Copper Electroforming + What You Need to Get Started

There seems to be a fast growing interest in copper electroforming/electroplating. One thing I see a lot are questions about the difference between electroforming and electroplating. Electroplating is simply plating a type of metal over another surface of metal.

With electroforming, you are using a non-metal material to create a form in which you paint over with a conductive paint to create a metallic surface. Then you plate your desired metal over the painted surface and the non-metal material is then removed (if wax is used you would leave a hole where you can melt the wax out) leaving a metal shell in the form you want.

So what I will be talking about in this series of blog posts is technically a little of both because for things like rings you will not be leaving a hole where you can remove the material you used to create your form. But I’ll call it electroforming since that seems to be what everyone is calling it and that is the keyword I’ll need to use so those looking for this info can find it.

I hope I haven’t lost you yet! This may read as gibberish if you’re just starting out but it’ll make more sense later in the series.

*Note: some of the prices I have listed may change because the seller decided to change them so click the link first to make sure you're doing calculations correctly.

So, with this being the first post I will go ahead and talk about the supplies you will need and where to find them. There are lots of kits out there you can buy that will run you about $250 – $300 and sometimes more depending on the power of the rectifier it comes with. I’m going to let you know where you can get these kits along with where to purchase everything separately because sometimes the kits come with things you don’t necessarily need. I will then go on to talk about techniques and how to actually electroform in later posts.

Copper Electroform + What You Need to Get Started by MakerMonologues.com - Pin this image to your jewelry making boards on Pinterest for later referencing. 

Copper Electroform + What You Need to Get Started by MakerMonologues.com - Pin this image to your jewelry making boards on Pinterest for later referencing. 

*This post contains some affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission if you click on or purchase from certain links listed. This is how I'm able to run this blog, share my knowledge, at no cost to you. All products are recommended by others or products I personally use, which will be noted. Thanks for supporting Maker Monologues!

First things first. You will need a power supply that converts AC power to DC power, also known as a plating rectifier. AC and DC describe types of current flow in a circuit. The electric charge in alternating current (AC) changes direction periodically and sometimes reversing. In direct current (DC), the electric charge (or current) only flows in one direction. That’s where the rectifier comes into play taking AC power from your home, office, warehouse, etc. and converting it to DC power.

Fun fact: The Australian rock band AC/DC got their name from alternating current and direct current! Because their sounds are ELECTRIC! (I know, I know...lame.)


PLATING RECTIFIER

I purchased a 3-amp TekPower rectifier on Amazon. This should be more than enough power for someone just starting out. You can electroform up to 30 square inches per 3-amp power supply. You can also get these listed below.


COPPER ELECTROPLATING SOLUTION

Next you will need some copper electroplating solution to bath your pieces in for the electroforming process. You want to get some that is acid based. You can purchase this stuff from a number of places I listed below.

You can find this stuff easily online. The prices are all basically the same. I’ve use both Krohn and Midas Bright and I have seen better results with the Midas Bright. The Midas Bright brand has copper brightener in it so your pieces come out bright and shiny. The Krohn brand does not so you will have to buy copper brightener separately because after a few uses the acid in your solution gets depleted so you’ll need to replenish it with brightener.


COPPER CONDUCTIVE PAINT

Then you will need copper conductive paint if you are going to be electroforming organic or non-metallic pieces. This acts as a metal surface for you to electroplate copper over. Only paint the area you want your copper to adhere to. Here are some places you can find it online.

  • 2 oz. Midas copper conductive paint at Rio Grande
  • 4 oz. Caswell copper conductive paint on Amazon
  • 1-16oz. Safer Solutions copper conductive paint (this is the paint I use and love.)
  • A friend recommended this stuff which is metal paint that can be used to electroform over. Just be sure to apply about 3-4 coats. You can get some for $12 and up and choose any amount.
  • You could even use a copper conductive tape. I’ve never tried but I believe others have so it’s definitely worth a try.

EPOXY 

For connecting copper wire to non-copper pieces (such as crystals) you will need an epoxy This will make your pieces stronger as you'll fill in those gaps between stone and metal. Most people use a 2-part epoxy mix but I have been using a wood epoxy successfully since I started because I had no idea what others were using since there’s was not much information online about this medium back then. It’s mostly why I’m letting you all know what I’ve learned so far with electroforming. You can find epoxy in the places listed below.


COPPER WIRE & SHEETING

Copper wire/sheet is the most obvious supply you will need for copper electroforming. There are a plethora of places you can get copper wire from. Fortunately for me, my boyfriend is an electrician so he can bring home copper wire that have been pulled from jobs. But you can get reclaimed copper wire from many places, just make sure you’re doing it legally and you ask first. 

You'll need copper wire/sheet for two things; for your designs (ring bands, jump rings, bails, etc.) and for your set-up (your anode). 

For your setup:
You'll want to use a thick gauge (anywhere between 12g-8g) wire for your anode. I’m using 8g wire for this. If you're using a sheet you may need to use a thinner gauge, the thickest I've been able to find for this guide is 16g so you may want to check your local hardware store. You will also need thin copper wire to wrap your pieces with while they’re in the bath. I’m using 24g for this.

What sizes I use for my designs:
I have been using a 12g copper wire for my ring bands and will be introducing a thinner ring band using 18g wire. Of course once you electroform these they become bigger gauges, that depends on the amount of time you electroform. Here is a comparison photo of the 12g (which becomes about 10g after electroforming) and the 18g (which becomes about 16g after electroforming).

12g base wire on top - 18g base wire on bottom. These ring bands have been electroformed.

12g base wire on top - 18g base wire on bottom. These ring bands have been electroformed.

Wire options for designs:

  • You can get 12g 10ft spool on Amazon (If you do the math, the largest ring size is about 2" of wire so if you go by that this 10ft spool can yield more than 60 rings.)
  • You can also get a 50ft spool of 12g wire on Amazon (which would yield more than 300 rings)
  • You can get 18g 100ft spool on Amazon (which would yield more than 600 rings.)
  • Or, search for your own size of copper wire

Wire/sheet options for your setup:

Thick wire (for your anode):

  • You can get some 8g wire by the foot at Lowe's for $0.59 per foot (I would recommend going to your local hardware store for this because getting 8g online is quite expensive.)
  • Here's 25ft of 10g copper wire on Amazon (I use about 2-3ft for my coil anodes so this much would give you about 8 coil anodes.)
  • Or, if you want a more economical solution, you can get 12g 10ft spool on Amazon and use it for both your anodes and ring shanks (which is what I do with my 12g wire.)
  • Or, search for your own size of copper wire

Thin wire (for attaching your piece to your anode):

Copper Sheet (for your anode):

There’s definitely no shortage on copper wire so I’m sure you’ll have no trouble finding the size you need. I’ve never used copper sheeting for my anode but I would say a good 18g - 10g or so would suffice. The thicker the better so you don't have to change it out as often.


SEALANTS + VARNISHES (OPTIONAL)

Sealing Your Gems + Crystals (before electroforming):

A lot of gemstones and crystals need to be sealed before being put into the electroforming bath. Some will just dissolve in the acid and some do just fine without it. Click here to view a growing list of crystals that need to be sealed. Check out my post on sealing everything from stones to bones.

To remove the sealant after you're finished electroforming use an acetone nail polish remover to get the sealant off the stone.

Sealing Delicate's (Leaves, Honeycombs, Leaf Skeletons, etc.)

I'm sure any of the above lacquers will work and visa versa, I'm just going by what I know people have had success with for the given application. 

  • Minwax Lacquer on Amazon (A few folks have had great results with this stuff. Dip or spray your piece 2-3 times before conductive painting.)

Sealing Metal (before electroforming):

This is good if you’re electroforming earrings but you want to keep the earring post surgical steel for allergy prevention. Or if you’re just looking to create some cool designs. You want to get something that won’t dissolve in the acid solution.

Sealing Your Copper (after electroforming):

  • 6 oz. Krylon clear acrylic coating at Amazon (a lot of people I know use this for sealing)
  • 4 oz ProtectaClear acrylic varnish on Amazon (I swear by this stuff and will never use anything else)
  • 1 pint Midas Clear Lacquer Sealant at Rio Grande
  • 65 ml Renaissance Wax on Amazon (I've used this stuff and could never get it to work, the copper stained my skin within hours after applying this stuff, however, others swear by it so I'm adding it to the list.) 

PATINA SOLUTIONS (OPTIONAL)

After your piece is finished you may want to patina, totally optional. Here are some products that you can use for that. See my post on attaining different patina finishes.


MAGNETIC STIRRER (OPTIONAL)

You can also purchase a magnetic stirrer/heating plate (a lot of the kits come with one) to achieve simultaneous agitation and heat to keep your plating solution consistent for a better overall plate. This is optional, you don’t really need this to start, I have been electroforming without one for a few months, however, I just purchased one to see the difference it will make on my pieces. I will show you all the result of using one and not using one in later posts. Here are some places you can get one if you do decide to you want one. They have different sizes depending on the size of your bath.

Update: I did not get good results from my magnetic stirrer. I've also heard from others that it didn't work for them either. I don't have any photos but when I used it it made my pieces darker and more bumpy. I'm not exactly sure why, I feel they must have some benefit if all the Rio Grande kits come with one but I haven't used mine since I got it. 

Second update: I believe these are only necessary depending on the size of your bath as a bigger bath will keep cooler than room temp whereas a smaller bath will normally stay room temp so this heat plate will help keep your bath warm. It will also help keep it warm if you live in a colder climate.


OTHER TID-BITS

These are probably things that aren't necessary to getting started or you can find other tools to replace these, etc. 

  • Glue: You will need some super glue for gluing jump rings to pendants or crystals to ring shanks. I’m not going to go into detail about this because super glue is super glue. Some use e6000 but I personally use regular ol’ super glue (Loctite especially. I love the tip of this bottle to get into small spaces - and not all over my fingers!). The liquid seems to work better and dries faster for me. 
     
  • Gloves: You’re going to need disposable rubber gloves to keep things sterile during preparation. You don’t want oils from your fingers to get on your piece and contaminate your bath. But when it comes to handling the solutions you're going to want to use the thicker industrial grade gloves
     
  • Brass Brush: Also a brass brush to clean your anode every once in a while. It can also be used to shine up your dull copper pieces.
     
  • Dremel: A dremel comes in handy for sanding down rough areas on your pieces. You can also get a flex shaft.
     
  • Funnel: You’ll need a funnel for funneling your solution back into your bottle when you’re not electroforming. You want to put a coffee filter inside the funnel to catch any debris. Obviously it won’t catch everything so take that into consideration.

ELECTROFORMING KITS

These kits make it super simple to get everything you will need to electroform instead of finding each individual product and comparing prices, etc. Here is a list of some kits you can purchase.

These are just a few I found during a quick search. Look through them and read what each kit comes (or doesn’t come) with. You may need to buy additional things and they might even come with things you won’t even use so use your judgement based on the types of things you will be electroforming.


I believe that is everything you will need to get started on your electroforming journey! Anything outside of that would be basic metalsmithing tools, i.e. wire cutters, filers, ring sizer and mandrel, etc. Update: Check out my silversmithing supplies guide that lists a lot of basic metalsmithing tools you'll need for elctroforming.

Come join the fast growing Facebook group Electroforming – Artists & Jewelry Designers. A place for artists to get together and share tips and tricks, post questions and share your beautiful work! Hope to see you there!

Bookmark this guide or pin it to your jewelry making board to check back often as I'll be adding to the list with more supplies and info you may need. Stay tuned, I will be posting some things on how to use your supplies and start electroforming! Comment below or email me with any questions or concerns you may have. Feel free to share this with your friends, reference/link to this post, etc.

If you have any questions about anything I've mentioned here please leave a comment below rather than emailing me your question. It would be better if I answered you question publicly for all to see who may have the same question rather than answering the same question multiple times via email. I get to questions a lot quicker via blog comments. Thanks!

Here are some electroforming tutorials:

*This post contains some affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission if you click on or purchase from certain links listed. This is how I'm able to run this blog, share my knowledge, at no cost to you. All products are recommended by others or products I personally use, which will be noted. Thanks for supporting Maker Monologues!