Fireworks are a rare treat that celebrates Fourth of July in America, Independence Days in other countries, festivals, new years, and just about any other event where people gather in great mass to make merry. However, people often forget that creating those sparks in the sky is actually a very exact science, perhaps even an art form as well. What most people don’t know is that those scientific artists we refer to as pyrotechnicians have given names to the firework effects they create in the sky.

It is common knowledge that fireworks were first created in China around 200 BC during the Han Dynasty. However, they were not introduced to the rest of the world until Marco polo brought them to Italy in 1292. The Italians were absolutely fascinated by them. There is some debate on who first created the ability to propel shells high in the sky in order to create complex designs with gunpowder. Around the 1400s both China and Europe, who was going to the Renaissance at the time both began doing so.

Regardless of who first coined the ability, it caught on. Before they were referred to as pyrotechnicians, fireworks specialists were called “green men” because they wore suits of green leaves to protect them from sparks. Once these “green men” managed to not blow off their own fingers or faces, the effects were used in celebrations world wide as a relatively pricey treat for the common folk.

Next time you find yourself gazing up at a fireworks display; try to spot these common designs that have developed over the years


Firework Effects

Before getting into the actual effects, there is some terms that readers should know when regarding fireworks.

The there are several types of containers that house the gunpower and other chemicals that comprise the explosions. However, most commercial firework displays use shell type canisters fired from tubing or in some cases mortars.

The actual explosion is comprised of bright balls of light called ‘stars’, they can be singular balls accompanies by either smoke or spark tails.

A ‘break’ refers to when the explosion splits apart. In the canister, the powders are layered and separated very specifically, but when fired it shoots up in one singular trajectory until it breaks into the design.

peony firework 


This is the most common type of firework design. In many firework displays, this is used as a background effect to many other designs. This is a shell type is a spherical break of colored stars that break without any tail effect.

 Chrysanthemum firework


This firework effect is another fairly common design, also used as a background effect. Similar to the Peony, the Chrysanthemum is a spherical break of colored stars but it leaves a visible trail of sparks, making it slightly more complex.

 willow firework


Stepping up the complexity of the Chrysanthemum comes the Willow effect. This firework produces a soft dome shape effect that droops much like the branches of the weeping willow tree after which it is named.

 palm firework


The palm firework shell contains several large comet stars, which upon explosion are arranged to burst into long tendrils and produces a stunning and very 3D looking palm tree frond effect.

 diadem firework


Often confused with a Peony or Chrysanthemum firework effect, the Diadem can be identified by its center. The center will contain a cluster of non-moving stars, making it look much brighter while the tendrils extend.

 crossette firework


This complex firework display is not one you will often find high in the sky. The shell is designed to only launch a small distance before it breaks apart into smaller stars that launch in the beautiful crisscross effect.

 salute firework


Many firework shows often start with this type of shells. The salute is designed to be bright, but short lasting. The shell shoots high up in the air, explodes and then fizzles out quickly. However, what makes it a show starter and finale escort is its signature loud sound. It may be bright, but the Salutes trademark sound grabs the attention of even the largest crowds.

 mine firework


Unlike other firework effects that ignite and branch out, the mine is a ball of light that shoots into the sky leaving a thick smoke trail. Think of Mine type fireworks as a garnish. If the fireworks show is a martini, then the Mine type firework would be the olive.

 roman candle

Roman Candle

If you were a daring kid, you have undoubtedly heard of this type of firework. However, Roman Candles are named after the effect they produce. If you fire one into the air, it shoots of lots of small star clusters that leave bright spark trails. This are used to add complexity to more defined fireworks, however they are often angled to create complex crisscross patterns.

 horsetail firework

Horsetail / Waterfall

The Horsetail effect can also be referred to as the Waterfall effect. It is comprised of a small complex burst in which the small stars fall down slowly in a line like a horsetail or waterfall.

 fish firework


Like the Diadem, the Fish has a bright center. However, where it differs in its tendrils, it sends little squiggles of light shooting off into the sky that look like a fish swimming away.

Unsurprisingly, these are just a small portion of firework effects that pyrotechnics can create. Still today, talented scientific artists are experimenting with making new fire in the sky. Their designs can be incredibly detailed; however what is truly awe-inspiring is their ability for forward planning. Next time you find yourself at a fireworks display, take a moment from spotting the different designs to ponder all the exact planning and time it took the pyrotechnic to plan out all the specific explosions. Especially if they combined the effects into something specific, those are the most thought provoking.

Though today with the help of technology, one can only imagine that pyrotechnics have some kind of computer software to help them plan these things, but not too long ago they did not. However, technology only opens the door for these professional to do bigger and better things in the sky to help people celebrate their special events.