Which Plastics Can and Cannot Be Plated Onto?

If you depend on metal plating as part of your manufacturing processes, you probably know that plating one metal onto another is a relatively easy process. However, if you need to add a metal coating to a plastic material, the procedure becomes more challenging. Plating onto plastic typically requires a series of additional preparation steps to ensure uniform surface coverage and proper adhesion. Moreover, not all plastics are amenable to the electroplating process.

Several types of plastic material are compatible with metal plating. They include:

  • ABS: Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) was the first plastic material for wide-scale metal plating manufacturing purposes — the practice began in the automotive industry in the 1960s. ABS is still the most common plastic used in metal finishing applications to this day, including Novodur P2MC and P2K, Polylac, Cycolac, Toyolac, HI 121 and many others.
  • ABS-PC: ABS-polycarbonate (ABS-PC) blends are widely used in industries such as automotive and telecommunications, combining exceptional flexibility, strength and heat resistance. These properties make ABS-PC another ideal choice for electroplating. Some examples include Bayblend T45, T65 and T85, Cycoloy, Xantar C CM 206 and others.
  • Polycarbonate: Polycarbonates are tough, versatile plastics used in industries such as automotive, construction, aerospace and technology.
  • Polysulfone: These thermoplastics are most commonly used as flame retardants, many of which require a metal coating to add strength and durability.

Examples of metals that can be plated onto these materials include gold, copper, chrome and nickel, assuming the precise application of all appropriate preparation, execution and post-plating steps.

However, some types of plastics do not work well with metal plating. While it’s still possible to plate onto them, the process is far more difficult. These plastics include:

  • Valox: This family of thermoplastic polymer resins provides an excellent combination of heat and chemical resistance along with strong electrical properties. Unfortunately, no metal finishing entity has been able to develop and apply a consistent metal plating process on Valox materials that offers sufficient coating adhesion.
  • Polyester: Polyester is known for its exceptional durability and chemical resistance. However, as a member of the Valox family, it cannot be plated onto directly.
  • Polypropylene: Polypropylenes such as RTP 199×69949 and Addilene — as well as other members of the nylon polymer family — can be plated onto, but only in blended form. This does require extra preparation time and can increase the total cost of the project.
  • Nylon: Nylon is a thermoplastic known for its durability and abrasion resistance with numerous industrial applications. Like polypropylene, it can only be plated onto when it’s made from a custom-blended resin.
  • Non-blended plastics: Several other plastics cannot be plated on in their basic form. However, it is possible to blend some of these “non-plateable” materials, as the combination of their properties can make them suitable for metal finishing. Typically, resins with higher chemical resistance are more difficult to plate.

Using electroless plating can enhance results when plating onto plastics and can promote better adhesion of the metal topcoat. Electroless plating entails immersing the plastic substrate in a chemical bath, but unlike electroplating, it does not require the introduction of an electric current. Instead, the coating occurs via an autocatalytic reaction.

Contact SPC to Learn More About Plating Onto Plastic

SPC has plastic plating expertise that is unrivaled in our industry — we’ve been overcoming the most daunting metal finishing challenges for more than 90 years. We can work with you to develop a customized process for your industrial and manufacturing applications. Contact us for more information and a no-obligation quote today.

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