Figuring out do-it-yourself Electroplating

I have been working on the best ways to electroplate my printed models in house and for cheap. I think I have hit upon a nice process that is showing great promise. Here, I would like to show everybody the process as I progress and get any feedback from interested individuals or anybody that has been researching this as well.

Here is the print I have been working with. I chose the default male head bust (though I moved the mouth a little wider) from zBrush since it is something many of you can duplicate on your own if you have access to zBrush. I sliced the face to just before the ear and mounted it on a plate that I use as the print base to adhere to the plate of the printer. No supports, small, and detailed enough to get a great feel for the success (or lack of) in the plating.

I am producing a copper plate over a graphite surface that I painted on with a small brush and a q-tip. To make the graphite stick and retain all possible detail, I waited for the piece to fully cure (usually in the sun for 15 minutes), then I applied extra resin to the surface. I used very little, just enough to get the surface tacky again (I wiped off all excess). Then I immediately applied fine powdered graphite until the whole face was covered. I used a q-tip to really press the graphite into the details and then polish it to a smooth finish. The graphite loves to stick to the tacky surface and is naturally microscopically thin (thus able to get every blemish and detail).

Then I used a bath with heated tap water, dissolved copper sulphate and a little vinegar to electroplate in. The power source was just an old model train controller. A coil of copper wire was used as the anode and the piece was placed as the cathode. It visibly plated fast. I could see results in just a few tens of seconds. To get the plate thickness I wanted, it took a couple hours. I then buffed and polished with a dremel.

Here I have posted the initial print, (sorry for the bad crop)

the very first test (just to see if the concept would work),

and my latest attempt.

The latest attempt saw much better results with just a little tweaking. Keep in mind that this was all done on a super bargain budget and with all sorts of things that could (and will!) be easily refined; such as purified water, special care not to contaminate the plating solution, proper post print clean up (I did not even detail scrub the parts when they came out of the printer, so they have “anomalies”), more purified copper, and stronger plating bath (using sulfuric and muric acid).

If there is enough interest in this topic I’ll post a much more detailed accounting of the process. Meanwhile, I’ll keep updating as I progress. I am happy to answer any and all questions.

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Hi,
That’s looking really nice. Here’s a suggestion, get your hands on some Neolube ( http://www.micromark.com/neolube-2-fl-oz,8383.html ). It can be applied with a brush or airbrushed on for a smoother finish. It’s colloidal graphite in IPA. Just let your model post cure for several hours, sand and finish like you normally would, spray on the neo-lube then plate like you have. No extra resin needed.

That Neolube is interesting, I may have to try that for a few projects. As for the electroforming, if you are interested in a non toxic copper electroforming solution, check out Safer Solutions As for the water, you must use distilled, neither tap nor purified are good for electroforming. There are a lot of aspects that go into getting good results from electroforming…I have a large what you could call pro set up, and still want to pull my hair out at times.

No intent to jack thread, but there aren’t a lot of eforming peeps, and I wanted to show a project I just finished with a fellow glassblower.

Legs and headdress printed with my form1/+, electroformed in house. All glass blown my calm.

“Meet ‘Mr Kooper’, he is an enlightened being sent from a distant land. His technological prowess and spiritual wisdom allow him to connect with ancient earth to attain a state of consciousness we can only dream of understanding. Collaboration with the the homie @calmbo

If your interested to see more, my most current work is on instagram @kuhnsglass, or a generally outdated website www.kuhnsglass.com Work by artist Calm on instagram @calmbo

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@Kuhns, i was looking at the Safer Solutions electroforming solution a few weeks ago. The mid 90’s web site turned me off a bit. It looks like your getting awesome results with it.

I know Steve personally, used to pick it up from him directly when I still lived in philly. I would definitely suggest trying it. You can water it down with distilled and apply it via sprayer for the best, even results. I just brush it on, sometimes the paint gets thick, just add some more distilled. If you get larger amounts, use a smaller container for your regular opin and close applications, you will save a lot of material.

Nice looking electroplate on that. From what I can see, it looks really smooth and even. Thanks for the info on the distilled water. I was pretty certain that I would need to use a more pure setup. This one was just to see if the general process would work at all. Surprisingly, it worked rather well, even using tap water. I will take a look into that Safer Solutions as well as the Neolube. Great piece!

One thing that may be an advantage of the method I am currently experimenting with (the using a little resin to tacky the surface followed by a graphite rub) is that it seems to capture even the smallest detail perfectly. There is no paint thickness issues with it. Then again, this is still too early in the testing to say for sure if it is overly advantageous. I am looking forward to testing the Safer Solution method and the Neolube. I have not looked at the Safer Solutions just yet, but the Neolube is FAR more expensive than my method (only 2 ounces per bottle).

I would really suggest giving safer solutions a try. Its $93 for 16 oz. (they have smaller amounts too) and that goes a long way. I do a bunch of one offs, as well as production lines in a 90 gal tank, and it lasts me quite a bit. Like everything else, learning how to use a product has a learning curve. If you stick with it, you will find that most issues concerning smooth and even will come in the electroforming process. As a note, I electroform my stuff to be THICK. It is all functional, and meant to withstand regular use. Also same as the tank, only use distilled to wash your brushes, and to water the solution down, if not you will have a mess. Ill post another pic or two here. Maybe one day ill start a thread with a bunch of my stuff…just not yet.
First pic, collaboration between myself and Aaron Sokol, Second pic solo work.

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