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What Is Vacuum Metalizing?

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  • Written By: Jordan Weagly
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 29 November 2016
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Vacuum metalizing is a process that produces a shiny, metallic finish on many materials. A metal coating material and a work piece are usually placed in a vacuum chamber. Inside this chamber, the metal plating material is vaporized as the work piece spins. The metal plating material condenses on the work piece to form a thin film that can be both decorative and functional. Work piece and metal plating materials vary depending on the application.

During the process, metal plating material is often heated inside a vacuum chamber until it changes into gas. Vaporized metal tends to cling to other materials and will usually condense on a work piece as it cools. Compared to some other methods of creating a similar coating, vacuum metalizing is often considered more environmentally friendly. This is because the process is physical rather than chemical and produces little material waste.

For the metal coating material to create a consistent coating, a primer layer is often applied in a way similar to the vacuum metalizing process. Coating thickness requirements might vary depending on whether a work piece is meant to be functional or decorative. Examples could include electronic coatings, which often require specific thicknesses, and chrome-like finishes on toys. Work piece and coating materials also can affect the metal plating thickness.

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Materials that can benefit from the use of a vacuum metalizing machine include glass, plastic, metal, ceramic and even paper. Plastic products often make use of the vacuum metalizing process, because coating plastics is often difficult to achieve through other processes. Whether decorative or functional, the materials that can receive a metal film can affect which metal coating materials can be used.

Aluminum is commonly used to create decorative pieces, though an additional protective finish is sometimes needed to prevent dulling. Functional materials also can include aluminum, copper, nickel, lead and tin. Decorative materials might include platinum, titanium, gold and silver. Appearance and function depend on the type of coating material used. Application of these materials is often similar, however, because the same uniform and thin coating is desirable for many products.

Many products benefit from vacuum metalizing. Toys, plaques and models might use vacuum metalizing to create a range of chrome-like, sometimes colored finishes. This chrome-like finish is often considered visually appealing, much like chromed metal. Additionally, vacuum metalizing is often used to create protective or conductive finishes on electronic devices.

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