Electroforming Resources for Aspiring Artists
I want to help other aspiring electroformers, jewelers, makers, crafters, designers and artists out there get started!
I recently developed a sub-brand of Enchanted Leaves called Cu Electroforming (Cu is the symbol for element 29, copper) that features house made copper electroforming solution, power supplies designed and created specifically for electroforming, and starter kits that include everything you need to get going. Interested in purchasing one of my starter kits, power supplies, conductive paints and other supplies?
This page is a constant work in progress!
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or sign up for my Electroforming Mailing List for updates:
If you would like to source out your own electroforming items separately, here is a list I've put together of supplies that you can purchase at about 90% all in one go on Amazon mostly with Prime Shipping. If you are a student, you can join Prime Student, and get free 2 day Prime shipping!
Let's Go Shopping!
- Cu MiniForm Power Supply, or a basic bench 3 amp Power Supply aka an electroforming rectifier (Canada Amazon Link) or a 5 amp one if you plan to do large projects
- 1000mL Glass, Polypropylene, or HDPE Beaker or container (#5 or #2 plastic)
- Red/Black Lead Wires (if your power supply doesn't include them)
- Copper Electroforming Solution (homemade or premade also available in my shop)
- Brightener for tank management (Rio Grande, or Caswell(get a $5 coupon with this link!), or internationally from LustroElectro)
- Conductive Paint (homemade or premade also available in my shop)
- Funnel and Filters - to pour back and clean your solution
- Magnetic Stirrer - optional, for providing agitation in your tank (phosphorized copper anode pipes ONLY)
- Tank Bubbler - optional, for providing aeration in your tank (suitable for any type of anode)
- Thin gauge Titanium or Copper wire - to suspend the cathode/piece you want to plate
- 10, 8, or 6 gauge Bare Copper Wire - for the anode coil that goes inside the tank (you can also use solid bare copper sheets or copper pipe for your anode)
- Spring Clips - to secure your suspension bar down while plating
- Water Based Polyurethane - to seal in any organic pieces
- E6000 Glue - to bond a jump ring to the piece. I prefer the mini size tubes, as the larger one tends to dry out before I can use it all!
- Assorted Jump Rings - to create an anchor or place of attachment of your piece (if the rings are not bare copper, brass, silver, or titanium- then you must paint them with conductive paint so you don't contaminate your solution)
- Liquid Latex - optional, to protect any gemstones during process
- White Acrylic Paint or White or Silver Nail Polish - to paint the backsides of any translucent gemstones, glass, plastics, or crystals that will have an opposite side that won't be copper plated over (otherwise the see-through areas will appear dark)
- Apoxie Sculpt or Clay - optional, if you wish to create a sculptural mass for your design - not to be used for structural strength of the piece(duration of plating will naturally build that)
- Soft Paint Brushes - to apply sealant and conductive paint
- Opened Jumbo Paper Clips, Small Spring Clips and a Drying Rack - fantastic aides for prep before plating
- Jewelry Wire Cutters and Pliers
- Heavy Duty Wire Cutters (for your thick anode wire)
- A Brass Brush and Steel Wool - to buff and shine finished pieces
- A Dremel and Brush Wheels - for ultra shine & polish
- Scour Pads - for scrubbing things clean, and polishing
- Protectaclear, Polyurethane Lacquer, Renaissance Wax or Clear Nail Polish - for sealing in your finished pieces (clear nail polish is especially popular for sealing the inside band of rings)
- Liver of Sulphur - for patina/antiquing your piece (be warned: very stinky!)
- Copper Cleaner/Polish - for cleaning off any unwanted patina or oxidation
- Shop Towels - because they are the best
- A Lipped Tray - to put your set up in, and prevent any accidental spillage from going on to the floor (line it with a shop towel sheet)
- Distilled Water - for replenishing evaporated solution, cleaning/washing, thinning conductive paint, and for mixing your own plating solution(also can be found very cheaply at any convenience store for $1)
- Safety Glasses and Gloves - safety first!
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This is the much cheaper option than buying the pre made items, but keep in mind that you must bring your patience and prepare for a lot of practice, trial and error!
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Homemade Copper Electroforming Solution Supply List:
- Copper Sulfate Pentahydrate (Hawaii/Alaska link, Canada link)
- 98% Sulfuric Acid 18.4M; 36.8N (if unavailable, use Battery Acid, which only contains ~37% sulfuric acid, so adjust the recipe below from 40mL to 130mL)
- Sodium Chloride OR Hydrochloric Acid
- Distilled Water ($1 at most local grocery stores! Distilled ONLY- not tap or bottled/filtered. Internationally called "Demineralized")
- Brightener (recommended brands: Rio Grande, or Caswell(get a $5 coupon with this link!), or internationally from LustroElectro, Gateros, Tifoo or Caswell CA and AU)
- mg Scale
- Sterile Syringes
- Glass Stirring Rod
- HDPE 1L Bottles (Link is for a 2 pack, as you may want more than one! Make sure whatever you get has the safety cap)
- A Funnel
- 1000mL Glass or Polypropylene or Polyethylene Beaker
- Magnetic Stirrer(optional)
- Safety Goggles, Mask, and Gloves
The measurements for a great solution is as follows:
- 200g Copper Sulfate Pentahydrate (Hawaii/Alaska link, Canada link)
- 150mg Sodium Chloride OR 0.05 mL (a drop) Hydrochloric Acid
- 40mL Sulfuric Acid (or use Battery Acid, which only contains ~37% sulfuric acid, so adjust the recipe below from 40mL to 130mL)
- Distilled Water to 1L
- Few Drops of Brightener (Rio Grande, or Caswell Part B(get a $5 coupon with this link!), or internationally from LustroElectro, Gateros, Tifoo or Caswell CA and AU)
- First pour a little distilled water into the 1000mL beaker (to prevent dust)
- Add 200g of copper sulfate pentahydrate (Hawaii/Alaska link, Canada link)
- Add 150mg of sodium chloride OR 0.05 mL (a drop) hydrochloric acid, using a sterile syringe to extract and add
- Add distilled water to the 1000mL line of the beaker
- With a stirring rod, or magnetic stirrer, thoroughly stir until dissolved
- Using a sterile syringe, add 40mL of 98% sulfuric acid OR 130mL battery acid(which is dilute 37% sulfuric acid- so this measurement is adjusted from 40mL to 130mL), stir (always add acid to water, never the reverse!!)
- Add a few drops of brighter to the solution. Either from (Rio Grande, or Caswell Part B and A(get a $5 off coupon with this link!), or internationally from LustroElectro, Gateros, Tifoo or Caswell CA and AU)
- With a funnel, fill the 1L HDPE bottle with the solution for storage until you ready for use. Make sure the bottle has a safety cap on it
- Reminder to always add acid to water, never the reverse!!
- For colder climates (65 degrees Fahrenheit or below), boil the distilled water first, to prevent issues with dissolving the copper sulfate
- If both sodium chloride and hydrochloric acid are unavailable, a pinch of table salt can be used in place
- Only use acid resistant materials for solution storage: HDPE(high density polyethylene), PP(polypropylene), or glass
- Brightener consumption rate will differ by manufacturer, so replenish according to their specific directions
- Always work far away from children and pets
Homemade Graphite Conductive Paint Supply List:
- Fine Grade Graphite Powder
- Acrylic Paint or Water Based Polyurethane
- Distilled Water
- Wide Mouth Jar - I use several jars to make varying consistencies for the needs of my different mediums(dipping, brushing, spraying). Make sure to use an air tight plastic lid, or something that won't rust!
- Glass Stirring Rod or a Magnetic Stirrer
- Mix equal parts graphite powder to your choice of either acrylic paint or a water based clear polyurethane
- Stir until smooth, adding distilled water to desired consistency
- Make a base level consistency in one jar, date and label it
- You can then make different consistencies by adding more distilled water or medium to your mixture:
- For dipping or spraying your pieces with conductive paint, you'll want a thinner mixture.
- For brush painting, you'll want it slightly thicker, but also have a container of distilled water nearby to thin your loaded paintbrush up as needed.
- Date and label any of these containers as well
- Always shake well before using
- Have a little cup of clean distilled water nearby when painting to dip your brush into to thin as needed when painting
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Free Electroforming Tutorial
Additional photos & information are constantly being added to the tutorial.
I am also (FINALLY!) currently working on creating video tutorials for my YouTube channel! :D
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Troubleshooting & Help
Electroforming FAQs including troubleshooting
can be found in my free step by step tutorial:
Also consider joining me my social help communities that I created for beginners and experienced electroformers to ask questions and share their work:
Reddit → r/CuElectroformingHelp
Facebook → Cu Electroforming Help & Support
Tips & GuidelinesElectroforming takes some trial, error, tweaking, and a lot of patience!
Here are some notes that I've learned over the years that I hope you find to be helpful. Be sure to see the FAQs section of my tutorial for more helpful information.
- Over time, your solution's electrolytes will become depleted. Maintain your bath by using brighteners (Rio Grande, Caswell Part B(get a $5 coupon with this link!), or internationally LustroElectro) , and check your bath's pH with a meter to balance the need for more acid or distilled water. A pH of ~1 is ideal. See the FAQs section of my tutorial for a guide on solution maintenance. (join my reddit or facebook groups for assistance)
- Only work in constant current (CC) mode with bench power supplies, set both knobs to 0, and don't adjust the voltage knob, only the amp knob. If you're using a MiniForm power supply, the voltage will automatically adjust, and you'll just set the amperage
- Calculate your amperage measurements at 0.1 amp per square inch of surface area (just the areas to be plated). Since your piece is likely to have more than one side, use this wonderful surface area calculator to accurately calculate what number to multiply by 0.1 amps. For example, if your surface area is 4 square inches, then your ideal setting for that piece is 0.4 amps
- Don't let your anode touch your cathode (don't let the bus bar/suspended wire/piece to be plated touch the copper coil wire inside the tank)
- To avoid over saturating your solution with copper ions, keep a 2:1 anode to cathode ratio in your plating bath. This will help to balance the copper to acid levels in your solution, reduce excess copper "sludge" running off your anode, resulting in a smoother plate. If you're using a 10 gauge copper coil for an anode(which is the type included in my starter kits), note that 1 inch of wire is .33 square inches, so use this formula to calculate of many inches is needed per project: (area of cathode/.33) x 2
- Temperature affects convection of the copper ions and additives in your solution. If your work area is too cold, you will experience plating issues. Keep your workspace temperature at least 65°F (18.3°C) or higher. Set your beaker on top of a heating pad(on low) or a seedling heater to bring colder temperatures up to warmer working conditions. Do not allow your solution to boil
- Air bubbles are unwanted! If you see any air bubbles on your piece(from air that was trapped in crevices during initial submersion into the plating tank), gently jiggle your wire until you see all the bubbles shake off. You might want to switch off your power supply, in case jiggling tampers with the connection. Failure to do so during the beginning will cause pockets of unplated spots, as it does not plate under the bubbles
- You may find that a lot of the time your piece will appear pink/dull/matte- DON'T PANIC. It will shine beautifully with steel wool, a brass brush, a dremel with a wire brush wheel, or a jewelry/rock tumbler. There are many variables that cause this: oversaturation of copper ions in your solution (due to too much anode per cathode ratio, not filtering, and/or not replenishing the evaporated distilled water), too low of amps per surface area, or lack of brightener additives. See my FAQs section in my tutorial for solution maintenance instructions
- Always be sure your organic pieces are fully dried and sealed with a protective coating before painting with conductive paint to create a waterproof barrier and prevent contamination of your paint and solution. More info on sealing can be found in my tutorial
Titanium wire can help reduce "floating" of lightweight pieces in your plating tank, as it is more rigid. The most effective way is to use a glass weight with a short nylon wire (both items are non conductive) to attach to your suspension wire to keep your piece submerged in the solution. Once your piece has enough copper formed, it will have enough weight to prevent floating on its own
- If you are brushing on your conductive paint, keep your brush strokes smooth and fluid, to ensure a smooth and even plating, as the finished plate will translate rough brushstrokes
- Use electrical tape to seal your jars of paint, lacquer, paint thinner, or even any patina solutions. It will add an extra seal to stop the liquids from drying out
- Always use distilled water when cleaning your brushes, tank, etc, to prevent contamination
- There is no shame in needing to repaint spots you may have missed after plating. Try to catch it soon, otherwise you will have uneven layers of your copper plate. When repainting over a piece that has already started plating, thoroughly rinse your piece with distilled water and fully dry it before repainting the needed spots. I've made the mistake of painting on a piece that still had some solution residue dried on it- and the paint will clump and crumble right off!
- Yes, you can plate multiple pieces at once. You'll need to make sure they are all connected on the same wire, or at least all on an conductive bus bar, ensure are all pieces are similar in size and shape, and you'll have to increase your amps accordingly(0.1 amp per square inch) by adding up all the total amount of surface area to be plated. To accommodate larger designs or multiple pieces at once, use any container that is safe from acid, such as polypropylene(PP, plastic type #5), polyethylene(HDPE, plastic type #2), or glass. Evenly space out your pieces on the bus bar and only plate pieces together that are of similar size/shape, or you will get uneven and unpredictable results. Only attempt after you're more confident in your plating practice.
- Incorporating agitation or aeration to your tank set up is a good way to combat issues with striations or unwanted patterned textures. If your anode is phosphorized copper (such as pipe) use a magnetic stirrer for agitation. Any anode type can use fish bubbler(NON airstone types) or an air pump with a tube. An anode bag/filter is a must with agitation/aeration!
- If using bubbles for aeration, get a taller tank, but use the same amount of solution. For example, use a 2000mL Tall Form Beaker with 1000mL of solution, so that there will be no splashes out of your tank and onto your workstation when the agitation is running. The splashes will also cause corrosion on your lead wire clips, and bus bar. Alternatively, you can create a lid using foil or saran wrap over your beaker (but above your bus bar and lead wire clips) to shield from those acidic splashes
- Anode bags/sleeves are a filter that goes directly over your anode, weather it be a coil, sheet or pipe. They can be made with 1 micron thick acid resistant polyfelt. Sew or use a glue gun to make a pocket/sleeve/bag that goes directly over your anode. They filter the solution as your plating bath is running, catching all that copper residue sludge that falls off the anode, keeping your tank beautifully crystal clear. Keep an eye on your anodes, as they naturally deplete during the electroforming process
- Are there big chunks of blue crystals on the bottom of your long forgotten tank? That will happen when the water evaporates if you leave your solution out for too long. No worries though! Just add hot distilled water and stir. To prevent it from happening again, store your solution in your bottle, or with a lid/covering over your beaker (remove your anodes first!)
- As an alternative to painting with a brush, use wide mouthed jars of relocated conductive paint to dip pieces in, removing any excess dripping with a soft brush. For even coatings, you can also thin out your paint and use it in a simple airbrush as a spray
- Protect your gemstones from being destroyed and contamination of your solution! Use a Liquid Latex (used for body paint, or masking skin from nail polish) as a resist or to seal and coat gemstones or crystals and protect them from the acid solution. This is a good alternative to clear nail polish or polyurethane, if you don't plan to keep the seal on. Liquid Latex can easily be removed by peeling it off. More details on appling/removing can be found in my tutorial
- As an alternative to painting varnish/protective sealer with a brush, you can also use a spray form of a water based polycrylic
Jewelry or display racks work great to suspend pieces you are prepping (weather it be the sealant stage or the conductive paint stage!) using opened paper clips (S shaped) to hang the pieces on the drying rack
- Old phone books and text books work as wonderful leaf and flower presses! Leave in for a minimum of 3 days, but best at a week+
- A low setting flat iron can also help to speed up the drying process of leaves (put paper or fabric over to protect them!)
Vegetable Glycerin is a fantastic item to keep on hand. It can be used to soften and preserve organic materials that you need to be flexible for your project. See full instructions in the Prepping Organics section of my tutorial
- If you want a lacey leaf look- a baking soda or lye wash will help to skeletonize leaves. See full instructions in the Prepping Organics section of my tutorial
- If you would like to patina your piece for an antiqued/oxidized look, liver of sulfur works very fast and very well. It smells awful, but is great. Experiment with different water temperatures for some wonderful color effects. See the Patina section of my tutorial for more instructions and tips!
- If you need to remove too much patina, or shine up naturally oxidized pieces, copper polish (used for copper cookware) works shockingly well and fast
- Electroforming solution can be reused indefinitely with proper maintenance. If disposal is necessary, do not pour down drain, neutralize with baking soda and collect all waste for your hazardous waste disposal service
- Fellow Electroformer April Arotin has put together a wonderful information page on the electroforming safety. It is definitely worth reviewing!
This page is a constant work in progress!
Be sure to bookmark, and check back frequently,
or sign up for my Electroforming Mailing List for updates:
Further Reading and Resources:
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