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topic 0934p2

Metallizing non conductors

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A discussion started in 1998 but continuing through 2020

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 Bastien
- Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada

affil. link
MG Total Ground

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 possible because supporting advertisers provide it for camaraderie and technical information exchange. It's certainly no problem if people prefer to buy from non-advertisers -- but we can't ask our advertisers to pay the costs of maintaining distribution info here for their competitors :-)


Ted Mooney, Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha

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 metallization 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

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 difficult 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; and technology was developed for through-hole plating of printed circuit boards which may help you. Good luck.


Ted Mooney, Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha

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 conductive colloid coat.


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.


Ted Mooney, Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha

July 9, 2014

thumbs up signDear 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

September 2014

Hi again. Please look into the proprietary copper plating solutions used for thru-hole plating. They use large molecule brighteners that can't fit into the through holes, with the result that everything but the holes gets covered with these brighteners which tend to shield plating from occurring, while plating is able to happen inside the thru-holes because no brighteners fit into the holes. It is perhaps possible that this will help you get plating deep into the pores of the sponge rather than glomming up on the outside, as is its normal propensity. Good luck.


Ted Mooney, Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha

July 14, 2014

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

jayanta das
- kolkata, west bengal , india

affil. link
Nickel-base Conductive Coating

July 2014

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

Had Van Gogh tried "Starry Night" with a lump of cooking charcoal on brown kraft paper and it might still would have been a reasonable success. But in my opinion, artists & craftspersons shouldn't try to prove they can do passable work with ill-suited materials that way -- instead they should aim for exceptional work with optimal 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.


Ted Mooney, Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha

Metal impregnated epoxy coating as metallizing system for epoxy castings?

September 11, 2014

Q. I am currently working on electroplating cast epoxy pieces. Due to certain processing conditions, a coating must be applied and a conductive element cannot be added into the epoxy before casting. I have tried a number of things and have been successful with plating them, but I am seeing varied failure modes with little adhesive strength.

I used a product similar to electrodag as my starting point. It has a silver coated copper component, but the paint shows poor cohesive strength and the plated metal peels easily.

Other materials that were tried:
Graphite paint - cohesive failure, poor material choice
ESD paint (nickel/graphite) - metal to paint adhesive failure
Nickel filled epoxies - metal to paint adhesive failure

In the plating process, high current densities were required to get the items to plate, could this account for the poor adhesion? Also the nickel was not activated, which I can assume would hurt as much as anything for adhesion.

So my thoughts were leaning toward a copper or silver filled epoxy to create higher conductivity in the coating. Am I on the right track? Is one of these easier to activate than the other, or show better adhesion?
Is there any detractor from the addition of graphite such as lesser conductivity? Would the layered microstructure allow for easier peeling?


Phil Follansbee
- Old Orchard Beach, Maine, USA

November 26, 2014

A. [Consider] this conductive paint: GRAPHIT 33. Good for Cu electroplating in CuSO4 solution. Made in Europe. Price varies between 8 and 20 Euros. Regards.

Saulius Pakalnis
- Vilnius, Lithuania

December 31, 2014

Q. I am trying to create a conductive paint using atomized copper powder. My question is, is there a difference between atomized copper powder and ordinary copper powder? Reason being, I made a mixture of lacquer, lacquer thinner and atomized copper powder and was unsuccessful in plating in a copper sulfate electrolyte using a 30 amp rectifier. My leads were glued and connected to the object and painted over with the conductive paint that I made. Is there a difference between the two copper powders? I did not get an amperage meter reading with the lead connected to the copper conductive paint and object. I'm fairly sure I had good contact. I'm wondering if my conductive paint is not conductive at all? Any response would be greatly appreciated.

Camson Adenuga
- Missoula Montana United States

January 2015

A. Hi Camson, you have to walk before you run. Please put a piece of well cleaned brass or copper into your rig and see if plating occurs (the plating probably may not stick properly, but at least you'll know some early basics like whether the rectifier is working). If you've never successfully plated anything before, we might waste time talking about your metallizing lacquer when it may have nothing to do with the problem :-)

What is your anode made of? What is the voltage? What is the approx. surface area of the object? Thanks. Good luck.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

January 6, 2015

A. Hi Cameron

Ted is right but also;-

Lacquers are non-conductive. To make them conduct you add metal powder But there must be enough metal in the dried layer for the particles to be in contact with each other or there will be no electrical pathway. That means a lot of metal and as little lacquer as practical.
Also copper oxidises very easily and even more so when it is a fine powder so it is not a very promising metal unless you can clean it after painting.
That is why most conductive paints are based on either silver or graphite

geoff smith
Geoff Smith
Hampshire, England

January 10, 2015

A. Copper plating on plastic or non-conducting surfaces is not very difficult but you need to commit to doing the right thing. Silver or copper or nickel filled epoxies work very well. Best to use a thermoset epoxy instead of a thermoplastic. The later usually peel or don't hold up to the chemistry. The epoxy as a thicker paste, say 2500 cps should be 65-70% filled or the conductivity will be too low and plating will be compromised. If you thin and want to spray them then thin with MEK and avoid thinning with acetone ... that affects working life of the spray mix. We have done millions of substrates using the silver filled epoxy. Test conductivity of the surface over a 1-inch distance conductivity for a layer that is 0.0002" should be just a few ohms. Higher values mean the ink is too lean in silver or copper. If using silver then you don't need activator but if you use copper or nickel you will need to use a Pd or Sn catalyst.

Copper sulfate baths, high acid low metal can work quite well. Many PCB types from Atotech, or Macdermid, or Uyemura work well. Drop the current down for best results.


Patrick Lavery
Materials Scientist - North Andover, Massachusetts USA

November 24, 2017

Q. I'm digging through "Electrotype Manipulation" [affil. link to book info on Amazon] (1852) and in the second section it recommends for plating on plaster- making the initial plaster with "sour whey" instead of water and then to saturate it with "silver solution".
It goes on to say that the silver will be reduced through sunlight and produce a decent conductive surface.

I'm assuming the silver solution is silver nitrate and added after the plaster has dried.

1 Other than that should I use the conductivity test described above in regard to epoxy compounds to determine the proper ratio of nitrate to plaster ?

2 I'm plating with copper so could this work with graphite or copper dust in lieu of the silver? I'd like to keep my costs down as I could see this process getting expensive.

3 Any recommendations to replace the whey?


Raphael Lyon
Artist - Brooklyn New York usa

A. Hi Raphael. Yes, you can certainly metallize with copper or graphite instead of silver, but you can't expect operations that are specialized to silver (like reducing it to metallic form with sunlight) to work on copper or graphite. You need to take it from the top, not just substitute.

I'm not sure what role the sour whey plays in that 1852 recipe, but I doubt that you can simply skip that step; but whey should be easily available and relatively cheap in health food stores. It's simply the liquid that's left over when you curdle milk. Good luck.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

November 22, 2018

Bare Conductive "Touchboard"

Q. I would ask if anyone has been tried to use Bare Conductive (brand) Electric Paint (Water based) on ABS Plastic and then proceed with the acid copper solution to attain the copper coating?

Qertusa Wazir
- JOHOR BAHRU, Malaysia

November 2018

A. Hi Qertusa. I'm fairly certain that it is do-able -- it's a truism that virtually anything can be metallized and plated. But whether it would be satisfactory depends on the application, and one of the toughest requirements is obtaining sufficient adhesion..

Copper-nickel-chrome plating of plastic automobile grills, for example, requires outstanding adhesion to hang onto the ABS in blazing sun and frigid cold, and despite abrasion from carwash brushes and spit gravel, etc.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

Electroplating non-conductive material

affil. link
"Electroplating of Plastics"
from Abe Books


June 18, 2020 -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread

Q. Dear gentlemen, good day.

As the topic said, I want a non-conductive material to be electroplated.
I assume first step would be electroless plating, then electroplating on top of it.
There are two options, either copper or nickel.

Which one is better in this case, in terms of conductivity and as a prime plate to electroplating?

Is there any difference to consider between electrolessly plating metallic and non-metallic substrate (solution composition, steps, type of chemicals, parameters, quality test, etc.)

How much is the thickness required for each to electroplate on top of it?
Is there a standard (e.g. ASTM) for plating non-conductive material?
What are the test methods?

Thank you

Salem Ehsan
- Cairo, Egypt

affil. link
"Standards and Guidelines for Electroplated Plastics"
by American Society for Electroplated Plastics
from Abe Books
info on Amazon
see our Review

June 2020

A. Hi Salem. Electroless copper isn't much used anymore except on circuit boards / printed wiring boards because it's more expensive, and more difficult to control & waste treat, so the short answer to your question is probably electroless nickel. But even that is being replaced by 'direct metalization' in many applications.

As you see, we added your inquiry to a thread about electroplating non-conductive materials. We have hundreds of threads on that topic here, and many books have been written about it, so it's not easily discharged in a single forum posting. Everything from animal skulls through flowers & leaves on up through plastic automotive grills have been metalized and plated. Your need sounds "industrial" rather than hobbyist or artistic, so I think you're on the right track with electroless nickel, but people really can't help you until we understand what you want to do -- for example "Standards & Guidelines for Electroplated Plastics" has a 30-page chapter just on those ASTM specs you request.

What is it that you want to electroplate? What material is it made from? What is it that you want to ultimately plate it with (gold, chrome, a PVD coating, etc.)? Why do you want to plate it (appearance, corrosion resistance, electrical conductivity, wear resistance)? Thanks!


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

June 21, 2020

Q. Dear Ted, thank you for your answer.

Indeed, the process I need is industrial process not hobbyist or artistic.
the requirement of my needed plating process is to add a conductivity to a non-conductive material, and to electroplate it using conventional plating methods.
I am trying to build this capability to have different materials go through this process, so really there no single material I am trying to electrolessly plate, it is more like a continuous process. This is why I am asking of an ASTM standard to look into it and modify my process based on it.

Again Ted, thank you, and if you can provide the ASTM number it would be great.

Salem Ehsan [returning]
- Cairo Egypt

June 2020

A. Hi again Salem. ASTM B733 [affil. link to spec at Techstreet] is the spec for electroless nickel plating, and other standards organizations have other specs; please see thread 39060 for a general discussion of the standards. But that spec only covers the electroless nickel step itself, not the whole sequence for plating on plastic.

There are a few things you may or may not be aware of, but I'll mention them for the benefit of other readers --

1. There are many different metalization techniques; not just the electroless nickel, electroless copper, and direct metalization methods already mentioned. See our FAQ "Plating Organic Materials" for a quick introduction to some other approaches. Almost anything can be metalized for subsequent electroplating, but a principal issue is usually the need for extreme and flawless adhesion, and some methods can't deliver enough for difficult industrial needs.
2. The process for applying electroless nickel to plastic is somewhat involved. It's not one step, but many. Exact sequences and names vary, but typically etch, activate, accelerate, electroless nickel plate (with rinses between each step) would be the minimum. Thread 1020 presents typical process sequences.
3. ABS is a special plastic designed for maximum adhesion; the butadiene is dissolved in an etch, leaving millions of tiny little spherical pockets the Pd activator deposits into, and onto which the electroless nickel grows. You can metalize other plastics but you won't get equivalent adhesion because you won't have those spherical pockets.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

June 21, 2020

thumbs up sign Dear Ted.

your kind and informative response to my question is highly appreciated.
thank you very much,

Salem Ehsan [returning]
- Cairo Egypt

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