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Electrolytic vs. Electroless Nickel Plating

There are two different types of nickel plating services offered by Advanced Technical Finishing Services: Electrolytic and Electroless Nickel Plating. We are going to break down the two to better help you decide on which plating service would work best for you and your needs.

Simply put, electrolytic plating requires an electric charge or direct current to kickstart a chemical reaction bath that the object being plated is submerged in. Electroless nickel plating (also known as autocatalytic coating) does not require a current or change. Instead, phosphorus is used in the electroless formula as a chemical reducing agent. Both of these methods have the same end products, a thin layer of nickel deposited onto your desired surface – but electroless nickel plating provides stronger support against corrosion and wear. While electrolytic nickel plating can’t produce the same level of precision and consistency, it does offer thicker plating around corners and edges.

Electrolytic vs. Electroless Nickel Plating Process

The first step before the plating process begins, is to clean and pretreat the surface that the nickel is being applied to. The pretreatment process will depend on the substrate itself and desired use. This is the first step in both plating processes.

Next, the substrate is placed in either a charged current chemical bath, or if using electroless nickel plating, a positively charged bath with dissolved nickel phosphorus. In electroless chemical baths, the substrate pulls the positively charged nickel ions onto its surface automatically. Not only does electroless nickel plating not need electricity, it also does not require constant filtration of debris, to prevent it from adhering to the substrate’s surface.

The electrolytic plating process is a bit different. It requires a conductive current in a chemical bath with positively charged nickel. The substrate is submerged in the bath, then the electric current is induced. The electricity causes the nickel anodes in the solution to release ions that attach to the surface. The density of the nickel plating is determined by the amount of time the substrate is submerged in the bath and the amount of amps per square foot that are applied.

Advantages of Electroless Nickel Plating

Electroless Nickel Plating offers several advantages over traditional electrolytic nickel plating processes:

  • Better Corrosion Resistance
  • More Precise Deposit Thickness
  • Improved EMI Shielding
  • Superior Hardness and Durability
  • Reduced Surface Scaring by Enhanced Lubricity
  • Excellent Choice for Materials That Will Be Salvaged.
  • Less Likely to Break, Shatter, or Crack due to Enhanced Ductility.
  • Versatile Coating Options

Advantages of Electrolytic Nickel Plating

There are some situations where electrolytic nickel plating works better than electroless nickel plating. Here are some of the advantages of using the traditional nickel plating method:

  • Electrolytic plating can be used with 100% nickel, or other metal materials such as copper. Whereas electroless nickel plating uses phosphorus.
  • Less expensive and can deliver higher production volumes with shorter turnaround times.
  • Better conductivity due to the higher concentration of nickel.
  • Improved heat resistance – up to 1,832°F.

Depending on what type of substrate you are wanting plated, and the uses of that substrate, will depend on what type of nickel plating process you need. While both have similar processes and advantages – there are some key differences that could make all the difference.

Advanced Technical Finishing can aid you in your decision making process, and walk you through our processes for both. If you’re looking for a trusted metal finishing partner, contact us today.