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Finishing Processes

3D printing is a revolutionary emerging technology that enables manufacturers to produce components fairly rapidly, in small batches, and with a high degree of flexibility. Sometimes, though, when a component comes out of a printer, it needs to undergo a surface finishing process before it’s ready for use, particularly if it’s a consumer product or a plastic piece you’re going to use under harsh conditions.

For several of the same purposes, you can want to finish a 3D-printed component by applying finishing processes to a product created using injection molding or other manufacturing technology. Maybe you’ll finish it to:

  • • Improve its appearance
  • • Increase its durability by increasing its resistance to wear, corrosion, heat, or other elements
  • • Clean the rough surfaces
  • • Change its size and shape
  • • Improve its electrical conductivity

These are only a few ways surface finishing can be useful. Although many of the same reasons for using a surface finish apply to both 3D-printed parts and parts created using more conventional methods, you should also recognize the specific features of your part when selecting the surface finishing processes to be used. The manufacturing process that you use will have an effect on these features, which may include:

  • • The material that your part is made of
  • • The shape of the part
  • • Its thickness
  • • Its weight

Its expected function and the environment will be exposed to when used.

In fact, the surface finishing of 3D-printed parts should be part of your design process long before you have a finished product, as this step can be an integral part of the product’s functionality. Below are some of the surface finishing processes that you can consider w'hen making parts using 3D-printing technology.


Plating means coating a metal surface with a plastic or metal substratum by subjecting the surfaces either to electrical current or to a chemical solution. The metal forms used for the plating differ. On the first layer of plastic plating you will most likely use nickel or copper, or even gold and silver. After that, you can apply almost any metal, including:

  • • Platinum
  • • Chromium
  • • Tin
  • • Palladium
  • • Rhodium

The best metal for your project depends on which features you want to upgrade or add to your printed component. Plating, whatever method or metal you use, has a number of advantages w'hen used wuth 3D-printed parts. Many of the components produced by this technique are made of plastic, which has its advantages but leaves the part susceptible to damage due to impact, wear, and other external factors. A metal coating can enhance its strength and durability by providing a protective exterior layer. A metal part can be used to improve resistance to corrosion, oxidation, wear, and other factors, as well as to increase strength. This finishing technique will enhance a printed item’s appearance too. The item may have an uneven color or a slightly uneven surface coming out of the printer. Covering the ground with a smooth, polished layer of metal offers a touch of beauty and sophistication. New properties such as electrical conductivity and thermal transfer properties can also be applied to your component by a metal sheet.

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