the far right side of the periodic table. They are colorless, odorless, and inert gases. The most common noble gases are:

  • Helium – clear
  • Neon – red-orange
  • Argon – colorless
  • Krypton – colorless
  • Xenon – colorless

Neon has a distinctive red-orange color when electrically charged and placed in a vacuum tube. This has led to its widespread use in neon signs and lights. The other noble gases are colorless both in their natural and charged states.

Alkali Metals

The alkali metals are located in group 1 of the periodic table. They are soft, reactive metals that are silver-colored when freshly cut:

  • Lithium – silver
  • Sodium – silver
  • Potassium – silver
  • Rubidium – silver
  • Caesium – silver
  • Francium – silver

However, they quickly tarnish and turn colors when exposed to air. Lithium turns black, sodium turns yellow, potassium turns lilac, rubidium turns golden, and caesium turns yellow-brown. The colors result from surface oxidation that forms colored compounds.

Alkaline Earth Metals

The alkaline earth metals make up group 2 of the periodic table. Their freshly cut surfaces have a silvery-gray metallic shine:

  • Beryllium – steel gray
  • Magnesium – silver
  • Calcium – silvery white
  • Strontium – silver
  • Barium – silver
  • Radium – silver

Like the alkali metals, they quickly oxidize in air changing to gray/black (beryllium), white (magnesium), pale yellow (calcium), yellow (strontium), and yellow-green (barium). These colors result from the metal oxides formed.

Transition Metals

The transition metals make up groups 3 through 12 of the periodic table. They are hard, shiny metals that exhibit a range of metallic colors:

  • Scandium – silvery white
  • Titanium – dark gray
  • Vanadium – blue-silver
  • Chromium – steel gray
  • Manganese – silvery metallic
  • Iron – silvery metallic
  • Cobalt – silver gray
  • Nickel – silver metallic
  • Copper – orange-red metallic
  • Zinc – bluish pale gray
  • Yttrium – silvery white
  • Zirconium – grayish white
  • Niobium – light gray
  • Molybdenum – dark gray
  • Technetium – silvery gray
  • Ruthenium – silvery white
  • Rhodium – silvery white
  • Palladium – pale copper
  • Silver – shiny white metallic
  • Cadmium – bluish white
  • Hafnium – steel gray
  • Tantalum – blue-gray
  • Tungsten – silver-gray
  • Rhenium – silvery white
  • Osmium – blue cast
  • Iridium – silvery white
  • Platinum – grayish white
  • Gold – golden yellow
  • Mercury – silver metallic

The transition metals exhibit the widest range of colors, from blue-gray (tantalum) to orange-red (copper). This is due to unique electronic transitions in the metals. Alloys of transition metals are used in colored jewelry.


The metalloids form a diagonal line between the metals and nonmetals in the periodic table. They exhibit some properties of both classes. The colors of metalloids are mostly metallic grays and off-whites:

  • Boron – brown/black
  • Silicon – gray
  • Germanium – grayish white
  • Arsenic – steel gray
  • Antimony – silvery white
  • Tellurium – silvery white
  • Polonium – silvery

The main exceptions are boron and arsenic which form dark non-metallic solids. The other metalloids exhibit a metallic sheen but are brittle and not malleable like true metals. Silicon and germanium form semiconductors that are essential to electronics.


The nonmetals occupy the upper right corner of the periodic table. They are generally gases or brittle solids that lack metallic properties:

  • Hydrogen – colorless gas
  • Carbon – black solid
  • Nitrogen – colorless gas
  • Oxygen – colorless gas
  • Phosphorus – waxy white solid
  • Sulfur – yellow solid
  • Selenium – red/black solid
  • Fluorine – pale yellow gas
  • Chlorine – greenish yellow gas
  • Bromine – reddish brown liquid
  • Iodine – shiny gray solid
  • Astatine – unknown (probably metallic appearance)

Most nonmetals lack color with gases being invisible and solids being white, black or colorless. Exceptions are the halogens (group 17) that form colored diatomic molecules.

Lanthanides and Actinides

The lanthanides and actinides form the bottom two rows of the periodic table. They generally exhibit metallic silver and gray colors:

  • Lanthanum – silvery white
  • Cerium – iron-gray
  • Praseodymium – silver
  • Neodymium – silvery white
  • Promethium – metallic
  • Samarium – silver
  • Europium – silver
  • Gadolinium – silvery white
  • Terbium – silvery gray
  • Dysprosium – silvery white
  • Holmium – silvery
  • Erbium – silvery white
  • Thulium – silvery gray
  • Ytterbium – silvery
  • Lutetium – silvery white
  • Actinium – silvery
  • Thorium – silvery white
  • Protactinium – shiny, silvery metallic
  • Uranium – silvery gray
  • Neptunium – silvery metallic
  • Plutonium – silvery white
  • Americium – silvery white
  • Curium – silver metallic
  • Berkelium – silver metallic
  • Californium – silvery white
  • Einsteinium – silver metallic
  • Fermium – silver metallic
  • Mendelevium – unknown, probably silver metallic
  • Nobelium – unknown, probably silvery white or gray
  • Lawrencium – unknown, probably silvery white or gray

These metals are almost exclusively synthetic and radioactive. They have high densities and exhibit typical metallic properties. Their rarity makes their colors difficult to definitively characterize.


While all elements have unique chemical and physical properties, their associated colors provide an easy way to visualize and identify them. The alkali metals, alkaline earth metals, basic metals, transition metals, and lanthanides/actinides exhibit various metallic grays and silvers from their lustrous surfaces. Nonmetals are commonly colorless gases (e.g. oxygen) or black/white solids (e.g. carbon). The halogens stand out with their pale but distinctive colors.

Knowing the typical colors of elements allows us to intuitively link elements with their position on the periodic table. It also helps identify them when isolated or in compound form. With 118 known elements and more yet to be discovered, associating colors with elements make them more accessible and easier to conceptualize.

Element Group Colors
Noble Gases Colorless, except neon (red-orange)
Alkali Metals Silvery, but oxidize readily in air
Alkaline Earth Metals Silvery gray, oxidize readily in air
Transition Metals Various metallic grays and silvers
Metalloids Grayish metallic to non-metallic
Nonmetals Colorless, black, or white solids/gases
Lanthanides/Actinides Silvery grays and whites