Successful shiny copper plating-get the power going first! June 02, 2015 12:13 1 Comment

IMPORTANT to turn to the power on BEFORE you submerge your piece in the copper plating solution.

Look at the unicorn toy on left, it was in copper plating solution no power for the first 5 minutes. The horse toy on right had power and current flowing right from the start!  Both toys were left for several hours to electroform.  The horse built a heavy layer of shiny copper, the unicorn never really formed other than a thin dull coat.

I’m always learning something new about electroforming and plating. This weekend Dan and I were electroforming pieces with copper and I put a prepared piece (covered with sealer and water-based graphite paint) into the copper plating solution without turning on the current. I left it there for about 5 minutes before turning the controller on. The result wasn’t good. The piece didn’t plate very well and the copper was a very dull salmon color. The next piece was a similar charm (small rubber toy) prepared in the same way. This time we turned the controller power on and the current was set to HIGH. The prepared piece was then submerged to begin the plating process. We left it on high for just about a minute and then set it to a medium setting until finished (several hours to electroform). The result was beautiful. The copper was bright and shiny with a thick deposition of copper. After several experiments we discovered two important things: 

  1. Always turn the power on first and then submerge the piece into the solution while the current is flowing.
  1. Start with your controller set on HIGH for about a minute to get the plating started. This will expedite the coverage of the copper over the graphite paint. Since the graphite paint is water soluble, this boost in current minimizes the amount of graphite that might flake or soak off had the piece been left longer before plating. We also think that the boost in current helps to limit the contamination to the solution that occurs when organic materials are electroformed. Even with a boost in current, organic materials still need to be sealed very well prior to applying conductive paint and plating.

I found that by making sure the power and current were on prior to plating, my solution stayed viable for many subsequent pieces.  I only had to add a few drops of brightener after plating 5-6 pieces.