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Coatings for metallizing non conductors

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RFQ: I am looking for a Electrically Conductive coating (with copper, not silver -- too $$) to put onto a nonmetallic surface. I then want to plate copper onto the item, then nickel, then gold. I am experienced in plating, but I have never looked into plating nonconductive items until now. I refuse to believe I cannot find an more affordable coating or create my own blend for a much lower cost. I am looking for a very thin paint (to keep detail of piece after coating). I say paint because I know of little else that would adhere to an organic surface. The coating also has to not react with a cyanide copper bath.

I am open to all suggestions

DAVID ALLEN
outdated RFQ


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A. People have developed some new systems for metallizing printed circuit boards which use carbon (or graphite?). I don't believe that the price of the technology has much to do with the cost of the conductor. It's like the cost of developing a new drug; the research is what takes most of the money.

tom portrait Tom Pullizzi
Falls Township, Pennsylvania



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A. David,

We have tried a number of different conductive paints and have mainly used Electrodag from Acheson Colloids. I believe they have a nickel based paint which would be cheaper than the usual silver base. Your problem will be in using cyanide copper as the alkaline cyanide solution is a good paint stripper. We have always used acid copper or silver over these products.

Regards

Bob Lynch
     plating company
Sydney, Australia


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A. Some 15 years ago we did plating over items like flower buds, insects, and leaves. We made the surfaces conductive by "painting" on a carbon colloidal suspension which was marketed under the name of "Aquadag"

I believe the supplier, whose name I cannot recall is now defunct.

It was necessary to plate an undercoat of copper, and only acid copper was suitable. We intended to try a sulphamate bath as alternative, but the customer passed away before we could. (He was a retired professor of botany)

Maybe you could source an equivalent to Aquadag. It worked really well.

Raymond Sebba
- Capetown, South Africa


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The name 'Aquadag' isn't defunct. Acheson Colloids offers the Electrodag series, and claims ownership of the names Electrodag, Aquadag, and the rest of the dags. They are in Port Huron, MI. But there are several other brands of similar products, and the supporting advertisers who make this site possible encourage us to share camaraderie and technical tips, but not public recommendations of particular products or sources. That often goes awry anyway, encouraging spam, hostility because of conflicting commercial interests, and fictitious 'testimonials'.

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

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A. This type of coating is widely used to "bronze" baby shoes by coating with a conductive paint such as Aquadag then electroplating.

Indium - tin- oxide (ITO) (mixture of In2O3 and SnO2) is a transparent (colorless) conductive oxide. It is deposited on surfaces by PVD techniques but would also be useful as a conductive powder.

Donald M. Mattox
Society of Vacuum Coaters
Albuquerque, New Mexico
 
Ed. note:
            Mr. Mattox is
            the author of --



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A. If you're attempting Cu - Ni - Au for thin film processes, then PVD (sputtering), vacuum evap., or a combination of either w/ Au up-plate is the only way to go for adhesion under high temperature. If you're attempting this coating on an organic such as a plastic, you may want to look into what the PCB industry uses for plated thru holes. Specifically, palladium catalyst activation processes with following plate-up. For this latter technology, contact your plating chemical supplier (I use Technic). Good luck

Jeff A deleted


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A. Dave,

As Don mentioned earlier, this process is used in the bronzing of "baby shoes." However, the applications are limitless.

Todd Miller
Oceanside, California



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Q. Does anyone know where I can find information on the exact ins and out of gold plating organic materials? I already do gold plating on chrome objects . . . is the process similar or do you need copper baths or nickel baths?

Wayne Haraga
- HONOLULU, HAWAII


A. Hi Wayne. For a start, try our FAQs on the subject. Gold plating onto previously chrome plated items is the world's easiest plating because all the hard stuff (cleaning, activating, metallizing, copper plating, nickel plating) has already been done for you and to very high quality standards. Gold plating of organic materials will involve all of those steps and will be much harder. Good luck. Aloha.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


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A. Like many of the letters you have already received, when plating non - metallics I have found that you must use an Acid Copper system. The Copper paint can be made by using a nitrocellulose based lacquer and filling it with very fine copper powder which you can buy from a Lab supplier (for small quantities at exorbitant prices ) or in larger quantities from any reasonable Metal supplier.

One of the secrets that has not been mentioned is that once the non-metallic surface has been coated with the "conductive paint" it must be left to "cure" and the "Cure" time depends on how thick the "conductive paint" is. My experience is minimum cure time is 24 hours but the longer the better (up to 7 days is sometimes needed).


John Tenison - Woods
- Victoria Australia



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A. Anybody who wants to electroplate non-metallics should find a copy of "How to Electroplate for Fun and Profit by Warner Electric Co. 1950 =>

It describes the following process.

1. Dip or spray the object with several coats thinned water proof lacquer.
2. Dry brush or spray with DEGREASED pure bronze powder.
3. Acid copper plate a base coat.
Donald Warner

How to Electroplate Non-Metallics for Extra Profits



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Q. In my attempts to electroplate nonconductive materials I have tried to make nitrocellulose lacquers conductive by adding carbon black. Contacts in the conductive polymer industry have provided me with samples of highly conductive carbon structures in powder form, but my recipes have not yet yielded usable results. This method of creating surface conductivity would be extremely economical; any advice is welcome.

Rob Anzellotti



July 2014

A. Hi Rob. Yes, its doable. As Tom Pullizzi alluded to early on in this thread, similar products are used these days to metallize printed circuit boards in lieu of the older and more traditional process of tin/palladium activation followed by electroless copper plating. Although the chemistries are proprietary, you can probably find good hints from white papers on google, and solid information from patent searches. The search term "direct metallization" may be helpful. Good luck.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


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Q. I'm very interested to learn about gold and silver plating organic materials like leaves, nuts and even big things like apples and oranges. Can anyone give me a tip of books and a company where I can buy the products at an affordable price and also get information and support? Can I use a cheaper transformer or I have to buy the more expensive ones? Is it difficult and costly to learn? I have worked in silver before, but not too much. Thank you very much.

Bo Erlandsson
- Cape Coral, Florida


July 2014

A. Hi Bo. The booklet suggested by Donald Warner is probably a good one if you can find a copy (availability is on-again / off-again). Sorry, we cannot recommend suppliers in this forum. Good luck.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

"How to Electroplate Baby Shoes, Momentos, Trophies for Pleasure and Profit"



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Q. I am trying to restart an operation I dropped in the 60's. I bought an outfit for plating baby shoes from Warner Electric in the Midwest I think. I believe they are out of business today. I too am looking for supplies similar to those I used from Warner. The item to be plated was dipped in a rather viscous liquid that dried hard and allowed much detail to come though. The metallic coating was a copper dust propelled from an aerosol can had contained a solvent which allowed the particles of copper to embed and attach themselves to the surface of the impregnated item having an copper suspension wire attached for the plating process.

The item, after proper coating with the copper dust was hung from a bar which agitated via motor driven cam, in a copper sulfate bath. They sold copper anodes and a complete line of grinding and polishing compounds, also a great degreasing powder. I successfully plated many natural items such as apples, acorns and plastic statuary as well . I lost all records of bath formulae and will try the suggested Root Killer [linked by editor to product info at Amazon]. If anyone and suggest more on this I'd appreciate it. I still have the power supply which is rated at 6 volts and 10 amps adjustable.

Thanks,

Frank Galea
Sculpture - Olyphant, Pennsylvania


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Q. I am interested in finding out more about electroplating a non-metallic object such as a flower. I was thinking of copper dusting my flower first before electroplating it. I was wondering what methods are there to copper dust my flower. or just any way of making my flower a conductor so that it can be electroplated.

Renee Goh
student - Singapore


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Hi, Renee. Please don't ignore the effort involved in the 17 previous postings on this page! Starting over often kills the thread, so please try your best to express your question in terms of what has already been said so we can keep moving forward. Thanks!

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


November 25, 2008

Q. Hello,

I've tried to use Aquadag on non-conductors like ceramic items to make them plateable. Unfortunately the graphite layer remains water soluble and rinses off very easily regardless of temperature and the (mentioned a few posts earlier) curing time. It also seems to be quite poorly adherent to surfaces I've applied it onto, even though they were thoroughly degreased.
There are surely platers familiar with Aquadag usage here, could anyone give any hint how to use it properly for plating purposes? Would it, for instance, need to be mixed with some kind of varnish for water resistance and adhesion improvement? Any suggestion will be greatly appreciated.

Regards,

Adam Wittmann
- Poznan, Poland


March 11, 2009

Q. I found a Sherwin Williams about 40 miles from me that sold Electrodag SP-017. It is listed as a "highly conductive coating". I've seen posts that say that Electrodag works, but not this one [for me]. The pigment is listed as a silver coated copper, so I figured it would work. I spent a little under $300/gal, which is a lot cheaper than silver spray, especially since it is to be thinned 2:1 with MEK. I figured I'd say a prayer and give it a shot, but no luck for me. If anyone has used this successfully, or knows exactly which Electrodag they've used successfully, please let us know.

Thanks,

WHILE IT'S AVAILABLE:

You may wish to download "EMI-RFI_Shield_Coating_Manual.pdf" from oem.sherwin-williams.com/pdf/guides/EMI-RFI_Shield_Coating_Manual.pdf while it's available. It doesn't answer your specific question, but does give good insight into the Electrodag products like SP-017.

David Gomez
- Joliet, Illinois


March 17, 2009

Q. What was the problem that you encountered with the Electrodag SP-017? It has been recommended to me for use in electroplating organics such as leaves and flowers. And the company that manufactures electrodag suggested that it may be used as a dip coating. I am interested to know how it worked out for you. Thank you,

I use a carbon graphite paint to electroplate nonconductives. It seems to keep more detail than any other paint or powder I have used. And it is very good for dipping because carbon has a low density it seems less inclined separate, therefore a more uniform coating is achieved. But the problem is that the carbon is not very conductive so it takes an hour longer to plate.

Aaron Fisher
trading - New York, New York


March 17, 2009

A. Hi, Aaron. If preserving fine really fine detail is essential you might think of two-part silvering rather than conductive paint. You will lose no definition at all. This is what is used to metallize vinyl record masters, and was used in the early days of videodisks (today PVD vacuum processes are used to metallize CD and DVD masters).

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

March 20, 2009

Q. Do you think that it would be possible to achieve a conductive coating of silver on a leaf by spraying the silvering solution and reducer at the same time using an ordinary household spray bottles? This would be instead of using the dual nozzle spray gun and compressor.

Aaron Fisher(returning)
trading - New York, New York


March 21, 2009

A. Hi, Aaron. 2-part silvering has been around for centuries, long before dual nozzle spray guns were available, so I'm confident that it is possible.

The highest resolution, however, is obtained by spraying while the object is on a spin table to thin out the coating, so any compromises you make will limit the resolution somewhat. Good luck.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


April 26, 2011

I would like to electroplate something plastic. I found an online dealer that sells "graphit 33" which is (as the name would suggest) graphite based. Would it be possible to simply spray a plastic object with Graphit 33, and then electroplate it with pyrite through a simple salt water and electricity electroplating process? I am a complete novice and this would be the my first electroplating. I would really appreciate any help, because I am slightly overwhelmed by the aforementioned process.
Thank you for your time

Michael Draper
- Rockville

April 27, 2011

Hi, Michael.

Plating on plastic probably should not be your first attempt at electroplating because it is more difficult than plating on metal. Plating something with iron should not be your first attempt, either, as iron plating is more difficult than most metals because of its propensity to oxidize to a higher valence state that it can't be plated from. You can't use salt water as the electrolyte because ions of the metal you are plating must be soluble in the electrolyte, and iron will not be soluble in salt water. Please see our FAQ on "How Electroplating Works" as well as our FAQ on "How to Electroplate Organic Materials", and start with something simpler :-)

If you are just trying to get an item plated, as opposed to starting a hobby, there are jobshops listed in our Jobshops Directory that can help you. Good luck.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


June 3, 2011

Q. Hi, I've been reading this thread with interest. My question is not about home chrome plating plastic - your warnings about toxicity and difficulty hit home! I would like to prep my plastic parts and take them to an electroplater here in Auckland, New Zealand.

I am casting replica automotive tail light bodies in a Polyurethane resin. The originals were chromed pot metal and have long since ceased to be available. I can add metal powder to the PU as it is cast - up to 60% of copper, brass or bronze, or stamped aluminium flake. Would these suffice as a preparation for electroplating? Or I can dust the inside of the molds with powder or paint before pouring pure PU resin in.

Any help would be appreciated.
thanks
Ross

Ross Brannigan
- Auckland, New Zealand

June 6, 2011

A. Hi, Ross.

While almost any substrate can be electroplated some way or another -- probably including by the methods you propose -- the issue is usually inadequate adhesion. There are probably few applications where shortcomings in adhesion will more quickly become evident than exterior automotive parts. These items should be molded of plating grade ABS, as most OEM grills and bezels are, and then it will be possible for the plating to properly adhere in the punishing environment that cars encounter (because ABS is a multiple component plastic from which one of the components can be etched away, leaving a sponge-like surface for great "keying"). Good luck.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

June 17, 2011

thumbsup2Thanks for the suggestion to use plating grade ABS. My google searches for this however show that ABS must be injection molded. My hobby uses silicone molds and cold - poured urethane resin. Injection molding is beyond me. Cheers
Ross

Ross Brannigan [returning]
- Auckland New Zealand


November 4, 2011appended

Q. I'm brand new to the electroplating process. I have some organic items (leaves/pine cones/berries, etc.) I'd like to plate with copper. I've tried a paint that contains real aluminum and I've made a solution of graphite and polyurethane. Neither coating seems to attract copper.
Here's my question: Can zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, powdered zirconium oxide ... metallic ingredients like these ... be used to make a conductive paint?

Gale Timmins
Hobbyist - Tucker, Georgia

July 2014

A. No, Gale, oxides like that are not conductive. But we appended your inquiry to a thread which will get you on the right track. Good luck.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


January 25, 2012

Q. I have been able to electroplate over graphite powder (not paint); the powder has been rubbed onto the surface. The issue now is that the rubbed powder is not sticking well to a shiny surface (the nickel was well plated over the graphite). Now after applying the powder on a rough surface to give it something to hold, the nickel plated part is not shiny, it's rough.

That was the cheap way to electroplate over plastic (will be making a video on how to do it). To me the best method of electroplating on plastic is using 2-part silvering chemicals, I will be testing this method soon. If you know what to buy it's actually not that expensive at all. I will be using a special hand sprayer (to spray both chemicals at the same time using only one hand). I am doing a thread about this. What I plan to do is spray silver the piece first, then use a small and inexpensive hobby plating system.

silver plated plastic spoon 1  silver plated plastic spoon 2  silver plated plastic spoon 3  silver plated plastic spoon 4

The first pic is of graphite powder rubbed onto a plastic spoon over a glossy surface so it's not plated at all, but it looks like it because of the shine of graphite powdered rubbed against the shiny surface.

The second pic is of that plastic spoon being electroplated in nickel (40 minutes)

The third pic is showing the finished product. This nickel plated spoon shows the graphite not holding to the non-conductive surface (but it plated well to the graphite)

The fourth pic shows a nickel plated plastic spoon over a rough surface (to give graphite something to hold to) as you can see the piece looks also rough not shiny as before.

Marvin Sevilla
- Managua, Nicaragua


February 23, 2012

A. I am using MG Chemicals Total Ground spray to coat clay sculptures for electrotyping. So far so good. I am totally new to all this, but I have enough electricity and chemistry to understand the variables. I am using homemade electrolyte. I want to keep the cost down. This stuff is meant for creating a grounded work surface, so it is highly adhesive and highly conductive.

Ryan Barrett
- Dundas, Ontario, Canada


March 5, 2012

Q. Hi Ryan

Can you supply more info on the homemade electrolyte that you use?
Also where do you purchase the MG Chemicals Total ground spray from?
I want to use small pieces of glass and stuff from nature, Do you think your method would work for this?

Thanks so much for any info you can provide.

Judy

Judy Bastien
- Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada


March 6, 2012

Hi, Judy. Hopefully, you'll get more info on the homemade electrolyte and an opinion about the method.

You can buy MG Chemical Total Ground from Amazon or use your search engine to find it. This site is only possible because our supporting advertisers provide it for camaraderie and technical information exchange. It's no problem if people buy from non-advertisers -- but we can't ask the supporting advertisers to pay the costs of maintaining distribution info here for their competitors who ride free :-)

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


April 18, 2012

Q. I am Gold and Silversmith student and an engineer, and was wondering about electroplating paper.

I need to find a way to transform a fairly complex form made in thin paper in to something more durable, and more related to gold/silversmithing than simply coating the paper with varnish.
Although I have not electroplated myself before, I have a fairly good understanding of how it works as well have access to experienced platers, who I would recruit in the actual plaiting process.

So my question is what sort of material could you recommend I use to achieve conductivity on the paper surface? And since goldsmiths are advised to make jewelry nickel-free, a nickel-free solution would be preferred. As well as any advice about how to apply it to get a even coating.

Sunna Rey
- Reykjavik, Iceland


December 2, 2013

A. Hello,

Recently I came across a new process of silver spray. With this any non-conductive surface can be silver plated and the finish is extraordinary. It is a chemical process and a lot of people are moving towards it since cost is not too high and at the same time not much infrastructure is required as compared to vacuum metalisation and PVD. This can give effects like gold plating as well.
You must try one of those they are really good and inexpensive.

Paarshva Shah
- Mumbai, Maharashtra, India



July 3, 2014

Q. Hi Dears,
I'm a PhD candidate in materials science and now working on making copper foam through electroplating copper on a kind of open-cell polymeric foam like polyurethane foam.
Is there anybody here who have such experience of electroplating on porous non-conductors and the process of conducting them?

Hope to here from you soon

Regards
M. Gharib

mohammad gharib
- Karaj, Alborz, Iran


July 2014

A. Hi mohammad gharib. Copper electroplating is a process which operates in accordance with Faraday's Law: electrons are pumped to the cathode with a power supply, and positively ions migrate towards the cathode where they re-combine with those electrons to form atoms of metal. But electricity follows the path of least resistance, so it will probably prove impossible to electroplate into foam, as all of the buildup will be on the outside rather than into the pores. Please investigate electroless copper plating, which I think has a much better chance of success. Good luck.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


July 7, 2014

Q. Thanks Ted, but it has been proved for years that with the aid of some kind of colloidal graphite or carbon-black coating, it is possible to induce conductivity to such polymeric materials and making them plateable.

I'm now seeking for an appropriate conductible colloid coat.

Regards

mohammad gharib
IUST - Karaj, Alborz, Iran


July 2014

A. Hi again. Yes, of course you can use colloidal graphites to induce conductivity and metallize non-conductors. In the circuit board and plating-on-plastics industries this approach seems to be supplanting the traditional tin/palladium activation followed by electroless plating. You should be able to get these from any of the major plating chemistry providers like Atotech, Macdermid, Surtec, etc. If you can't commercially buy those proprietaries in your location, you can at least read their patents and white papers for a good understanding of their chemistry.

But please slowly read what I was talking about, which is the difficulty in the electroplating step of getting plating into the pores of the foam rather than just glomming up on the outside; for this reason I believe you will find electroless copper plating a better way to start than graphites. Best of luck.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


July 9, 2014

thumbsup2Dear Ted,
your kind attention to my question is greatly appreciated.
Just to be noted that in this process polymeric foams with reticular structure are currently used.
Thanks again.

mohammad gharib
IUST - Karaj, Alborz, Iran


July 14, 2014

Sir,
Can I use acrylic base metallic copper paint on non-conductive materials to make them conductive?
Thanks

jayanta das
- kolkata, west bengal , india


July 2014

Hi Jayanta. Such questions are hard to answer because in truth you can do nearly anything with nearly anything ...

Van Gogh could have tried Starry Night with a lump of cooking charcoal on brown kraft paper and it probably still would have been impressive. But in my own opinion, artists & craftspersons shouldn't try to prove they can do passable work with ill-suited materials -- instead they should aim for exceptional work with optimized materials. So to answer your question in that sense, no, metallic copper paint is not the right metallization approach.

If your work is strictly decorative, not a circuit board or an electroform, and you want to start from a paint-like material rather than two-part silvering or circuit board metallization technology, I'd look into Aquadag, Electrodag, Sierra Silver, or another product designed specifically for the purpose. If you just want conductivity, with no plans to electroplate it, there are many products made for optimum conductivity. Please explain what the substrate is and why you want to metallize it. Best of luck.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

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