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3D Electroplating?

Posted by sanman 
3D Electroplating?
February 15, 2013 09:31PM
Electroplating has traditionally been a 2D process, but so was printing. If there can be 3D printing, why can't there be 3D electroplating? Brush electroplating seems like the best candidate method. Why isn't Z just an extra dimension to do this in?




Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 02/15/2013 09:43PM by sanman.
Re: 3D Electroplating?
February 16, 2013 01:20PM
A guy called Jeff Thompson did some work on this back in 1998. His writeup can still be found here.

His experiments were based on this patent: US5641391 Three dimensional microfabrication by localized electrodeposition and etching

Microfabrica uses a process called EFAB where a) Metal A is plated through a mask, b) the mask is removed and Metal B is plated over Metal A, c) everything is planarized, d) repeat until done. The part is then etched to remove Metal B (which is just a support material). They can make some amazing amazing things.
Re: 3D Electroplating?
February 16, 2013 05:13PM
Ok, but does electrodeposition have to be limited to structures of small thickness? If it can do layer upon layer, then why can't it be used to build up parts of conventional macro-size?

If it could be laid down as a thicker paste, perhaps that could increase the layer thickness, so that larger parts could be built up more quickly.
Re: 3D Electroplating?
February 16, 2013 08:48PM
The deposition rate (the change in layer thickness per time in units of, for example, meters-per-second) is proportional to current density (in units of, for example, amps-per-meters^2). The current density is limited because if it gets too high you start getting bad quality deposits (porous, spongy, contaminated, etc) and you get bubbles due to electrolysis and other problems. So the deposition rate is fundamentally limited.

Another problem is that as the layer gets thicker, it tends to become more uneven and spongy. That's why the planarization step in EFAB is so critical. With a decent planarization method you can probably stack as many layers as you want. But it would take a looooooong time.

You can electroplate quite thick (millimeter) layers without planarization. It's called electroforming. Molds for vinyl records (and even CD's) are routinely made by electroforming, and I used it to make an electroformed hot end.

I like the idea of using an electroformed hot end to print out a mandrel made of conductive polycaprolactone to use for electroforming a hot end that will print out a mandrel of conductive polycaprolactone to use for electroforming... well you get the idea smiling smiley
Re: 3D Electroplating?
February 16, 2013 09:35PM
Thanks for that nice info! So is anyone working on 3D Electroforming?

With Electroplating you can have Brush Plating which can be done in 2D, like printing. That obviously suggests the possibility of extending it into the Z-dimension through repeated layers of brush plating.

But is there anything similar to this for Electroforming? Can you have some kind of 2D "Brush Electroforming"? I'm googling around for it, but I don't quite see anything. Is there any kind of existing precedent for this?
Re: 3D Electroplating?
February 16, 2013 10:37PM
Well, as far as I know, electroplating and electroforming are really the same thing, physically.

People just call it "electroforming" if the deposited layer is thick (relatively speaking) and "electroplating" if it is thin.
Re: 3D Electroplating?
February 16, 2013 10:57PM
But can you take the "brush plating" approach with electroforming? It seems to me that 2D brush plating is the most similar in comparison to 2D printing, thus providing the route to 3D printing.

Can you do 2D brush electroforming without using an immersion bath? If so, how can get this kind of thickness using a brush?
What would differentiate 2D brush electroforming from 2D brush electroplating? Some kind of thicker electrolytic gel or paste as an alternative to the thinner aqueous solution?

I've been googling around, and I can't see any instances of brush electroforming. Should I be looking for it under another name?
Re: 3D Electroplating?
February 16, 2013 11:03PM
I love the idea of 3D electroplating. I think our current understanding and application of electroplating would take way to long to be of practical use for 3D printing.

You would defiantly need to pioneer some new methods smileys with beer
Re: 3D Electroplating?
February 16, 2013 11:09PM
It seems like the amount of current also affects the rate of buildup. I'd read that if you have too much current, then it builds up the metal too fast, and forms nodules. But in a 3D printing situation, that might actually be more desirable.

So maybe the answer is to find ways to accelerate the speed of deposition. High current might be one answer, and perhaps also the right transport parameters to favour precipitation/deposition.



There are three major mechanisms by which metal ions reach the cathode surface:

- Away from the electrodes, transport within the electrolyte is by fluid movement (‘convection’), so plating baths are kept agitated, which also ensures that the electrolyte temperature is the same throughout the tank.
- There will be a diffusion layer at the interface between cathode and electrolyte, with a concentration gradient of metal ions. In the steady-state situation which is set up, metal ions are replenished at the cathode at exactly the same rate as they are depleted. This layer is usually less than 300 µm thick, and often only 1–50 µm thick.
- Ion migration will contribute to the transport.

Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 02/16/2013 11:24PM by sanman.
Re: 3D Electroplating?
February 17, 2013 11:37AM
I came across a bunch of articles while googling:


What about laser-assisted electroplating like a form of stereolithography?

Think of the FormLabs Form1 printer, which does stereolithography using a UV-curable liquid polymer, while slowly pulling the formed object out of that layer from above. So imagine something similar, except instead of the thin liquid layer of polymer at the bottom, you instead have a thin liquid layer of ionic solution. Stereolithography would similarly be used to cause the electroplated material to form into an object, which would slowly be pulled out of the liquid layer from above.

Is this possible?
Re: 3D Electroplating?
February 17, 2013 12:18PM
... see my answer post here too: [forums.reprap.org]

Re: 3D Electroplating?
February 22, 2013 11:09PM
Hey, take a look at this:



The development of laser-enhanced electroplating process offers a promising technique for high-speed and mask-less selective plating and/or as a repair and engineering design change scheme for microcircuits [300, 325-28]. For this, temperature is used to modify the position of the equilibrium potential in a localized region so that electro-deposition is driven by the potential difference between this region and the non-irradiated regions. Use of a focused argon laser beam (488nm) in an acid copper solution provided plating rates as high as 25µm/s [300]. Bindra et al [327, 328] discussed the mechanism of laser-enhanced acid copper plating and Paatsch et al [329] reported on laser-induced deposition of copper on p-type silicon. It was demonstrated that the increase in the plating rate under laser illumination results principally from photo-induced heating of the electrode surface [328].

I think this idea is really worth looking at, because it doesn't require your build chamber to be under vacuum or filled with an inert gas. And a theoretical build speed of 25µm/s is nothing to sneeze at - that's 1mm every 40 seconds! That's 1cm every 6 2/3 minutes! Theoretically, you could print a 30cm tall model made of metal in 200 minutes! Put all those old pennies to good use!

I think the idea is worth tinkering around with at the very least. After all, there are plenty of consumer-level home-electroplating kits sold to for people who plate their own jewelry, etc. So electroplating is not some exotic technology, and electroforming is just electroplating taken to greater lengths/thicknesses.
Re: 3D Electroplating?
February 23, 2013 10:33AM
... they used an argon laser with 488nm ... my diodes has [email protected] or [email protected], what's more than enough to boild the fluid in the spot, so good candidates too winking smiley

For other types of "laser-enhancing" I'm planning to use a TAE-pulse-laser with short pulses (200ps) of [email protected] through a DLP-beamer ...

Re: 3D Electroplating?
February 24, 2013 04:51PM
I'd also like to follow up by asking about 3D electroplating of ceramics. For example, take a look at this:


If ceramic layers can also be formed through electrodeposition methods, then I'm wondering if this likewise can't also similarly be enhanced and manipulated by once again using lasers. In other words, can we again similarly do 3D stereolithography printing of ceramic parts using laser-accelerated electroplating? Since laser-enhanchement is based on the Soret Effect, then I'm thinking it should apply for any material that can be electroplated, and not just metals.

Come on people, I'm looking for some feedback and enlightenment here, because this laser electrodeposition approach looks like an interesting candidate to take 3D printing forward to higher-end materials with much greater usefulness.

What do you all think?
Re: 3D Electroplating?
February 25, 2013 12:29PM
... could be a good idea testing with liquids, chemistry and solvents, which will settle, when heated or activated by a laserbeam.

Then the setup could be a big vat containing the liquid and a Z-stage, where a wide laser beam is focussed some mm to cm beneath the surface ontop of the building plate or already 'settled' part, so the settling/precipitate will change the phase in the focus and add material to the solid ...

Re: 3D Electroplating?
February 25, 2013 08:29PM
Thanks for the response - where do you feel would be the best place to start? I was thinking that one of these home electroplating/electroforming kits would be a good starting point. I was actually also thinking that in connection with this, I should try to find another discussion forum more specifically devoted to the subject of electroplating - but I can't seem to find one. I think I need to first talk with some people having expert-level knowledge, before I go on a wild goose chase. I don't even know what the current state of the art is, concerning electroplating/electroforming/electrodeposition. If anybody here knows where I can go, I'd appreciate any tips.

Here's one electroplating forum I managed to find, and it's an amateur forum:


Here's another, featuring some pretty knowledgable answers from people in industry, and so I've submitted my question there too:


Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 02/25/2013 10:07PM by sanman.
Re: 3D Electroplating?
February 26, 2013 09:23AM
How you begin depends on your level of experience and the tools, materials, and workspace you have access to. Assuming you have basic lab skills, a few tools, and a decent place to do experiments, I would suggest starting with copper electroplating. The process is simple and forgiving, the materials are readily available (but toxic!) and there are a zillion tutorials on youtube (see links below).

If you have a 3D printer or CNC mill already, you can put a plastic tray with the plating solution and workpiece on the bed/table. Once you find a suitable laser, you can mount it temporarily to the extruder mount and you're ready to go. If you don't have a 3D printer or a CNC mill, just make a little stand out of scrap that keeps the laser pointed at one spot on the workpiece.

Start by plating a flat workpiece, shine your laser on it, and see what happens!

You can get copper sulfate at hardware stores and (somewhat optional) sulfuric acid at hardware or auto part stores. Going with a plating kit would be fine too. Plastic food containers can be used for mixing vessels and for holding the workpieces to be plated (don't use for food afterwards, obviously!). You'll also need a power supply or batteries, and a handful of test leads (wires with clips on the ends). A multimeter comes in handy for measuring plating current and cell voltage.

Many people have added lasers to their repraps/repstraps to use for cutting, and you can search around their projects for ideas. Also, it should go without saying that plating chemicals are toxic and need to be kept away from children/pets. And lasers strong enough to heat things up need to be treated carefully as well. smiling smiley

Here's a few links:
easy nickel and copper electroplating method
selective laser sintering part 5: the laser
reprap prusa modified with 1W laser for cutting
SLS wax printer
Re: 3D Electroplating?
February 26, 2013 12:46PM
... some more infos for building DIY laser-heads: [www.reprap.org]

Re: 3D Electroplating?
April 10, 2013 10:30AM
Take a look at some replies which I saw on another forum site:


Apparently, IBM did some useful fundamental R&D on this approach back in the 1980s under the name of "jet plating".

I don't think it involves any lasers for enhanced deposition, though. Instead it seems to use a directed stream of metal solution through a print-head.
Re: 3D Electroplating?
April 10, 2013 04:20PM
i've got a brush plating kit it comes with a basic transformer, but my understanding depends on what material your plating theres different voltages you use also you'll need to prepare the surface your plating, making sure the areas clean and free from contaminants and the workpiece would have too be negatively charged, but i suppose reading through the post electroplating has probably advanced lol as have not kept up to date on that subject but just a note theres another finishing spray you can get its called spectra chrome too my understanding that's how they do all the chrome on plastics, like ipods, but can be electroplated
Re: 3D Electroplating?
July 26, 2013 06:04AM
Dear Sanman
Just checking if you are still interested in this?

Re: 3D Electroplating?
September 14, 2014 04:27PM
Hello is there any development on this subject?

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/16/2014 07:39AM by Michael Labib.
Re: 3D Electroplating?
April 28, 2017 04:42AM
I have been looking actively into 3d electroplating, tried out a couple of methods and met with industrial electroplaters for their suggestions. Electroplating adds a whole new life to 3d prints. I've written about my experiments and findings at http://3dplating.tumblr.com and would love suggestions and feedback for further experiments. If there are others interested in collaborating in this field, please let me know.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/28/2017 04:51AM by eklavya_1.
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