Introduction: Realistic Copper Plating Without Electricity (Paint Formula)
The items in the photos, above, were finished using conductive paint normally used for copper plating processes. The photos include an actual plated item (left picture, bottom item) to give a comparison between an actual plated item and an item which was just painted and buffed.
Unlike commercial metallic paints, the painted and buffed items are indistinguishable from actual plated items that have had a patina applied (e.g., liver of sulfur).
The photos show paint versions - the original, which had graphite in it, which produced a dark, patinaed like copper finish and the version with just ModPodge and copper powder, which closer resembled plated copper.
As part of my electroplating/electroforming project work, I, like many others, make my own conductive paint. This is done by mixing matte finish ModgePodge, or latex paint with pure graphite.
Graphite is not a remarkable conductor, so I decided to experiment. To that end, I ordered some copper powder to mix in with the graphite, to see it if sped up plating times.
I tried mixing pure copper with the ModgePodge and it did seem to plate much quicker, but keeping the copper in suspension proved a challenge. To overcome that problem, I tried adding the copper powder the graphite version of conductive paint. It did help to keep the copper in suspended in the mix.
If the paint is too thick, it will leave lines on the item painted. To accomplish smoother plating results, I sand the surface of items, after a couple coats. I noted, in the course of doing this, the graphite took on a dark gray, polished metal look.
I tried sanding the version of conductive paint with both graphite and copper and noted it took on the appearance of my plated items, but with the look you get with a darkening patina, like liver of sulfur.
The results from sanding the conductive paint inspired more experimentation - I applied a couple coats of paint to a wood turning I made and and, after the paint dried, I took the painted items to the buffer and buffed it.
The results were indistinguishable from a copper plated and patinaed item.
1) Matte finish ModgePodge
2) Pure graphite
3) Copper powder
4) Sandpaper (600, 800)
[TOOLS and EQUIPMENT]
1) Paint brush
2) 1/2 pint container
NOTE: This can be an commercial buffer, a homemade buffer, a simple buff wheel on a drill press, a Dremel and a Dremel buff wheel, a buff wheel mounted on a drill, or a wood lathe with buffing wheels installed.
Buffing goes quicker at higher speeds (e.g., around 1,500 RPM, plus), so it will take longer to buff out the item using a drill or drill press. Of course, smaller buff heads will also take longer to cover the surface.
Too, if the surface will allow you to do so, you can just sand the surface, instead of buffing it. Start with around 800 grit, see how that does with a light sanding. If you burn through the paint, just add more and start again.
Step 1: MIXING THE COPPER PAINT
These steps are not etched in stone - you can go up or down a bit with the ingredients.
1) Pour about 1/8 to cup of ModPodge in to your container.
2) Add a heaping teaspoon of graphite to your container.
3) Mix the ingredients until, when fully stirred, you have a consistency of thick tomato soup. If you need to thin the mix, add more ModPodge. If you need to thicken the mix, add more graphite.
4) Add about a level teaspoon of copper powder and mix well.
5) If you need to thin the mix, add a few drops of water. If you will be using this to electroplate or electroform, use distilled water. Otherwise, tap water will work fine.
6) When mixed, the paint will appear as just thick, black paint.
7) If you apply the paint and are not satisfied with the copper effect (e.g., it doesn't look much like copper), add more copper powder and mix it again.
1) The copper will still settle out of the mix, so stir the mix well each time you use it.
2) I purchased the copper powder via Amazon Prime through EnvironMolds, LLC for $16.95. The product I purchased was ARTMOLDS (www.artmolds.com) one pound bag of 325-mesh copper powder.
3) I purchased my graphite via EBay, through fiberglasssupplydepot. The product was produced by Fasco Epoxies, Inc. I purchased a quart for $16.99. Shipping was free.
Step 2: PAINT YOUR SURFACE
As far as steps go, it can't get much more simple than this: Paint the surface.
If the paint mix is thick, you can get good results with just one coat. However, the thicker the paint, the more brush strokes will show.
If you want a smoother finish, thin the mix a little, then apply a couple coats instead. For even smoother results, thin more and apply three coats.
After the paint dries, you may notice a bit of a copper showing on the previously black surface.
If after the next step, if you have bare spots, repeat this step and sand or buff again.
The item in the pictures was painted with just one thick coat, allowed to dry for a couple hours, then buffed.
Obviously, when compared to actual copper plating, results can be had much quicker just painting and buffing.
Step 3: BUFF
It's as simple as the title indicates - buff the item you painted until the copper appears.
If the paint is not built up on the surface, I use the green wax stick on a relatively soft wheel, to avoid buffing through the paint. If you do not fully clean the copper, after buffing, the green leaves the item looking a bit more like brass than copper.
I use the red buff compound on a harder wheel for some items. Not fully cleaning the item after buffing leaves the copper looking more like what you'd expect copper to look like, but with I consider a kind of antique hint to the end product.
While buffing, the previously flat black item will begin taking on a copper or brass plated look.
As, earlier, noted, you can sand the item, instead of buffing it, to bring out the copper shine. Of course, you can also sand the item to get a smoother final finish. If you go this route, start off with about 600 grit (available at auto parts stores).
600 grit may take a little longer, but it gives you more control over the outcome of your sanding efforts.
From 600, you can try higher grits (e.g., 800, 1,000, 1,200) for an even more polished look.
Step 4: FINISH
Since you are using real copper, it will change over time, unless you seal it.
To seal the finish, you can use lacquer, shellac, or clear polyurethane. If you only have one item, clear fingernail polish will work great.
You can experiment with patinas, since they will react with the copper. Other than liver of sulfur, I haven't yet, but will get back to this ible when I do. First, I'll have to steal some MiricleGrow from my wife's potting table to see what happens.
I probably won't bother with liver of sulfur for this kind of "plating," since the end result is already much darker than my actual copper plate projects. I am hoping the aforementioned MiricleGrow will, well, give me a miricle.