Colour coding of ammunition

In addition to the headstamp, military ammunition often has some form of colour coding in the form of bands of coloured lacquer round the bullet, a stripe across the bullet-case joint or round the joint between the primer and cartridge case (primer annulus). Caution should be exercised when attempting to identify the stripe of colour round the case-bullet joint or primer annulus as this is often no more than a waterproofing varnish. As a general rule, if there is no coloured varnish on the bullet, then it is a standard ball (military nomenclature for standard bullet) round.

Examples of coloured lacquer used and their significance follow.

China. Originally, China used the Russian system of colour coding as their ammunition was originally supplied from this source. In 1967, however, China adopted her own system as follows.

Bullet tip code


Black and red Black

Violet and red Violet Red White


Armour piercing/incendiary - pre-1967 Armour piercing/incendiary - post-1967 Armour piercing/incendiary/tracer - pre-1967 Armour piercing/incendiary/tracer - post-1967 Incendiary

Mild steel bullet core - pre-1967


Bullet tip Primer annulus Bullet type









Ball Tracer

Armour piercing

Armour piercing/incendiary


NATO countries. All NATO countries use the same bullet tip colour-coding system.

Red Tracer

Black Armour piercing

Silver Armour piercing/incendiary

Blue Incendiary

Yellow Observation (a bright flash and smoke on impact)

Yellow/red Observation/tracer

Orange Dark ignition tracer

United Kingdom prior to formation of NATO in 1955

Primer annulus

Purple Ball or practice

Green Armour piercing

Red Tracer

Blue Incendiary

Yellow Proof (a special high-pressure cartridge)

Black Observation

Bullet tip

Blue Incendiary

Black Observation

Green Armour piercing

White Short-range tracer

Grey Dark ignition tracer

Red Long-range tracer

United States

7.62 x 51 mm ammunition uses NATO code

0.30" Carbine and 0.45' ACP - red tip for tracer

0.50" Browning machine gun - NATO Code plus

Red tip silver band Armour piercing/incendiary/tracer

Yellow tip red band Observation/tracer

Brown Tip Tracer

Light blue tip Incendiary

USSR. In the 1930s, the colour coding was very poor, but during and after World War II, it was regularized and expanded. The following bullet tip colour-code system is now standard for all Warsaw Pact Countries:

Yellow Heavy ball

Silver Light ball

Green Tracer

Black Armour piercing

Black/red Armour piercing/incendiary (now obsolete)

Black/yellow Armour piercing/incendiary (current)

Purple/red Armour piercing/incendiary/tracer

Red Incendiary/tracer

Black/green Reduced velocity for silenced weapons

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  • raimondo
    What is annulus primer case?
    7 years ago
  • Beatrice
    7 years ago
  • oskar
    What is the united states tracer ammunition color?
    7 years ago
  • alanna
    What colour is nato armour piercing?
    7 years ago
  • rasmus
    What is the blue tip on a bullet?
    7 years ago
  • camelia
    What color tip is armor piercing nato bullet?
    1 year ago
    What does the tip colour of a bullet mean?
    10 months ago

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