One can perform plating on a variety of materials and components, including steel. What common parts are made out of steel and what are some common grades of steel that can be plated? Here's a basic guide to plating on steel to help you decide if steel metal finishing services are right for you and your organization.

What Is Steel?

Steel is a metal substance that is an alloy of iron and other elements. There are four types of steel. There is carbon steel (which is an alloy of iron and carbon), alloy steel (which is steel that contains alloying elements other than carbon, like silicon, copper, manganese, titanium, chromium or aluminum), tool steel (which has a very high hardness), abrasion-resistant steel and stainless steel (which is a corrosion resistant steel with high chromium content).

You will find steel in practically every industry in some form or other, as iron has more applications than virtually any other metal. From pipes and cooking utensils to seatbelts, you will find iron and steel almost everywhere. The problem is that iron can rust, and oxidation can dramatically compromise the strength of the metal. If that iron is to be used for structural purposes, this can be a big problem from both a cost and safety perspective.

Steel plating services can provide an optimal solution to this problem. Metal finishing on steel can protect the underlying metal from oxidation so it does not corrode and maintains its integrity.

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About Carbon Steel

Carbon steel is the most common type of steel and also the most vulnerable to damage and corrosion, so this type of steel is the best candidate for electroplating, although you can electroplate other types of steel as well.

It is important to note that not all carbon steel is the same. Carbon steel may fall into different classifications depending on the amount of carbon, iron and other elements present in the steel. There are three main categories of carbon steel you may be working with:

  • Low-Carbon Steel: Also called mild steel, this is possibly the largest category of carbon steel. You will find low-carbon steel in a variety of shapes, including beams and flat sheets. This type of steel usually has from .04 percent to .30 percent carbon content and may be alloyed with other metals depending on the properties you need the steel to have. For example, if you are using this type of steel for structural purposes, you may add manganese. Low-carbon steel is a strong candidate for electroplating.
  • Medium-Carbon Steel: This is carbon steel with slightly higher carbon content, more than .30 percent but no more than .60 percent. It is harder and stronger than low-carbon steel and more difficult to shape. You may still want to electroplate medium-carbon steel depending on your intention for its purposes.
  • High-Carbon Steel: This is also known as carbon tool steel. Like other tool steels, high-carbon steel is also extremely strong and difficult to shape. Heat-treated high-carbon steel tends to become very hard and brittle. It usually has a carbon content greater than .60 percent. You are less likely to electroplate high-carbon steel, or any other tool steel, for that matter, but it is still possible.

Contact SPC at 717-767-6702 if you are unsure of what type of steel you are working with or whether or not electroplating is appropriate for your particular steel products.

How Does Plating on Steel Work?

Plating on steel is no different from plating other materials. If you are electroplating your steel, the steel is cleaned and put in an electrolytic solution in which the plating material is introduced and electricity is applied. The engineer who is electroplating the steel may fix it to a rack, which is introduced to the electrolytic solution, or may place it in a closed barrel with the solution.

Steel is also a candidate for electroless plating. In this case, the steel is introduced into an aqueous solution and the engineer deposits the plating material onto the steel chemically, without an external electrical power source stimulating the reaction.

Types of Plating on Steel Services

Industry professionals most commonly bring their steel components to SPC for nickel chrome electroplating. One of the industries that benefits the most from steel nickel chrome electroplating is the automotive industry. You will find nickel chrome electroplating on steel truck bumpers, stack exhausts and lug nuts, on motorcycle side covers, handlebars, exhaust pipes, instrument covers, brake pedals and seat belt buckles.

Electroless Nickel Plating

You may find electroless nickel plating on automotive products like brake caliper pins, heat sinks, pinion shafts, gears and fuel system components, as well as motor housing starter inserts, motorcycle clevis pins, bleeder screws, battery casings and industrial cylinder valves.

Electroless nickel plating tends to produce parts with very high hardness and corrosion resistance, which makes them ideal for situations where you need reliable steel parts to stand up to tough conditions. It is common to find electroless nickel plated steel parts in the oil and gas industry, particularly on valves like ball valves, gate valves or butterfly valves, as well as on impellers, pumps, mixer shafts and heat exchangers.

Get the Best Metal Finish Plating Services for Any Industry From SPC

If you haven't been plating your steel, your industry may be suffering as a result. SPC offers a wide variety of plating services, including copper electroplating, electroless nickel plating and more. As an experienced provider of plating services that has been offering metal finishing solutions for over 80 years, we can meet your plating needs, whether you are plating steel or other materials.

Plating not only improves the look of your components, but also provides corrosion resistance, radiation shielding, durability and more. To learn more about the many benefits of electroplating and how we can electroplate your steel and other components, or request a completely free quote on electroplating services, contact SPC now.


"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.