Electroplating v Electroforming

Cartoon alchemist wizard pointing his finger


Calling all budding alchemists…whilst we can’t bestow upon you actual magical powers to transform base metals into gold via the means of miraculous sorcery, and let’s face it – you knew that already, we can certainly equip you with the tools required to do the next best thing!

Before beginning your quest into this wonderful world of possibility, you might be pondering one of the most commonly asked questions – just what is the difference between electroplating and electroforming? Whilst these two processes do share some similarities, they most certainly are not the same! Let’s delve deeper and take a closer look.

How is electroplating used?

Gold plated cutlery, knife, fork, spoon and teaspoon

We will begin by defining electroplating. This is the process of using chemicals and electricity to coat a metal item with a thin layer of a different metal for reasons such as improving its appearance. A somewhat ordinary metal, let’s take copper, can be plated in a layer of a more esteemed metal such as gold to create an item with a more luxurious aesthetic.

Here we see some rather ordinary stainless steel cutlery take on a whole new persona after gold plating.

Zinc plated hexagonal bolts lined up in a row

As well as its ability to transform the visual appeal of an item, electroplating can also be utilised to prevent metals from corroding. This is particularly beneficial to prevent the rusting of metals used for machinery and tooling. By depositing a thin layer of an alternative metal, the original metal benefits from the properties of the new one, protecting it and preventing corrosion.

How is electroforming used?

Where electroplating involves coating a conductive item in an alternative metal, electroforming is the act of taking a non-conductive surface such as plastic or an organic item and making it conducive for plating. This can be achieved via two main routes – firstly, a metal coating can be applied over an item and this layer can then be plated in a finish of your choice. Alternatively, you could create a mould and then use electroforming to fill in that mould with solid metal which could then be plated.

Electroformed and gold plated Playstation 4 controller, Sega Genesis controller, GameBoy and other gaming items
Plastic game controllers electroformed to a mirror-shine in real 24k gold
Electroformed gold plated baby shoes
Fabric baby shoes electroformed in copper and further plated in real 24k gold

By far the most popular method used by our customers, is the former option as this is less complicated, less time consuming and produces great results. All of our electroforming kits are geared toward this use and allow you to both electroform and electroplate using the one product.

The approach utilises a conductive paint and a special electroforming solution, which allows you to make the surface of your item metal and ready for plating. You are then able to use electroplating to apply a layer of your favourite metal, for example gold or silver, whilst preserving all the original detail of the item. As this technique allows you to plate an almost limitless variety of items not usually suitable for plating, you can be more creative and versatile in your choices and can produce some very interesting and unique items/products.

In the above photograph is a selection of modern and retro plastic game controllers that were electroformed and plated in real 24k gold using one of our G.S.P Prodigy Kits with Mirror-Tech System™ which produces a mirror-shine without the need to polish at any stage of the plating process.

Again, using the same kit, the second photograph demonstrates the versatility of surfaces that can be electroformed, these soft, fabric baby shoes were electroformed in copper and then further plated in real 24k gold to create rock-solid, shiny metal versions - perfect keepsakes!

Can electroforming be done in other styles?

Electroformed copper plated leaf before and after
Electroform and copper plate a range of natural objects with an aged copper finish
Electroformed copper plated seashell
Electroformed copper plated seashell in rustic antique style copper

Although many of our customers are looking to electroform items that emerge from the plating tank with a slick, wet-look shine, another popular style of electroforming is to plate organics with a rich, antique-style copper finish.

Shown in the photographs are some natural objects - an autumnal leaf and a seashell collected from the beach - these have been electroformed and plated in real copper. This has metalized the objects, giving them a strong rigidity. 

The aged aesthetic is the result of plating in copper and leaving the objects to oxidize. Oxidization happens naturally with copper over time if it is not sealed with lacquer, and brings an eclectic variety of markings and tones that are very aesthetically appealing. The same result can be achieved quickly by applying a patina to freshly copper-plated objects.

Some of our clients choose to plate organics in this style and incorporate them into pieces of jewellery, unique gift products, and creative projects. 

Of course, these objects could also be plated in a shiny, bright copper finish for a more modern twist - the choice is yours!

Electroplating v Electroforming Conclusion

So, there we have it! Electroplating and electroforming do have their similarities, but they are quite different processes. In summary, electroplating is the process of depositing a layer of alternative metal onto an existing metal for the purpose of improving its appearance or performance. Electroforming allows you to prepare a non-conductive item for electroplating, resulting in a finished product that retains all the detail of the original.

Our electroplating and electroforming kits offer lots of versatility, giving you the option to plate in the style that best suits your projects and personal preferences. Why not give it a go?

Further reading

To find out which kit may suit you best, please see our article - How To Choose a Plating Kit.

Visit our shop to browse our range of electroplating and electroforming kits.

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Suppliers of electroplating and electroforming kits and chemicals. Large range of tank, brush, pen plating kits, precious metal finishes and plating accessories.

Contact Us

Gold Solutions Plating
Unit 3, Pier Road Ind. Estate
Pier Approach Road
Kent  ME7 1RZ

Phone: 01634 788385

Email: enquiries@gsplating.co.uk