Chrome plating of automobile grills and plastic parts?
Q. Hi, found your site through google on the net!
My question is: Is there any way to cheaply chrome plastic parts (i.e., auto parts)? I am looking to start an auto customizing shop and would like some info on plating plastic emblems specifically. I've seen it done on high volume toys, etc., and they seem to sell for next to nothing. But is there a way to do this on a small scale?
Any help would be most appreciated.Randy R
- Port Hardy, BC, CANADA
A. Hi Randy. If it looks like a duck, but it doesn't walk like a duck or quack like a duck, it may not be a duck :-)
Every shiny finish isn't chrome plating, and the finishes that aren't chrome plating may not be suitable for automotive applications.
Cheap toys and even some low quality interior automotive parts like interior plastic emblems are vacuum metallized. This is a 3-step process involving applying a base coat of paint, then metallizing with aluminum vapor in a vacuum chamber, and then clear coating. But those finishes probably wouldn't last a week in a BC winter. Real chrome plating on plastic is a very difficult process of about 30 wet processing steps; you should probably farm it out to a plating shop not only because of difficulty, but because of the regulated carcinogenic toxins like hexavalent chromium that are involved in real chrome plating.
Yes, plastic can be vacuum metallized with aluminum very inexpensively in volume, but it utilizes a very expensive (say $1/2 million metallizing chamber), although I have heard of hobbyists cobbling together such chambers if you are really determined about it.
A third alternative these days is "chrome look paint", which is a finish very similar to vacuum metallizing, with the same 3-step process of base coat, shiny layer, and clear coat. But in this case the shiny layer is hand sprayed with silver nitrate and reducer or microscopic aluminum flakes. So "chrome look paint" is more expensive than vacuum metallizing for high volume parts because of the labor of hand spraying, but less capital intensive for lower volumes because paint spraying equipment is much less expensive than vacuum metallizing chambers.
If you can get a really good, hard, non-yellowing, smooth clear coat on the vacuum metallizing or the chrome look paint, it may have some limited utility as an exterior automotive finish, but OEMS all still use real chrome plating.
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Brick, New Jersey
A. I agree with Ted! I work for a company that makes chrome plated auto parts, and have audited this type of plating process. It is NOT easy. You just can't do that type of plating on an easy or small scale. Also, this chrome plating is probably the most expensive finish we use. Your best bet is to have it done by a professional plating shop. If it was easy, we would do it ourselves in our own plant, but we outsource it all.
Rochester Hills, Michigan
June 9, 2008
Q. Please tell me which types of plastic materials are suitable for chrome plating?Atul Vinchurkar
June 11, 2008
A. Hi, Atul. Everything from aardvark skulls to zucchini gourds have been chrome plated. But the usual issue to be reckoned with is limited adhesion. It's one thing to plate a skull that will sit in a glass trophy case, but quite another thing to plate the plastic grill of an automobile and expect it to stand up to car washes, blistering dessert sun, frigid Alaskan winters, and salty road soot without peeling off.
ABS plastic contains two different molecules, one of which dissolves in an etchant and the other doesn't. Thus it can etched extremely effectively to develop great "tooth" and spectacular adhesion, so it's the first and most popular choice. Some polypropylenes and glass-filled nylons are pretty good. The plastics synthesizer/supplier will label the particular products "Plating Grade". Good luck.
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Brick, New Jersey
RFQ: I'm very interested in chroming the front plastic grill for my pickup Ford F-150; it is possible? And how much money for the job.Esteban G
- Puerto Rico, USA
A. Hi Esteban. Yes, it is probably possible, but the very high cost of labor on onesy-twosies, compared to when automated equipment processes dozens of grills at a time, means that it probably costs more than getting a chrome plated one from Ford if they make them.
RFQ: I have two grills for my 1985 Olds Cutlass Supreme that are plastic and I want to get them chrome plated. They are 9" x 12 1/2" in size and are in pretty good condition.Travis L
personal use - Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA
RFQ: I would like to get the grill of a Plymouth Prowler chrome plated.Jim B
hobbyist - Plainville, Connecticut, USA
RFQ: Hello to whom it may concern,
I am a proud owner of a 2004 Infiniti M45 and I am desperately seeking someone that could chrome a few parts for me. The main project I want to focus on, being that the car is currently in the shop being painted, is the grill. I want my grill chromed can you help?Dionne S
- Brooklyn, New York