Fireworks Guide: Sparklers
A traditional, handheld firework which emits sparks or a coloured flame.
- Held in the hand.
- Emits either sparks (gold and silver versions) or a flame and smoke (coloured versions).
- Suitable for children (5 years or older, under supervision).
- Low smoke indoor versions available.
- Burn time typically 40 seconds (12 inch) or 90 seconds (18 inch).
The anatomy of a sparkler
All varieties of sparklers look fairly similar:
Tip: The end you light. Sparklers these days have “easy light” tips (in the past they could be notoriously hard to get going!).
Pyrotechnic coating: This is the part that burns and emits sparks or a flame.
Handle: The part you hold, gloves are recommended.
Packet: This will advise whether the sparkler is suitable for indoor or outdoor use and have an instruction label with basic safety advice.
What type of effects to expect
Most outdoor sparklers come in either gold or coloured varieties. I’ve also seen a combination of effects in a double-coated type of sparkler called a “Yo Yo” sparkler which burns down in one effect and back up in another. Crackling sparklers are also available although less common.
Indoor sparklers tend to be mostly gold or silver.
Tip: A number of sparkler brands include effects labelled as “Neon” where the sparkler composition is dyed bright colours. In my testing, most of these do not burn the same colour as the dye and are often simply golden sparklers or a weak coloured flame.
How much do they cost?
£1 or thereabouts for smaller gold sparklers (usually packets of 5 or 6) up to £3+ for speciality sparklers such as giant coloured versions.
There really is a lot of variation in price. You should also expect to find bulk deals if buying a lot of sparklers e.g. for a wedding.
However to complicate matters, many outdoor sparklers are still classed as “outdoor fireworks” because of their pyrotechnic composition. Whilst they should be available all year from specialist firework shops, supermarkets and the likes tend to only have these during their seasonal Bonfire Night selling period.
Many indoor sparklers are classed as a low hazard indoor pyrotechnic and can usually be found available for mail order all year around.
Coloured vs. gold sparklers
Nearly everyone buying sparklers gravitates towards coloured sparklers as they sound better. In fact, it’s gold sparklers that give off the best sparks and create a more traditional effect. Gold sparklers also give off the least amount of smoke.
Coloured sparklers on the other hand usually burn with a bright coloured flame and emit a lot of smoke. For whatever restrictions of chemistry, it doesn’t seem possible to create the amount of sparks that gold sparklers produce but in a colour such as green, red or blue.
The two photos below, at the same scale, show the differences between a gold sparkler and a coloured one.
Gold sparklers: Best sparks, least smoke. Usually the better buy.
Coloured sparklers: Least sparks, mostly just a flame, lots of smoke.
If you want to use sparklers indoors, such as on a cake, you need to buy sparklers specifically designed for indoor use.
These will be marketed as indoor sparklers or will have a packet that clearly says suitable for indoor use. Sparklers designed for cakes are also usually smaller than outdoor sparklers, typically up to 6 inches, and often come in a variety of shapes, including hearts and numbers.
For birthday cakes and the likes, the much better product in terms of spectacle is a cake fountain (usually called an ice fountain). These produce a plume of sparks. To find out more, have a look at my ice fountain article.
The best sparklers for weddings
Without a doubt, gold sparklers are much better for weddings than coloured sparklers. This is because they produce less smoke and create traditional sparks, rather than the smoky flames from coloured sparklers.
There are a few safety caveats with sparklers and weddings which I cover in the using sparklers safely section, please read this before lighting up. It could save your guests’ eyebrows 😉
The best sparklers for photography
Both gold and coloured sparklers work well for photographs however they produce completely different results.
Gold sparklers produce a fuzzy line and don’t light up as much of the surroundings.
Coloured sparklers produce a more solid line a bit like using a torch and also light up anything they are close to, making them ideal for certain situations where you want people or scenery lit up.
New for 2020/21 is a type of outdoor sparkler which has a wooden core instead of a metal one. Although these have better ecological credentials thanks to the lack of metal, they do drop very hot ash so are not suitable for some types of celebration such as weddings, summer parties (where people might be wearing shorts) or over decking and the likes.
They burn brightly however and the giant ones – a full metre long – are great fun. Check out my full review and video of Trafalgar’s ECO Sparklers if you would like to learn more.
A word about safety
Ironically, sparklers are one of the leading causes of firework related accidents, typically burns to the hand. This is likely to be because people don’t realise they burn so hot and remain hot for a time after use.
But if used correctly, wearing gloves and with common sense there is absolutely no reason they should cause an injury.
My using sparklers safely guide has a lot more information on safe sparkler use and some tips on ensuring your sparkler fun goes without a hitch.
Further information and next steps
If you are following the Beginner’s Guides then you can click here to return to that page. Alternatively you can click here to see the main menu of each firework type in this section if you want to read more (or click on the menu at the top of this page to access all of my guides).
If you have any questions then please feel free to join my Fireworks Forum and ask away. Members are always here to help beginners and no question is too silly.
If you’re ready to buy fireworks for your display then the Buying Fireworks section will guide you further.