How to chrome plate plastic(1996)
Q. What's the trick in chrome plating small plastic pieces about the size of an automobile arm rest? Any idea who is able to do this work in the US or Canada.
Look forward to your reply.Walter Jackson
A. There are two basic approaches for giving a chrome-look to plastic, Walter. The first is to vacuum metallize it with aluminum and coat it with a clear lacquer ('sputtering' is a similar process but with enhanced performance). A lot of automotive interior work was done this way, and some exterior work.
The other alternative is to really chrome plate it. This is done by first picking a suitable plastic (usually ABS), then etching it to give the surface 'tooth' for adhesion, then electrolessly applying a conductive layer, then copper plating, then one or more layers of nickel plating, then chrome plating. Chrome plated plastic is a very robust finish, able to withstand abrasion, thermal cycling, and cleaning. Countless millions of automobile grills, taillight bezels and headlamp surrounds have been plated this way.
If you have a more specific question about one of the steps, let us know; and if you'd like more detail in general, please see the very hard-to-find "Standards & Guidelines for Electroplated Plastic". Good luck.
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey
Ed. note: This is an early thread from 1996, so we should probably add that chrome-look paint has come a long way, and represents a 3rd path to a chrome look these days.