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Why and how are plastics electroplated?

Q. Why and how are plastics electroplated?

Abiye O.
- Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria

A. Plastics are metallised for thousands of reasons, but in general it is to make the plastic look like a metal component. Plastic parts are cheaper and easier to fabricate than their metal counterpart, but only certain ones can be successfully plated. These include ABS, PP, HIPS, MIPS, SAN, acrylics, etc. The generic way of doing it is to etch their surface and then activate with a suitable noble metal system. Once activated the plastic can be coated with an electroless metal deposit and then thickened by an electrochemically deposited metal.

trevor crichton
Trevor Crichton
R&D practical scientist
Chesham, Bucks, UK

Q. Which of plastic materials can be electroplated?

Arun o n
- Bangalore, Karnataka, India
April 24, 2012

"Standards and Guidelines for Electroplated Plastics"
by American Society for Electroplated Plastics

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A. Hi cousin Arun.

Trevor just finished answering that question in general terms. Almost anything in the world can be plated in one fashion or other, but the most troublesome issue is usually getting sufficient adhesion that the plated item is useful. I would add that ABS is probably considered the most plateable and most popular because it is readily etchable to bring out a lot of "tooth" for good adhesion. Adhesion of plating on ABS can be so good that it can be used on exterior automotive components like grills.

Plastics can also be vacuum metallized, which is not electroplating, but looks like it. Items for automobile interiors are often vacuum metallized. If you can post some details of your situation, a deeper reply may be possible. Thanks.


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey
April 24, 2012

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