Blue is the Hardest Fireworks Color to Create

You might have guessed that making fireworks is a complex process, but did you know that not all firework colors are created equal? While reds and oranges are relatively simple for pyrotechnics to create, the primary color blue is particularly difficult. The reason why lies in chemistry. Different hues require specific chemical compound and temperature combinations to be recreated as brilliant explosives. While scientific advances have been made in the world of pyrotechnics, creating a perfectly vibrant blue firework still hasn’t been achieved.

China invented fireworks and Italy added color

Experts believe the first fireworks were invented in China over a millennium ago. Chinese alchemists mixed together several ingredients creating gunpowder. The powder was stuffed into bamboo shoots and thrown into fire, resulting in explosive blasts. Centuries later in the 1800’s, the Italians progressed fireworks by adding the visual element of color. By inventing what’s called an aerial shell, they incorporated metals and other chemicals to add striking colors to what was previously a showcase of sounds. Significant improvements in chemistry over the years since has allowed for the array of colors we see displayed in fireworks shows today.

The chemistry of fireworks color

Fireworks colors are the result of specific concoctions of basic metallic elements. The metallic elements burn, releasing energy and emitting light. Each chemical burns at a different wavelength, which simply means it emits a specific color. Red fireworks use strontium and lithium, barium is used for green, sodium makes yellow, aluminum magnesium and titanium make white and finally copper produces blue fireworks. The temperature at which the metal burns also affects the visible color.

Therein lies the complexity of blue fireworks since the copper compound is very fragile. The temperature of the chemical reaction has to be precisely perfect in order to emit blue. If the temperature is too high, the blue is washed out. If it’s too low, then it might not ignite or look a different color altogether.

It’s not easy being blue

With all the advances in technology and chemistry, a vibrant blue still remains a challenge. The best pyrotechnics get close by marrying art and science—conjuring their best chemical combinations while creating entertaining fireworks displays. Next time you’re enjoying a fireworks show be sure to check out the blues sparkling above you. If they’re bright and don’t disappear into the night sky, now you know it wasn’t easy to make it that way.