Electroforming or Plating with Gold, Silver or Other Metals

Electroforming or Plating with Gold, Silver or Other Metals

We get two questions more frequently than any others about electroforming and plating. This post is to answer both of these questions and to offer some new information about plating with various metals using the E3 Duo Controller. 

This question more than any other: Can I electroform with silver or gold? The answer is yes you can.  Since electroforming in silver and gold is rare for the home studio, it is more likely that when people ask about electroforming, they really mean to be inquiring about plating. Both processes will be explained below:

Electroforming is traditionally done with copper and then plated later with other metals.  For practical reasons it would be massively expensive to electroform in pure gold or silver but it is possible. Also, gold and silver are relatively soft so it would take a lot of precious metal to form a strong layer over an object. Typically cyanide based gold and silver solutions are used for electroforming because the cyanide keeps the metal suspended in solution for long periods of plating. There are YouTube videos (mostly by commercial labs) and books out there on the subject if you Google electroforming with gold or silver.  To do this you would simply substitute gold or silver for the copper anode and use the appropriate plating solutions.

Gold and silver is most commonly achieved by plating which is covered in my 2nd topic below.

Will the E3 Duo Eform Controller plate other metals such as gold and silver?

The answer is yes. Simply use the controller in place of a rectifier and set it to a low current level while plating. Most plating solutions only take a few minutes. Each metal calls for different steps, solutions, anodes, equipment and safety concerns. Plating takes quite a bit of training and knowledge so be sure to research the steps of the particular metal and solution you want to use before committing to plating.

To give a brief overview of plating, plating is the process of applying a thin layer of metal over metal. To prepare a piece for plating the piece must be cleaned with an electro-cleaning solution and then dipped in acid prior to plating. The piece must also be rinsed between solutions to avoid contamination. The piece then goes through a series of steps involving heating and agitating the solution (if called for) as the metals are plated. If I were to get serious about plating different metals I would invest in a plating station unit like this one below because it provides heat and agitation to certain beakers where needed: 

http://www.riogrande.com/Product/Midas-Six-Station-Plating-System-1-Liter/331961?Pos=6

Certain metals cannot be plated over one another without a barrier layer of metal between. For example a layer of nickel should be plated between copper and gold to keep the gold from migrating with the silver. RioGrande.com has great charts on their website which can be found with each plating solution to show you the steps in order for plating. Here is an example of the information offered with the 24K gold cyanide solution: 

http://www.riogrande.com/Product/Midas-24K-Gold-Cyanide-Based-Concentrate-Plating-Solution/335082?Pos=9

Along with knowledge of the steps and becoming familiar with the characteristics of each plating solution, the most important consideration is SAFETY. When you get into plating various metals you can be dealing with very dangerous chemicals. 24K gold is available in non-cyanide and Cyanide formulas. The cyanide is what makes the gold so rich and beautiful. But it can be fatal if misused. You need to wear a NIOSH mask, proper gloves, apron, goggles, and use a fume hood for ventilation just to name a few of the safety precautions.  If you go to Rio Grande’s website and study each plating solution it will make sense what is involved for plating. This is not a casual craft.

With all of this said, our controller is meant for the small jewelry-making studio for electroforming and plating on a small scale.  I electroform with copper frequently and then I plate those pieces with various metals occasionally. This piece was a leaf that I electroformed with copper and then it was plated with nickel followed with 14K gold.



5 comments

  • No comment at this time. 80 year old man learning to do gold plating, will have ????………

    Vaughn (olduffer) Mathews
  • Hi Sherri!

    Thank you for this post! I have a question about creating a raw crystal ring with copper and electro forming it!

    Would I glue the crystals to the copper wire then varnish and use the graphite paint over the whole piece? i am just trying to figure out how they will go together to make on piece!!?

    I would be forever grateful for a reply!

    Thank you,
    Katie

    katie
  • Thank you Sherri!

    Hayley
  • Hi Sherri,
    I recently did an electroforming course with Roz in Sydney, Australia.
    On the day we used copper & then she set a nickel silver beaker up, on the heating mat to bring to 80 degrees.
    She hooked up the nickel anode exactly the same as she did for the copper one.
    All we did was rinse in demineralised water between the copper solution & then dipping into the nickel solution.
    She said if we wanted to continue to silver, we just needed to buy the solution from Sydney Jewellery supplies & use a fine silver anode, exactly the same way as we did the copper & nickel one, but that the silver solution is just used at room temperature.
    I have been enjoying my copper electroforming so much & have had people ask if it do it in silver. I bought some Nickel solution & a nickel anode, to get one step closer to the silver.
    I have noticed on the Sydney jewellery suppliers website, that they only have plating solution and it is called Cyanfree, so I’m guessing cyanide free.
    I don’t want to go down the path of all the plating things & more equipment, I just wanted to have my copper leaves etc, silver, using your Eform machine, because people wear silver a lot.
    Is this going to be possible do you think or do I forget about it?

    Kylie
  • Hi Sherri, I did an electrofirming/plating workshop with you some time ago at Sydney Jewellery School. We electro-formed using copper, then plated with silver and/or gold. I appreciate various solutions require different anodes etc as you have stated in this blog, but would you mind telling me what we used as anodes for the silver and gold in the workshop. Just a memory jogger at this stage

    Janis Rietdyk

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