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I know that 3D printed parts can be coated in metal by painting them with conductive paint (graphite or copper seems to be usual) and then electroplating them in a commercial copper or nickel bath. The disadvantage of this process is that it does not coat insides very well, because those are not reached by the electric field.

I know that in the industry for plating ABS-parts with chrome and other metals, there is a process used where first the ABS is etched, then seeded with electroless catalytic palladium and then there are various options, for example electroless nickel or chrome.

I tried to etch both FDM printed ABS and ABS-like resin prints in NaOH, then after rinsing, dropped them in a commercial palladium activator and, after rinsing again, then in an electroless nickel bath, without any effect.

Does anyone have an idea on how to metal plate 3D printed parts (by electroless plating, meaning no electricity involved) and can shed some light on the chemicals used? I would prefer to mix them myself.

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  • $\begingroup$ You did not use FDM but a Resin printer, yes? $\endgroup$
    – Trish
    Aug 20, 2022 at 12:45
  • $\begingroup$ I tried both. Edited the question to make that clear $\endgroup$
    – iblue
    Aug 20, 2022 at 13:03
  • $\begingroup$ I can only say that Resin from Resin printers is not etchable with common materials... maybe your ABS is modified or your base too weak? $\endgroup$
    – Trish
    Aug 20, 2022 at 13:04
  • $\begingroup$ I would try again using the suggestion from Marvin but with PC-ABS by Polymaker, designed specifically to ease electroplating. eu.polymaker.com/product/polymaker-pc-abs $\endgroup$
    – FarO
    Oct 11, 2022 at 18:08

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Good day, I have experience in applying electroless nickel on difficult 3D parts, in your case, it's exceedingly difficult to do it directly to the printed piece. You will need to seal the piece with a more benign coating that will accept the palladium activator. Also, a sensitizer before the activator is needed.

Try this.

Try your original procedure, but this time use just before the palladium activator, a stannous chloride solution (20 g per 1 L of deionized Water and 10 ml of muriatic acid), submerge the piece in the solution for 1 minute, rinse in deionized water and then place the piece on the palladium activator for 1 minute (don't rinse the activator) and then place the piece directly on the electroless nickel plating bath.

If that still does not produce good results, then you will need to seal the piece with a two-part epoxy sealer and do the process again.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you very much for that answer! What type of 3D parts do you coat that way? PLA? ABS? Or some Resin? $\endgroup$
    – iblue
    Oct 7, 2022 at 6:20
  • $\begingroup$ I have coated all of those, the Easiest is Resin, the hardest is ABS and PLA, it's much easier to just coat them with 2 part epoxy, the best so far is XTC-3D $\endgroup$ Oct 7, 2022 at 14:18
  • $\begingroup$ Ok. I ordered tin(ii) chloride, the rest I already have. I will try that. $\endgroup$
    – iblue
    Oct 12, 2022 at 13:07
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    $\begingroup$ It's not going to work since the wetting properties needs to persist even after the piece are washed/rinsed. You have two options. 1. a blow torch to reduce the surface water tension(it can be tricky) or making your own formula. This is what it has worked for me. 500ml of Apple Cider Vinegar, 10 grams of instant coffee powder, 100ml of 90% isopropyl alcohol. mix them at room temperature(30C where I live) to test it's properties you can grab a simple Polypropylene spoon rub some of the wetting agent on. Water will sheet of and the spoon remains wet $\endgroup$ Oct 12, 2022 at 21:41
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    $\begingroup$ I believe I mentioned that even with good treatment the issue may persist due to their surface. I recomend sealing it with an 2K epoxy coating like XTC-3D Coating. $\endgroup$ Oct 22, 2022 at 22:55
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There is another option where the plating is done like brushing paint. The electroplating is just done a different way but has the same effect.

It's called brush plating. There's a bunch of different products (none of which I have tried) and the youtube results are pretty impressive. They do need a current as it's electroplating, but you don't immerse the object, the current is through the brush etc,.

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You can use semiconductor processes like evaporation, sputtering, and chemical vapor deposition. These are expensive. Sputtering is probably the most feasable but it will have trouble with shadows.

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