ABS Plastics

Plating on ABS Plastic

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), an engineering plastic frequently used in 3D printing, has butadiene distributed uniformly over the acrylonitrile-styrene. It’s preferred for several projects for its many desirable qualities, but some shortcomings inherent in its composition also make it a common candidate for plating.

Request Quote

If you use ABS plastic in 3D printing and industrial applications and want to get the parts plated to increase their functionality and resistance, look no further than SPC. We can use electroless plating or electroplating to make sure you get the parts you need with properties that work best for your requirements. No matter your budget, preferred coating material, or intended application, partnering with SPC for plating on ABS plastic is the right call for cost-effective, high-quality outcomes.

Properties of ABS Plastic and Reasons for Plating

ABS plastic has characteristics that make it ideal for a number of industrial applications. Its qualities include superior dimensional stability, processing ability, toughness, durability, affordability and chemical resistance. However, inherent weaknesses show up with ABS when it comes to mechanical strength. It is also highly vulnerable to conditions in the environment. It’s easily fretted and non-conducting.

Many people choose plating on their ABS plastic parts because it enhances:

  • Strength
  • Structural integrity
  • Thermal resistance
  • Aesthetic appeal
  • Corrosion resistance
  • Durability and abrasion resistance

Plating results in metallic properties on any ABS material. This plastic is known as the best plastic option for plating, since professionals can deposit an adherent metal finishing through a chemical pretreatment process without mechanical abrasion. Various plating methods can be applied to ABS to create the final product.

Best Metals for Plating on ABS Plastics

When you choose SPC, you’ll also be able to decide which type of metal or alloy gets plated onto your ABS plastic parts and which process you need. We offer a number of options and some of the most popular metals that we frequently plate onto plastic include:

  • Copper: Known for its excellent electrical conductivity, copper plating is a highly popular choice for metallizing surfaces that are non-conductive. It has a low cost when compared with silver, gold and other precious metals. It can be used as a heat stop-off for masking as well.
  • Gold:Besides improving the appearance of different components, gold offers functional benefits like corrosion resistance, electrical conductivity and heat shielding properties that will allow an ABS plastic piece more functionality in high-temperature applications.
  • Nickel: Nickel has a metallic, bright appearance and provides resistance to both wear and corrosion. Nickel alloys often include metals like tungsten and tin, which increases the nickel deposit’s hardness and improves its wear- and corrosion-resistance capacity.

Request a free quote

For Plating on Plastics

Electroless Plating on ABS Plastic

Plating on ABS plastic doesn’t start with the plating itself, but with several preparatory steps that make the parts more suitable for the process.

Plating professionals mold the plastic part, which eliminates imperfections on the part’s surface that could otherwise reduce its overall quality. Proper molding also alleviates stress on the part. Specific parameters are set and met with respect to polishing, proper melt temperature and drying of the resin.

Being non-metallic in its composition, the plastic substrate needs to be “metallized” before electroplating can take place. The goal is to increase adhesive properties as much as possible. Electroless plating, or the process of depositing metal onto a substrate’s surface without introducing an electric current into the plating bath, allows for that change.

Electroless plating on ABS plastic usually includes a variety of steps. While the steps vary from job to job, plating professionals working on ABS plastic complete a mix of the following actions:

  • Clean:Fingerprints, dust and dirt are thoroughly cleaned off the substrate surface with an alkaline cleaning solution. In some instances, chromic acid solutions provide wetting.
  • Pre-dip: Pre-dipping in a solvent before etching improves the surface of any parts that are poorly molded and highly stressed. In addition, it can swell the surface of parts that are difficult to etch, which makes it less difficult for the etchant to access and attack that surface.
  • Etch:Typically consisting of solutions of sulfuric acid, which increase the substrate’s surface, etchants make the part absorb liquids more easily. Microscopic holes are also produced, and they enable bonding with deposited metal.
  • Condition:A conditioner can be added to the substrate that promotes more uniform absorption in the activation stage.
  • Neutralize:Post-etching, the part must be rinsed thoroughly so excess acid and foreign materials are removed. Application of a neutralizer like sodium bisulfite or a similar product ensures excess etchant is entirely eliminated.
  • Pre-activate: Pre-activators, which must be used with caution when a conditioner is employed, are designed to further facilitate absorption during activation. A pre-activator with a conditioner could result in excessive substrate-surface conditioning.
  • Activate:This step is an introduction of a precious metal liquid activator with low concentration, which serves as a plating catalyst and reduces the costs of drag-out. Metals typically included in activators include platinum, gold and palladium.
  • Accelerate: The accelerator removes excess stannous hydroxide from the part, enabling the activator to fulfill its catalyst role effectively. Accelerators serve the additional purpose of preventing the occurrence of skip plating.
  • Immerse in bath: Once rinsing of the ABS parts is complete, the next step is placement in the electroless bath, which deposits the thin metal coating. Nickel is the most common metal of choice for a majority of applications, but copper plating is also sometimes applied. Nickel makes the surface conductive in most cases, but copper is sometimes applied to automotive parts due to its lower resistance to blistering.

Electroless plating on ABS plastic can be all-over plating or selective plating depending on final product requirements. With all-over plating — considered the most cost-effective plating form for plastic — the whole surface gets a metal deposit with a thickness of 40 to 2,000 micro-inches.

With selective plating, metal is only deposited onto specific portions of the plastic component. To avoid unwanted changes to texture or color, the parts aren’t exposed to aggressive chemicals. Thickness level with selective plating ranges from 40 to 400 micro-inches. Because it’s more precise, it typically costs more than all-over plating.

Electroplating on ABS Plastic

While electroless plating is often employed on its own, it can also act as an underlying layer for a coating applied through electroplating. If a higher thickness is needed on your ABS plastic part, the experts at SPC can introduce an electric current into a plating bath. This increases the deposition by up to 10 times.

The process of electroplating involves a specially developed electrolytic solution, or bath. The coating, or plating metal, is connected to an anode (electrode with a positive charge) of an electrical circuit, while the substrate being coated gets placed at a cathode (electrode with a negative charge). Both are immersed and the anode is delivered a DC current. It oxidizes the atoms of the metal and dissolves them into the bath. At the cathode, the dissolved metal ions are reduced, then plated onto the substrate.

Electroplating is typically preferred for ABS plastic in heavy-duty industrial applications because greater thickness from electroplating provides a number of benefits like higher corrosion resistance, enhanced abrasion protection and increased durability. Electroplating costs more than electroless plating alone and isn’t a good choice for ABS plastic substrates with deep surface recesses because of easily trapped plating solution. However, it’s the best option for countless other ABS plastic surfaces.

Why Choose SPC for Plating on Your ABS Plastics?

If you need precise plating on any ABS plastic parts, look no further than Sharretts Plating Company. While many companies won’t plate plastics at all, we regularly plate 3D-printed parts like ABS. We provide a variety of customized electroless plating and electroplating processes on ABS plastic and we’ve been providing our services since 1925. We’re a family-owned company with a goal of total customer satisfaction and we always hire the best. Our experience allows us to offer high-quality products with the potential to improve your overall company performance and increase your profits.

At SPC, we strive to remain socially responsible and improve the communities we work with. We take steps to stay environmentally aware, which includes close work with the EPA and the development of eco-friendly finishing processes. Our goal is to create as little pollution and waste in our plant as possible. We’re committed to keeping our surface treatments as high-tech as possible while maintaining the highest level of social responsibility throughout every process.

Our final goal isn’t volume or quantity — it’s quality. To further assist you in making the right decisions about plating on your ABS plastic, we’ll work with you to come up with the best solution. Without a single requirement or obligation from us, you can find out exactly how much your plating will cost with a free quote. Our trained and knowledgeable representatives will always respond to your inquiry within one business day so you know as quickly as possible what to expect, no matter your requirements. Get started now and request your free quote.

Additional Resources:


"I would like to thank you for the help you have provided us in developing an electroless nickel plating technique on an unusual substrate. The sample platings you provided show that we should be able to reach our goals. I especially appreciate your willingness to take on an unusual job, with the uncertainties that that entails...We are looking forward to working with you in the future on our plating needs."

– Robert K.