Question Viability of Electroplated Cases

Discussion in 'Cases/3D Design' started by King_Frownie-19, Aug 11, 2017.

  1. King_Frownie-19 .

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    So, as the title states, I was wondering how practical it would be to use electroplating to make more interesting 3d printed cases. I think it would be cool to have the metal feeling without fully committing to CNC machines and all-metal cases.

    To badly and quickly explain, electroplating involves coating the print in nickel paint, then using chemicals applied through an electrified brush to replace the nickel with another transition metal (like copper) through what I'm at least 65% sure is a single displacement chemical reaction.

    First, if anyone has used electroplating personally, would you recommend it?

    Secondly, since it essentially coats the outside of the case in metal, what precautions (besides kapton tape on the inside of the case) would one need to take? What drawbacks does this method introduce? Is there a better way to have metal-backed cases?

    Mandatory "first official post" goes here, and full disclosure that I've never done 3d printing or electroplating (but I'm working on it). Thanks in advance for responses and I hope to get into the portablizing hobby!

    Edit: Spelling errors fixed and to clarify: the resulting layer of metal is very thin, so it won't feel the same as something made of the metal, it will just look similar.
     
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2017
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  2. Lollipop .

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    I have no experience with electroplating so I may be completely wrong, but from what I understand the electroplating process needs the "shape" to be a conducting material so that the dissolved metal ions will be reduce/oxidized and form a layer on the surface of the shape.

    Again I may be completely wrong.

    However, I can speak from experience regarding other methods of mimicking metallic surfaces because of my background in scale models. There are a number of specialized paints that can appear almost exactly like various kinds of metals. The two more famous ones are Alclad and Spaz Stix. I usually airbrush my paints but if I remember correctly there may be a spray can version of one of those brands. The trick to getting a good metal-like surface is to have an extremely clean and gloss black undercoat and applying multiple very thin coats.

    I hope you find this helpful. Feel free to ask if I wasn't very clear.
     
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  3. Lollipop .

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    I did a bit of research and found that some people were able to electroplate 3d prints by painting over them with an acetone + graphite mixture. The acetone helps the graphic bond to the ABS and which in turn allows the surface of the model to conduct well. The only downside to this is that it will be difficult to create a smooth surface because you cannot use not plastic fillers to treat the surface or the graphite won't bond.
     
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  4. cheese the tallest memer in town Staff Member . . .

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    In that case, just make your print a bit thicker and sand it. The acetone will help smooth the plastic as well, but I should warn you that while graphite isn't super toxic, lead (which can be easily mistaken for graphite) is.
     
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  5. King_Frownie-19 .

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    That sounds pretty neat! How well do they stick to 3d prints? Do they hold up well to wear in your experience?

    Interesting. The video I saw showed someone using nickel spray paint and regular paint to coat, then used a solution to replace it with copper. Regarding the graphite, I'm assuming the solutions are different? That sounds cheaper than the kits they sell though, they wanted $60 for a Nickel-to-Copper solution set. And you can or can't use plastic filler? Sorry if I just didn't read it right.

    Note taken! Last thing I want is lead poisoning, so when I get to do it I'll double check. Do you think 2mm or so extra would suffice, or does acetone eat it away faster? Since it's not going on the inside, I'd just have to tape up/fill the holes so it doesn't get inside correct?
     
  6. Lollipop .

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    Metallic paints are decent at binding to ABS plastics (which is very common in scale models). If I remember correctly, most metallic paints are lacquer based and the solvent used to thin the paints actually dissolves the surface of polystyrene plastics and causes the paint to stick quite well if the surface is prepped correctly. However, it is important to know that metallic paints generally have a weaker hold on the plastic simply because of the chemistry of the paint. In order to protect the surface, we often put a clear coat on top. This will cut down on the shine of the metallic paint but there are also specialized clear coats that minimize the effect.

    I'm not quite sure what plastic fillers are made of but it may be a solution.

    Nickel spray paint sounds interesting. I'm not sure how that would work but if you are able to do the same thing as the video that would be cool. I will say that I'm worried that the durability limiting factor for this method will be the strength of the bond between the nickel paint and the plastic.

    Cheese's suggestion is definitely worth considering. And like you said just be careful not to use too much acetone, too much will deform the plastic or at least cause structural weakness in the plastic.

    Good luck!
     
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  7. MRKane .

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    I only just stumbled across this thread. As fate would have it I took an interest in electroplating non-conductives about two years ago. Long story short: I'm dead keen to find out if anyone has a good solution for this as I gave up as none of my solutions were up to my standard of what I'd call "good". My main interest was plating things like shells, or the odd console exterior.

    I did also look at dip painting, and powder coating, but concluded that the best way to do it would be Vacuum Metalizing which has a massive range of possibilities from chrome to gold or even neon finishes. It's not cheap however, so I don't have a gold-effect N64 :( Perhaps for my birthday some time.
     
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2018

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