How Are Metals Plated onto Plastics, Ceramics, and Composites?

We’ve written about tank plating on this blog before – the process of plating a metal onto metal items that have been placed into plating tanks. For that process to work, the items to be plated must be electrically charged – in other words, they must be made of metal.

So that leads to an interesting question:

How can metals be plated onto surfaces of non-metallic materials like plastics, ceramics, or composites?

You have doubtless seen non-metallic items that have been plated with metal – they are nearly everywhere. There are metal-plated disposable plastic drink cups, plastic radio knobs, toys with bright shiny metallic coatings, and many other items.

Let’s look at some of the ways that precious and other metals can be coated onto non-metallic surfaces.

Sputtering and Other Vacuum Processes

Scrap sputtering targets, like the one shown above, can contain gold, silver, platinum, palladium and rhodium, and can be refined and recycled by Specialty Metals.

Scrap sputtering targets, like the one shown above, can contain gold, silver, platinum, palladium and rhodium, and can be refined and recycled by Specialty Metals.

Sputtering is the process of choice today for depositing thin films of silver and other metals onto plastics, ceramics, and other non-metallic materials.  Sputtering is done in the vacuum chamber of a special machine, in which atoms are ejected from a metallic disc called a “target” onto the surface of the material to be coated. Sputtering is now widely used to deposit thin films of silver onto photovoltaic solar panels. (The good news is that used sputtering targets that have outlived their useful lives on production lines contain trace amounts of the silver or other precious metals that they contained. They can be profitably recycled by a qualified precious metals refinery.) Interesting: A variety of other vacuum-coating processes have long been used to coat plastic surfaces with aluminum and other metals; in those processes, atoms of the coating metal are dispersed into a vacuum chamber, where they adhere to the surfaces to be plated.

Electroless Plating

The word “electroless” looks like a misspelling, but it is actually a word that was invented to describe a chemical process that deposits a metal onto plastic. In it, the plastic items to be coated are “etched” by being immersed in a special chemical solution that prepares their surfaces for plating. The items are then immersed in a chemical bath that contains the metal that will be used to plate them. Interesting: Electroless plating looks a lot like tank plating, only no electricity is used.


Yes, ceramics and plastics can be electroplated with gold or silver.  It can be done after those materials undergo the process of electroless plating (see just above). Once they have a thin metallic coating, they can be tank plated, just as metal objects are. Interesting: The items that have been plated using this process are often quite durable. One example? Chrome-plated plastic door handles that are used on automobiles.


Two different spraying processes – arc and flame spraying – can be used to apply metallic plating to nonconductive surfaces. In most cases, a powdered form of the metal is heated and then sprayed, using special equipment. Interesting: Spraying technologies can be used to apply a metal coating to just one part of a ceramic or plastic item; just as a painting technician can mask off parts of an item so they receive no paint, parts of the item to be spray-plated can be masked and receive no coating.

Precious Metals Can Be Recovered from Plastic Items

In virtually all cases, metals that have been applied to inexpensive plastic items are not precious metals. (Think of the shiny chrome-like finish that is applied to the bumpers and other bright pieces that you will find in a kit for a model car.) If, however, you own a quantity of ceramics or higher-end materials that have a coating of what seems to be silver or gold – and you do not know exactly what they are – they could be a source of valuable precious metals that can be extracted by a qualified precious metals refinery. Why not call us at 800-426-2344 to learn more?

Related Posts:

Use an Organized Recycling Program for Sputtering Targets to Boost Your Company Profits by 10% or More
The Puzzling, Profitable Process of Refining Silver-Plated Scrap Items
Why Recycling Plating Tank Scrap Can Pay You More than You Expect
Why Money Can Be Found in Your Used Electroplating Supplies

Don’t Overlook the Value of the Silver-Bearing Items You Own

Gold is currently trading for over $1,300 per troy ounce, platinum for over $1,500, and rhodium for over $1,100.

Silver, in contrast, is trading at about $21.

In light of those statistics, it’s tempting to think that you’re likely to get a lot more money by recycling gold, platinum and rhodium than you will ever get from recycling silver. But that kind of thinking is a mistake, because silver is contained in a surprising number of items that you could have on hand.

All you need is a top silver refinery to extract a lot of value from items like these . . .

Wise Recyclers Don’t Overlook Silver

If you have quantities of those items, please remember that they could be worth much more money than you expect – even though they are made of silver, not gold, platinum, rhodium, or another more glamorous precious metal.

Please give us a call at 800-426-2344 to learn more.

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Why It Pays to Find a Refiner for Silver, the Forgotten Precious Metal

Why Precious Gold Can Still Be Recovered from Used Gold Sputtering Targets

If you have a number of used gold sputtering targets left over from plating operations you should toss them, right? “Used” means that they no longer contain gold, correct? So what is the point of sending them to a qualified precious metals refiner for recycling?

Don’t Be Too Quick to Toss Your Used Gold Sputtering Targets

As the diagram below illustrates, there is more to a gold sputtering target than just the target material – in the case of a gold sputtering target, that is gold. Even when most of the target material has been removed after the target has been used repeatedly, you still have quantities of other metals in the two surfaces below . . .

Diagram of gold sputtering targets, showing where other precious metals like silver or palladium may also be present and can be recycled profitably by Specialty Metals.
  • The bonding material (shown on the diagram as “solder”) – Depending on how your sputtering targets were manufactured, a number of valuable metals could still be found in this layer – even after your targets have outlived their production life. This thin layer most commonly contains silver – as a silver solder, as a component in silver-bearing epoxy, or in some other form. Granted, silver is not the most precious of precious metals, but if you have a lot of used sputtering targets, you could be sitting on a large quantity of the metal that could be well worth reclaiming.
  • The backing plate – They most often contain aluminum, copper, stainless steel, or even molybdenum. But in some cases, they can contain precious metals too, like palladium or cadmium. It is also possible that during the sputtering process, the exposed areas of backing plates might have become plated with small amounts of gold – and you certainly don’t want to toss that away.

How Can You Know the Value?

One thing for certain is that you cannot estimate the value of your used sputtering targets just by looking. They have to be tested with modern equipment by qualified technicians in a specialized lab. So if you have a batch of used gold sputtering targets and would like to know what they are worth, your next step is to call Specialty Metals Smelters and Refiners at 800-426-2344.

Related Posts:

Don’t Throw Dollars Away! How to Mine the Hidden Value in Used Sputtering Targets
Use an Organized Recycling Program for Sputtering Targets to Boost Your Company Profits by 10% or More
7 Strategies to Cut the Costs of Sputtering Targets and Precious Metal-bearing Manufacturing Supplies
Plating Primer: How Do Sputtering Targets Work?

Replacing Your Old Solar Panels? Don’t Throw Away Valuable Silver Too

Photovoltaic solar panels that generate electricity might seem like a new technology. But the fact is, they have been in widespread use for more than a decade now. Whether you’re a business that installed solar panels to lower your energy costs, a company that manufactures solar panels, or even a homeowner that jumped on the solar bandwagon early, If you’re replacing your old solar system with a new one, don’t toss your old panels away or – worse – let your installer take your old panels away.

They could contain valuable quantities of silver that you can recycle. Here’s what you need to know.

Photo of workers replacing old solar panels, which contain more silver, with newer ones. Don’t miss the opportunity to recycle them profitably with Specialty Metals.

Thin-Film Panels

Many newer inexpensive panels are “thin-film” models that contain very thin layers of cadmium telluride, not silver. Interestingly, they are not very efficient at converting sunlight into electricity, but their lower cost appeals to many buyers. The cadmium telluride that they contain has usually been applied by using sputtering targets, which we have discussed often on this blog in the past.

Thick-Film Panels

More expensive new panels, and almost all older ones, use “thick-film” technology. In other words, they contain relatively thicker layers of silver. These panels are more efficient at converting sunlight into electricity, but their cost is higher.

How Much Silver Could Your Thick-Film Solar Panels Contain?

It depends, but a used thick-film solar panel could contain as many as 13 troy ounces of silver. With current silver prices hovering at about $20 per troy ounce, the silver in each of your panels could be worth as much as $160. The trick is to speak with Specialty Metals Smelters and Refiners, America’s leading silver refinery, to learn more. If you give us a call at 800-426-2344, we’ll be pleased to explain how you can convert those flat solar panels into cold, hard cash.

Related Posts:

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New Applications for Precious Metals Keep Demand and Prices High
Plating Primer: How Do Sputtering Targets Work?
Buying or Selling a Business? Recycle Precious Metals before They Slip Away

What You Need to Know about Recycling Used Magnetron Sputtering Targets

We’ve written about sputtering targets many times before on this blog, including this great explanation of how sputtering targets work. They can contain valuable quantities of precious metals, even after they have outlived their useful life in your coating operations.

Shown: scrap sputtering targets, which can contain gold, silver, platinum, palladium and rhodium, and can be refined and recycled by Specialty Metals.

But what about magnetron sputtering targets? Do they, like gold-bearing sputtering targets, contain valuable quantities of recyclable precious metals? Let’s take a closer look.

What is Magnetron Sputtering?

The first impulse magnetron sputtering (HPIMS) machines were introduced to the market in 2006. They are high-powered sputtering machines that are now widely used in many coating applications for one simple reason: They can apply very dense layers of thin films onto a variety of surfaces, most often ceramics, glass and plastic.

  • Magnetron technology is most often used to apply coatings to:
  • Automotive headlight housings and other reflective surfaces
  • Architectural glass
  • DVDs and CDs
  • Photovoltaic cells
  • Solar panels
  • Superconductors
  • Flat panel displays
  • Lighting surfaces
  • Medical testing devices

Magnetron sputtering machines are also sometimes used to “etch” or pre-treat surfaces that will then be coated using regular sputtering technology.

Here’s a very informative video about magnetron sputtering that was produced by Norfolk State University. If you watch until the end, you’ll see that the HPIMS equipment has been used to coat a glass slide with a thin conductive film.

What Metals Do Used Magnetron Targets Contain?

Used magnetron sputtering targets that were used to apply reflective coatings on glass most often contain quantities of silver and metal oxides, including zinc oxide, tin oxide, or titanium oxide. Yet it is worth remembering that used sputtering targets contain more than just the metals that they were used to deposit – they can contain other metals too, such as thin layers of silver or other metals that were used to bond the targets onto their substrates. If you have used sputtering magnetron targets and would like to know whether they can be profitably recycled, call the best precious metals refiners, Specialty Metals Smelters and Refiners, at 800-426-2344. We’ll be happy to help you recoup maximum dollars from the precious metals they may contain.

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Don’t Throw Dollars Away! How to Mine the Hidden Value in Used Sputtering Targets
Use an Organized Recycling Program for Sputtering Targets to Boost Your Company Profits by 10% or More
7 Strategies to Cut the Costs of Sputtering Targets and Precious Metal-bearing Manufacturing Supplies
Sputtering Targets: Four Great Educational Informative Videos You Can Watch on YouTube

Sputtering Targets: Four Great Educational Informative Videos You Can Watch on YouTube

If you would like to learn more about sputtering targets, you might want to spend some time searching for the term “Sputtering” on YouTube. You can get a great education quickly, thanks to dozens of excellent videos that you will find.

Here are four that we found to be very useful and informative:

Gold Sputtering Targets

This nine-minute video shows the use of a sputtering target to plate gold onto several materials, using a small desktop-sized sputtering machine.

Intro to Sputtering Process to Create Clear, Conductive Coatings

A very good 11-minute video that illustrates how sputtering targets can be used to apply coatings to glass.

Home Built Desktop DC Magnetron Sputtering Machine

This 10-minute video doesn’t have a narration, but the video still teaches a lot about how sputtering targets are used to apply metallic coatings.

Magnetron Sputtering Cathodes from Angstrom Sciences

Sputtering occurs when an ionized gas molecule is used to displace atoms of a specific material. This four-minute video describes how Angstrom Sciences, a leading manufacturer of magnetron sputtering technology, manufactures magnetron sputtering targets. Highly educational.