Color-Coded Bullets Tips [Tables]: Different Types and Their Uses

Color Coding bullets are one of the visible markings on the tips of the bullet that define the category and origin of these ammunitions. But, let’s start with one of the basic questions.

What Bullet Tip Color Codes Means?

Color-coded bullet tips are used to categorize and identify various types of military ammunition. These colorful bullet tips are not found in civilian ammo. And they are visible as a single color or multiple color bands across the bullet nose.

However, a slightly different color-coding system is also seen on the joints between the primer and cartridges case (primer annulus).

As stated earlier, bullets with color codes, usually signify that it is military ammunition. And the majority of standard bullets don’t have any color code.

So, if a bullet has no varnished color, in military nomenclature, it is called to be the standard bullet round or standard ball rounds.

Color-Coded Bullets Tip Tables

Different Types of Color-Coded Bullets and Their Meaning

Russian Color Coding System of Bullets

The following table is the color-coding bullet (tip) list that is used in the Russian military system:

S.No.Color Code TipsBullet Types
1.Black and RedArmour piercing/incendiary
3.Violet and RedArmour piercing/incendiary/tracer
4.VioletArmour piercing/incendiary/tracer 
5.Green Tracer
6.WhiteMild Steel Bullet Core
Russian Color Coding System of Bullets
Russian Color Coding System of Bullets

Armor-Piercing Bullets: Design to penetrate either body armor or vehicle armor. They usually have hard cores made of steel or tungsten carbide.
Incendiary Bullets: Have an incendiary material in the tip which on striking the surface, ignites the higher explosive 
Tracer Bullets: Have a small pyrotechnic charge in their base which traces its path.

Color Coding System of Bullets in China

Before 1967, China and Russia uses the same system of color coding for their bullets ammunitions. But after 1967, China adopted new color codes for their bullets.

Color Code TipsBullet Types
Black and RedArmour piercing/incendiary (pre-1967)
BlackArmour piercing/incendiary (post-1967)
Violet and RedArmour piercing/incendiary/tracer (pre-1967)
VioletArmour piercing/incendiary/tracer (post-1967)
Green Tracer
WhiteMild Steel Bullet Core (pre-1967)

Israel System of Color Coding of Bullets

Israel System of Color Coding of Bullets

The following table states the color coding system of Israel for bullets that uses both the primer annulus and bullet tip coloring.

Bullet TypesBullet Tip ColorPrimer Annulus Color
Armour piercingBlackGreen
Armour piercing/incendiaryBlackRed

Primer Annulus is the ring-like circular space between the top of the primer and the primer pocket on the base of a cartridge.

Color Coding Tips System for USA, UK, & Other NATO Countries

Color Coding System for USA, UK, & Other NATO Countries

All NATO countries follow the same color-coding system for their bullet ammunitions, listed as:

Color Code TipsBullet Types
GreenSteel core for better penetration against hard targets
YellowObservation (a bright flash & smoke on impact)
OrangeDark ignition tracer

United Kingdom Colour Coding System Prior to NATO

Before being a part of NATO in1955, the UK had a different coloring schema for their bullet ammunitions:

A. Color Coding System of UK Using Primer Annulus (Prior to NATO)

Coloring Codes on Primer AnnulusBullet Types
PurpleBall or Short Range practice
GreenArmour piercing
YellowProof (high-pressure cartridge)
BlackObservation (a bright flash & smoke on impact)
Orange Some explosive rounds

B. Color Coding System of UK Using Bullet tip (Prior to NATO)

Color-Coded TipsBullet Type
GreenArmour & semi-armor piercing
WhiteShort-range tracer (Day tracer)
GreyDark ignition tracer
RedLong-range tracer
VioletExperimental ammunition

United States Color Coding System for Bullets

A. United States Color Coding System using Bullet Varnishes

Color CodeBullet Types
Red tip silver bandArmour piercing/incendiary/tracer
Yellow tip red bandObservation/tracer
Brown TipTracer
Light blue tipIncendiary

B. United States Color Coding System Based on Firearms

Special FirearmsBullet Types
0.50″ Browning machine gunNATO Code plus
0.30″ Carbine and 0.45′ ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol)Red tip for tracer
7.62 × 51mmSame as NATO codes

Color-Coded Bullet System in Warsaw Pact Countries

The following are the color codes that are currently employed in Warsaw pact countries:

Color CodeBullet Types
YellowHeavy ball
SilverLight ball
BlackArmour piercing
Black/redArmour piercing/incendiary (now obsolete)
Black/yellowArmour piercing/incendiary (current)
Black/greenReduced velocity for silenced weapons
Purple/redArmour piercing/incendiary/tracer

General FAQ

What is the color code for the 5.56 bullet tip?

There are various types of color tips for 5.56/ .223 Rem but the most common color is a green-tip bullet that has a hardened steel core that serves better penetration against hard objects. Even a US civilian can acquire some by federal means.

What do different color tips on the bullet signify?

Green and black tips signify armor-piercing strength, orange, and red tip signify a tracer, blue bullet tip indicates incendiary bullets and yellow ammunition tips indicate observational bullets.

What does Blue tip on bullet mean?

A blue tip bullet in NATO countries like US and UK indicates incendiary bullets that burn rapidly or have high explosive incendiary. Modern blue-tip bullets are intended for armor penetration and then explode.

What is yellow tip ammo?

Yellow tip ammo is observation ammunition with an unhardened steel core that flakes out a bright flash and smoke on impact. They are commonly used for studying the impact or testing of firearms.


  • Handbook of Firearm and Ballistics by Brain J. Heard
  • British Military Small Arms Ammo [link]
  • FAS Military Analysis Network [link]

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