A World of Nickel Plating at Your Fingertips

The process of nickel plating is one that has been used since the early 1800s and can be seen in a wide range of items that are used in every aspect of life. Throughout the 19th century, electroplating processes were improved through experimentation with different chemical compounds and isolating metals from chemicals. Today, plating processes have been so simplified they are easily performed at the kitchen table as much as they are within large industrial environments.

The Process

Nickel plating can be performed through electroplating, a process that uses an electrical current to stimulate the chemical deposition, or electroless plating, an auto-catalytic reaction that does not use an electric current to form a deposit. In either application, the materials to be plated need to be cleaned, or pre-treated, to remove soils and oils from the surfaces to ensure the plating will adhere evenly for optimal protection.

Electroplating occurs in a non-conductive vessel containing an electrolytic solution in which the object to be plated and the nickel are placed. Essentially, the solution holds a charge that affects the object being plated: As it comes into contact with the solution, the circuit is complete. This circuit results in pulling ions from the nickel that end up sticking to the object in an even coating. The process only takes a few minutes.

Note: The electroless process eliminates power supply issues making it free from flux-density. It will provide for an even deposit despite the shape of the object as long as the proper pre-plate catalyst is present. It also will deposit on non-conductive substrates.

Types of Plating Finishes

There are three different nickel plating results that can be achieved, each having its useful applications. These are:

- Brightwork - as seen in most visible pieces that benefit from the high-shine finish, such as automobile bumpers, cutlery, tailpipes, motorcycles, bicycles, firearms, buttons and buckles, scissors, wheel rims, dinner trays, musical instruments, plumbing fixtures and an endless list of items.

- Semi-bright nickel - while still somewhat shiny, it retains a ductile quality, allowing it to be bent or manipulated easily.

- Nickel Chloride - the dullest finish that serves as an undercoating to prevent anything from penetrating the final plate.


In all manner of finishes, plating serves to prevent corrosion as encasing the object leaves no area through which anything can undermine the underlying surfaces. Nickel also serves to reduce wear, extending the life of objects that get a lot of use. An example of plated items used in today's technology are hard drives, in particular, where the surface of the aluminum disks are coated to help protect the media layer should the heads come into contact causing damage to the read/write areas.

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