Gold Plating 420 SS+Bronze?

Discussion in 'Finishing Techniques' started by jaykochel, Nov 4, 2009.

  1. jaykochel
    jaykochel New Member
    Hi All,

    I am complete newb here but investigating the potential to gold plate stainless steel models? Does anyone have any knowledge on this or had any success plating with any other materials (eg silver, chrome, nickel)?

  2. GlenG
    GlenG New Member
    I'm not sure SW offers the service but it can be done quite easily. Look for someone doing "electroless plating" gold and nickel work very well on the SS material.
    Not so sure about chrome, but it should be possible.
  3. jaykochel
    jaykochel New Member
    Thanks for your response. Sounds like great news...time to get planning!
  4. randomhuman
    randomhuman New Member
    What about silver? Is it a different process from gold or should it work just as well? Am I right in thinking that as long as the stainless steel conducts electricity it should be possible to plate it with anything, or are there other factors?
  5. virtox
    virtox Active Member Moderator
    Unfortunately, it is apparently not that simple :confused

    I too was hoping silver or similar plating would be as "easy" as gold.

    It was discussed during one of the live events here at approximately 14 minutes : 0

    They are experimenting with new finishes, but nothing silver like.


  6. aeron203
    aeron203 New Member
    I became very interested in this last year, even getting to the point of trying out copper baths. I ultimately decided against plating my products at home as I learned more about what it takes to really do it right.

    The deciding factor was silver, because that's the finish I'm looking for. There are wipe-on solutions that can produce a micro-thin coating that quickly wears off, but the best processes use cyanide solutions that are extremely toxic and dangerous. The used baths would have to be disposed of at the local HazMat center, and an accidental spill would be an ecological disaster. I'm all about DIY whenever possible, but common sense tells me to leave silver to the pros.

    I hear nickel is more achievable at home and can give a pretty bright finish. Still I hope everyone does their research before buying chemicals, because when they find out how much they cost to dispose of properly, those chemicals might end up being dumped, and I wouldn't want that happening as a result of my suggestion.
  7. randomhuman
    randomhuman New Member
    Oh that's a shame. I was planning to print a ring in stainless steel, polish it up and then have it plated, but I guess I'll have to leave it at the polished stage! It is quite shiny when polished so it is not too bad.

    Thanks for the answer!
  8. randomhuman
    randomhuman New Member
    Well I wasn't really thinking of doing it myself, rather having a professional do it after the polishing. I like the DIY approach usually, but I figured for a once off project that step would just be too involved (and you sure make it sound that way!).

    But, is there something about the stainless steel material that prevents plating it in silver, or is it just too complex a process to be attempted at home?
  9. pp
    pp New Member
    HI Guys not sure if you have seen this post >>

    ..... or have seen this weeks shop owners newsletter but starting Wednesday we will expand our Stainless Steel finishing with 3 different finishings.

    1) Gold plated Polished
    2) Antique Bronze Matt
    3) Antique Bronze Glossy

    Does this help or are there more requirements?
  10. randomhuman
    randomhuman New Member
    Cool, I definitely won't order anything before Wednesday then so I can check those out!

    The problem for me though is that everything ordered here *looks* printed. There's dimpling or ridges, and I understand that that's just the nature of the technology at the moment, and that's fine. However, I need these rings to look really smooth and shiny, and I think that's achievable with the stainless steel and some post-production work. Some sort of plating (preferably silver) would be icing on the cake, but if the plating is done by shapeways then I can't do any sanding to remove the artefacts...
  11. pp
    pp New Member

    We are looking at ways to increase the basic polishing of our Stainless Steel. the difficulty we have is finding a general way that gets the best result for "all" shapes. Now that's a challenge ;)

    I know what you mean. I have been polishing SS myself and the results are really great.

    If you keep polishing in mind when designing ...... not the way it should be but it does work for now....

    Peter Paul

    Last edited: Jul 19, 2010
  12. Wow - the piece on the left looks amazing! I assume the one on the right is a 'before' picture, showing how it looked with printing artefacts?
    How are you polishing these, PP?
  13. virtox
    virtox Active Member Moderator
    I have also been experimenting with copper plating.
    With moderate success. It's not too difficult to get a copper deposit on steel, the trick is keeping it on ;)
    Would love to hear what you learned, my experiences so far :

    Disclaimer: my chemistry knowledge is not much these days, but I like to experiment, experts feel free to correct me here.

    General safety warning for anyone trying this:
    Wear old/work cloths, wear protective gloves and glasses/facial protection at all times!
    WORK OUTSIDE in the open air.
    Away from children animals plants humans etc.
    Do not eat drink or smoke or work near fire.
    Don't breath in the fumes.
    If you don't know what you're doing, don't do it ;)

    I use Acetic acid (a common cleaning product)
    As this is a "fairly safe" acid. But the fumes are horrible ;)
    Be careful, hydrogen might form at some stages of these processes.
    And since there is also electricity involved..
    spark + hydrogen = boom!
    Be careful

    If you put in lots of copper pieces and wait a really long time (days/weeks) the solution will turn bright blue meaning some copper has dissolved. Do not close of the jar completely as pressure might build and do NOT keep this in your house.

    (Btw, congratulations you will have now created your first chemical waste. Do not dispose of this solution through a drain !
    When finished add some steel wool and wait until the blue is all gone.
    It will absorb the copper.)

    A quicker way is to hook up a long piece of coiled up stripped copper wire (donor) to the plus of a single 1.5v cell, and another scrap piece as a temporary "dump-site" to the minus.
    For safety I always add a an ampere meter in the plus line to monitor the current.

    Once you have a decent copper acetic acid solution,
    connect the stainless steel object to the minus site of the electrode, and a (fresh) donor coil to the plus side.
    Suspend both in the solution. Copper will now deposit on the object.

    If you wait an hour or so, the object will look like it's fully covered in copper ! But unfortunately, most will rub off easily..

    I believe one of the problems is, that we have little control on how and where the copper deposits. I assume oxidation and corrosion during the process won't help either.

    Adding a little salt might help with the conductivity, but if you add to much, chlorine (dangerous) and hydrogen(explosive) gas will develop.

    Adding some fine sugar to the solution, results in smaller crystals.

    Other than that, a lot of patience, retries and runs are necessary.
    And I have some promising but not picture worthy results, where after polishing a thin copper shine was still left on the steel.
    But other attempts seem to mainly "rust" the steel :rolleyes:

    I read somewhere that the ss from shapeways is covered with a protective coating against staining. This will interfere with the plating, as will finger-grease and such, so proper cleaning/sanding/polishing is a must
    If I'm able to polish and clean the steel better prior to plating, I hope the results will improve.

    Also thinking "baking" the object with the rough deposits, to see if it
    might weld/stick better.

    The final goal is to also use the copper base for adding silver.
    Either with a more durable rub-on solution, or perhaps just dunking in molten silver. (I had some items silvered (quite a thick layer) this way, but not sure how they did it)

    Maybe even use a soldering iron and the new lead-free but silver base solder used in electronics.

    But I do these experiments mainly for fun ;)
  14. pp
    pp New Member
    Whooo Stijn .... great experiment!
    Got some pictures of the end result?

    @Drawn-Steel Hero;

    I started with rough machine polishing to get ride of the production marks.. layering etc.

    Then the actual polishing starts. I used the 200, 400, 800 and 1200 sand paper. For me this best works wet.
    Once this is done I used a polishing past (you can get this any were... It's used a lot for car cleaning.
    Then the ultimate gloss I got by using a head on a drill. You can get the same result by hand it just takes a bit longer ;)

    I have some more models I have polished. Will share later.

    Last edited: Jul 19, 2010
  15. aeron203
    aeron203 New Member
    @Peter Paul:
    I'm happy to see the bronze finishes being introduced. I'm wondering if the bronze items we've seen so far represent the matte or gloss versions. Is matte bronze simply unpolished?

    There's nothing like hands-on experience to get a good idea of what's involved with this stuff, as long as we do it safely. The hydrogen build-up point is a good one since even a little flash could blow acid all over the place.
    The reason I was checking out copper baths was actually not for SS, but for plating plastic prints. Some print bureaus already offer this as a service, and I'd love to see Shapeways give that a try (Wink, nudge).
    I was painting models with a conductive paint made of dissolved copper with suspended silver particles to make the models conductive so they can be plated. It's actually a fairly common technique artists use for metal plating of organic objects and would be a great way to achieve a metal look and feel, hopefully at a lower price. Maybe Alumide would help the process along...or maybe react badly. This area is ripe for experimentation!
  16. randomhuman
    randomhuman New Member
    Wow, that finish is really impressive! It's nice to see what is possible!
  17. pp
    pp New Member
    Here is a sample of the materials for tomorrow.
    the left is Antique Bronze Matte and the Right is Antique Bronze Glossy.

    the finishing are different to the basic polishing level is the same for both.

    You will see it next week Aeron ;)

    antique bronze copy.jpg
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2010
  18. Ooh, pretty... :eek:
  19. GlenG
    GlenG New Member
    Hi all,
    the "antique bronze" finish is quite simple to produce on the SW/SS material. All it takes is heat, no chemicals at all!

    Before coloring, parts must be finished to the desired luster then cleaned of all coatings or contaminants and absolutely dry. A temperature of approx. 350ºC - 662ºF will produce a brown bronze color. Time at temperature can vary with the mass of the piece but 1 hour dwell time should be adequate for most Shapeways sized models. Increasing/decreasing temperature, and/or time, will produce variations to the color which can range from golden yellow on the low side to reddish purple on the high side. At temperatures above approximately 450ºC color will start to turn gray and no further color change will occur. If metal is heated further, to the point where it starts to glow red, expect the result to be a matte gray black color.

    The iridescent colors are known as an "interference colors". They are caused by the micro thin oxide layers that form on the surface of some metals when exposed to heat. As time and temp increases these oxide layers refract the light hitting the surface of the metal and so change the visible color. Color ranges and time/temp factors will vary with different types of metal but once the gradients for a particular metal type is determined the results should always be the same.

    I'm not sure a home kitchen oven or toaster oven will range high enough to achieve the antique bronze color. The effect can be produced with a hand torch but care must be taken to do it slooowly and evenly. Once a particular color is reached the only way to reverse the effect is by re-polishing.

    I have not mapped a complete gradient for the SS material so experimentation is in order. This would make a great science project eh?


  20. Wow, that's fascinating - I thought you actually applied an extra patina to the steel to get the colour (in fact I'm pretty sure Bart said as much last night).
    In that case, can we expect to see a range of steel colour options when you've experimented some more? :D