Electroplating for electronics

An idea has occurred to me about how PC boards are currently made.

The normal process now is a destructive one, where unwanted copper is etched away.

What about figuring a way to electroplate the traces onto a substrate? Various toys and model parts are made of plastic, and yet have been electroplated with a cheap form of chrome. Why not apply that to PC  boards?

I'm thinking that a photographically negative mask could be used in a photo-sensitive process to apply the conductive surface to a heat resistant substrate, and then the copper traces could be electroplated on.

Anyone have any thoughts on this, primarily at a hobbyist level?

**note - cross posted in burning questions.

charlie_r (author) 7 years ago
What made me think of this is all the lost copper in the etching solutions, no matter what method you use. In the Muratic acid/Hydrogen Peroxide method you are essentially making something similar to a plating solution. Someone somewhere has got to know how to recover the copper from the cupric copper. So I was thinking that maybe applying a current through this would replate that copper onto the traces you just made.. Take it a step further, and find a way to plate this onto areas where you want it, not  just onto existing traces, but onto new areas.

Anyway, the idea is out there, have fun experimenting! And keep it safe.
lemonie7 years ago
Three times this evening I've written comments and they've not posted...
(typing this out again) you're right about the plastic-plating, under the chrome is copper. I think it would be technically difficult to do though.

I once heard some guys talking about etched-brass sheet (for model-making) "You're paying for the holes. I's the metal they've taken out that you're paying for."

Kiteman7 years ago
This project may be of some use.

Blue-sky thinking: what about photocopying?

Photocopy toner was originally made largely of carbon, mixed with a thermoplastic binder.

You could photocopy the design onto an acetate sheet, then simply electro-plate onto the traces by clipping a crocodile clip to the acetate sheet, touching one of the traces, then dip it in a solution of copper sulphate and put a current through it.

You may have to plate each trace separately, clipping onto different parts of the design, or you might be clever, add a band of design to the edge to connect all parts of the trace, then trim it off when you have finished plating.

I'm not sure how the finished product would cope with being soldered to....

crapflinger7 years ago
i would assume that this would be difficult because i've never seen anyone stating they've got the ability to electroplate copper onto a plastic substrait...the plastic chroming that's done uses some really funky stuff that's not normally used in electroplating.