Electroplating at home for strength and finish is cheap and easy

After printing replacement arms for my glasses I got annoyed at continually printing replacements every time they broke. I’d seen it mentioned that plated parts are a lot stronger, and I figured it’s such a simple process that you shouldn’t need to use a service bureau.

I’m in the UK and initially I kept running into Spa plating and Caswell on google searches, but then I found http://www.gaterosplating.co.uk whose kits are very affordable. Just now I’ve also found http://www.frost.co.uk/automotive-paint-coating-electroplating/automotive-electroplating.html which also looks relatively affordable.

In any case the gateros plain nickel plating kit was £80, plus £6 for silver conductive ink from ebay, another £10 for an air pump with stone, and another £12 for 5 litres of distilled water. I already have a bunch of 12v power supplies lying around - so just over £100 set up costs.

The only real consumable is the conductive ink - since the plating tank just consumes the metal anodes, and they should be good to plate many square meters. The silver ink I used is pricey, probably good for maybe 3 butterflies - so £6 for maybe 6 square inches? something like that.

There are other conductive ink options - I tried gateros’s ink, but that was horrible, very lumpy, the metal particles are just too big. I looked at bare conductive’s graphite based ink, but that looks a bit thick and seems like it takes more work to apply.

plain part

painted ready for plating

plated with about 1/2 gram of nickel

a video on plating the butterfly


Brilliant @KevinHolmes!

Thanks for sharing the links for supplies in the UK, I will definitely be giving this a try when I get some spare time.

Looking forward to your next video.

I actually have the Spa plating kit but haven’t tried plating anything yet. I assume you use conductive ink and airbrush/paint it on the print beforehand and afterwards nickelplate the conductive ink?

I have tried to spray a print with conductive ink but I noticed it didn’t quite stick to the print as the surface was too smooth. What were the initial steps you took to properly nickel plate your arms? The rigidity of the arms has definitely been greatly approved!


@Alex_Vermeer yes I use silver conductive paint - see the second image above - the 3 pictures are a summary of the process. That paint adheres really well to form1 parts.

I must have had some issues with temperature probably. I did try painting it mid winter in my shed. Probably not the best conditions ;). The price you paid for the silver ink seems reasonable though! You’re probably better off buying something like 25-50gr’s in the future.

Have you tried going over the print some more? You should be able to get a “mirror like” finish with the nickel plating solution. That’s what I’ve gotten in the past anyway. Though I do note that it’s harder to get that finish on plastics compared to metals.

I’ll be trying something similar once I get my printer back. Nice job so far!

I had terrible luck with conductive copper paint from Caswell. Didn’t stick at all. I’d gotten frustrated and given up, but maybe I’ll try some of the silver you used.

@JonathanBaker - good to know, so along with @Alex_Vermeer’s negative experience with the spa plating ink, and mine with the gateros ink (it sticks fine, but it’s really lumpy) - then the missing evaluation is for “bare conductive’s” graphite ink.

The silver ink I used (kemo L100 conductive silver http://www.kemo-electronic.de/en/Components/Consumables/Soldering/L100-Conductive-silver.php) is aimed at repairing car rear window defroster traces. It’s designed to stick to glass, and it worked perfectly - it’s just a bit expensive. Fine for occasional small pieces - but definitely want another option for volume or larger pieces.

Has anyone used bare conductive’s ink - or something else not yet discussed?

Hi @KevinHolmes, saw this today and thought you might find it interesting. - http://3dprint.com/59112/orbit-1-monolith-kickstarter

@Steve_Johnstone yeah I monitor the fab tools section on kickstarter and just saw it today. Haven’t bothered to watch the video since the concept seems like a ripoff to me.

Ooooh the strength in these parts is similar to how tucan beaks get their strength:

The inside of the tucan’s beak is a relatively weak foam like structure similar to the weak plastic, but when encased in a stiff outer material, the two components work together to achieve a much greater strength.

I’d imagine it’d be possible to 3D print out some kind of foam/web like structure, cover it in some kind of skin, and then plate over it to get some great results in weight to strength ratio =)

This is similar to race car component structures (and lots of general structural component construction). Two rigid surfaces with something (i.e. in your case: foam) in between give a synergistic growth in strength.

It’s essentially a truss. the rigid but light foam internal materal keeps the stiffer materials apart. The ‘shell’ then is loaded in tension and compression.