Enamel on Steel – insights

I commonly get emails asking for hints on how to enamel on steel. I have a little bit of experience – enough to make me dangerous you might posit – so I thought I might dump what little I know here to save anyone interested the time it might take me to respond to an email inquiry. But first…

New NEWS!!

July 2018

Brace yourselves Team Enamel.

It’s Global Enamel News time once again. My deadline for copy is next Wednesday August 1st, 2018, and I’m running a little late on the round-up, so if you have an enamel story to tell, I’ll take it right up to midday US WST of that date.

This newsletter doesn’t publish until October, and as I’ve complained before, finding venue and date info of practically anything more than 2 months out is tough (except maybe airline, or Hamilton, tickets,) so I’ll take conjecture.

Is Wondernamel happening at RMIT? I can find nothing on the web this far out, but someone must know? Will your end-of-year student shows have enamel in them, Australia? In fact, do you have a Christmas/holiday exhibition in the works, Canada? If so, please drop me a line – blog@melissacameron.net

Thanks y’all 😉

/// 2017 ///

WG Ball have updated their offerings of enamel for steel.

Those WG ball enamels I mentioned below? Well I got hold of the jade, purple and grey at the Enamelist Society Conference at Arrowmont last year, and they are great. They mix up really well and fire beautifully, and are some really lovely colours. I used them over a bunch of Thompson bases, transparents and whites and they all played very well together. I’d recommend them for the diversity of the colour selection alone – they look even better than the sample images on the website (which are, frankly, hot!)


Thompson Enamel have updated their website! It’s not any more user friendly, but it is more modern looking. Swings and roundabouts, eh? Anyway, it means that all of my links need updating. Never fear, they will be done, in time. In the mean time, this is the new link for Ground Coat for enameling iron – the infamous GC-16. Use it wisely!

I’ll be sure to update y’all *here* when I have the other links sorted.

Update Sept 2014: I’m back from Erfurt! More artists have been getting in on the action on the HE blog, so be sure to check that out as it develops. I made some interesting new discoveries with the exceptional enamels on hand there, and I can now say with confidence that you can easily fire a first coloured layer direct to the metal, if you have enough enamel experience/quality enamel to work with… (Still not sure which is the most important factor there.) Also, we were firing on the high side of 800*C/ 1472*F, so don’t be afraid if the temperatures are getting up there (admittedly though, I was working in 1.5mm thick – 14 gauge – .064″ -steel which is pretty heat needy).

The other thing I learned? The coefficient of expansion really gets you on bigger pieces of steel, as you might expect. I needed to coat the back of my pieces of stainless steel to stop them bowing, and then potentially throwing off pieces of enamel. Up until this point I had fired smallish objects, nothing over about an 8cm x 8cm (~ 3″x3″) square, which I’ve found can hold its own against the amount of enamel stress attacking it from the obverse side. When you get bigger than that it does start to warp your metal. That’s fine, if you don’t mind bowed metal, but after a few layers it will start to crack the enamel you’re working on. So, lesson learned. As all the books say, you should add a counter enamel layer to keep warp-age and ping-age in check.

Important news!!

I’ve cracked the code! This is Thompson Enamel’s ground coat:

 GC-16 COBALT BLUE Ground Coat for Enameling Iron

Also known throughout this article as Grip Coat and otherwise known as undercoat. This enamel, when applied as a base layer, has metal oxides to help it really meld with the metal, and being an enamel it works well with the other enamels you want to apply over the top. This is the one that really wants to stick to the steel so I use it especially when using poor-grade (read – high carbon) steels. And don’t forget the WG Ball version too.

||| OK, now back to the scheduled programming |||

To enamel on steel, you need some enamel, and some steel. Liquid enamel, known in the US as porcelain enamel, is what I have been taught to use, and I have found that when using this the process of getting it to stick to any grade of steel reasonably universal, though obviously the more suitable grades (low-carbon steel typically used as the base material in architectural/signage applications as one example) are generally easier to enamel, and are more resilient. Like any metal choice the material is of course application specific, so say you plan to enamel only one side and show the works outdoors, I would suggest an exterior grade stainless, but indoors? The steel world is your oyster. I have found that you can get enamel to work pretty well for both stainless and mild steels, so long as you do the right preparation.

In the past I have ordered my enamels from two different companies, Thompson Enamel from the US, and WG Ball from the UK. There are others who you might be able to find, but these can be bought direct or from on-sellers both locally and in other countries. Both Thompson Enamel and WG Ball sell dry forms of ‘liquid enamel‘ that you can purchase and add water to yourself, which is useful if you’re not on their home-continent.

Why is it called liquid enamel when what you get is powder? Liquid enamels are often delivered as a very fine powder, which is incidentally much finer than regular jewellers enamel (which my enamel guru Elizabeth Turrell calls ‘sifted enamel’.) Jewellers enamel is a much coarser grit, as it will fit through a 60-80 mesh, whereas industrial or liquid enamel will fit through a much finer 200 grade mesh. (So putting regular enamel in solution will not achieve the same end.) So when you receive your enamels, chances are you will have to add the water. (If you’re in the US/UK, you can order them in solution, which I have been advised is the best way to go. Obviously shipping weight is a bigger factor in ordering internationally, as are freezing temperatures in winter as I recently learned via Ganoksin.)

You do have to ensure that you get the right enamel, so that it will accept water. On the Thompson website goes under the name of both Liquid Enamel and Brushable Enamel, while on WG Ball they are called Wet Process enamels (for steel.) Thompson also sell tonnes of other types, including things like enamel crayons which are fun to use over the top of a fired surface.

When adding water to the enamel I have found it best to treat it a bit like making a batter, stirring while adding a little water at a time, until you get it to the right consistency. I sometimes get impatient, and think I’ll just add a bit more liquid this round, and I inevitably end up with it too runny.

What’s right? Well, it depends on what you’re doing, but pancake (perhaps crepe?) mix to (pouring) cream or even milky consistency is good. It’s good to give it some time for  it to rest before you start using it, and of course it settles between uses, so always be sure to stir it before using. And as ever, have some metal around for testing. Ganoksin has a great in-depth guide on how to mix, which includes data on good ratios of enamel to water. Thompson very astutely also includes a pamphlet with their enamel orders that show how to mix their product.

I have used sandblasted recycled tin cans, washers, pristine stainless panels and sundry other objects in my works and tests, so my advice is that if you can prepare a steel surface correctly, you can probably enamel on it. A sandblasted steel can (known as a tin can in the US and Australia) of the ilk that you get your canned veg in (big tomato tins are great) is a great test material. There’s also an enamel product called Grip Coat /Groundcoat that can help you with using low-grade steel, which you can lay down as a first layer and fire before adding your other layers, and which bonds beautifully to just about any steel and other enamels.

Melissa Cameron. Ray, 2012. Stainless steel, vitreous enamel, 925 silver fixings.

You do have to be careful with mild steel, in that using a wet enamel will start to oxidise (read rust) your pieces in some situations. This can be a great thing to promote, but if you’re after a pristine surface it’s something you will have to keep track of. The small yellow streak to on the right hand section of the work above is a rust stain starting to develop from the fired stainless steel wires. Yup, even stainless can sometime turn on you, because of the temperatures involved. I happened to like the stain, so I then had to carefully cultivate it through other firings…

I’ve also been collecting rust from some pieces of mild steel for a while now too, to try as a pigment, so I’ll keep you updated on what happens. (*update #1 at end.) If you’re inclined, start collecting copper fire-scale, since it can give lovely green tones too.

This mild-steel recycled object work (below) looks fairly brown, as the transparent enamel shows exactly what is underneath it – steel. Steel blackens when fired, so you need to remember that when using transparent – including transparent base coats – as the first layer. This has Thompson Low Fusing transparent, the medium fusing tends to come up a bit cloudier and so the colour goes from what is here, a real black-brown, to a more fawn-green-brown. In this case it worked well with the piece, so well that although I had planned on texturing it I decided that I liked it and left it shiny instead.

Melissa Cameorn, Infinity Affinity, 2011. Saw pierced steel baking dish, vitreous enamel, 925 silver, stainless steel

If you want a good steel surface, you need to look for a low carbon steel. Once in the kiln, carbon of a lesser quality steel will form gas bubbles that come up through the enamel. Right here a quote from the master, Elizabeth Turrell, is in order:

“Mild steel that is higher in carbon sometimes results in gas bubbles and poor adhesion of the enamel to the steel, (any gas bubbles can be rubbed back, worked over etc) but it is easier and cheaper to buy in small quantities or beg it from metals shops.

However, the key is adhesion of the enamel to the surface after each firing and once the work is finished. (No popping off as you walk away!) Metal preparation / sand blasting is essential for reliable adhesion. Always make sure you wipe any residue of the sandblaster material off the metal before enamelling, other wise you will get pinholes on the fired surface. If you have no access to a sandblaster, an electric grinder [sander] will give you a surface that the enamel will adhere to.”

I’m not as optimistic about a metal grinder getting a toothy enough surface, and I typically caution against using acid to etch the surface of the steel for same, mostly because the acids that attach steel are particularly nasty. What you need is what I call a consistently inconsistent surface to work on, which the sandblaster using high pressure and aluminium/aluminum oxide or garnet blast media do best. See the best practice used by Arcelor Mittal in its Steel for Enamelling and Enamelled Steel User Manual if you’re interested in how industry goes about the process.

metal preparation

Like the lady said, sandblast it. Using a reasonably coarse grit (aluminium oxide, or garnet if it comes to that) sandblast the surfaces to be enamelled. Be sure to wipe off the residue once you pull it from the sandblast cabinet, because as per Elizabeth’s quote, this will stop proper bondage of the enamel to the metal surface.

If you don’t have a sandblaster, never fear, you can rough up the surface in other ways. Try detergent and leftover enamel (take precautions, you’re dealing with glass and you might need your fingerprints afterwards) or a coarse sandpaper. Or, purchase (or find) pre-enamelled panels to which you can add more enamel. Thompson sell a range of pre-enamelled sample squares, though there are plenty of places to get pre-enamelled objects to work with.  When I was in the studio in Bristol an artist was working on translating a bunch of drawings from some children (he was working on a commission for a primary school) onto a bunch of oven panels. Yup, old white oven walls, doors and the like. Properly cleaned these pre-enamelled panels are a great surface on which to add more enamel. No need for a ground coat and they take liquid and sifted enamels over the top of the base coat really well. So if you were planning to use recycled metal (a little hard to cut, I’ll grant you) you can work straight over something already enamelled with regular jewellers enamel. The cleanup before firing in this case is the hard part, especially on an old oven…

Whiteboards are enamelled, as are camping mugs and plates. And if you happen to have access to a decent cutter/guillotine, it is possible to put some masking tape down and slice through a pre-enamelled panel. I’ve seen it done, though once again, shards of glass are… well, shards of glass! I’ve heard tell of artists who use snips (carefully) on the whiteboard panels to shape them, not to mention actually saw piercing. Both things I’m yet to try, but sound plausible.

recycled steel

If you are going to used recycled steel, be aware that it may be coated. And if that coating is something like galvanisation, ie. zinc, be really careful. Make sure you get totally through that layer with the sand blaster, as zinc poisoning from being fired in a kiln is life threatening.

Removing a galvanized surface - the zinc is the lighter coloured material. This needs to be totally removed before the piece is ready to be enamelled.
Removing a galvanized surface through sandblasting – the zinc is the lighter coloured material on the outside of that blasted ring, while the darker and duller grey in the centre is the natural steel. The zinc needs to be totally removed before the piece is ready to be enamelled, or in fact heated in any way.

A good question came in from a reader, so good that I’m reposting the answer here (thanks Lisa H!) How do you diagnose galvinised steel?

Good question, how can you tell if something is zinc plated? Well, it takes some practice, and for you to look for some telltale signs. Zinc plating looks brighter than normal steel or can sometimes comes in a brassy finish. It will generally show no signs of rust (which is pretty rare in a magnetic piece of steel) and will be a lighter grey colour than a true steel grey. You have to spend a bit of time looking at variations in the greyness of steel before zinc will pop out as an intruder, but if there’s any doubt, try taking some of the coating/outer layer off to see what the underlying metal is.

The trick with enamelling steel is a thin first layer. Very early on I learned that if I did too thick a layer with an object I was working on the layer of enamel would literally jump off the steel. (This can also happen when the metal preparation is not quite biting enough.) It pings the fired glass in small shards, which littered the surface of the bench I was at. Messy and a little bit dangerous (I’ll say it one more time, it is glass…) So, depending on the object (and some shapes or enamels are just more likely to ping so you have to put in extra effort with them), it is possible to put on a thin layer of enamel (I use clear, I have found heavily pigmented enamels, red, for instance, to not be a friend in these delicate first layer scenarios) over steel and have it stick, but the trick is thin. But not so thin so as to have the coverage be broken.

Remember that unlike copper, counter enamelling the panel/object is not so important. You can build up the front without having to build up the back quite so much. The strength of the steel is your friend. If I do a backing layer it’s generally for decorative purposes, unless the work is big and heavy with enamel layers, as the enamel can still make steel warp.

buying enamels
There are great local places for enamel too – Koodak in Melbourne, Australia has started stocking liquid enamels, so look local. Below I have listed what I have (as at July 2012). You do have to  remember, as with any enamel on metal, the clears will give you the base colour of the fired metal underneath. With steel, that is often very close to black, or a smokey grey if you’ve really layered up the enamel. So translucent colours might need a base layer of white under them, and very often this is also a suitable first layer as it’s relatively stable. Often times I don’t use any black, simply because a single layer of clear will give me a dark enough surface for my needs.

One of the first questions on perusing my list you’ll ask is “what is the difference between Low and  Medium firing enamels?” I didn’t know, so I bought both and tested. (Doing some reading probably would have been less time consuming. Thompson sells their Thompson Enamel Workbook for around ten bucks) The answer is the amount of expansion. The Low expands minimally, and it goes up from there. When they say on the website that layering different expansion levels ‘will produce crackle effects’ they are right! When that happens in your experimentation, you’ll know what they mean. I’m still not completely in control of what happens as I’m still learning, so all I can say is ‘keep experimenting’, but from memory, if you fire a thicker transparent low expansion layer first then add a thinner white low expansion layer you will get the white (the upper layer) cracking and peeling on firing. That is in my experience, anyway. I’ve found low then medium to work ok, but it’s been a while so I may have it confused. Sorry! I’m only an enthusiastic amateur!

BC-1070 Medium fusing white
BC-969A Low fusing clear transparent
BC-303L Medium fusing clear transparent

533 White
772 Black
930 Chinese Red

Recent Additions: November 2013
936 Beige We had great fun with this colour in September at Danaca Design during the workshop I taught.

January 2015
GC-16 Cobalt Blue I finally used the ground coat in anger and whaddya know, it works a treat!  My tip is to fire a BC layer – (BC = Base Coat) of clear – medium or low, depending on the application or the Cobalt Blue Ground Coat if you’re using lower quality steels (read ‘tin-can’ steel – it’s really appalling for anything other than samples, but soooo cheap!) Nothing else will stick on first go. Other steels are less finicky (so a colour straight on is just fine), but if you’re going to build up the layers and don’t want to risk crummy adhesion, definitely go the GC-16 as the starter. It has reasonable adhesion to the 3″ x 3″ low-carbon sample squares that Thompson sells, which aren’t sandblasted but have a subtle imprinted randomised pattern. Though as you might guess, better adhesion to a sandblasted surface.

Christmas Ornament made from welded tin-can mild steel and vitreous enamel. The grey is Thompson GC-16 Cobalt Blue, while the white is a medium fusing white, over a layer of the ground coat as a base
Christmas Ornament made from welded tin-can mild steel and vitreous enamel. The grey is Thompson GC-16 Cobalt Blue, while the white is a medium fusing white, over a layer of the ground coat as a base

I’ve also recently purchased the Thompson Enamel Workbook and a sheet of the solid colour decal material (I have some decals kicking about that I made in Bristol but these are mostly text) so I look forward to testing this for a new way of working with decals.

WG ball
Light Blue 6117
Metallic Light Silver
Sheet Steel Groundcoat
Sky Blue
Royal Blue
Dark Green
Clear Flux
Metallic Dark Silver
Metallic Gold

I’m yet to try a lot of the WG Ball versions (busy year…) but the ones I have used have seemed a little more grainy. It is possibly my mixes haven’t been great, as at the time I didn’t want to put the whole bag in solution so I only used a small portion of the whole amount.

ENAMEL: Make sure your enamel is thoroughly dry before putting it into the kiln. Sit it on or near the kiln if you want it to dry quickly, or use a hair dryer or heat lamp. It must be dry before firing or the water will steam and take some enamel with it, leaving marks and adhesion issues in its wake.

KILN: Arrrgh! I cant answer this one! Firing depends on a lot of factors, your kiln, your material and the enamel. Some enamels say don’t fire over 800°C [1470°F] while some (W.G. Ball) say fire between 800-820°C [1470-1510°F]. Sometimes you need a minute, sometimes 2, sometimes less if your kiln responds well to the door being open, or more if it’s a little slower on the heat or it’s a big piece of steel.

Generally enamels are best fired between 750-800°C [1380-1470°F] but I have a note here from a workshop with Elizabeth that reads “don’t fire steel over 800°C – it warps” right after a note that says “Steel: in industry grip coat fired @ 840°C [1545°F], enamels @ 800°C.”

My advice? Test, sample, try out, evaluate, trial, check and study. It will always depend on your kiln. I typically wait for the kiln to get back up to the start temperature before opening the door, but sometimes even this is a little short. The opposite side is that if you’re using a delicate enamel (painting/screen printing enamel) you need to be more gentle.

As mentioned earlier, on the Thompson website you can also find pre-enamelled steel squares, which are great to practice on. They have a base coat so just about anything will stick to it. In the workshop I did with Elizabeth we were encouraged to use enamel as glue, and put all sorts of sands and even metal shavings into the wet enamel so it would fire solid. That’s where I got the idea of using my sandblast grit as a surface texture.

Like any other sand, fire scale or shaved metal that you want to use, glass beads go onto a layer of fired enamel, and then are fired to get them to stick. It’s up to you if you add layers over the top – such as clear – for binding, but I generally don’t. That way you can really feel the texture (though you have to be prepared to lose some if it’s a really fine sand). You can use a product like Klyr-Fire to help with adhesion until you fire the work, or lay down some marker or a stamp on which to sift your sand/grit/favourite-jewellers-enamel and then shake of the excess. Or you can use unfired wet process enamel to bond it – just add the grit once you’ve put down your layer of enamel, then wait for it to dry before firing.  Now, in the case of glass beads, the more you fire them, the less ‘beady’ they become so if you’re using larger glass beads it might be the very last thing you do if you really want them to stand out. Peter Daglish in the studio in Bristol was using big Murano glass roundels as eyes for his works. The finished result bulged off the panel which was kinda freaky!

using graphite
Graphite (in liquid or pencil form) needs to be applied onto a base of fired enamel. The layer of graphite then must be fired to get some of the graphite to stick. To finish, cover with a layer of clear enamel, and of course, re-fire. If you use pencil some of the graphite can rub off, so you may what to try to shake it or use a clean brush to coax it off (after firing) before you apply the clear, as the linework will smudge if there is remaining graphite on it. Sometimes it’s not as noticeable as others. An example is here,

not my magnum opus… but kinda cute. shoulda cleaned off the edges a little more

If you are so inclined to draw with graphite pencil on your piece, you might want to get a drawing surface by mixing some clear enamel with porcelain slip and then firing a thin layer of the mix onto your piece. The ‘tooth’ of the slip helps you lay down a lot of graphite. Porcelain slip is available at any ceramics/pottery supplier. In Melbourne I can direct you to Northcote Pottery Supplies, but I don’t know who you would go to anyplace else, sorry! It’s pretty common, though usually sold in large quantities. I managed to get some from a friend, which, once rehydrated, even managed to survive the trip to the ‘States.

*new graphite experiment results*
So I have been at it again, firing some graphite directly over a clear and a half clear/half red enamel surface. The pieces below were created by firing a couple of very thin layers of enamel (Thompsons Clear and their Chinese Red that was a half/half mixture with clear, a mixture I created to help the red stick first time around or to provide a bit of colour to an undercoat for the red) and then abrading them back with my trusty set of 3M diamond hand pads. On the freshly abraded surface I was able to draw directly with graphite pencil and then fire, and this was enough to get the graphite to stick beautifully. On the broch – the piece in the centre – I added an extra layer of clear over the fired pencil, so with the grey on grey the linework doesn’t come up in the photograph too well, though that is not all in the photography, as in fact in some lighting it’s hard to see with the reflections on the layer of enamel.

d Melissa Cameron_Enamelled Trio_2013

However the Cardinal Point ring on the left-hand-side also has two layers of graphite on different layers of enamel, so you can see the shadowy layer on the top-left of the drawing that is the layer under the final layer of enamel. The Locations ring on the right only has one layer of graphite, which sits atop the second (and final) layer of enamel.

d Melissa Cameron_Pin-swap brooch_2013

A slightly better view of the linework…

If you need more help there’s W.G. Ball‘s instructions on their site, and of course there are always books. I believe that Elizabeth had some input into The Art of Enameling by Linda Darty. This is available on your favourite online reseller, as well as at the Thompson website, where you can also get your copy of the Thompson Enamel Workbook of course!

for some tips on how Thompson enamels behave, check out this on the Schlaifer’s Enameling Supplies site

enamel brands: behaviour of unfired and fired enamels
I’ve recently been working with my WG Ball enamels in earnest, enamelling a series of neckpieces that I have also enamelled in a Thompson colour, a 930 Chinese Red. The WG Ball colour I will use for comparison is their 10104 Sky Blue. Both are liquid enamels that I bought in powdered form, and both applied over a Thompson Clear (low fusing) base. First up, I have found the WG ball enamels to be grainier than the Thompson ones when in solution, and the application to be tougher as they either don’t give good, even coverage (too little water) or when they are covered nicely they then ages to dry and have a tendency to run as they dry (too much water). I’m yet to find a good medium, though as I’m newer to them than the Thompson ones it might just be my water adding and mixing technique. I’ve also tried grinding them down more to help them mix and therefore have better application results, which worked but due to other issues (see below) seemed to be of minimal overall benefit.

The other issue is that thus far, the aforementioned Sky Blue, (as well as some of the other WG Ball enamels I have tried) don’t seem to take on a glossy surface when fired. Again, this is measured in comparison to the Thompson colours (and other colours from Elizabeth Turrell’s studio – I remember a German range there) that I have worked with.

Even to get a semi-gloss is tough. It could be that in my temperature control and timing I am missing the optimum fuse point repeatedly (but once again, I’m hitting the desired time/heat fine with other brands), so the best I can say is that it is very elusive. I’ve either managed to overcook them (they started to flake off the work) or have them look slightly under-fired, with the tell-tale lack of glossy final surface. In the end I have resorted to adding a final layer of clear.

To save time I decided to try mixing them in with some Thompson low-fusing clear. This turned out quite well, to the point that I have begun to mix some of my own colours, thus far just sticking with a single coloured enamel with a single clear.

This works especially well if you are after a more transparent finish, which is something that I happened to want at the time, but in the long run is not really a solution to the gloss-less problem. So far the combinations have played well together in mixing, (meaning they actually go onto the work better) and in finish, as they have fired easily to the desired surface finish.

In my work I have been trying to dilute the strength of the colours a bit too – I’m not into opaque colours at the moment (I like the black of the steel to make itself known and the variegation of the thicknesses of the enamel over a surface give what I find is a desirable smokey quality), but opaque colours are just about everything that I have. In my experiments I’ve been making a mixture of 2:1 (the ratio being premixed clear to premixed coloured enamel, or even more on the clear side of the equation for stronger pigments or to get lighter colouration) on some to ‘water’ them down a bit. That seems to have worked well.

*update #1

I have finally applied some of my collected rust to some white enamel. The substrate is from a can (Ok, you got me, it was a can that held a whiskey bottle…) that I sandblasted, so the metal is not perfectly flat.

Rust on enamel on steel. Test sample on steel can, Melissa Cameron, 2013.
Rust on enamel on steel. Test sample on steel can, Melissa Cameron, 2013.

As you can see there are two sets of markings visible on the piece that are a result of the process. There is the maroon-brown tiny specs that have good coverage and then there are some black larger pieces, which I think are actually interference. The way I collected the rust was to rub some quite fine-mesh steel wool over a rusted piece of steel, capturing it in the little bag you can see in the image. I have a feeling that the black marks also on the surface are actually smallish sections of burned steel wool. On the piece these black particles have more texture than the red coloured section of the ‘real’ rust, which adds fuel to my idea that they’re larger steel particles, which brought with them more substance than the actual rust dust.

When I applied the rust dust it was really fine and powdery, so it settled in clumps on the surface of the enamel. Worried that I wasn’t getting much coverage (and I would lose that which was only sitting on the surface and not actually in the enamel) I then stirred it into the still-wet enamel fairly thoroughly. I remember thinking at the time that I should have stopped combining earlier, as there were some nice track marks of clean enamel through the rust surface earlier in the process, which got lost as I kept combining the two. Still, that’s something to work on for next time.

Also, having had a go at an old-fashioned dip-pen on enamel thanks to Nancy Bonnema at my recent enamel class, I’m now wondering if the super-fine rust dust would mix into a pigment to be drawn with easily.

*update #2

For some handy PDF’s on enamelling concepts and suitable metals (in Europe the first one and in Australia the second) check out Arcelor Mittal’s Steel for Enamelling and Enamelled Steel User Manual (or web article here) for enamelling process and a bit of the chemistry involved, and if you’re an Aussie and are interested in what BlueScope Steel calls their low carbon steel range have a look at their TECHNICAL BULLETIN TB-25. (Hint, their cold-rolled low carbon products go under the names CV2S1 and CV4S2.)

77 responses to “Enamel on Steel – insights”

  1. Thanks Melissa for this information, I’ve just started to work with liquid enamels on copper but wanted to start on steel and wasn’t sure how.

  2. I came across this site when surfing the web to learn about liquid enamels (I work on copper vessels). I was blown away by the creativity and beauty of your pieces.

  3. Hi Melissa
    This is an excellent blog!
    I do guilloche enamelling on silver and wet pack using 325 grit enamel powder. Do you think simply wetpacking these fine grits ( instead of ordering liquid enamels) would work just as well on steel as liquid enamels? I’m intrigued about your suggestion that Grip Coat be used and fired before applying other enamels. I’ve never thought of using it for this although I have used it when painting galvanized steel. The Grip Coat I used was an acrylic water based urethane sealer. My first thought was that this would burn off in the kiln. Do you know if the Grip Coat you’re referring to is the urethane primer that goes under that name?
    You’ve really given us lot’s to think about Melissa. Thanks again for taking the time to share your experiences.

  4. Hi Ramsay,
    Thank you also for the questions. They’re really thoughtful and they give me the chance to clarify the terms I’ve been using.

    Before I begin, you’ve reminded me of a point that I should have made before, so I’m going to take a moment to say to anyone reading, PLEASE DO NOT PUT GALVANISED STEEL IN YOUR KILN! (And please don’t think for a moment that I would suggest that you have done this, it was just the use of ‘galvanised steel’ and ‘grip coat’ in the same sentence that reminded me.) Anyone who welds will tell you the dangers of using galvanised materials, as when zinc is heated, it is very, very bad for you. (Zinc being the coating applied in the galvanisation process.)

    If you do plan to use galvanised steel (and I have, a whole lot when enamelling washers while in the studio in Bristol) you should sandblast it very carefully to make sure you have removed all of the zinc from the surface of the piece. There is usually a reasonable colour difference between the two metals, so you can generally check this by eye.

    Now, back to answering questions!

    The Grip Coat (also known as Ground Coat) I refer to is not an acrylic based urethane, it is specially formulated enamel made with metal oxides to aid in binding the glass component of the formulation to steel. Here’s a good description of the constituent parts that I found in Arcelor Mittal’s Steel for Enamelling and Enamelled Steel User Manual: “Ground-coat enamel contains metal oxides (Ni, Co, Cu oxides), which promote enamel to steel adhesion by creating alloys with the iron in steel (see 7.1 on the subject of the adhesion of enamel to steel). Since metal oxides are dark in colour, white ground coat does not exist.”

    Now, as for wet-packing, I’m not so sure that it would be the same. However, I have never tried it with the kind of grit size that you’re talking about, so I have no grounding in the process to speak of. I definitely think it’s worth a try, but I have a couple reasons as to why it might not work. The fine-ness of the enamel sounds about right, but the point of applying it in a wash, or with a spray gun, is to get a fine and consistent layer across the surface of the material, which, to bore you with what I’ve written before, is especially important in the metal/enamel contact layer. So the much finer grain is intended to ‘burrow’ itself into the textured steel, giving it more exposure to the surface area that you’ve gained from the sandblasting process. Packing, or on the other hand, the bigger grain size of regular enamel, negates this process, overbalancing the metal to enamel ratio.

    But using enamel with a mesh size of over 200 direct onto (prepared) steel? Well, in theory, it could work.

    Now, for some more info on what’s liquid enamel, in the above linked Ganoksin page they say that the difference between regular enamel and liquid enamel is water and a small percentage of clay slip. The main difference is thus the grain size, so in theory… It’s a winner!

    I think you should try it, and if you do, please let me know what happens. If you can’t get it to work you could always get one lot of clear or grip coat to layer over the surface of the steel so you can use your other enamel over the top.

    And to reiterate, I’d love to see the results, so really please let me know what happens.


  5. Hi Melissa, just came across your blog and realised you were the Melissa Elizabeth Turrell kept mentioning when I took a workshop with here at rmit last week. Thanks for al this useful info about supplies for us downunder! I tried to buy some liquid from WG Ball, but postage was $60 for two small bottles. Needless to say Elizabeth’s workshop was amazing and I’m fired up to do more firing and this blog was just so useful. Cheers Carol

  6. Hi Carol, so glad you found me and the blog. I had heard from other attendees that the workshop was going swimmingly, so I’m glad to hear it finished off just as well! Hopefully Koodak still has some good supplies, though you can do what I did the first time and share a Thompson order with a friend to offset the freight costs. Anyway, nice to hear from you and good luck with your future firings 😉
    xx m

  7. Hi Melissa, many thanks for these observations. I recently added torch firing to my repertoire of techniques. I got a small range of enamels from WG Ball to try for my first experiments, the transparent turquoise has been a revelation, on copper I get dark greens and reds that were totally unexpected. Seems like you have to have to work with individual enamels from different suppliers and find out how they behave. Like you I thought about grinding down rust ie iron oxide to use as a pigment. I’ve got a big jar full of copper oxide from my electro etching that’s begging to be used, no idea if that will work. You’ve inspired me to have a go with steel. Great blog btw.

  8. Hi Steve, thanks for your comments, especially since you’ve reminded me that I really am yet to exhaust my investigations with the WG Ball enamels, and that I still have that iron oxide just lying about the place ready to fo. I have used clear/transparent white on copper and yes, the reds, golds and greens that you can get from the same enamel over different firing times and temperatures is pretty amazing. I know that the combination with copper oxide will definitely produce results, so please let me know how you go.
    xx m

  9. Hi,
    You have a real gift. Thanks for sharing it. i have been looking into enamel on steel process for a metal working project I have going on here in Austin Tx. Having a focus in metal work and some background in ceramics I became interested in glazing steel. Mostly looking into large scale industerial process. Randomly I came across your righting and followed your link to Arcerlor Mittal – Constructalia with the blow by blow desctiption of the process. Wow! Im now of course having trouble navigating back to the information on their site… Hopefully I can resolve that. I did want to take the time to thank you for sharing your information and compliment you on you work too. Good work! Keep it up.


  10. Hey Steve, thanks for the update, great work! The firing and re-firing you mention in your post is a good tip – if at first you don’t succeed (because who knows when a flaming red piece of metal comes out of the kiln/away from the torch what it will look once cooled) try reheating and see what happens. I’d forgotten that one myself so I’m loving the exchange. Please keep me updated – if you want 🙂

  11. Dear Melissa,

    Thank you so much for your informative blogs. I am an jeweler who loves enamel, a friend of Elizabeth Turrell, as well as many others we probably know in common. I am preparing for a class I’ll be teaching at Penland next summer and have found your comments to be very helpful. So thank you for being generous. I also saw your work in Australia last year (maybe Once More With Love??) and enjoy following what you are doing. Keep up the good work, and many thanks again! Marjorie

  12. Hi Marjorie,
    Thank you for your kind words, and in fact for leaving me a comment at all! I know we have a few things/people in common, including at least one upcoming exhibition, and so I’m glad that I could be of assistance. I really appreciate that you have taken the time out to post a note here, and all the best for your Penland class. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to meet, rather than just look at each others work, very soon.

  13. Hi Melissa

    Thanks for your lovely informative site, I have learnt alot and keep coming back to it.

    I want to buy a weathering steel wall art work to have by my pool here in Australia and then to shabby enamel it (I know what I want to create in my head just not sure it is possible!!
    Here is a link to the laser cut steel

    I would like to put some colour on it and sort of shabby chic so I am not fussed about perfection/rusting/bubbles etc will all add to the charm – very hard to describe what I am after.

    Sort of like this finish on this plate I found on ebay but with a duck egg blue and white.
    I have been researching on the internet to see if I can add enamel onto the steel with a blow torch. I don’t want a perfect effect and I want it to all rust and weather. I can’t find much information about enamels on steel – but with copper you have to use the torch from behind does that work for steel too. Should I prop the panel up (its 1.2m x 1.8m) hold the torch underneath the panel? I have plenty of time and thought I might experiment as you suggested on Tomato cans first

    Any advice you can give me would be great.

  14. Hi Sarah,
    Sorry for the delay in response – I’ve been researching your question as my experience with torch firing was rather rudimentary though as usual for me I would try to start with red first – a much harder pigment to fix as the first layer.
    Thanks to the delightful and insightful Kat Cole here are some tips for torch firing onto steel:
    “- Kiln firing limits the amount of warping that happens because the entire piece is heated evenly, which is possible with a small piece and large torch.
    – That being said, I have been able to fire a 10″x16″ 20 gauge (25.4cm x 40.64cm x 0.812mm) sheet of steel with liquid enamel with a large torch tip (but really not that big compared with the size of the sheet) on an acetylene tank.
    – Because steel does not spread heat around as evenly as copper would, you can actually get quite a nice range of firings across one piece of metal.
    – But because of the warping I have not been able to torch fire a second time without quite a bit of enamel cracking off.
    – The thicker the metal the less it will warp and I have had success torch firing smaller pieces of thicker steel multiple times. ”
    So, to answer your question, yes, I would attempt to fire from the rear of the piece. While your 2mm thick panel is more than double the thickness of Kat’s sample, it is significantly larger so working from behind will be tough. I would suggest (beyond the usual – sandblast well, make sure the enamel dries fully before you try firing, though you may have to forgo a ground coat/layer of clear first as you’re likely facing a one-fire situation) use as large a torch as you can find, get behind the panel (propped up would be safer than lying under a panel of hot metal) and be prepared to stand there for a while, so wear proper protective gear – leather gloves, mask, goggles/green glasses etc.

    I think you have the right idea in doing some testing first, to see how that goes and what you might need to prepare for firing the final piece. Good luck, stay safe and be sure to let me know how you go!

  15. Thank you very much for your posts. I love working with liquid enamel. If you have a chance to visit Thompson Enamel, you should. They have an amazing museum.


  16. Hi Prabhakar,
    I’ve not had to source enamel for anywhere other than Australia or the US, so my only suggestions would be to contact Thompson or more likely in your area WG Ball to see if they will deliver to you. I have a hunch that in India you’re most likely to have luck with WG ball.
    Good luck,

  17. Hi Melisa,

    Thx for your kindness sharing work with enamel….
    I am job coater in Indonesia….using elecectrostatic powder coating…different from enamel…..
    First one mont ago I am little bit confused what enamel is….
    I’m looking the answer…and from your described I had faith that I already have teory but need some experience.

    So….enamel can applied by wet and dry…..dry offcourse using elecrtostatic….

    For Prabhakar…..I have made order enamel from gangguli ceramic in west bengal kolkota India….with Mr. Gangguli…..his nice person who info me so I can undesrtand working wih enamel….


  18. Hi Andrie,
    First up, thanks for sharing the information about the retailer in India with us for Prabhakar, that’s fantastic.
    I do have some friends who have remarked on the similarity of powder coating to enamel, and while I hasten to add that I’m only an enameller so I’m only vaguely aware of the difference myself, I’m glad you found the post useful.
    Good luck in your testing out your theories!

  19. Thank you on the insights into enamel on steel. Since I read your instructions I have ordered some liquid enamel from Thompson. I can’t wait until it gets here. I was wondering if you had ever done any cast iron? My mother had a fire in a gazebo at her house, which was a total lose. But there is always a golden lining if you look for it. My father loved copper, guttering, flashing and the like. It has left me with some very interestingly melted pieces of copper, for me to work with, it was a very hot fire. But I digress, there were several cast Iron pans, in the gazebo, they were a real mess, but a little time in the sand blaster have cleaned them right up. Since they have such a wonderful surface now I thought of enameling them. Have you ever worked with cast iron? I was really wondering how to do this? The iron takes so much heat I was worried about the enamel evaporating away if I put it in the kiln cold. Should I pre heat the iron, and if so to what temperatures?

    I am trying to repurpose as much as I can salvage from the fire. My father built it and he passed away a few years ago. He would like some of the copper pieces I have recovered. They are so cool. The shapes are incredible, and a lot of them have bits of glass in bedded in them. I have never seen any thing like them. As I said the fire was very hot and the copper melted on to the glass sky lights which then broke and fell down into the blaze.

    Thank you for any help,


  20. Hi David,
    I’m impressed at your silver-lining view of your mother’s loss, and too would love to have copper guttering and flashing.
    I haven’t personally worked with cast iron, but a friend Cath has and described some of her process on our Heat Exchange blog.
    In the comments section at the bottom of this post she explains annealing before firing (900*C for 30 mins) amongst other things, and in these posts she mentioned industrial iron undercoat which was helpful to her also.
    If you ever get the chance to put some of your experiments up on the web I’d be keen to link to them, same goes for your copper with embedded glass pieces; they sound really intriguing.
    Good luck and please let us know how you fare!

  21. Hi Melissa
    your blog is very interesting, i’ve found it while searching for informations about enamelling on stainless steel (416ss) . I have made some tests with Thompson enamels but not the liquid e. you suggested, i tried to enamel with transparent e. over a simple engraving but the problem I have found is the enamel cracks as it cools and so the cracks hide the engraving
    do you think that using liquid enamels could solve the problem?
    thank you

  22. Hi Melissa,
    your blog is very interesting
    I have tried to enamel on stainless steel (aisi416 ) with Thompson enamel but not the liquid enamels you suggest to use.the problem I have found is that the enamel cracks as it cools
    do you think that using liquid enamels can solve the problem? I’d like to use transparent enamels on engravings similar to guilloche’
    thank you

  23. Hi Marcello,
    The cracking when cooling problem can be from a range of sources – in my experience some enamels are more prone to it than others, and often it is due to the thickness of the enamel layer – too think is more likely to crack. Liquid clear enamel is your best bet for it to work (try the BC-969A from Thompson) as it puts down a very thin layer of fine enamel. Depending on how engraved the surface is, it may not be rough enough for good adhesion, so you may find that you have a very limited palette of transparent colours that you can work with.
    As always I recommend sandblasting, but I can understand for your type of work that crisp fine lines would be preferred. If there are any flat areas in the design I would still blast those. You will have to experiment with how many layers of enamel you can fire in order to get the build-up that I assume you will be after. And there is always the option of plating the steel first…
    Good luck – I hope you’ll let us know when you have images of these works up on your website.

  24. Hi Melissa,

    I have tried the liquid enamel and I really like it. I have used the undercoat, but I’m confused, it’s called cobalt blue but it comes out gray. Am I doing something wrong, or is the name misleading? I’ve have also been telling my friends about the liquid form and the have roped me into doing a class.

    Thanks for your blog.


  25. Welcome back David!
    Glad you’re enjoying the liquid enamel. I’ll have to pop a picture of my sample up on this page, but for now there’s one at the bottom of this post. In short, yes, in my experience the undercoat comes out very grey. Interestingly though I’ve used some of Thompson’s pre-enamelled squares before and they are even darker, but in them I can see a blue tinge, though not what I would really call cobalt.
    Good luck with your class!

  26. Hello Melissa,
    I have been trying to find someone who can do hard enamelling and re-enamelling of german silver badges. This is for restoration as well as new work. Within reason price is not a consideration. Can you suggest anyone (preferably in Melbourne) who might be prepared to test their skills?
    I have replicas to test prior to attempting the original pieces if that helps.
    Yours Greatfully in anticipation
    Noel McDermott

  27. Hi Melissa,
    I also stumbled upon your blog when searching for ways to enamel on steel. Thank you so much for your insightful post. I did have a few questions as I’ve only ever enameled on copper. You mentioned to never heat up steel that is zinc plated or galvanized. How can you tell if it is either? I wanted to try to enamel on washers. The packaging does not indicate anything other than steel. I did try one with dry sifted enamel and as you mentioned and the glass literally jumped off the washer! Which is why I started searching the internet to see what I did wrong. I do not have access to a sand blaster so I will attempt to sand it first as you suggested.

  28. Hi Lisa,

    Good question, how can you tell if something is zinc plated? Well, it takes some practice, and for you to look for some telltale signs. Zinc plating looks brighter than normal steel or can sometimes comes in a brassy finish. It will generally show no signs of rust (which is pretty rare in a magnetic piece of steel) and will be a lighter grey colour than a true steel grey. You have to spend a bit of time looking at variations in the greyness of steel before zinc will pop out as an intruder, but if there’s any doubt, try taking some of it off to see what the underlying metal is.
    Good luck!

  29. I am interested in using vitreous glass on Zinc pieces. Is there a product or process that can work at a low enough temperature as to not slump or melt the Zinc yet still ‘set’ a durable porcelain surface? The effect I am going for is Cloisonne w/ Zinc ‘ridges’, preferably since this will be for an outdoor application.

  30. Hi Unopinionated Dan,
    In a word, no. The main problem is the melting point of zinc is 787.2°F (419.5°C), while that of enamel (made from glass) is around 1472°F (750°C). There are other proprietary products that also say they are enamel, in the way that some paints say enamel, which are generally some sort of epoxy resin. These are a polymer (plastic), and not glass, but can pretty successfully replicate the look of a glass surface, if that’s what you’re after. Lucy Sarneel uses zinc almost exclusively, and goes to great lengths to solder/fuse it successfully owing the ever-present jeopardy of ‘will I melt it’, and so she colours with with acrylic paints. On the opposite side of your material quandary, Jillian Moore uses resin almost exclusively, and sandwiches layers of paint into layers of clear resin, so proprietary products are not the only answer.

  31. Hi Melissa,

    I am having hardtime looking for powder form enamel, I am from Philippines and the only enamel we have here is oil based enamel, acrylic enamel or enamel that is being used for constructions. Honestly, dont know anything about enamel. Good thing, i found your blog. Now, I am a hiker and I want to make my own personalized camping mugs using stainless steel or aluminum. What would be the best type or kind of enamel can I be use except from powder form enamel. Is oil based, water based and alkyd enamel is safe to use it to my camping mugs? I am still wondering how camping mugs/enamel camping mugs produced. Hoping for immediate response! Happy holidays though! Thanks!!!!!

  32. Hello Melissa
    I’ve been playing around in the shed making knife blades with stainless steel. I love the colours you can get out of stainless steel as it is tempered, I’ve had some interesting results with sweaty/oily fingerprints onto polished stainless, just prior to tempering, it seems to cause the treated steel to oxidise faster than the surrounding material.
    I’ve also noticed that one side of the stainless steel (3 mm food grade stainless) always seems to be quite dull, almost a matte finish compared to the other side. I know this is not exactly your field of expertise but I had a feeling you may have come across this in the past do you think it would have any influence on the enamel cohesion?.
    I did have a quick go at enamelling a small piece of stainless, with some broken glass from a lightbulb the bulb came from another bright idea I had, I tried grinding up some of it and got most of it pretty fine but it still came out a bit lumpy on the steel , I also tried some whole pieces of glass about 1 cm² most of the ground up and the whole piece pinged off.
    I think you’re right about the angle grinder not giving enough grip for the enamel. My second attempt started with a benchtop grinder with a fine grit it gave it a much smoother finish but still felt grippy to the touch, again most of last pinged off but a small 5 mm wide by 0.5 mm thick piece of glass did stay put, with a better choice of enamel I’m certain I could get better results.
    The project that I’m working towards involves a piece of stainless steel 5 mm thick, are there any problems or suggestions that come to mind?
    I’d really like to use clear enamels for this project. You mentioned the cobalt blue as a base coat I was looking through Thompsons website and they recommended 2020 as a clear base coat for stainless steel have you used it or come across it before?
    I would like to keep the enamel away from the cutting edge of the blade, would it be better to cover the entire piece of steel with enamel and then after firing sand or file away excess enamel?
    You also spoke briefly about gilding or plating steel ? Would gilding/plating work as a primer for glass enamel? And would the steel still need sandblasting to hold the gilding and then enamel?

  33. Simon!
    Apologies, it’s been ages since your first comment, and a little while since your second, and I can only say again, sorry. I’ve been living one of those lives of late…
    Interesting to note technique for speeding up oxidation, it’s probably another part of the reason that you get poor enamel adhesion with grease and oil on the surface of a metal – the oxidation adds strength to the other barrier, the actual film of oil.
    I can’t tell you anything about the different sides of the metal with food grade stainless, or in fact with any stainless, aside from suggesting it perhaps has something to do with the rolling (cold or otherwise) of the steel. The inherent metal properties don’t seem to affect the metal (at least for the first layer of enamel) as much as the surface preparation so I don’t see that being a problem. The later firings are always affected by the amount of impurities in the steel – specifically carbon – so that might be an issue with food grade, especially with… knives! I know you didn’t want to hear that, so we’ll move right along for now…
    I think I explained mesh sizes for enamel in the post, so I’m not surprised that even a well ground a light bulb didn’t work out exactly as planned – the consistency of a 200 mesh enamel powder is more of a cornflour/cornstarch (Aus or UK vs US baking terms right there) consistency, so if you’re feeling any grains in there (say sand or any form of noticeable grain) then your grinding simply isn’t fine enough. That said, I admire your ingenuity, and like you say, the preliminary results with uncertain materials are promising! (Think about that made me worry about the micro-particles of carbon and other odd things you might get in a light bulb contaminating your sample, so I personally wouldn’t want to use that method for food grade, which brought me to another issue – I’m not entirely sure where to get food grade enamel from. I haven’t checked any of my sources for that ‘level’ or quality of material, but it would be worth looking into WG Ball and Thompson to see what you might find out about their products. It has to be around as it’s done, but enamellers are notorious for wanting to used lead-based products, so you do need to be careful.)
    I tend to use the low fusing clear as my base – the 969A, and from memory the 2 series (2020 being part thereof) are medium fusing. If it is that, yes I’ve used it. The only difference between low and med fusing is the colour it turns the raw steel underneath it when enamelled. The low fusing tends towards brown with a cloudy charcoal colour, while the medium fusing goes more towards green. These are both oxidation colours (read: rust) of steel, so they’re no big surprise. I don’t see a problem using whichever works, so long as you get good adhesion, which in my experience you should once the surface prep is right. But here’s the tough part I alluded to earlier – what might bring you undone is those pesky carbon bubbles (from a high carbon steel) coming out of the steel and into your enamel. The fewer the layers, the less this may trouble you, but it’s hard to tell since you will probably have to hold that thickness of steel at temperature for a while in order to get the enamel to fuse properly, which tends to release the bubbles. They might not be a problem, but if enamel starts to flake after a couple of what you thought were pretty solid layers, that’s your issue, and once you’re there it’s very hard to rectify/undo.
    I haven’t worked with that thickness (my max is about 2mm), but I know with patience and experimentation it can be done. (See Cath and Andy on the Heat Exchange blog for some amazing cast iron that has been enamelled. Truly incredible works on a technical and aesthetic level.) Often times on a higher carbon steel you will need to coddle it a bit and go with the grip coat/coloured base coat. Since it’s dark like steel is once enamelled I don’t see an issue with starting with that and then building up your transparent layers, unless there’s specifically something you want to see under all that enamel.
    I personally find it easier to not cover the sections I don’t want enamelled, but it becomes an aesthetic or stylistic choice in some situations. I don’t like having to undo stuff, but sometimes you get a better finish if you gradually wear down the enamel back to the steel. Elizabeth Turrell’s work is a masterclass in application and judicious removal, and maybe I’ve been turned off the painstaking process just by how hard it looks to do 😉
    Plating and gilding are two different processes, and gilt steel (typically applied with adhesive) would not work. Generally when steel (and many other metals) are plated the base coat is copper over which is added a very thing film of gold, so in that situation I’d say save the money and work on the copper as it would work just as well, and be cheaper to get a really good thickness to operate over. That said, I’ve heard of it done but for it to work a lot or metallurgical factors need to be in sync, and I don’t know the half of them! If the base metal and the gold are not close enough in enamelling temperature it might be possible to burn off the gold, ruining the whole process. I’m a steel and titanium worker, so aside from some injudicious stabs in the dark as to other processes (such as that gold info) that’s about where my knowledge ends.
    Thank you for your query, I hope this very long and wordy refrain helps, and I’d love to see photos when you get it done.


  34. Hi Christle,
    The artist paint form of enamels and the kind of enamel you see on camping mugs are very different. The camping mugs in this post were all bought from a store and then our kiln-fired enamel decals were applied, dried and then fired at a low temperature (up to probably 700*C) before they were safe to be used. So this kind of enamel is what is used in food applications. To use any other paints (that are not heat set in some form) would be great for decorative applications but not food safe. If you were to use an acrylic paint on an outside surface of a pre-enamelled mug it would likely not stand up to many washes, especially in hot water.
    Hope this answers your question!

  35. Hi, I’ve been wanting to try enamel on steel but I am having a hard time finding steel that has not been galvanized. Do you have a source that you could share where you can get it online? If so please let me know. Thank you.

  36. Hi Melissa,

    “Remember that unlike copper, counter enamelling the panel/object is not so important. You can build up the front without having to build up the back quite so much. The strength of the steel is your friend.”

    Of equal importance the coefficient of expansion of mild steel is closer to that of enamel than copper where there is quite a mismatch. I enamel mild steel exclusively and find it preferable to copper for my purposes.

    Thanks for sharing your insights.

    Kind regards

  37. Kathy, I go to Online Metals for my steel, though I have the benefit that it’s a short bus ride away so I can pick it up and save on shipping costs. They do have everything and will ship all over, so they’re a good start. If you can get some low carbon steel that will certainly help, and for 3×3″ test squares of that I usually go to the Thompson website. I’d include a link but they’re notorious for changing them.
    Happy shopping!

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