Introduction: Electroplating 3D Printed Jewelry

This Instructable will show you how to plate a 3D printed (ABS) object with nickel! The process takes about 6 hours, not including print time for the 3D print. You will need:

-A 3D print (ABS plastic)

-Acetone

-Graphite powder

-Paint brushes

-Nickel rod

-Nickel acetate

-Vinegar

-Power supply + alligator clips

-Plastic container

Step 1: Download STL

The model was created in grasshopper, a parametric modeling plugin used with Rhino 3D modeling software. An image displaying the definition can be found above. Additionally, an STL of the file can be downloaded here.

Step 2: 3D Print It

For this Instructable, I 3D printed the model on a Stratasys Mojo in ABS plastic. You can see how much support material it needed! After the print is done, either remove the support manually or throw it in a base bath.

Step 3: Remove Support and Paint Model With Graphite Acetone Solution

Once support is removed, you should get something like the images above. The model is quite sturdy, though be careful as the sprandels are thin. Now it's time to make a conductive coat! To make this conductive paint, I mixed 1/3 graphite powder with 2/3 acetone. You can use the brand I used for the graphite powder (about 10 bucks on Amazon). I kept it in a plastic bag as the graphite tended to get EVERYWHERE.

Step 4: Set Up Electroplating Rig

Once you've painted your 3D print, you can begin setting up your electroplating system. I decided to coat my print with nickel, as it is a relatively cheap material to purchase. I used a small power supply, set at 3V. Mix your Nickel Acetate in a large plastic container with vinegar. Attach the nickel rod to the positive (anode) of your power supply. Next, wrap your graphite covered 3D print with the nickel wire and attach this to negative (cathode) of the power supply. Place the nickel rod and the 3D print in the Nickel Acetate solution. It should look something like the image displayed of my rig.

Step 5: Check on Model and Rotate As Necessary

It took about 5-6 hours to fully coat the print with nickel. It's best to turn off the power supply and check on the print every so often. Ensure the print is being evenly coated by rotating it. Another word of advice- keep the print in longer and the voltage low, rather than shorter time and higher voltage. If you opt for the fast route, it can cause "hot spots" on the print (which I got on some original prototypes) and ruin the coating.

Step 6: Shine It Up!

Once the print looks fully coated, take it out of the nickel acetate bath and rinse it with water. Then, use a soft cloth and bit of polish (I used Simichrome Polish) to get a nice shine. Now you have a beautiful piece of 3D printed jewelry coated with Nickel! Thanks for reading.

Comments

author
discostu956 (author)2016-06-25

I've always wondered about how they plate plastic parts. How well does the plating adhere to the plastic?

author
kg1422 (author)discostu9562016-06-26

It actually adhered pretty well. My first trials didn't because I only left them in for an hour or so and kept the voltage too high. The nickel just flaked off. You really have to leave the print in for a while.

author
SkinnyFiend (author)kg14222016-07-03

Apparently if you add a small sinewave signal on top of your low voltage dc you get a better coating. I've also read that stirring your fluid (with a pump or something) helps to keep fresh metal solution washing over the part and leads to a better coat. I've been looking at doing some similar things with 3d prints and have only read up on it so far, no actual experience. It seems you want a slow, even coat to build up rather than a thick one all at once.

author
gddee (author)kg14222016-06-27

That would absolutely be cool if those shoes looked like nickel!

Talk about fashion statement! (I'm a 60 y/o Georgia tech engineer so do not follow ANY advice on fashion from me!) But it could look like a nickel shoe. Wow. Clump Clump Clump (Am I allowed to add: "Let's do the time warp again!" - Rocky Horror Picture Show

author
gddee (author)kg14222016-06-27

- What is the amperage of your power supply? 5 amp? 10 amp?

- I don't KNOW about electroplating, but I assume the voltage should always be fixed to the chemical reaction desired. The current controls how fast it goes. If you increase the voltage you may get a different chemical reaction. (bad bad bad)

- So painting the 2/3 solution didn't melt the ABS print? (I print PETG, PLA, but HATE ABS) You essentially melted the graphite onto the model... (I assume that is what happened)

- Can I just mail to you my 3 rolls of ABS (Done with that junk) (And a roll of PETG) and you can suggest how to get the PETG conductive? (Bribery works wonders)

- I too would take forever on the coating and go until one couldn't believe it was solid nickel.

I am very interested in keeping up with your results. I'm gddeen on google+

I want to do similar things on multiple pieces, but I have been waiting...

author
WindowsNT (author)2016-06-26

Wow, I've been wanting to learn more about electroplating.This is great!

author
TheThinker (author)2016-06-26

I didn't know this was possible! Very cool. I'll try this on some sculptures I'm making for gifts this Christmas. Thanks for sharing!

author
josh (author)2016-06-26

So cool! Thanks for sharing!

author
Boiledcabbages (author)2016-06-26

I'm just wondering wouldn't conductive paint work better than graphite as you can buy it an any electronic shop (at least all I've seen) and it would probably adhere better but that's just an idea.

author
kg1422 (author)Boiledcabbages 2016-06-26

Yep, conductive paint would work well. As would conductive filament. The reason I tried this was because I wanted to see if the acetone in the acetone-graphite solution would work as as adhesive to the ABS print. It worked well, but I agree there other options out there which may work better!

About This Instructable

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Bio: 3D printing enthusiast looking to become more involved in the fabrication community and learn new tips and tricks!
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