Electroplating 3D Prints: Why Do You Need it and How to Do it?

Electroplating 3D Prints: Why Do You Need it and How to Do it?

April 13, 2024

 

Electroplating 3D Prints: Image Source: proplate.com


 

There are different types of 3D printers. Resin 3D printer has some benefits over filament printer in that resin printer can print the smaller parts with much more detail. However, the downside is that the 3D printed parts are not as strong and durable as the filament 3D printed parts. Thus, electroplating is done by adding metal to increase the strength of these parts.


 

The electroplating procedure improves the strength, durability, and appearance of the lightweight and intricate 3D-printed components. Metal 3D printing is also possible but is an expensive method. Hence electroplating is the best solution that helps to get the benefits of both metal material and 3D printing. Plastic 3D-printed parts can be coated with metal through the electroplating process as well.


 

Here, we intend to give you a rundown on the electroplating of 3D prints, the process, and its advantages and benefits. Stay tuned!

What is Electroplating? 

 

What is electroplating?: Image Source: youtube.com


 

Electroplating is the chemical process that coats the 3D printed parts or any other parts with a metallic material. This works on the principle of electrolysis, which helps to attach the metal to the targeted region of the 3D-printed object.


 

In this process, two metal bars, an anode and a cathode, are used. Anode, a positively charged metal bar, is used in the plating, and cathode, a negatively charged metal bar that receives the plating, is used with the electrolyte solution. Then the electric current is directed through these metal bars and the solution. 


 

The current causes the movement of positive metal ions from the anode to the cathode, and the negative ions move in the opposite direction. Metal particles take the place of negative ions and start depositing on the cathode part until they form a thin, solid metal film on that part. Thus, with the process of electrolysis, metal is deposited on the targeted regions.


 

How is Electroplating done on the 3D-printed Parts?

The method has the following steps:


 

  1. Printing – You have to electroplate the 3D-printed parts. Hence, the first step is 3D printing of the required component. Then clean the 3D-printed part. Make sure that the material of the 3D printed part can withstand the chemical process of electroplating.
  2. Priming – For metal plating, priming is important for creating a conductive surface so that metal can adhere to it. The manufacturers generally use graphite spray for the priming. For better adhesion, etching is also necessary.
  3. Immersion – Prepare the electrolyte solution and fix the anode and cathode into it.
  4. Electroplating – Direct electrical current through the chemical solution, anode, and cathode. If all goes well, the electroplating process is completed. Now, finish the task by cleaning the chemical solution from the newly plated part.


 

Why are 3D Prints Electroplated?

Electroplating is used to coat the 3D printed parts and in jewelry production. Most commonly, it is used with other metal parts. For this electroplating, copper and nickel metals are used. Both of them have different effects on the resin 3D printed parts. Stiffness is added to the 3D printed part through the nickel, and copper helps to add the amount of strain that the resin 3D printed piece can tolerate.


 

Electroplating is cumbersome, as it is a multi-step process for achieving the best result. For the resin prints, you have to first paint them so that metal can adhere to them. Then, you must ensure that the metal is evenly coated on the printed part. If the sample for electroplating is more complex, it is more difficult to achieve.

 

Electroplating is both decorative and functional. Its coating provides a hard and wear-resistant surface to the plated parts. Electroplated 3D prints look like a production metal having reflective properties. Mechanical properties of the parts get improved through electroplating.



 

What are the Advantages of Electroplating?

3D printed parts are superior to metal parts. However, in some cases, plastic material cannot stand the pressure. Hence, electroplating is necessary. Here are some of the advantages of electroplating 3D prints:


 

  • Increased Durability 

Metal finishing increases the durability of the 3D-printed part as the 3D-printed part is made of plastic, which can bend or break. However, the rigidity of the object can be increased to ten times by electroplating. Durable objects have more benefits than their unfinished counterparts. After electroplating, 3D-printed parts withstand the following test.

  • Impact test: it can handle the impact test, even if the object is struck by the hammer.
  • Peel test: if the finishing is proper, peeling should not happen.
  • Chisel test: Even the chisel shouldn’t be able to cut down the electroplated part.
  • Burnishing test: We try to rub the coating using a smooth tool. If the quality plating is done, it should not come off. 
  • Heat test: It can withstand extreme conditions such as sudden changes in heat and cold. Durability ensures the rigorous use of the 3D-printed part.


 

  • Enhanced product appearance

3D printers create more detailed and accurate smooth surface parts. Still, these are made of plastic, which isn’t always the best choice. Electroplating enhances the look of the 3D printed part, which creates a smooth and shiny surface and augments the overall appearance. Metal plating looks the same as a fully metal object.


 

  • Improved consistency

Consistency of the parts is necessary for the industries. For scientific experiments, 3D-printed parts with electroplating are required. Electroplating ensures the part surfaces are without abrasion, scratches, or pits that could otherwise result in a failed experiment. Metal finishing is always consistent. This digital process ensures the printing of replacement parts with the dimensions of the previous piece. Industries and scientists need consistency in their details.


 

  • Increased longevity

If the metal finishing is done on the printed parts, it creates a barrier between the printed part and the environmental factors. Hence, damage is prevented. More durable components withstand the impacts and accordingly increase the parts' longevity. Metal seals the surface of the printed part and resists dirt and water damage. Hence corrosion of the object is also prevented, and there is no wearing and rusting of the object. All these factors increase the longevity of the parts. If the electroplating is of nickel metal, it reduces the friction between the printed parts, reducing the wear down of the object.


 

  • Improved electrical conductivity

3D-printed plastic parts simply do not conduct electricity. It is the best electrical insulator. However, if the 3D printed parts are required for electrical conductivity in electrical appliances, then electroplating plays an important role. Electroplating opens a whole new world for plastic 3D-printed parts. Now, these parts are actively used in the electrical system.


 

Which 3D Modeling and 3D Printing Software is the Best?

Numerous 3D printing software is available, but the issue is finding one that is both simple and powerful. If you want to make 3D models, you generally have to prepare your drawings in one application and then switch to another for 3D slicing, but thanks to software like SelfCAD, this is no longer necessary. SelfCAD is the first 3D design software that combines aesthetic, technical, rendering, and 3D printing tools into a single package that runs on the cloud as well as on Windows and Mac.


 

After you have finished creating 3D models, simply pick the 3D slicer button in the program's toolbar, and it will take you to the built-in slicer where you can select your printer, slice your model, and efficiently produce the G-code.


 

The software is simple to use and requires no prior design skills. Numerous interactive lessons are also available to help you get started quickly.

Electroplating on 3D Prints: Enhancing Aesthetics and Strength

Electroplating 3D prints offers a versatile and cost-effective way to enhance the aesthetics and functionality of printed objects. By applying a thin layer of metal through electroplating, you can achieve a professional finish that not only looks impressive but also adds durability.

This process opens up a world of possibilities for creating custom finishes, improving conductivity, or even adding antimicrobial properties to your 3D prints. Whether you are looking to prototype new designs or create unique art pieces, electroplating can take your creations to the next level.

 

 


 

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