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How to Identify Minerals: 10 Steps to Mineral Identification

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Step 4: Color
Be observant but cautious

Beware of color until you've learned what colors to trust.

Photo (c) 2011 Andrew Alden, licensed to About.com (fair use policy)
Color is important in mineral identification, but it can be a complicated subject. Experts use color all the time because they have learned the usual colors and the usual exceptions for common minerals. If you're a beginner, pay close attention to color but do not rely on it. First of all, be sure you aren't looking at a weathered or tarnished surface, and examine your specimen in good light.

Color is a fairly reliable indicator in the opaque and metallic minerals—for instance the blue of the opaque mineral lazurite or the brass-yellow of the metallic mineral pyrite.

In the translucent or transparent minerals, color is usually the result of a chemical impurity and should not be the only thing you use. For instance, pure quartz is clear or white, but quartz can have many other colors.

Try to be precise with color. Is it a pale or deep shade? Does it resemble the color of another common object, like bricks or blueberries? Is it even or mottled? Is there one pure color or a range of shades?

If you have an ultraviolet light, this is the time to see if the mineral has a fluorescent color. Make note if it displays any other special optical effects.

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