How Color-Changing Pipes Work; a Look Behind the Scenes

color-changing pipes

Any kind of glass will get the job done, but color-changing pipes… there’s just something about them. Adding the element of surprise to each smoke session gives the experience an awesome visual dimension.

Pack a bowl and as you continue to use it, you can see your pipe go from mostly clear to beaming with color. Pretty mindblowing if you’ve never witnessed this before, but even experienced smokers continue to marvel at the transformation. It’s like watching your pipe turn into a totally different piece the more you use it.

Alright, time to peek behind the scenes. What is it that makes the glass change colors?

Color-Changing Pipes: How They Work

The science and craftsmanship behind creating color-changing pipes are fascinating. The process begins with glassblowing. This is a glass-forming technique in which glass is melted and inflated via a blowpipe or blowtube.

In the workshop of a glassblower, there is a specific set of tools used throughout the process. A furnace melts the borosilicate glass that is used in making the pipes. The crucible is a container that holds the molten glass. To begin, A layer of the molten glass is gathered onto the end of a blowpipe and is shaped into a cylinder using a tool called a marver.

Next, the artist heats the glass in the glory hole, which is the main workstation for forming the pipe. A combination of turning and heating constantly, and blowing to create a bubble, the beginning form of the pipe is made. The artist will continue shaping and eventually finish it off with the bowl opening and a mouthpiece opening. From there, the piece is put in the kiln to cure.

Glass Fuming

Most color-changing glass is made by a process called glass fuming. During the beginning stages of glassblowing a pipe, precious metal alloys are vaporized using a flame, as the glass is rotated in the same flame.

The most commonly used metal alloys are 24K gold, .999 fine silver, and sometimes platinum. Typically, another layer of glass is added to enclose the fumed metal in between the layers of glass. The metal alloy inside the glass contains lightly colored ions.

When the light passes through the glass, the colors are barely noticeable. When built up with resin, the light reflects off the fuming in the pipe showing off the iridescent new colors. The contrast of the dark background causes the light to reflect rather than passing through.

Bob Snodgrass’ Lightbulb Moment

Glass fuming was an accidental discovery. In the 1980s an artist named Bob Snodgrass was crafting a glass pipe when some stray silver got in the flame. He unexpectedly fumed silver into the glass. He thought he had destroyed the piece with his mistake.

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Later he realized what had actually happened. He had invented another method of adding color to blown glass. It has since proven to be quite valuable and has become standard practice for integrating blazing colors in glassblowing and pipe making.

Snodgrass has made some of the best quality, intricate work to this day. He is sometimes referred to as the Godfather of glass. You can still find some of his pieces for sale online such as this Hammer Bubbler.

Picture courtesy of where the piece retails for $3000.

Before & After Pipes Change Color

Color changing pipes only appear to change in color. It is not the glass itself that changes colors, but the way the light is reflected causing it to look like it changes color. It is more of a visual illusion and less of an actual color-change.

Because the effect is brought out by the smoke creating a dark enough backdrop, the change is not a permanent one. Pipes should revert to their original coloring after a thorough enough cleaning to make the lightly colored ions become translucent again.

This is a good thing because if you’re willing to put in the elbow grease, you can begin the exciting color change process all over again! The more you use your pipe, the more color you will see. So, blaze frequently to get the full effect.

Famous Brands

Some of the top-rated glass pipe brands include Chameleon Glass, aka the front-runner in color-changing pipes, and Fat Buddha Glass. Their high-quality pieces and superior craftsmanship are well-known among insiders. These brands are two of my personal favorites as well.

Check out this color-changing spoon pipe from Chameleon Glass.
Fat Buddha glass also has some really unique pieces like this Wing pipe.

3 More Ways Color-Changing Pipes Work

1. Dichroic Glass

There is another type of color-changing glass called Dichroic glass. This method is similar but the process is a bit different as it uses additional material.

To make dichroic glass, you must heat and vaporize tiny layers of Quartz crystal along with silver or gold compound onto the glass pipe. This process gives the glass a shifting color composition. The colors will change depending on the viewing angle and the lighting.

Here’s a small but beautifully made spiral fumed dichroic glass hand pipe.

Image courtesy of SmokeCartel.

2. UV Reactive Glass

The third type of color-changing pipe is made with UV reactive glass. For this glow-in-the-dark effect, a small quantity of uranium dioxide is added to the color when making the pipe. When under natural light, UV reactive glass will have a standard transparent hue. When paired with the blacklight, the uranium inside the pipe creates a vivid glowing appearance with bright neon colors. In other words, your pipe will light up while you’re getting lit.
Take a look at this Glow-in-the-dark spoon pipe by Empire Glassworks. You can see a preview of how these pipes will glow in the product photos.

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3. CFL Reactive Glass

CFL reactive glass also called shifty glass, is another type of color-changing glass used for making pipes. It is made with different colors of borosilicate glass. The color change works similarly to UV reactive glass, except you will see the color change under fluorescent lights instead.

With this type of pipe, the starting color in natural light would be one color and when put in fluorescent lighting, the hue will shift to an entirely different color, rather than the neon glow that the UV reactive glass exhibits.

There are a few different Shifty glass colors available for glassblowers to use in their craft. If the pipe is made with the boro glass color called Serum, for example, it will begin as a light, translucent color. When we look at it in fluorescent lighting, this type of glass will look pink.

The Element of Surprise

Whether glass changes in appearance due to the presence of precious metals, quartz crystal, or uranium dioxide, no one will deny that these are some of the coolest pieces you can add to your collection. What they have in common is “Ah”, the element of surprise! Aside from being the product of some expert craftsmanship, of course.

If you didn’t already know, now you have a better idea of how color-changing pipes work and how they are made. I hope this doesn’t take away from the fun but, on the contrary, adds to your appreciation!

On that note, let’s end with some more examples of the stunning glasswork in color-changing pipes. These specimens caught my eye and are – individual tastes aside – worth a closer look.

5 Color-Changing Pipes in the Spotlight

once in a blue moon fumed galaxy spoon
Spoon pipe with cobalt blue tubing and silver fuming, by LA Pipes. (Found on SmokeCartel.)
Andromeda Solid Blue Dichro Maria Ringed Spoon Pipe
This spoon goes by the name of ‘Andromeda’, which is most fitting for its dichroic glass with mesmerizing opalescent shimmer. (Found on SmokeCartel.)
LA Pipes Fumed Inside-out Spoon Pipe with Dichro and Slyme Swirls
LA Pipes makes these fumed inside-out spoon pipes with dichroic glass and slyme swirls. (Found on Grasscity.)

Bonus: a Great Before & After Description

This anonymous reviewer does a smashing job putting words to the magic of color-changing glass. They describe the process of what to expect from these types of glass to the t:

Just received this little beauty in the mail 2 days ago, and it has already begun to change colors. Mine differed from the one in the photo ( as is to be expected with any hand-blown glass piece) My slyme streaks were much more of a pale green and less translucent, but they were also much more shiny and iridescent, reflecting light back in a pale pearly green, and the dichro stripes were less of a blue and more of a dark sparkly blueish black, however, the green slyme marbles added to the bowl for grip look pretty much like the picture.

Now that I’ve had it for a couple of days, the colors have begun to shift, the clear areas are beginning to take on a light blue tone which is becoming more vivid the more I smoke, with some areas even taking on more deep purple or indigo colors. This is all making the pale pearl green and the dark sparkling black dichro stand out against it much more dramatically and giving the whole thing a very striking appearance.

In regards to performance, this thing hits like a champ. If you rip hard and take your finger off the carb, this thing will sucker punch you in the throat, you will cough, and then you will blast off, but it can be hit gently too if you don’t want to instantly die, you can pick your speed with this piece. Good amount of internal volume. The bowl is a good size, good depth. Decent capacity. Size is convenient, large enough to feel substantial and tough, small enough to drop into a pocket or bag. Feels like good quality glass. I definitely recommend.

LA Pipes Heavy Inside-Out Fumed Clear Cane Spoon Pipe
Color-changing pipes aren’t all blue! An elegant and simple piece in silver and gold fumed glass, by LA Glass. (Found on Grasscity.)
LA Pipes Heavy Inside-Out Fumed Spoon Pipe with Oily Cobalt Drops
A last one, also by LA Glass, with yet another unique effect: gold and silver fumed borosilicate glass decorated with oily cobalt drops throughout. (Found on Grasscity.)

By Felis Cannabis

Hi, Felis Cannabis here. This little corner of the web is my scratch pole. The legalize movement is growing, but not fast enough for me to give up the incognito status just yet. ;-) Let's keep at it! We should have the right to use any plant we choose.