What Is Black Chrome Plating?

Dale Marshall

Black chrome plating is a coating of chromium that has been chemically altered to achieve a black color. The chromium is applied electrostatically to a metal surface, such as an automobile wheel or a motorcycle exhaust pipe.

Black chrome plating involves electroplating a thin layer of chemically-altered chromium onto a metal object.
Black chrome plating involves electroplating a thin layer of chemically-altered chromium onto a metal object.

Black chrome plating has a unique appearance, exhibiting not only the high reflectivity of polished chrome, but also a depth not seen in other polished finishes. A black chrome finish is hard and durable, and provides some protection against rust and corrosion, largely because of the need for under-coats of copper and nickel plating.

Automobile wheels can be black chrome plated for aesthetic reasons, and for increased hardness and corrosion resistance.
Automobile wheels can be black chrome plated for aesthetic reasons, and for increased hardness and corrosion resistance.

Uses of Black Chrome Plating

Highly polished black chrome plating is used as a decorative surface for visible parts of cars and motorcycles, as well as for household fixtures such as faucets. In contrast, matte finish black chrome plating is used on the insides of telescopes and microscopes, and other areas where light reflection would interfere with the operation of the device.

Black chrome plating is costly, often costing about three times as much as “regular” chrome plating. Even regular chrome plating is relatively expensive, at an average of $100 - $150 per automobile wheel. More complex wheel designs, such as wire spokes, can cost considerably more because of the extra work involved.

The Plating Process

Chrome plating is costly because the process, when done properly, is labor intensive and time consuming. In the standard triple-plating process, an object must first be cleaned thoroughly and prepared for plating in an electrostatic bath. It is plated with copper and then with nickel before the chromium is applied.

After each stage in the process, the object must be prepared for the next step. The materials used in both the cleaning and the plating processes are caustic and hazardous, and often carcinogenic, adding significant costs for compliance with environmental protection standards.

In black chrome plating, the chemical compounds used in the plating process must be altered to impart the black tint to the final chrome plate.

Caring for Black Chrome Plating

  • Black chrome plating is more susceptible to scratching and stains than regular chrome plating, and it requires slightly different care.

  • Black chrome should be regularly cleaned with fresh water, using a microfiber towel, to wipe away dirt and brake dust. A gentle, diluted cleaner should be safe to use with black chrome.

  • Abrasive surfaces and abrasive chrome polish should never be used on black chrome plating. Make sure that you choose a chrome polish that is safe for black chrome, and use a clean towel to buff it off.

  • Finishing off with high-quality automotive wax that is safe for clear coats is a great way to keep black chrome plating looking its best.

Alternatives to Black Chrome Plating

Combining black paint and clear coat paint is a less expensive alternative to black chrome plating. Black paint is applied in multiple coats, then over-painted with a clear coat. Coats are buffed after every application to achieve perfect smoothness and ensure maximum gloss.

Powder coating is another alternative to black chrome plating. Powder coating involves coating the work surface with electrostatically-charged powder, either by spraying or dipping, and then heat-curing it, melting the powder so that it forms a smooth surface.

Some enthusiasts insist that powder coating is aesthetically identical to black chrome. However, there are limitations to powder coating in automotive applications. Items such as exhaust pipes, which achieve very high temperatures, will quickly destroy powder coats applied to them.

Black chrome requires special care, as it scratches more easily than regular chrome.
Black chrome requires special care, as it scratches more easily than regular chrome.

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Discussion Comments

Markerrag

Let's not forget that black chrome looks awesome on some wheels. The extra cost may be worth it. It's rare enough to be distinctive, but common enough so that you have a lot to choose from.

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