Electroforming is a mysterious and beautiful form of art. The first time I learned about it, I instantly knew I wanted to try. After many trials and errors, I finally managed to figure out how to copper electroform jewelry.
In this step by step tutorial, I will teach you how to create a beautiful piece of jewelry using electroforming. But first, let’s see what we need for this experience.
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What do you need for electroforming?
There is quite a list of supplies you need to get before you can start electroforming. So, here is the supplies list:
- Electroforming solution
- Copper conductive paint
- Renaissance wax
- Copper wire
- Bus bar
Once you have everything you need, you can start the process!
1. Design your piece
For this tutorial on how to copper electroform jewelry, I choose to make a pendant. For this super easy design, I use epoxy clay. It’s the perfect material to create a strong base for your pendant. Mix part A and B of your epoxy, and apply it around your stone. If you are using a small jump ring or eye pin like me, just place it in the epoxy where it is suitable for your design. I place mine at the top or on the sides. Sometimes I use bigger copper rings for my designs, and when I do I just put epoxy clay around the bottom ends and stick them to my stone.
As you can see, for this design I added a cabochon at the front. I placed it directly on the epoxy, making sure it is well secured on the sides. When my design is complete, I use a small cutting tool to create a nice shape on the edges and make sure it is straight. Once your design is finished you have to wait at least 8 hours for your epoxy to dry.
If you are good at drawing, it is a good idea to draw your design ideas. I do this especially when I want to create a collection around a theme or when I am outside and have a sudden idea for a design.
2. Paint with copper conductive paint
Before I paint my creation, I always make sure my piece is clean and dust-free. For that, I use a small paintbrush and gently brush my pendant with it. Then, I paint the epoxy with copper conductive paint. Unfortunately, I’m not the best painter so I almost always put paint on my stones. If you do, don’t worry just wipe the stone with a wet cloth. However, make sure you are painting the edges properly otherwise your design will be gray (from the epoxy) around the stone and it doesn’t look really nice! I always put 2 coats of copper conductive paint.
The paint I’m using at the moment recommends to wait 12 hours between each coat, so I usually paint one in the morning and one in the evening. Whatever paint you’re using you should always wait for your first coat to be completely dry before adding the second. Let dry overnight.
3. Protect your crystals
Some crystals do not like the electroforming bath. In fact, I have lost quite a few crystals in my bath! They just dissolved because of the sulfuric acid present in the electroforming solution. However, not all crystals dissolve but I still like to put a coat of clear nail polish on my stones before I put them in the bath. But for this design, I chose to protect my stones with liquid latex. Not only to prevent marks but also to prevent them from turning blue (the color of the bath). So, add one or two coats of clear nail polish or liquid latex on your stones and let it dry for a few hours.
4. Add wire around the piece
Next, you want to loop your wire around your piece. For this, I use 20 gauge copper wire. Make sure it is long enough to fully submerge your piece into the solution. But don’t let your creation touch the bottom of your tank. I put it around my pendant’s hole and wrap it around a piece of wood that will be used as a bus bar to suspend my pendant in the bath. If you don’t have a piece of wood like mine, you can use chopsticks. You wire doesn’t have to be touching your conductive paint for your piece to electroform properly. I always put my wire around the metal hole or hoop of my designs and it works perfectly – because the metal is conductive.
5. Prepare your bath
Now it’s time to prepare your electroforming bath. This is one of the most important steps on how to copper electroform jewelry. First, you need to place your electroforming station in a well-ventilated area, out of reach from pets and children. This is very important because the electroforming solution contains sulfuric acid. So, for this part, I definitely recommend wearing gloves, a mask and safety glasses.
To create a copper coil I use 10 or 8 gauge copper wire. I adjust the shape with my hands to make sure it fits my jar (or whatever tank you are using). Then, take your copper coil and place it inside your jar letting the top end of your wire stick out over the edge. Wearing your safety glasses, gloves and mask, carefully pour your copper electroforming solution into your jar. Make sure you put enough solution to completely submerge your piece.
6. Put your piece in the bath
Take your prepared piece and wire and put it into your bath. Wrap your thin wire around your piece of wood making sure your creation doesn’t touch the bottom of your tank. Also, don’t let your creations or thin wire touch your copper coil. The whole thing should be submerged in the middle of your bath without touching anything. Remember to wear gloves when handling your painted piece, or you’ll leave resistant spots due to skin oils from your fingers.
7. Attach the wires
Attach the black wire to (negative) to your thin copper wire, and the red wire (positive) to your copper coil.
8. Power up
Technically, you’re supposed to measure the surface area to be plated on your piece to find out your amperage setting. The standard measurement is 10 square inches per 1-amp. I personally don’t do the math because I know how to set up my rectifier according to what’s in the bath (and I really suck at math). I just made a test piece the first time I electroformed to see what setting would be best.
But, if you want to do the math for your first try here is how it goes: measure each side of your piece that needs to be plated (height, length…) and enter your results here. Write down the final number.
I usually put 3 pieces in my bath and set my power supply to 0.2. After half an hour, I check to see how the plating is going. If the piece has a salmony color, you should turn up the power. On the contrary, if your piece is brown or has big bumps on it, turn the power down. In my opinion, it is better to start with a very low amperage, because if you start with high amperage and your piece gets all screwed up, it’s a nightmare – well, I personally hate when this happens!.
If you started with high amperage and find your piece all “burnt” and dark brown, take it off the bath. You can sand it with a Dremel and bring it back to a smoother surface. Then, you can put it back into your bath on a lower setting.
9. Monitor progress
I leave my pendants in the bath between 8 and 12 hours. But you can leave them longer depending on the layer thickness you want. You may notice the amperage goes up and down during the process, this is totally normal. After a few hours, my amperage always goes down because the first layer of copper is already built. I just turn it back up to my original setting.
Electroforming is a super slow process, and patience really is key here. I actually failed my first few pieces because I couldn’t wait for 8 hours for them to be ready! Now, I’ve learned from my mistakes and I actually have the tendency to leave them longer to make sure I have a nice layer of copper on my pendants.
10. Take your piece out of the bath and rinse it
After you’ve obtained the desired copper thickness on your piece, you can turn off your rectifier. Take your piece out of the bath. It should be looking nice and shiny, especially if it’s your first time electroforming with a brand new solution. After a while, you might notice that your pieces will look dull, this is because the acid in your solution depletes. All you have to do is add a little bit of distilled water and copper brightener in your solution!
After you’ve taken your piece out, rinse it with distilled water. You can also rinse it with tap water but only if you don’t plan on putting it in the bath again. Tap water can contaminate your bath, and that’s definitely not what you want!
If you notice patches on your piece that didn’t plate, you can just rinse it, dry it with a paper towel and add some conductive paint on the spots that didn’t plate. Let it dry and submerge again in the electroforming bath.
If you’re finished with electroforming that day, put your solution back in the bottle and store your copper coil in a dry and clean place.
11. Remove Sealant
If you’ve put sealant on your crystals in the earlier stages, you can now remove it. For nail polish, you can simply remove it with acetone.
If you’ve used liquid latex, you can peel it off with your fingers.
12. Add patina (optional)
Adding patina is optional when you copper electroform jewelry. I always patina my pieces with Liver of Sulfur to give them an antiqued look. Take the gel and mix it with hot water. Then, plunge your pieces in it and wait for them to become darker. Once they are dark, take them out and dry them.
There are other products you can use to oxidize your creations, but I think most electroformers use Liver of Sulfur. It works well.
There are several ways to polish your finished piece. If you’re a beginner, I’d recommend buying steel wool, because it’s inexpensive and works fine. You can also use a scouring pad or a brass brush.
The most effective way to polish your piece is to use a Dremel, which will give a beautiful shine to your creation.
Polish your piece to your desired shine.
14. Seal your piece
To prevent your piece from oxidizing fast, you need to seal it. Because I don’t want my pieces to look shiny or glossy, I use Renaissance Wax. This product is very effective and will protect your creation for a while.
If you want your piece looking glossy, you can apply clear nail polish to seal it. I’ve never tried it but I know this is is good to apply on rings to avoid green marks on the skin.
You’re done! Now, you know how to copper electroform jewelry!
Electroforming takes some trials and errors. Once you buy all the supplies, give it a try and I’m sure you’ll love it! The most important thing is to be patient.
Design your piece, plunge it into the bath, and let the magic happen. Let me know how your pieces turned out. I hope you found my tutorial on how to copper electroform jewelry helpful. If you have questions, leave a comment and I’ll try my best to answer it!