Electroplating/electroforming onto 3D Printing and Stereolithography (SLA) models
A discussion started in 1999 but continuing through 2017(1999)
Q. Has anyone tried chrome plating stereolithography models?Mike Cole
April 28, 2011
A. Yes prototypes can be plated with many finishes including chrome. SLA usually works the best, then FDM, PolyJet and SLS not as well.Bill Bounds
prototypes - Bellingham, Washington
To minimize your searching efforts and to offer multiple viewpoints, we've combined some threads into the dialog you're viewing. Please forgive any resultant repetition or failures of chronological order.
Stereolithography and Surface Treatment2001
Q. I am a master student in surface finish, using stereolithography process at University Federal of Santa Catarina - Brazil. I would like to know if is it possible to use some kind of surface treatment like electroplating or sprayed metal to apply to inserts of stereolithography to obtain a rapid tool?
This surface treatment will be applied on a surface that will be in contact with the molten plastic during injection molding. Are there some surface treatments that could give the hardness and heat transfer necessary to increase this qualities more than epoxy resin that the molds are made of (Somos 7110)?Alexandre Vilas Boas Badotti
- Florianupolis, Santa Catarina, Brazil
Ed. note: We've merged this inquiry with other threads which should address it for you, Alexandre
Nickel Plating vs. Chrome Plating SLA Parts2004
Q. I am looking to find out more about nickel plating done on stereolithography (SLA) parts. I have heard that nickel plating can increase the strength of the SLA up to three-fold. I wondered about the thickness of the nickel coat compared to a chrome coat achieved from metallizing the SLA then chrome plating it. The appearance of the SLA was also important and I wondered whether it could be polished or buffed to create a chrome cosmetic appearance.
Thanks for the help.Mark Villwock
Student - Hinckley, Ohio
A. The strength of the SLA part will be enhanced by electroplating it with nickel, but I would suggest you initially polish the part and then metallise it using electroless metallisation (assuming it is a resin and not a sintered metal). If it is a sintered metal you can electroplate directly onto it, as long as it is suitable for plating. I suggest you apply about 10-20 microns of low stress high leveling copper, followed by a zero stress (i.e., sulphamate) nickel, again about 20-25 microns thick. This can then be plated with a few (say 5) microns of chromium. The chromium will be highly stressed so you don't want much on there, but the two other layers should minimise the effects of this high stress.
R&D practical scientist
Chesham, Bucks, UK
Plating onto non conductive acrylic RPT prototypes2004
Q. Dear Sir, we have recently installed a RPT machine for producing prototypes.The output is acrylic. Some of our customers are insisting nickel or chromium coating on our parts. Please give me suggestions for achieving the same.
camsys technologies - Coimbatore, Tamilnadu, India
A. Acrylic covers a multitude of sins; some are hydroscopic and some are not so bad. You need to find out how hydroscopic your resin is and then decide how to plate it. There are standard plating on plastics techniques available that will give you the finish you require. One word of warning, my limited experience of RP parts is that they often tend to be quite brittle; plating them with metal can make them even more so.
R&D practical scientist
Chesham, Bucks, UK
How to polish ABS for Plating2006
Q. I work for a large consumer electronics manufacturer and am responsible for creating prototypes of potential products. In an effort to provide chrome trim, I have been machining brass parts, polishing and chrome plating.
I would like to chrome plate some machined ABS parts. Is this possible? Can or should I vapor polish before I try this?
Can I chrome SLA parts? What is the process?
These parts are cosmetic only. Any help would be appreciated.
- Framingham, Massachusetts
A. Hi Tony. Virtually anything in the world is electroplateable after some sort of metallization or other (please see our FAQ: "How to electroplate flowers, leaves, animal skulls, and other organic materials"). But the principal issue usually revolves around expectations of good adhesion. First, plastics expand much faster than metals and are much more flexible, which makes adhesion of the rigid plating to the plastic difficult; second, when people see metal surfaces, they tend to hold higher expectations than for plastic surfaces.
Most of the grills of the world's automobiles are nickel-chrome plated ABS, so it is certainly possible to chrome plate ABS with exceptional adhesion. ABS has multiple polymers in it, one of which can be etched away with chromic-sulfuric acid, rendering the exceptional mechanical "tooth" necessary for outstanding adhesion. The designers usually specify "plating grade" ABS. I do not know for sure, but assume that SLA ABS will be of lower and less consistent quality, and will be harder to chrome plate reliably. Hopefully someone with experience will comment on the balance of your question, i.e., whether you will find high quality chrome plating on SLA practical, and whether it should be vapor polished or otherwise polished first. Good luck.
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Pine Beach, New Jersey
Vibratory Polishing of ABS & PP as prep for chrome platingJanuary 9, 2011
Q. Dear reader,
How can we deburr polypropylene articles with drill burrs, and light deburr ABS parts along with a mirror polish effect?
manufacturer - Surat, Gujrat, India
January 21, 2011
A. A frosted or cut edge of most plastics can be restored to clarity using mass finishing equipment with a dry organic media; however, this requires long time cycles.
Biocompatible finishing options for SLA DSM Somos Next?October 13, 2011
Hi. We're making a product out of DSM Somos Next resin (www.dsm.com/en_US/downloads/dsms/NeXt_7_10.pdf ). This product will be in constant contact with people's skin. What kind of options do we have for finishing which:
1. Preferably are certified as biocompatible or are generally recognized as safe?
2. Allow us to either change the color or prevent the yellowing that normally occurs over time by protecting the product from UV exposure?
I've looked all over the place for answers, but I really don't know enough about finishing. We've tried:
1. powder coating (material can't stand high temperatures of the oven)
2. coating with titanium (it ended up being sticky for some reason?)
3. painting (looks amazing, but I don't think there are any biocompatible paints, or even any that are generally recognized as safe?)
There are other possibilities I've heard of (like using vacuum metallization with aluminum) that might work, but I don't know enough to evaluate them.
Any help would be greatly appreciated!
Novice product designer - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
December 29, 2012
Presently I am working in Rapid proto typing department -- jewellery division.
We are using 3d wiper SLA machine. In this machine we are using aqua amethyst resin for making a rapid prototype.
After that we find roughness on the surface of RPT. Is there any technique for reducing the roughness or any metal coating can be done on the surface?
Please do the needful.
Thanks & Regards,
- Tamilnadu, India
A. I am not familiar with your processes, but if the plastic is molded, you need to polish the mold.
If it is a machine cutting plastic blocks to shape, then the cutting tool, feeds and speeds need to be looked at. I suspect that there is too much emphasis placed on "rapid".
- Navarre, Florida
August 7, 2014
Q. We are thinking to purchase a vibratory polishing machine for ABS Plastic (for injection molded ABS plastic).
We are looking for this solution as we think that it will improve the Surface Quality (it will smooth the top layer of our product which is molded ABS plastic component). We want to improve the surface of our product because we want to METALLIZE (CHROME FINISH) our product.
I want to know if this process will help us improve CHROME FINISH on our product.
Please tell that are we on the right track.
Looking forward for your expert advice.
- Delhi, India
Metal parts via 3D printingFebruary 26, 2013
3D printers are receiving a lot of attention in the news these days, because they are seen to be a potential disruptive technology. However, most devices of this type are very limited in the materials they can work with, mainly fabricating models in plastics like PLA or ABS. Advanced high-end models which do work with metal (eg. Selective Laser Sintering or Electron Beam Melting machines) require a build chamber to either be under vacuum or else filled with an inert gas, in order to prevent oxidation of the metal being used to form the part/model.
Could laser-accelerated electroplating or electroforming be used as the basis for a 3D printing approach which additively fabricates macroscopic parts or models from metal? I emphasize 'macroscopic', because the method already seems to have been investigated for fabricating metal microstructures - but I'd like to know why it couldn't be used in conjunction with stereolithography to make larger metal structures on the order of many centimeters in length width and height?
Consider for a moment the 3D stereolithography printer, which can manufacture plastic models using a UV-laser to solidify a UV-curable liquid polymer. A thin layer of liquid polymer is hit from below by the lasers, causing it to solidify wherever hit, and the resulting shape is slowly pulled out of that liquid layer from above.
I was wondering if a similar approach could be taken by using the method of laser-enhanced electroplating, and substituting the UV-curable liquid polymer for a solution of metal ions. I was thinking that laser-enhanced electroplating by way of the Soret Effect might result in an electroformed metal shape which could be created and slowly pulled from the liquid layer from above.
Here is some info I looked up online in a book called 'Modern Electroplating':
"The development of laser-enhanced electroplating process offers a promising technique for high-speed and mask-less selective plating and/or as a repair and engineering design change scheme for microcircuits [300, 325-28]. For this, temperature is used to modify the position of the equilibrium potential in a localized region so that electro-deposition is driven by the potential difference between this region and the non-irradiated regions. Use of a focused argon laser beam (488nm) in an acid copper solution provided plating rates as high as 25µm/s . Bindra et al [327, 328] discussed the mechanism of laser-enhanced acid copper plating and Paatsch et al  reported on laser-induced deposition of copper on p-type silicon. It was demonstrated that the increase in the plating rate under laser illumination results principally from photo-induced heating of the electrode surface ."
I think a 3D printer based on electroplating/electroforming would be cheaper than existing metal 3D printers using SLS or EBM, because it doesn't require your build chamber to be under vacuum, or filled with an inert gas. And a theoretical build speed of 25µm/s seems quite significant - that's 1mm every 40 seconds, or 1cm every 400 seconds. Theoretically, you could print a 30cm tall model made of metal in 200 minutes - put all those old pennies to good use. Even if your real-world build speed was only half that, it would still compare quite favorably with existing consumer 3D printing systems.
It seems to me that a 3D electroplating approach could bring 3D printing of metal parts into the home consumer market. After all, there are plenty of consumer-level home-electroplating kits sold to for people who plate their own jewelry, etc. So electroplating is not some exotic technology, and electroforming is just electroplating taken to greater lengths/thicknesses.
As a college-level student, I don't really know much about electroplating other than having done it in some lab classes, and was looking for a knowledgeable forum like this where I could to ask questions about it in relation to 3D printing. I was wondering about whether I could use a small diode laser of reasonable power to shine it on some electroplatable cathode, to see if it produced any noticeable enhancement in the electroplating effect at that spot. I don't know what the current modern state of the art is in electroplating/electroforming/electrodeposition technology, but I've read that electroplating can be enhanced by the Soret Effect, and that this is the basis for laser-assisted electroplating. So I wanted to find some way to test it out as a proof of concept, with an eye towards using it for 3D printing.
If anybody has any answers, I'd appreciate it. I find this 3D printing stuff fascinating, and I think it's a matter of finding new ways to do it, in order to be able to print in new materials. I feel printing metal parts by electroplating would be a great idea to explore and tinker with. Sorry if this is a long first post - I hope you don't mind - after reviewing some of the great answers on this forum, it seems to be the most knowledgeable place on the net for this subject.
Student, Hobbyist, Tinkerer - Toronto, Canada
A. Hi Sanjay. Yes, 3D printing is one of the most exciting and disruptive technologies of recent decades. While direct 3D printing in metal requires development efforts that may be beyond the resources of most plating shops, hopefully some plating shops are already taking advantage of plastic 3D printing:
Something which I haven't seen much of yet, but which seems such a natural, is electroforming onto 3D printed plastic mandrels. This would allow the plating shop to go directly from a computer file to the metallizing tank with no wasted fabrication of mandrels and their tooling.
I've also read of the fabrication of a strong metal latticework lighter than dandelion fluff created by laser forming the matrix in polymer, electroless nickel plating it, and then dissolving away the polymer (http://www.dailytech.com/New+Metal+Nanomesh+is+Nearly+100+Times+Lighter+Than+Styrofoam/article23318.htm)
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Pine Beach, New Jersey
March 5, 2013
A. Hi Sanjay
About fifty years ago, I was working for Kodak in the research lab on photoresists. One experiment was shining UV light into a liquid polymer to obtain a solid shape which remained when the liquid was poured off. This was long before the days of CAD drawings or computer driven printers and the project was not persued.
About fifteen years ago, in another lab, engineers started to complain at design meetings that their new rapid prototyping kit produced wonderful 3D models that had limited use because they were too weak to handle. No problem. A quick trip to the plating shop and next day I was able to return the first models with a solid coating of copper (or nickel, whatever, you name it.) If you don't want a plated part, dissolve out the polymer and you have a perfect mould tool. As far as I know this is still standard practice, well developed, simple and cheap.
Full marks for the suggestion of enhanced plating but I have only heard of it applied to growing simple pillars. I would expect light scattering to be a problem in any practical solution. Add micro and macro throwing power and I think you would be looking at the thin end of a large research program.
April 5, 2013
A. Hi there,
There was much work done at IBM on laser enhanced micro-jet plating in the 1980's. Use the key search phrase "jet plating" and see if that gets you the articles.
My PhD thesis at the University of Washington (Chemical Engineering) was on developing a tool we called "Electrochemical Printing". We had a rastering micro-jet electrode that could deposit (or pattern) freeform extended 2D micro-patterns of copper, nickel, gold, platinum, and rhodium. The micro-jet had an anode upstream of the nozzle opening and therefore confined the deposit to an area just near the micro-jet opening. Localized "dots" or "pixels" of metal were deposited point-by-point at locations and operating parameters (current, flow, fly-height, charge) according to those defined in custom software.
We started a company (Ionographics and later MicraMetal) on the concept but found gaining traction in the marketplace difficult. Basically, lots of people were excited about the concept but no one could justify funding the NRE to develop fully production worthy machine.
- Seattle, Washington, USA
May 28, 2014
A. Look up Microfabrica, they are doing amazing stuff.steve hack
Logus Microwave - WPB, Florida
courtesy of Microfabrica
Thanks Steve. Mind blowing! Complete pre-assembled machines the size of a pinhead made by electroforming.
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Pine Beach, New Jersey
May 12, 2015 -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread
Q. Hey sir,
Can you please mention any process to plate 3d printed materials with ABS or PLA material using any metal finish.
- trivandrum, india
A. Hi Vineeth. You can see from this thread which we attached your question to that electroforming of copper or nickel onto ABS should be quite doable. Good luck.
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Pine Beach, New Jersey
Etching and electroplating 3-D Printed PLA ModelSeptember 7, 2016
Q. Hello sir,
I modeled a part with PLA plastic. Now I have many questions in mind.
* part finishing
* electroplating or giving any type of metallic touch.
Now I have tried acetone for surface finishing but it didn't work actually, or I didn't do it well. Please help me regarding accurate method for part finishing and etch process for PLA, after which electroplating or metallic finish can be given.
nsic - palwal, haryana, india
September 27, 2016
A. The Acetone treatment is for ABS 3d prints, PLA pieces will need to be processed by hand with fine sand paper to remove all of the imperfections
As for plating the piece, there are many ways to do that, electroless nickel plating is an excellent option, copper electroforming using conductive paint is another one.
- Managua, Nicaragua
Electrodeposition for creating objectsOctober 11, 2017
Q. Hello, I am new to electroplating but I have done some searching (looking to get some books) and wanted to know if it was possible to create objects using electrodeposition. For instance, if I were to 3D print a mould for a specialised part for something (say, a pole. For the mould: imagine a hollow tube with a small hole at each end, one for a wire, and one for the liquid to pour into) and placed the partially enclosed mould into a bath, would I (after a long time) end up with the solid object that the mould should have contained? (the pole). This would make it possible for me to produce parts that I otherwise wouldn't be able to obtain.
Thanks for your time
Student - Batemans Bay, NSW, Australia
Hi Cameron. It is very common to make metal parts by electroplating; when the plating layer itself becomes the "object" we often call the process "electroforming" rather than electroplating.
Examples of such stuff include hollow teardrop earrings which are made by plating gold onto a wax teardrop then melting away the wax; vinyl record stampers and CD molds made by nickel plating onto a lacquer master; miniature bellows made by plating onto an aluminum core and then dissolving the aluminum; flower and leaf jewelry made by copper plating onto nature's creations, etc.
But your problem is different in that you are trying to fill a cavity and it is very difficult to get plating to build up so uniformly, and the way you wish, as to achieve that. If you picture trying to fill that small tube by pouring in gravel instead of fine powder you'll visualize the general issue. But it is possible to plate the inside surface of a tube, so, depending on the dimensions, electroforming a hollow pole may be possible ... it's just that it would probably be much easier to do it the opposite way, plating onto a mold which matches the desired inside diameter of the pole rather than it's desired outside diameter :-)
Luck & Regards,
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live "Aloha"
Etching SLA PR48 resin for electroless copper coatingNovember 15, 2017
Q. I am working on a process to electrolessly plate SLA printed parts
(Autodesk PR48 resin) with Copper .
I want to ask the professionals here, how do you successfully etch SLA printed parts for wettability, chemically without damaging the minute details on it
My electroless solution does not seem to 'stick' to the smooth SLA surface .
I tried piranha (H2S04, H202) solution , but that was clearly too strong for the part.
I am looking at Potassium Permanganate solution, but I have no clue if that would work to etch the Printed parts
Student - Toronto, Ontario, Canada
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