Metal Sheet Manufacturing: Brass or Copper?

Copper and brass are both a favorite for metal processing, and it has been that way for a reason – many metal machining shops offer these materials for an added aesthetic flare or as an integral architectural detail.

Brass was the favorite of the Victorians with many house embellishments being adorned with this metal – it was a status symbol, as it took a lot of time to clean and keep the brass shiny. Copper was a greatly important metal for ancient humans and continues to be a material of choice for a variety of domestic, industrial, and high-tech applications. While aesthetically similar, it’s important to know which of these bronze-colored metals to choose for your next project – using the wrong type of sheet metal can have disastrous effects, especially if your creation requires to hold any form of structural integrity.

Before selecting the material for your next sheet metal project, consider these methods for differentiating between copper and brass.

Method 1: Color Inspection

Both brass and copper sheets develop patina as they age, which results in a dark surface with green specs. But don’t worry, you can freely clean the metal using brass cleaning techniques – they’re safe for both copper and brass. Once finished, hold the metal surface up to a florescent light source.

Copper is a single metal, meaning its composition is almost always exactly the same. In comparison, brass is an alloy and the colors of the metal sheets will vary, depending on the combination of metals present. If you want to know whether the metal sheet you’re holding is copper, you can compare them to the lowest value Euro coins – these coins that always get lost at the bottom of your pockets are made from copper-plated steel. If the sheet’s color resembles the coin, you have a copper sheet in your hands. However, if the color is visibly different, then you have brass sheet metal.

Additionally, copper is known for its reddish coloring while brass may have variations that can range from orange red to yellow. Yellow brass contains a higher concentration of zinc while the darker brass, also known as red or orange brass, contains more copper – even up to 80%.

Method 2: Check the Codes

Thank you, tedious administrative jobs! Identification is way easier, since most brass pieces, even sheets that are made for industrial use, must have a stamped code on them. These codes give both the supplier and the client a simple solution to identify the metal or the alloy in front of them. Both North American and European manufacturers label brass pieces with a “C” which is then followed by a series of numbers.

Keep in mind that copper pieces are usually left unlabeled, so do not get confused – it’s all brass metal sheets with the “C” label, even with codes like C3, C4 or even C10100. However, these codes are not present in older brass pieces as this is a relatively recent identification system.

Method 3: Ask Your Sheet Metal Supplier

The best and the simplest way to be 100% sure of the type of metal you are about to use is to ask your supplier about them.

At ColibrisODM, we put in full trust in our metal fabrication partners, and so should you – while we do check the quality of the production of your projects, you can always be assured that you’re getting the correct metal when ordering.

And if you’re unsure about the best metal choice for your sheet metal project, don’t worry – we offer a technical consultation where we will provide you with all of the necessary industry know-hows from our experienced team members.