Do you want to learn how to copper electroform a leaf? Then, you’re in for a treat! Whether you want to electroform fern or an oak leaf, you can turn a natural leaf into a stunning piece of jewelry. The process is easy and fun. Read on to discover my step by step tutorial on how to electroform a leaf.
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Should I use dry or fresh leaves?
You can electroform both dry and fresh leaves. I believe most people start with dry leaves. It is said that fresh leaves can rot inside if they are not sealed properly before electroforming. So far, I have only used dry leaves. To be honest, it also depends on what kind of leaf you wish to plate. Some leaves will start shrinking as soon as you cut them from the tree, and others will just keep their normal shape for days. For this tutorial, I’m using fern. It is one of the easiest leaves to electroform (and it looks super pretty!). I left it in a book to dry for a week before plating.
What you need for this tutorial
- Electroforming solution
- Copper conductive paint
- Copper coil
- Bus bar
- Copper wire
- Mod podge or nail polish
- Patina (optional)
- Polishing tool
- 1 jump ring
- 1 leaf
You can find a complete list of electroforming supplies + where to buy them in this post.
How to electroform a leaf: step by step process
Below, you’ll find a detailed tutorial on how to copper electroform a leaf. I have also added a video at the bottom of the post so you can watch the whole process.
1. Seal your leaf
The first step to electroforming a leaf is to seal it. To do this, I use Mod Podge. Apply one coat of Mod Podge on one side of your leaf, and let it dry. Do the same thing on the other side. I apply 3 coats on each side. If you don’t have mod lodge you can use a spray sealant instead. Make sure you apply mod podge everywhere, even on the edges and the sides of the leaf! Wait for it to dry.
2. Stick a bail to your leaf
Now that your leaf is fully sealed and dry, you can put a bail. For this, I use a 4mm jump ring and glue. Put glue on your bail and stick it to the top of your leaf. Wait for it to be fully dry.
3. Apply copper conductive paint
Now, you can apply copper conductive paint. This is the paint that will allow your leaf to plate. For this experiment, you can either paint your leaf with a paintbrush or dip it directly in your paint. I always apply my paint with a paintbrush, so that’s how I’m going to paint my sealed leaf.
Paint one side of your leaf. Wait for it to be completely dry. Do the other side, and wait for it to dry. Apply a second coat of paint. I always apply at least two coats to make sure my object will plate properly.
I usually apply one coat of paint in the morning, and the second coat later on during the day, I always wait one night for everything to dry.
4. Set up your electroforming station
First, you need to make sure your electroforming station is set up in a well-ventilated area, out of reach of pets and children. Electroforming involves handling hazardous chemicals, so there are precautions you need to take. I strongly suggest wearing gloves, a mask, and safety glasses.
Take your copper coil (anode) and place it into your beaker or tank. Let the top end of your wire stick out over the edge. Then, pour your copper electroforming solution into the beaker. You do not need to put a lot but enough so that your leaf is completely submerged.
Use a copper wire and put it around the hook of your leaf. It should be long enough that your leaf is fully submerged in your bath. Put the leaf into your bath. Make sure your leaf doesn’t touch the bottom of your tank and attach your wire to your bus bar.
Attach the black wire to your bus bar and the red wire to your copper coil.
To know how to set up your rectifier, you should measure the surface area to be plated on your piece. The standard measurement is 10 square inches per 1-amp. You can use this tool to calculate it.
My leaf is quite big, so I’m setting up my rectifier at 0.2. It’s best to start on low amperage and turn it up if needed than the opposite. If you put the amperage too high, your leaf will build bumps on it.
I leave my piece for at least 24 hours. You can leave it longer if you want. Don’t forget to monitor progress, and adjust your rectifier as needed. Your piece should start plating after a few minutes.
6. Take your leaf out of the bath and rinse it
Turn off your rectifier, and take your piece out of the bath. If this is your first time using your bath, your piece should be nice and shiny! Rinse your piece with water and baking soda to stop the acid from acting on your piece.
If you notice patches on your leaf that didn’t plate properly, you can rinse your piece with just water, dry it and add some more conductive paint on those spots. Let it dry and plate again.
7. Patina (optional)
I always patina my electroforming creations, and this one is no exception. To do that, I use Liver Of Sulfur. Prepare a bowl of hot water, put your gel in it and mix. Then, plunge your leaf in the solution and wait for it to become dark brown. Take it out and dry it.
8. Polish your leaf
Take your steel wool pad or Dremel and polish your leaf. Do this until you obtain the desired shine.
7. Seal your leaf
To prevent your copper leaf from oxidizing, you can seal it with wax. Simply use a clean cloth and Renaissance Wax and apply it to your leaf!
Watch the process:
Electroforming leaves is really amazing. It’s not very hard once you get a hang of it, and it’s an amazing opportunity to immortalize nature. Make sure you seal your leaf properly before you electroform it, and put at least two layers of copper paint.
Also, it’s better to start on a low amperage, especially if you want to keep the details on your leaf. Have you ever electroformed a leaf? Let me know in the comments below!