How to Make 3D Prints Look Like Metal – Gold, Chrome, Nickel


Learning how to make 3D prints look like metal is a useful technique that people want to do, but aren’t sure how to best do it. This article will take you through some techniques that you can use to make your 3D printed parts look like metal.

Keep on reading to learn more.

How to Make 3D Prints Look Like Metal

The following methods listed below show ways and procedures you can take to make 3D prints look like metal:

  • Use metallic spray paint
  • Nickel plate 3D prints
  • Chrome plate 3D printed parts
  • Gold plate 3D prints

Use of Metallic Spray Paint

One of the best ways to make your 3D prints look like metal is to use metallic spray paint. It’s a low-risk, relatively cheap method that is easy to do for giving your 3D prints a metallic effect.

Before doing this process, make sure you have the proper safety gear such as gloves and a mask so you don’t inhale dust or fumes.

Here’s how to use metallic spray paint on your 3D prints effectively:

  • Sand the surfaces of your 3D print with 250-300 grit sandpaper
  • Apply a sandable automotive filler primer to the model and let it dry
  • Sand the model again
  • Repeat the filler primer spray and sanding for a total of three coats of primer.
  • Spray the model with a high-end metallic spray paint
  • Spray a clear coat on the model to make the print pop, and to seal the paint

If you were to spray your model straight away with metallic spray paint, the paint might not stick to the model too well, and rougher surfaces are likely to show up afterwards, so you want to go through the steps for the best results.

You want to start with a sand paper grit of around 250-300 to make the surfaces smooth. Try not to sand with a grit too low because you can sand important details away. This is more to help the primer to stick to the model better.

After that apply a sandable automotive filler primer to the model to give the model a nice surface that paint can stick to easier. Also, if you have a white model that you want to spray a dark color, it might not look great when you apply the spray, due to the base color.

It’s better to coat it in a darker color like gray before you carry on with the process. I’d recommend using the Rust-Oleum Automotive Sandable Primer from Amazon.

Once the sandable primer has dried, you sand it down well with the same 250-300 grit sandpaper. It’s a good idea to apply two more coats of primer so the model is fully primed with no gaps, sanding between each coat.

After the last coat of primer, it doesn’t need a sanding because the surface should already be really smooth from the previous spraying and sanding.

Now, we can apply our metallic spray paint to the model. Many people recommend going with the Krylon Metallic Spray Paint as a high quality paint that makes models look great. They have many color options that you can choose from such as:

  • 18K Gold
  • Copper Brilliance
  • Gold Foil
  • Original Chrome
  • Rose Gold
  • Stirling Silver

When spraying paint, you want to shake up the can for a good few minutes to mix it up as best as possible. There’s a unique method you should use when spraying your models.

Experienced spray painter’s say to spray the object using a smooth arc-like motion across the model from a distance of about 50cm or 1 and a half feet. Try not to spray the model too heavily, it should be quite a light spray to give a smooth and even coat.

For the best results, you can do 4 coats of spray paint and let it dry between each layer for many hours, or even days in some cases.

You can even use an airbrush for better results with a chrome paint for example.

Some people like to apply a nice clear coat to the metallic spray paint to give it a glossy finish. It gives the model a more lasting metal look that seals the metallic spray paint and improves the durability.

The Krylon UV Resistant Clear Gloss Aerosol from Amazon should work pretty well for this.

The video below by Core Electronics is a great visual of making 3D prints look like metal.

Nickel Plate 3D Prints

Another way to make your 3D prints look like metal is to nickel plate them.

Check out this video below to see it in action. The user said he used electroplating with nickel anodes into an acidic solution. You also have another technique of spraying the conductive paint on instead.

90% successfully Nickel Plated a 3D printed part using electrical conductive filament from 3Dprinting

Here’s how to nickel plate your 3D prints:

  • Coat the 3D print with conductive paint
  • Copper plate the 3D print
  • Brush the 3D print with nickel plating solution

Coat the 3D Print with Conductive Paint

Coating the 3D print with conductive paint makes it conductive, which is a requirement for successful nickel plating. Conductive paint can be painted or sprayed on the 3D print.

Most users have had good results with a mixture of acetone and graphite powder for conductive paint. The mixture is usually painted on the 3D print and left to dry.

A user found that a 70/30 percent ratio of acetone to graphite powder produces the best result, but noted that using the mixture causes a slow plating process. You can then airbrush this mixture onto the 3D print, after you have put a clear coat on it, while it’s still tacky.

Another user mentioned using a product called India Ink and graphite powder also.

The 3D print can then be copper plated after the conductive paint has dried.

Since you can just use a good conductive paint, you can go with something like the Super Shield Nickel Conductive Paint from Amazon.

The reviews are mixed, with one recent user saying it worked great for electroplating their 3D prints, then others saying it didn’t work as well as other methods like the acetone and graphite powder mix.

A lot of people mentioned that there are many health warnings that should deter you from this method. It’s probably a better idea to go with acetone and graphite powder.

 

Copper Plate the 3D Print

It is important to copper plate the 3D print before brushing it with nickel plating solution to avoid the problem of non-plating nickel.

This is because nickel is plated easily on copper when compared to directly plating on the 3D print. It results in a durable and lasting nickel plated layer after nickel plating the 3D print.

The copper-plated 3D print should be polished and cleaned before brushing it with nickel plating solution.

Check out this example of a cool copper plated 3D print.

Simple Copper plating tutorial for 3D prints from 3Dprinting

I found this very useful video showing you how you can electroplate (nickel and copper plate) with many materials using a unique method that involves vinegar, table salt, some scrap metal, then some anodes and a power supply with terminals.

It’s a much better technique for electroplating more complex 3D prints.

Brush the 3D Print with Nickel Plating Solution

Brushing the copper-plated 3D print with nickel plating solution using a stainless steel brush would nickel plate the 3D print.

You can also polish the nickel plated layer with metal polish for a shiny nickel metal look.

Check out the video below to see how this electroplating or nickel plating is done using this Caswell Plug N’ Plate Nickel/Flash Copper Kit and a Mother’s Mag & Aluminum Polish from Amazon.

The copper kit doesn’t have the best reviews so I’m not sure how well it works, but it looks great in the video.

Chrome Plate 3D Printed Parts

Although 3D printed parts are usually chrome plated by professionals, the steps taken to chrome plate 3D printed parts are as follows:

Chrome plating 3D printed parts are usually done by professionals because of all the equipment it uses, and for safety reasons.

Here are the general steps followed to chrome plate 3D prints:

  • Submerge the 3D printed parts in MEK
  • Coat the 3D printed parts with conductive paint
  • Copper plate the 3D printed parts
  • Submerge the 3D printed parts in chrome plating solution

Submerge the 3D Printed Parts in MEK

To take grease and dirt off the 3D print, you can submerge the 3D print in a colorless corrosive solution named MEK (Methyl Ethyl Ketone).

Deformities and irregularities can occur on the 3D print during the copper plating process if the dirt and grease are not removed. Submerging the 3D printed parts in MEK prepares them for coating with conductive paint.

Coat the 3D Printed Parts with Conductive Paint

Most 3D prints are non-conductive unless they are printed with conductive filament. For successful chrome plating, the 3D printed parts must be made conductive by coating them in conductive paint.

Conductive paints are available in liquid and sprays that can be airbrushed, painted or sprayed on the 3D printed parts to make them conductive.

You should ensure that the 3D printed parts are thoroughly coated with the conductive paint to avoid the problem of non-plating copper in the next step of the chrome plating procedure below.

Copper Plate the 3D Printed Parts

For a durable chrome plate, it is best to first copper plate the 3D print after the conductive paint has dried before nickel plating the 3D print, and then you can finally submerge it in the chrome plating solution.

This is because copper has the best adhesion to 3D prints when metals are considered. You should also polish the copper-plated layer and degrease it in preparation for the nickel plating process.

Nickel Plate the 3D Printed Parts

Nickel plating of the 3D printed parts after copper plating ensures that chrome doesn’t fall off the 3D printed parts when submerged inside the chrome plating solution.

You should also clean and degrease this nickel plated layer before submerging the 3D printed parts in chrome plating solution to avoid irregularities in the chrome that will be plated on the 3D prints.

After taking all the steps described above, the 3D printed parts can be submerged in the chrome plating solution.

Submerge the 3D Printed Parts in Chrome Plating Solution

This is the final stage of the chrome plating process. The nickel-plated 3D print is submerged into a chrome plating solution for some minutes, or brushed until the 3D print is plated with chrome.

After following all the steps listed above, you should have a chrome-plated 3D print.

You should know that chrome plating involves the use of dangerous chemicals. As such, most users recommend sending the 3D printed parts to professionals to be chrome plated.

Gold Plate 3D Prints

Making 3D prints gold-plated follow a similar process as above, though they require an expensive 24K gold electrolyte.

To gold plate your 3D prints, follow the following instructions:

  • Coat the 3D print with conductive paint
  • Copper plate the 3D print
  • Brush plate the 3D print with palladium plating solution
  • Brush plate the 3D print with gold plating solution

My second 3D printed, metal electroplated Captain Phasma helmet. This time I plated with pure gold. from 3Dprinting

Coat the 3D Print with Conductive Paint

Coating the 3D print with conductive paint is a necessary step in electroplating the 3D print. It makes the 3D print conductive, which is one of the criteria that must be fulfilled for the next step of the gold plating process to be successful, which is copper plating the 3D print.

Conductive paints are available in varieties such as copper conductive paint, silver conductive paint, and gold conductive paint, just to name a few. For this step, copper conductive paint will suffice.

You can paint, airbrush, or spray paint conductive paint on the 3D print. After the conductive paint has dried, you can then copper plate the 3D print.

Copper Plate the 3D Print

Copper is the easiest metal to plate on 3D prints. For this reason, most people prefer to copper plate the 3D print before plating with palladium and then gold.

This results in a durable gold-plated 3D print. The 3D print can then be brush plated with palladium plating solution after copper plating.

Brush Plate the 3D Print with Palladium Plating Solution

Plating the copper-plated 3D print with palladium ensures a durable and lasting gold plate. This is because gold has better adhesion to palladium than copper.

Most people coat the copper-plated 3D print with a thin layer of palladium because palladium plating solutions can be expensive. After this step, you can then brush plate the 3D print with gold plating solution.

Brush Plate the 3D Print with Gold Plating Solution

This is the final step of the gold plating process. The palladium-plated 3D print is brushed with gold plating solution until the 3D print is plated gold.

You should get a cyanide-free gold plating solution for the gold plating process, as cyanide can be harmful to your health if not properly handled.

The video below does a great job showing the steps to gold plate 3D prints successfully.

Metallic SLA Resin for 3D Prints

Here are the best ways to make resin 3D prints look metal:

  • Mixing metal powder with resin before printing
  • Painting the SLA resin 3D print with metallic paint

Mixing Metal Powder with Resin Before Printing

You could try using Gold & Silver Metallic Alcohol Ink from Amazon, then mix it with a white resin to create a metal look for your models. I haven’t tried this myself, but I have mixed resin pigments with UV resin and that worked well.

Some people said it worked well with epoxy resin, but that is a different product.

Another method that was mentioned was to mix a metal powder with the resin before 3D printing with it to create that metallic look in 3D prints. It seems to be a less reliable method though, so some people prefer to use a simple metallic spray paint instead.

One user did confirm that this Pearl Ex Pigment 6 Color Set worked well for 3D printing metallic looking resin models. You might have to increase your exposure times to compensate for the resin mixture.

Painting the SLA Resin 3D Print with Metallic Paint

Another way to make resin 3D prints look metallic is to paint the 3D print with metallic paint.

This is recommended by many users when a metallic look is desired on the SLA resin 3D print. Metallic paints are available in various colors and can be airbrushed, painted or sprayed on the 3D print.

You can see the recommendations in the painting section earlier in this article since they work in the same way as resin models.

Best Metallic Spray Paint for 3D Prints

One of the best metallic spray paints for 3D prints is the Krylon Metallic Spray Paint. They are available in various metal colors and can be sprayed directly onto plastic, perfect for 3D prints. It’s better to prime the surface of your 3D prints with a good primer, then spray paint this product afterwards.

Many users have had good results using Krylon spray paint, like one person that got good results with PLA, PETG, and TPU. A great option is the Krylon Premium Metallic Original Chrome Spray Paint from Amazon, having many positive reviews.

Here’s a simple video from Krylon showing you how to spray your objects properly.

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