Brass is a copper alloy, usually containing 33% zinc and 67% copper, although other metals like tin, arsenic and antimony may be added to improve strength, hardness or formability. The more zinc used in the alloy, the lighter the color of the brass, ranging from a dark reddish brown to a silvery yellow color.
Brass is stronger and harder than pure copper, but is not comparable with metals like titanium and steel. Therefore, it is rarely used in industrial settings where exposure to extreme temperatures, abrasive chemicals and constant moisture are common. Brass nameplates may be used both indoors and out but are often lacquered and polished to prevent oxidation, which tarnishes the metal.
Brass nameplates are often used on doors and desks in office and corporate settings as a fancy alternative to plastic or wood. They are nailed onto trophies, works of art and awards of merit as title plates as well as briefcases, bedroom doors, boxes, suitcases and trunks. Outdoor memorial plaques, which are commonly seen nailed to statues or benches, are often made of brass. Quality tags on pet collars are sometimes made of brass as well.
When brass is exposed to oxygen, it quickly oxidizes, ruining its shiny finish and attractive color, a process known as tarnishing. Outdoor brass nameplates tarnish much more quickly than those used outdoors. To prevent this from happening, most brass is lacquered with a clear coat on one side, which is generally made of silica powder, ammonia and isopropyl alcohol.
This chemical seals the brass exterior from air, thus protecting it from exposure to oxygen. Indoors, the lacquer lasts for upwards of 20 years if it isn't exposed to moisture, while outdoor brass objects must be re-lacquered and polished every few years. The clear lacquer is easily removed with paint thinner.
Highly abrasive cleaning products tend to remove the clear coat as well as scratch the brass, so cleaning and polishing brass nameplates must be done with certain specially-made cleaning agents. The brass nameplate itself is most often nailed to wood and is commonly sold with a set of nails or pins for mounting. They are flat and rectangular or oval in shape, although many manufacturers offer more complex and custom made designs.
All brass nameplates contain text, which is usually an individual's full name, initials, a date, title or contact information. Brass is usually engraved, a process that inscribes the text through abrasive etching, which uses lasers, metal needles or diamond. Chemical etching is also a popular method, a process that uses abrasive chemicals to dissolve the exposed metal after a stencil is laid down on the brass surface.