Plating is a surface covering in which a metal
A metal , is an element, compound, or alloy that is a good conductor of both electricity and heat. Metals are usually malleable and shiny, that is they reflect most of incident light...

 is deposited on a conductive surface. Plating has been done for hundreds of years, but it is also critical for modern technology. Plating is used to decorate objects, for corrosion inhibition, to improve solderability, to harden, to improve wearability, to reduce friction, to improve paint adhesion, to alter conductivity, for radiation shielding, and for other purposes.
Plating is a surface covering in which a metal
A metal , is an element, compound, or alloy that is a good conductor of both electricity and heat. Metals are usually malleable and shiny, that is they reflect most of incident light...

 is deposited on a conductive surface. Plating has been done for hundreds of years, but it is also critical for modern technology. Plating is used to decorate objects, for corrosion inhibition, to improve solderability, to harden, to improve wearability, to reduce friction, to improve paint adhesion, to alter conductivity, for radiation shielding, and for other purposes. Jewelry typically uses plating to give a silver
Silver is a metallic chemical element with the chemical symbol Ag and atomic number 47. A soft, white, lustrous transition metal, it has the highest electrical conductivity of any element and the highest thermal conductivity of any metal...

 or gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

 finish. Thin-film deposition has plated objects as small as an atom, therefore plating finds uses in nanotechnology
Nanotechnology is the study of manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale. Generally, nanotechnology deals with developing materials, devices, or other structures possessing at least one dimension sized from 1 to 100 nanometres...


There are several plating methods, and many variations. In one method, a solid surface is covered with a metal sheet, and then heat and pressure are applied to fuse them (a version of this is Sheffield plate
Sheffield plate
Sheffield plate is a layered combination of silver and copper that was used for many years to produce a wide range of household articles. These included buttons, caddy spoons, serving utensils, candlesticks and other lighting devices, tea and coffee services, serving dishes and trays, tankards and...

). Other plating techniques include vapor deposition
Vapor deposition
Vapor deposition can refer to:* Chemical vapor deposition* Physical vapor deposition...

 under vacuum
In everyday usage, vacuum is a volume of space that is essentially empty of matter, such that its gaseous pressure is much less than atmospheric pressure. The word comes from the Latin term for "empty". A perfect vacuum would be one with no particles in it at all, which is impossible to achieve in...

 and sputter deposition
Sputter deposition
Sputter deposition is a physical vapor deposition method of depositing thin films by sputtering, that is ejecting, material from a "target," that is source, which then deposits onto a "substrate," such as a silicon wafer...

. Recently, plating often refers to using liquids. Metallizing
Metallizing is the general name for the technique of coating metal on the surface of non-metallic objects.Techniques for metallization started as early as mirror making. In 1835, Justus von Liebig discovered the process of coating a glass surface with metallic silver, making the glass mirror one of...

 refers to coating metal on non-metallic objects.


In electroplating, an ion
An ion is an atom or molecule in which the total number of electrons is not equal to the total number of protons, giving it a net positive or negative electrical charge. The name was given by physicist Michael Faraday for the substances that allow a current to pass between electrodes in a...

ic metal is supplied with electrons to form a non-ionic coating on a substrate. A common system involves a chemical solution with the ionic form of the metal, an anode
An anode is an electrode through which electric current flows into a polarized electrical device. Mnemonic: ACID ....

 (positively charged) which may consist of the metal being plated (a soluble anode) or an insoluble anode (usually carbon, platinum, titanium, lead, or steel), and finally, a cathode
A cathode is an electrode through which electric current flows out of a polarized electrical device. Mnemonic: CCD .Cathode polarity is not always negative...

 (negatively charged) where electrons are supplied to produce a film of non-ionic metal.

Electroless plating

Electroless plating, also known as chemical or auto-catalytic plating, is a non-galvanic
Galvanization is the process of applying a protective zinc coating to steel or iron, in order to prevent rusting. The term is derived from the name of Italian scientist Luigi Galvani....

 type of plating method that involves several simultaneous reactions in an aqueous solution
Aqueous solution
An aqueous solution is a solution in which the solvent is water. It is usually shown in chemical equations by appending aq to the relevant formula, such as NaCl. The word aqueous means pertaining to, related to, similar to, or dissolved in water...

, which occur without the use of external electrical power. The reaction is accomplished when hydrogen
Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...

 is released by a reducing agent, normally sodium hypophosphite
Sodium hypophosphite
Sodium hypophosphite is the sodium salt of hypophosphorous acid and is often encountered as the monohydrate, NaPO2H2·H2O. It is a solid at room temperature, appearing as odorless white crystals...

 (Note: the hydrogen leaves as a hydride ion), and oxidized thus producing a negative charge on the surface of the part. The most common electroless plating method is electroless nickel plating, although silver, gold and copper layers can also be applied in this manner, as in the technique of Angel gilding
Angel gilding
Angel gilding is a term of unknown origin used to describe the process of gilding glass or gold plating by electroless chemical deposition. Glass gilders use the term to distinguish the chemical process from gold leaf gilding also known as Verre églomisé...


Gold plating

Gold plating
Gold plating
Gold plating is a method of depositing a thin layer of gold onto the surface of another metal, most often copper or silver , by chemical or electrochemical plating...

 is a method of depositing a thin layer of gold on the surface of glass or metal, most often copper
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; an exposed surface has a reddish-orange tarnish...

 or silver.

Gold plating is often used in electronics, to provide a corrosion
Corrosion is the disintegration of an engineered material into its constituent atoms due to chemical reactions with its surroundings. In the most common use of the word, this means electrochemical oxidation of metals in reaction with an oxidant such as oxygen...

-resistant electrically conductive layer on copper, typically in electrical connector
Electrical connector
An electrical connector is an electro-mechanical device for joining electrical circuits as an interface using a mechanical assembly. The connection may be temporary, as for portable equipment, require a tool for assembly and removal, or serve as a permanent electrical joint between two wires or...

s and printed circuit board
Printed circuit board
A printed circuit board, or PCB, is used to mechanically support and electrically connect electronic components using conductive pathways, tracks or signal traces etched from copper sheets laminated onto a non-conductive substrate. It is also referred to as printed wiring board or etched wiring...

s. With direct gold-on-copper plating, the copper atoms have the tendency to diffuse through the gold layer, causing tarnishing of its surface and formation of an oxide/sulfide layer. A layer of a suitable barrier metal
Barrier metal
A barrier metal is a material used in integrated circuits to chemically isolate semiconductors from soft metal interconnects, while maintaining an electrical connection between them...

, usually nickel, has therefore to be deposited on the copper substrate, forming a copper-nickel-gold sandwich.

Metals and glass may also be coated with gold for ornamental purposes, using a number of different processes usually referred to as gilding
The term gilding covers a number of decorative techniques for applying fine gold leaf or powder to solid surfaces such as wood, stone, or metal to give a thin coating of gold. A gilded object is described as "gilt"...


Silver plating

For less demanding applications in electronics, silver is often used as a cheaper replacement for gold. (Although silver is a better conductor than gold it does oxidize and so gold is better for contacts. However, variable capacitors are considered of the highest quality when they have silver plated plates. In this application there is no make and break contact so gold would not offer any advantage over silver).

Care should be used for parts exposed to high humidity
Humidity is a term for the amount of water vapor in the air, and can refer to any one of several measurements of humidity. Formally, humid air is not "moist air" but a mixture of water vapor and other constituents of air, and humidity is defined in terms of the water content of this mixture,...

 environments. When the silver layer is porous or contains cracks, the underlying copper undergoes rapid galvanic corrosion, flaking off the plating and exposing the copper itself; a process known as red plague
Red plague (corrosion)
Red plague is an accelerated corrosion of copper when plated with silver. After storage or use in high-humidity environment, cuprous oxide forms on the surface of the parts...


Historically, silver plate was used to provide a cheaper version of items that might otherwise be made of silver, including cutlery
Cutlery refers to any hand implement used in preparing, serving, and especially eating food in the Western world. It is more usually known as silverware or flatware in the United States, where cutlery can have the more specific meaning of knives and other cutting instruments. This is probably the...

 and candlesticks. The earliest kind was Old Sheffield Plate, but in the 19th century new methods of production (including electroplating) were introduced: see Sheffield Plate
Sheffield plate
Sheffield plate is a layered combination of silver and copper that was used for many years to produce a wide range of household articles. These included buttons, caddy spoons, serving utensils, candlesticks and other lighting devices, tea and coffee services, serving dishes and trays, tankards and...


Another method that can be used to apply a thin layer of silver to several objects, such as glass, is
the Tollen's Test method, which usually is prepared as follows. Using this method the final reaction can occur by placing Tollen's Reagent in a glass and then adding Glucose/Dextrose and shaking the bottle to perform the reaction.
AgNO3 + KOH → AgOH + KNO3

AgOH + 2 NH3 → [Ag(NH3)2]+ + [OH] (Note: see Tollen's Reagent)

[Ag(NH3)2]+ + [OH] + Aldehyde
An aldehyde is an organic compound containing a formyl group. This functional group, with the structure R-CHO, consists of a carbonyl center bonded to hydrogen and an R group....

(usually glucose/dextrose) → Ag + 2 NH3 + H2O

Rhodium plating

Rhodium plating is occasionally used on white gold, silver or copper and its alloys. A barrier layer of nickel is usually deposited on silver first, though in this case it is not to prevent migration of silver through rhodium, but to prevent contamination of the rhodium bath with silver and copper, which slightly dissolve in the sulfuric acid
Sulfuric acid
Sulfuric acid is a strong mineral acid with the molecular formula . Its historical name is oil of vitriol. Pure sulfuric acid is a highly corrosive, colorless, viscous liquid. The salts of sulfuric acid are called sulfates...

 usually present in the bath composition.

Chrome plating

Chrome plating is a finishing treatment utilizing the electrolytic deposition
Electroplating is a plating process in which metal ions in a solution are moved by an electric field to coat an electrode. The process uses electrical current to reduce cations of a desired material from a solution and coat a conductive object with a thin layer of the material, such as a metal...

 of chromium
Chromium is a chemical element which has the symbol Cr and atomic number 24. It is the first element in Group 6. It is a steely-gray, lustrous, hard metal that takes a high polish and has a high melting point. It is also odorless, tasteless, and malleable...

. The most common form of chrome plating is the thin, decorative bright chrome, which is typically a 10-µm layer over an underlying nickel
Nickel is a chemical element with the chemical symbol Ni and atomic number 28. It is a silvery-white lustrous metal with a slight golden tinge. Nickel belongs to the transition metals and is hard and ductile...

 plate. When plating on iron or steel, an underlying plating of copper allows the nickel to adhere. The pores (tiny holes) in the nickel and chromium layers also promote corrosion resistance. Bright chrome imparts a mirror
A mirror is an object that reflects light or sound in a way that preserves much of its original quality prior to its contact with the mirror. Some mirrors also filter out some wavelengths, while preserving other wavelengths in the reflection...

-like finish to items such as metal furniture frames and automotive trim. Thicker deposits, up to 1000 µm, are called hard chrome and are used in industrial equipment to reduce friction
Friction is the force resisting the relative motion of solid surfaces, fluid layers, and/or material elements sliding against each other. There are several types of friction:...

 and wear.

The traditional solution used for industrial hard chrome plating is made up of about 250 g/L of CrO3 and about 2.5 g/L of SO4. In solution, the chrome exists as chromic acid, known as hexavalent chromium. A high current is used, in part to stabilize a thin layer of chromium(+2) at the surface of the plated work. Acid chrome has poor throwing power, fine details or holes are further away and receive less current resulting in poor plating.

Zinc plating

Zinc , or spelter , is a metallic chemical element; it has the symbol Zn and atomic number 30. It is the first element in group 12 of the periodic table. Zinc is, in some respects, chemically similar to magnesium, because its ion is of similar size and its only common oxidation state is +2...

 coatings prevent oxidation of the protected metal by forming a barrier and by acting as a sacrificial anode if this barrier is damaged. Zinc oxide
Zinc oxide
Zinc oxide is an inorganic compound with the formula ZnO. It is a white powder that is insoluble in water. The powder is widely used as an additive into numerous materials and products including plastics, ceramics, glass, cement, rubber , lubricants, paints, ointments, adhesives, sealants,...

 is a fine white dust that (in contrast to iron oxide
Iron oxide
Iron oxides are chemical compounds composed of iron and oxygen. All together, there are sixteen known iron oxides and oxyhydroxides.Iron oxides and oxide-hydroxides are widespread in nature, play an important role in many geological and biological processes, and are widely utilized by humans, e.g.,...

) does not cause a breakdown of the substrate's surface integrity as it is formed. Indeed the zinc oxide, if undisturbed, can act as a barrier to further oxidation, in a way similar to the protection afforded to aluminum and stainless steel
Stainless steel
In metallurgy, stainless steel, also known as inox steel or inox from French "inoxydable", is defined as a steel alloy with a minimum of 10.5 or 11% chromium content by mass....

s by their oxide
An oxide is a chemical compound that contains at least one oxygen atom in its chemical formula. Metal oxides typically contain an anion of oxygen in the oxidation state of −2....

 layers. The majority of hardware parts are zinc plated, rather than cadmium plated.

Tin plating

The tin
Tin is a chemical element with the symbol Sn and atomic number 50. It is a main group metal in group 14 of the periodic table. Tin shows chemical similarity to both neighboring group 14 elements, germanium and lead and has two possible oxidation states, +2 and the slightly more stable +4...

-plating process is used extensively to protect both ferrous
Ferrous , in chemistry, indicates a divalent iron compound , as opposed to ferric, which indicates a trivalent iron compound ....

 and nonferrous surfaces. Tin is a useful metal for the food processing
Food processing
Food processing is the set of methods and techniques used to transform raw ingredients into food or to transform food into other forms for consumption by humans or animals either in the home or by the food processing industry...

 industry since it is non-toxic, ductile and corrosion resistant. The excellent ductility
In materials science, ductility is a solid material's ability to deform under tensile stress; this is often characterized by the material's ability to be stretched into a wire. Malleability, a similar property, is a material's ability to deform under compressive stress; this is often characterized...

 of tin allows a tin coated base metal sheet to be formed into a variety of shapes without damage to the surface tin layer. It provides sacrificial protection for copper, nickel and other non-ferrous metals, but not for steel
Steel is an alloy that consists mostly of iron and has a carbon content between 0.2% and 2.1% by weight, depending on the grade. Carbon is the most common alloying material for iron, but various other alloying elements are used, such as manganese, chromium, vanadium, and tungsten...


Tin is also widely used in the electronics
Electronics is the branch of science, engineering and technology that deals with electrical circuits involving active electrical components such as vacuum tubes, transistors, diodes and integrated circuits, and associated passive interconnection technologies...

 industry because of its ability to protect the base metal from oxidation thus preserving its solderability. In electronic applications, 3% to 7% lead
Lead is a main-group element in the carbon group with the symbol Pb and atomic number 82. Lead is a soft, malleable poor metal. It is also counted as one of the heavy metals. Metallic lead has a bluish-white color after being freshly cut, but it soon tarnishes to a dull grayish color when exposed...

 may be added to improve solderability and to prevent the growth of metallic "whiskers" in compression stressed deposits, which would otherwise cause electrical shorting. However, RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) regulations enacted beginning in 2006 require that no lead be added intentionally and that the maximum percentage not exceed 1%. Some exemptions have been issued to RoHS requirements in critical electronics applications due to failures which are known to have occurred as a result of tin whisker formation.

Alloy plating

In some cases, it is desirable to co-deposit two or more metals resulting in an electroplated alloy deposit. Depending on the alloy system, an electroplated alloy may be solid solution strengthened
Solid solution strengthening
Solid solution strengthening is a type of alloying that can be used to improve the strength of a pure metal. The technique works by adding atoms of one element to the crystalline lattice of another element . The alloying element diffuses into the matrix, forming a solid solution...

 or precipitation hardened by heat treatment
Heat treatment
Heat treating is a group of industrial and metalworking processes used to alter the physical, and sometimes chemical, properties of a material. The most common application is metallurgical. Heat treatments are also used in the manufacture of many other materials, such as glass...

 to improve the plating's physical and chemical properties. Nickel-Cobalt is a common electroplated alloy.

Composite plating

Metal matrix composite
Metal matrix composite
A metal matrix composite is composite material with at least two constituent parts, one being a metal. The other material may be a different metal or another material, such as a ceramic or organic compound. When at least three materials are present, it is called a hybrid composite...

 plating can be manufactured when a substrate is plated in a bath containing a suspension of ceramic particles. Careful selection of the size and composition of the particles can fine-tune the deposit for wear resistance, high temperature performance, or mechanical strength. Tungsten carbide
Tungsten carbide
Tungsten carbide is an inorganic chemical compound containing equal parts of tungsten and carbon atoms. Colloquially, tungsten carbide is often simply called carbide. In its most basic form, it is a fine gray powder, but it can be pressed and formed into shapes for use in industrial machinery,...

, silicon carbide
Silicon carbide
Silicon carbide , also known as carborundum, is a compound of silicon and carbon with chemical formula SiC. It occurs in nature as the extremely rare mineral moissanite. Silicon carbide powder has been mass-produced since 1893 for use as an abrasive...

, chromium carbide
Chromium carbide
Chromium carbide is an extremely hard refractory ceramic material. It is usually processed by sintering. It has the appearance of a gray powder with orthorhombic crystal structure. The orthorhombic Cr3C2 occurs extremely rarely as mineral tongbaite....

, and aluminum oxide (alumina) are commonly used in composite electroplating.

Cadmium plating

Cadmium is a chemical element with the symbol Cd and atomic number 48. This soft, bluish-white metal is chemically similar to the two other stable metals in group 12, zinc and mercury. Similar to zinc, it prefers oxidation state +2 in most of its compounds and similar to mercury it shows a low...

 plating is under scrutiny because of the environmental toxicity
Cadmium poisoning
Cadmium is an extremely toxic metal commonly found in industrial workplaces. Due to its low permissible exposure limit, overexposures may occur even in situations where trace quantities of cadmium are found. Cadmium is used extensively in electroplating, although the nature of the operation does...

 of the cadmium metal. However, cadmium plating is still widely used in some applications such as aerospace fasteners and it remains in military and aviation specs. Cadmium plating (or "cad plating") offers a long list of technical advantages such as excellent corrosion resistance even at relatively low thickness and in salt atmospheres, softness and malleability, freedom from sticky and/or bulky corrosion products, galvanic compatibility with aluminum, freedom from stick-slip thus allowing reliable torquing
Torque, moment or moment of force , is the tendency of a force to rotate an object about an axis, fulcrum, or pivot. Just as a force is a push or a pull, a torque can be thought of as a twist....

 of plated threads, can be dyed to many colors and clear, has good lubricity and solderability, and works well either as a final finish or as a paint base. If environmental concerns matter, in most aspects cadmium plating can be directly replaced with gold plating as it shares most of the material properties – gold is more expensive and cannot serve as a paint base.

Nickel plating

The chemical reaction for nickel plating is:

At cathode: Ni → Ni2+ + 2e

At anode: H2PO2 + H2O → H2PO3 + 2 H+

Compared to cadmium plating, nickel plating offers a shinier and harder finish, but lower corrosion resistance, lubricity
Lubricity is the measure of the reduction in friction of a lubricant. The study of lubrication and mechanism wear is called tribology.-Measurement of lubricity:...

, and malleability, resulting in a tendency to crack or flake if the piece is further processed.

Electroless nickel plating

Electroless nickel plating, also known as enickel and NiP, offers many advantages: uniform layer thickness over most complicated surfaces, direct plating of ferrous metals (steel), superior wear and corrosion resistance to electroplated nickel or chrome. Much of the chrome plating done in aerospace industry can be replaced with electroless nickel plating, again environmental costs, costs of hexavalent chromium waste disposal and notorious tendency of uneven current distribution favor electroless nickel plating.

Electroless nickel plating is self-catalyzing process, the resultant nickel layer is NiP compound, with 7–11% phosphorus content. Properties of the resultant layer hardness and wear resistance are greatly altered with bath composition and deposition temperature, which should be regulated with 1 °C precision, typically at 91 °C.

During bath circulation, any particles in it will become also nickel plated, this effect is used to advantage in processes which deposit plating with particles like silicon carbide (SiC) or polytetrafluoroethylene
Polytetrafluoroethylene is a synthetic fluoropolymer of tetrafluoroethylene that finds numerous applications. PTFE is most well known by the DuPont brand name Teflon....

 (PTFE). While superior compared to many other plating processes, it is expensive because the process is complex. Moreover, the process is lengthy even for thin layers. When only corrosion resistance or surface treatment is of concern, very strict bath composition and temperature control is not required and the process is used for plating many tons in one bath at once.

Electroless nickel plating layers are known to provide extreme surface adhesion when plated properly. Electroless nickel plating is non-magnetic and amorphous. Electroless nickel plating layers are not easily solderable, nor do they seize with other metals or another electroless nickel plated workpiece under pressure. This effect benefits electroless nickel plated screws made out of malleable materials like titanium. Electrical resistance is higher compared to pure metal plating.

See also

  • Anodization
  • Hull cell
  • Mechanical plating
  • Organic Solderability Preservative
    Organic Solderability Preservative
    Organic Solderability Preservative, or OSP is a method for plating printed circuit boards. It uses a water-based organic compound that selectively bonds to copper and provides an organometallic layer that protects the copper during soldering....


External links

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