What is Vitreous Enamel?

Vitreous Enamel is simply a thin layer of glass fused at high temperature on to the surface of a metal.

The word enamel comes from the High German word ‘smelzan’ and later from the Old French ‘esmail’.

The formal definition is : Vitreous Enamel can be defined as a material which is a vitreous solid obtained by smelting or fritting a mixture of inorganic materials.

The Collins English Dictionary defines enamel as “a coloured glassy substance, transparent or opaque, fused to the surface of articles made of metal, glass etc. for ornament or protection.” Vitreous enamel is specifically on a metal base. It is thus defined as a vitreous, glass-like coating fused on to a metallic base. In American English it is referred to as Porcelain Enamel.

It should not be confused with paint, which is sometimes called ‘enamel’. Paints cannot be vitreous enamel. They do not have the hardness, heat resistance and colour stability that is only available with real vitreous enamel. Beware of companies or products implying the use of enamel. Check their credentials and warranties.

Vitreous enamel is part of everyday life and found all around us. You will use it on many kitchen surfaces including cookers, saucepans and washing machine drums. You will find enamelled cast iron or steel baths and clock and watch faces. Out of doors, we use enamel for street signs, Underground station signs, architectural panels, storage and treatment tanks and many other places. It is selected because it is weatherproof, vandal resistant, fireproof and because it lasts and lasts and lasts. Titanic’s Captain Smith’s enamelled bathtub has survived very well under the sea.

The durability of the early advertising signs, still showing the brilliance of the original colours after a hundred years, is one of the best examples of the long-term colour stability of vitreous enamel. Compare them to signs, for example, road signs produced in less durable materials which fade and quickly become shabby. The scourge of graffiti will destroy signs and panelling produced in less durable materials.

Some of the early vitreous enamelled relics date back to the 13th Century BC and the colours are still as vibrant as the day they were produced (click our page on Enamelling History). If you want something where the colour will never fade, use vitreous enamel.

London Underground LogoFollowing the disastrous King’s Cross fire, where combustible materials underground were the major cause, the specification of vitreous enamel for both decorative and functional parts in underground applications is now universal. It cannot burn, in contrast to paints and plastics. The famous London Underground station signs and maps are instantly recognisable uses of this unique product.

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