Copper electroforming on plastic

Copper electroforming on plastic with a plastic model soldier

Copper electroforming on plastic is now straightforward with our Electroforming Kit. When used with our on-line Electroforming Calculator, you can now electroform on to most non-conductive and metal surfaces to substantial and measurable thicknesses.
Unlike many other systems, you won’t need to do lots of post electroforming buffing and polishing, as our Copper Electroforming Solution plates consistently bright and smooth.
If the electroforming bath is likely to remain unused for long periods of time, the copper electrodes and Electrode Ring should be removed from the copper electrode bath and stored separately.

This project has four main stages;

1. Preparing the surface of the plastic model soldier to make it conductive with our Conductive Ink (hi-grade).
2. Preparing your electroforming equipment.
3. Electroforming in the Copper Electroforming Solution.
4. Post electroforming plating of silver and gold.

Stage 1. Preparing the surface for electroforming

a) Mounting the model soldier

It’s important to mount you work well before starting as this will make surface preparation and electroforming much easier. Drill a small guide hole in an area where it can’t be seen. At this point it’s a good idea to calculate the surface area of your item, in preparation for entering the correct settings into the Tank Plating Rectifier later on. We estimated that this model has a surface area of approximately 20 squared centimetres.

Screw in a brass screw and then attach a small length of our Gold Plated Jigging wire to the other end. This will have two functions; it will form a conductive link between the object and the Copper Electroforming Solution and equipment, ensuring a good electrical circuit. It will also be able to be gripped securely in the crocodile clamp, making sure there’s no danger of your piece falling in to the electroforming solution.

We’ll be spraying on our Conductive Ink (hi-grade) to make the surface conductive and prepare it for electrofoming. This could also be painted on. For guidance with this, please see our Gold Plating a Golf Ball project.

We could also use our Conductive Paint, guidance on the use of which comes in a following project ‘Selectively Electroforming using our Conductive Paint’. However, the conductive paint is best used on a less smooth surface, such as a shell or a leaf. With a smooth plastic surface spraying on the Conductive Ink (hi-grade) will give a better result.

b) Spraying on the lacquer

Spray the surface with a fine layer of clear lacquer that can be easily bought from any hardware or car accessory shop. We recommend using a solvent based clear lacquer spray.

The lacquer is an essential step as this forms a key layer for the next layer of conductive ink and in the case of porous materials such as wood, seals the surface. Wait for 10-15 minutes and once the lacquer is almost dry but retains a little stickiness, either spray or paint on our Conductive Ink (hi-grade).

c) Using an airbrush to spray on our Conductive Ink (hi-grade)

Charge your airbrush with our Conductive Ink (hi-grade).

Spray on a fine layer of our Conductive Ink (hi-grade). You only need a few drops of ink – just enough to cover the bottom of the airbrush well. Spray at a distance of 5-6 cm and apply only enough to block out the underlying surface of the object. One layer of ink is is usually enough.

If air drying

Leave at room temperature for 24hrs

If oven drying

Leave in a fan oven at a temperature of 45-50 degrees centigrade for three hours.

Stage 2. Preparing your electroforming equipment

a) Working out the amps for the Tank Plating Rectifier and electroforming times

First, work out the surface area of your work in centimetres.

You can then either enter this into the Electroforming Calculator, which you will find on our website and all the calculations will be done for you,

or you can do it manually. If you choose to do the latter, multiply the surface area of your work by the solution factor for the Copper Electroforming Solution, which is 0.05 For our plastic model soldier the calculation works out as 20 x 0.05 = 1.0, so the plating amps will need to be set to 1.0

Then you need to decide how thick you require your electroformed layer to be and therefore how long it should be electroformed. If you are electroforming an item that is quite fragile, you will probably need to build a fairly thick layer of copper. If this is the case, you should be aiming to leave it in the solution for about 2 hours minimum. Our Copper Electroforming Solution deposits copper at a rate of approximately 1 micron a minute, so after 2 hours you should have a layer of about 120 microns. This plastic soldier is quite rigid, so it will be electroformed for about an hour.

Here is a screen shot of our Copper Electroforming Calculator

b) Setting up your electroforming kit

Fill the rinse beakers with tap water and turn the Hot Plate Stirrer on to its lowest setting so that the copper solution is being agitated. Make sure the temperature of the solution is in the range of 22-28 degrees centigrade. Plug one end of the black lead as shown into the front of the Tank Plating Rectifier and the other end into the base of the Plating Arm.

c) Setting the volts

Make sure the Output switch is open on your Tank Plating Rectifier and adjust the volts to 3 – 3.5

d) Attaching the red lead

Attach the red lead to the Plating Arm.

e) Closing the Output switch

Close the Output switch and adjust the amps to 0.5 to start with and then, once you’ve started electroforming, after about 15 minutes, you can increase it to the full 1.00 amps.

f) Open the Output switch

g) Attaching the red lead to the Electrode Ring

Attach the red lead to the Electrode Ring

Stage 3. Electroforming in the Copper Electroforming Solution

a) Placing your work into the solution

Lower your work into the solution and start the timer. Turn on Output and check that the amp level is correct; in this case with the plastic soldier it should be reading 0.5 to be increased after after 5 minutes minutes to 1.00

You should quickly see a layer of copper building on your item.

b) Finished electroformed soldier

When the time is up, remove your work from the electroforming solution and pass it through the two rinse beakers. As can be seen in the photograph, your work will be covered in a bright, shiny and substantial layer of copper that will require very little if any, polishing or buffing.

b) Electroforming on other non-conductive surfaces

The same sequence of applying lacquer, conductive ink and then electroforming can be used on natural materials such as shell, wood, stone and leaves.

If you intend to electroform on semi-absorbent surfaces such as wood you will need to apply at least 2-3 layers of lacquer to completely seal the surface.


For electroforming on shell, the surface of the shell must not come into direct contact with the electroforming solution as the solution will etch the shell, so every part of the shell must be covered in layers of lacquer.

If you want to electroform on glass, you’ll need to use our Glass Primer, rather than the spray on lacquer and then follow the same stages with the Conductive Ink. Please see our video on plating a glass plaque which can be found on the Glass Primer page on our shop and see the instructions for use on our online shop.

Stage 4. Brush or tank plating subsequent layers

a) Preparing the copper electroformed surface

Once you have a substantial layer of electroformed copper on your piece and you have passed it through the rinse stages, you can now go ahead and plate other layers such as silver or gold. If you wish to gold plate, you’ll need to plate a barrier layer of white bronze or silver beforehand.

To prepare the copper electroformed surface for further plating, you can simply dip it into some Acticlean to restore it to that freshly copper plated look; you don’t need to use power via the rectifier.

b) Brush plating a silver barrier layer

The beauty of Spa Plating’s system is its flexibility. You can move seamlessly between tank, brush and pen plating once you have our Tank Plating Rectifier.

To brush plate a barrier layer of silver, set up your brush plating equipment as normal by attaching an electrode handle fitted with a platinum electrode to the red lead and grip a Conductor Strip into the crocodile clip on the black lead. Estimate how much Silver Brush Plating Solution you’ll need with the online Plating Calculator, then follow the instructions for brush plating silver that you’ll find in previous projects in this manual.

c) Gold brush plating

To gold brush plate the item, calculate how much gold solution you’ll need with our Plating Calculator and then refer to the previous projects that include gold brush plating for guidance.

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