Brush plating on a non-conductive surface

Learn the essential skills for brush plating on non-conductive surfaces.

Thanks to Spa Plating's extensive R&D, brush electroplating on non-conductive surfaces is now much more straightforward. The following instructions will guide you towards achieving the best possible electroplating results.

Spa Plating's innovations;

1. Our Conductive Ink enables you to plate to a mirror bright finish, when subsequently copper plated with our PP Copper on a smooth surface.
This result can be obtained in minutes as opposed to hours which is the case with other more course-grained conductive inks.
The ink can be dried and cured in one of two ways; either in a drying oven or carefully with a low-temperature electric heat gun.

2. Our plating solution, PP Copper, brightens as it plates thus minimising the time required to build up a mirror-bright layer.

NB: You only need to plate a layer of nickel (or a barrier layer) after PP Copper if you're gold plating; If you're silver plating for example, you can go straight on with silver onto the copper layer.
Please note that Conductive Ink (hi-grade) is now supplied in jars and not syringes as shown in the photo.

1. What you'll need

Equipment for painting on ink: Golf ball and screw (brass, steel or stainless steel – not zinc plated steel), Drip Tray, Brush for Conductive Ink, Conductor Strips, two Carbon Electrodes, one Platinum Electrode, three Electrode Handles, two Extra Fluffy Swabs, one  Short Extra Fluffy Swab (for final gold stage).
Equipment for airbrushing on the ink; Be sure to invest in a good airbrush and compressor as this will greatly improve the standard of your plating. Advice on compressor settings can be found by clicking the ‘Tech Specs’ tab on the Conductive Ink (hi-grade) product page.
Solutions: Conductive Ink (hi-grade), Conductive Paint – 7g bottle, PP Copper, PP Stabiliser (optional), Nickel Plating Solution, deionised water, Gold Brush Plating Solution, clear lacquer (preferably water-based acrylic emulsion), MetaSeal.


2. Mounting the golf ball on conducting screw and and base.

Select a wood screw 5mm diameter by 50mm – 60mm long with all of its length threaded. Screw it full length into a wood or plastic base. Drill a small guiding hole into the golf ball and attach it to the base as shown in the photograph.
Please note: Most screw of this type are zinc plated. This can be removed by immersing the screw in dilute hydrochloric acid which can be bought from most local hardware stores.

3. Ensure good conductivity at screw/golf ball junction

To stop the very thin coating of conductive ink fusing during the initial stages of plating, we advise painting a little Conductive Paint around the area where the screw contacts the golf ball (see arrow on the picture below).
If it’s not possible to do this, then the voltage will need to be reduced during the initial stages of brush plating until a suitable layer of copper has built up around the screw/golf ball junction.
Allow the paint to dry for at least an hour before continuing.

4. Applying a bonding primer

Conductive Ink (hi-grade) does not adhere to most surfaces and requires a bonding primer in order for it to stick to all surfaces.
The bonding primer should not be a standard off-the-shelf decorators bonding primer. We have found for smooth finishes, white paint to be particularly useful as it will show through areas where the ink has been insufficiently applied. However any colour will do including transparent clear lacquer.
If textured finishes are required, then a suitable paint should be chosen to use as a bonding primer layer. For example if a matt plated finish is require, then a matt primer should be used.
Please note: When plating onto porous surfaces like wood, it will be necessary to seal the surface first. This can be done by applying successive layers of bonding primer or using a dedicated sealing lacquer.

5. Applying Conductive Ink (hi-grade)

We highly recommend that the ink is applied with an airbrush as shown in the top image opposite. Airbrushing the ink greatly reduces the chance of applying a too thin or thick a coating which both result in non-conductive areas.

Conductive Ink should be stored in a fridge at a temperature of between 2 and 9 degrees centigrade. Solids will build up in the ink on storage and especially after the top has been removed repeatedly. The solids can be removed by adding Solids Recover which comes free with the purchase of ink and is available on our online shop.

To maximise the flow characteristics of the ink through the airbrush, we recommend that after removal from cool storage, the ink is first brought up to room temperature before starting spraying.

Add about 1ml of the ink to the bowl on the airbrush using a pipette and spray at a distance of between 10 and 15cm. Cover with enough ink only to block out the underlying surface of the object. One layer of ink is enough.

Please note: This product must be dried and cured in at a minimum temperature of 45 centigrade. For drying times, please click on the ‘Tech Specs’ tab on the product page for Conductive Ink (hi-grade). For tips on how to prepare a domestic oven for use with the ink, please click Here.

We are currently developing a system that should greatly decrease the drying times and not require the use of a drying oven. We will publish the results shortly.


6. Plating with PP Copper

For this part of the process, we’re using an Extra Fluffy Swab and a Carbon Electrode fitted in the Electrode Handle.
Attach the crocodile clip which is on the black lead to the screw and create an initial conductive copper layer on the golf ball. This initial conductive layer will serve as an are of high conduction which also protects the delicate underlying ink layer when we make contact with the Conductor Strip.
Starting plating at a lower voltage (in this example 3.5 volts) as this will minimise the possibility of the ink film fusing and facilitate the building up of a copper primary layer that’s thick enough to be touched by a conductor strip.
Once a fully bright conductive area has built up, the crocodile clip can be removed from the screw then attach a conductor strip to the crocodile clip. Electrical contact can not be established by touching the conductor strip onto the newly-plated copper area and rest of the gold ball can now be plated.
It will now be possible to increase the voltage which will greatly increase the plating rate. Continue plating until the golf ball is covered with a fully-bright layer of copper.

7. Nickel Plating

As with copper plating above, we’re using an Extra Fluffy Swab and a Carbon Electrode fitted in the Electrode Handle for the nickel plating stage.
Care has to be taken with nickel to not set the voltage too high. If this happens, then no nickel will plate. The best thing is to start at a low voltage of 3 volts then increase the rate until a reasonable plating speed is obtained. If the voltage is too high, then no nickel will plate and a dullish film may form. There’s no problem with this; just stop plating for a minute but don’t rinse the ball. The dullish film should dissolve and plating can be continued.
At this stage, electrical contact with the golf ball can be made either using a conductor strip as shown in the image opposite or via the crocodile clip attached to the screw.

8. Gold Plating

We’re plating the golf ball with a the Platinum Electrode fitted with the Standard Swab. Alternative swabs to consider would be the Extra Fluffy Short Swab (to minimise the gold usage) or the Extra Fluffy Swab (for speed of plating). The voltage can range between 3 and 5 volts but as above, it’s best practice to start at the lower voltage range and work up.
Once the gold layer has been applied, rinse the ball with tap water. For a stain-free finish, we recommend the final rinse be with deionised water. Dry with a clean tissue or air dry.

9. The finished golf ball

To protect from finger marking and seal in the shine, finish with MetaSeal.

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