Plated metal finishes are incredibly popular and are found across industries. Manufacturers of jewelry, plumbing equipment, sporting goods, and the automotive industry use plating methods to provide lasting beauty and protection to parts. Of the dozens of plated finishes available, silver-toned finishes stand as the most common. Plating can simulate a more expensive metal, enhance the performance of an item, or add corrosion resistance. Let’s take a look at fifteen of the most commonly-used silver-colored metals used in the plating industry.
A Brief Look at Electroplating
Plating comes in many forms, but perhaps the most common is the process known as electroplating, according to PCS. In the electroplating process, a liquid electrolyte solution containing the plating metal is used. The part to be plated is referred to as the cathode, and the anode is the plating metal. An electrical current is passed between cathode and anode, depositing a thin layer of the plating metal onto the desired part. If plating is not wanted on a particular area of a given part, that area can be masked off with tape, wax, or lacquer. The result of the electroplating process is a thin but even surface, adhering to the contours and recesses of the part.
Commonly Used Silver Metals in Plating FinishesNow that we understand the basics of the electroplating process, here is a look at 15 of the most commonly-used silver plating metals used for finishing products:
1. Platinum – this expensive and rare metal is used in finishes that must withstand corrosion while remaining beautiful. Platinum plating is often used on jewelry, electronic circuits, and specialized conductors.
2. Sterling silver – sometimes referred to as 925 silver, this plating metal is typically used in costume jewelry manufacturing. Silver is a great conductor of electricity, too, and can be used to plate electrical contacts. It is prone to oxidation, developing a dark tarnish over time that can be removed with polishing.
3. 9-carat white gold – this plating metal is an alternative to finish jewelry, and gives a similar appearance to sterling silver but without the oxidation silver experiences.
4. 18-carat white gold – whitish in appearance with a slight greyish tone, this metal is used to mimic platinum plating at a fraction of the cost. It is sometimes combined with rhodium plating to give the finish a more brilliant silvery appearance.
5. Titanium – titanium is commonly used as a plating metal for industrial equipment, particularly items that must withstand abrasion and heat. It can be difficult to work with, but the results are durable and attractive.
6. Palladium – this plating metal can be found in both the medical equipment and jewelry manufacturing industries. It is also an excellent electrical conductor and can be found in electronic circuits.
7. Chrome – used widely in the automotive and sporting goods industries, chrome’s brilliant shine and durable finish are legendary. Chrome is a component of stainless steel, and in fact is what gives stainless its incredible corrosion resistance.
8. Mild steel – mild steel plating is used as an intermediary step for other electroplating processes, forming a stable, durable substrate. It is one of the most common silver-colored plating metals in the electroplating field.
9. Nickel – found in plumbing equipment, jewelry, kitchenware, and coins, nickel has a similar tone to chrome but with a slightly warmer appearance. Nickel plating is often done before a finish layer of chrome is added to products.
10. Stainless steel – offering great corrosion resistance and a high-dollar appearance, stainless steel plating metal can give less-expensive metals a more attractive look. This plating metal is used in the medical industry, jewelry making, and anywhere a durable, environmentally stable finish is desired.
11. Zirconium – zirconium is typically alloyed with other metals in the plating process and is used to coat surgical instruments and implantable medical devices. It exhibits great corrosion resistance.
12. Aluminum - aluminum plating is common across industries, and can mimic more expensive plating metals like platinum.
13. Tantalum – tantalum is used to plate dental implants and electronic components, particularly capacitors and resistors.
14. Niobium – body jewelry and other jewelry items are often plated with niobium. It can also be found in aerospace manufacturing and places where heat- and corrosion-resistance are desired.
15. White metal – there are many forms of this plating metal and is an inexpensive alternative to more expensive finishes like white gold or platinum.
In the industrial coatings industry, other methods can be used to simulate the finish and appearance of electroplating. With the right color and gloss choices, electrophoretic deposition, or EPD, finishing can give less expensive metals a more high-end appearance, such as coating an aluminum substrate with copper, brass, or stainless steel-toned finishes. Unlike electroplating, EPD finishes use powdered pigments and plastic resins rather than plating metals.
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