History of Vitreous Enamel

Vitreous enamel, also known as porcelain enamel, has been used for thousands of years. Initially used for religious and ceremonial items and then also for Jewellery of the highest quality. The application of vitreous enamel is described as enamelling. The application of enamel to domestic articles such as pots and pans probably started in the early 19th century in central Europe.

The first metal used for this purpose was cast iron. Today, vitreous enamel can be applied to copper, gold, silver, cast iron, steel and aluminium, dependent on the enamel formula. Production of vitreous enamelled articles varies from craftsmen producing one off items in precious metal to factories producing up to 12000 cookers per week with a very high proportion of the parts coated with vitreous enamel.

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The Virtues of Vitreous Enamel

More than 500 years ago, the English chronicler Robert Fabyan described the science and art of vitreous (porcelain) enameling on metals, a practice that was already 15 centuries old. Today, vitreous enamel art is as vibrant as then. The industry of enameling metal panels, which blossomed in the 1800s and 1900s, had receded but is enjoying a resurgence thanks to new technological developments.

The Science of Vitreous Enamel: Boric Oxide Is Required

Vitreous enameling—the fusing of a thin layer of glass to a metal base—is virtually impossible to achieve on large areas unless the glass has a high (up to 25%) boric oxide content. From the day of its invention, enamel has been used to beautify metal objects, and once the technology had developed to allow its application to large pieces, its durability and protective power could be exploited.

Traditionally, an enamel surface is two coats, base and cover, each of which had to be applied and fired separately. But in the 1970s, the so-called 2C/1F process—two coats, one firing—was perfected. This technique decreases energy usage and process times dramatically. With advances in frit technology, the need for steel pre-treatment by pickling and nickel plating became unnecessary. As a result, effluent disposal costs and potential environmental risks are mitigated.

Enamel Glaze: Versatile and Beautiful

As a surface coating, especially iron and steel, vitreous enamel is unassailable. Highly durable with a long service life, it resists scratching and chemical marring. It is easy to clean, and therefore, very hygienic.

Microwave Mismatches

Microwave ovens are usually lined with plastic, stainless steel, or a painted surface. Okay for the basic process, but since integrated functions such as a grill, air circulation, and steam heating have been added, temperatures in the chamber can rise to 572°F (300°C) or more. Higher temperatures can result in staining, yellowing, and distortion. If an enamel lining is used, these faults are avoided altogether.

An added bonus is that because enameled steel has half the thermal conductivity of stainless steel, it actually improves food quality. This lower conductivity means less energy usage for the same cooking effect, shorter cooking times, and more vitamins retained in the cooked food.

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Vitreous enamel information

You will recognise vitreous enamel as the material used to produce the now highly collectable advertising signs produced during the early 20th Century. The ‘Hovis’ and ‘Virol’ signs were part of the everyday street scene. Your cooker will almost certainly have a vitreous enamelled oven and the higher quality cookers will use it on the outer parts. Your cast iron or steel bath will have been vitreous enamelled. Less obvious are the storage silos on farms, usually blue or green; they tower over the surrounding countryside. Carl Faberge used enamel for his unique eggs and jewellery and the Battersea enamellers are famous for their copper enamelled boxes. These are just two of the better known groups of highly skilled artists who used this very special material.

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

The glass will be applied to the metal by a various methods either as a powder or mixed with water. This is followed by heating in a furnace to a temperature usually between 750 and 850 degrees Celsius. This ‘firing’ process gives vitreous enamel its unique combination of properties.

The smooth glass-like surface is hard; it is scratch, chemical and fire resistant. It is easy to clean and hygienic.

Vitreous enamel can be applied to most metals. For jewellery and decorative items it is often applied to gold, silver, copper and bronze. For the more common uses, it is applied to steel or cast iron. There are some specialised uses on stainless steel and aluminium.

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 become shabby. 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 (see our page on Enamelling History). If you want something where the colour will never fade – use vitreous enamel.

Following 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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Vitreous enamel

Vitreous enamel, also called porcelain enamel, is a material made by fusing powdered glass to a substrate by firing, usually between 750 and 850 °C (1,380 and 1,560 °F). The powder melts, flows, and then hardens to a smooth, durable vitreous coating. The word comes from the Latin vitreum, meaning “glassy”.

Enamel can be used on metal, glass, ceramics, stone, or any material that will withstand the fusing temperature. In technical terms fired enamelware is an integrated layered composite of glass and another material (or more glass). The term “enamel” is most often restricted to work on metal, which is the subject of this article. Enamelled glass is also called “painted”, and overglaze decoration to pottery is often called enamelling.

Enamelling is an old and widely adopted technology, for most of its history mainly used in jewelry and decorative art. Since the 19th century, enamels have also been applied to many consumer objects, such as some cooking vessels, steel sinks, enamel bathtubs, and stone countertops. It has also been used on some appliances, such as dishwashers, laundry machines, and refrigerators, and on marker boards and signage.

The term “enamel” has also sometimes been applied to industrial materials other than vitreous enamel, such as “enamel” paint and the polymers coating “enamelled” wire.

The word enamel comes from the Old High German word smelzan (to smelt) via the Old French esmail, or from a Latin word smaltum, first found in a 9th-century life of Leo IV. Used as a noun, “an enamel” is usually a small decorative object coated with enamel. “Enamelled” and “enamelling” are the preferred spellings in British English, while “enameled” and “enameling” are preferred in American English.

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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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Vitreous Enamel Panel

General Description

Vitreous enamel panel offers a colourfast and maintenance free finish in an unlimited colour range. Deep and exotic colours peculiar to enamel can be freely selected, ranging from full gloss to satin.

Olympic Station

The vitreous enamel panel system provides a smooth protective coating which has the properties of glass while retaining the strength of steel. The hard surface provides a resistance to scratches, stains and all forms of graffiti.

No other finish provides graphics with the quality and durability inherent in vitreous enamel panel.

Resistant to extreme temperature changes, high humidity conditions, oil, grease and most chemicals.

Due to its light weight and ease of installation, economies can be attained when used as a facade/wall system on most projects.

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