Secret Ingredient For 3D-Printed Circuit Traces: Electroplating

Conductive filament exists, but it takes more than that to 3D print something like a circuit board. The main issue is that traces made from conductive filament are basically resistors; they don’t act like wires. [hobochild]’s interesting way around this problem is to use electroplating to coat 3D-printed traces with metal, therefore creating a kind of 3D-printed circuit board. [hobochild] doesn’t yet have a lot of nitty-gritty detail to share, but his process seems fairly clear. (Update: good news! here’s the project page and GitHub repository with more detail.)

The usual problem with electroplating is that the object to be coated needs to be conductive. [hobochild] addresses this by using two different materials to create his test board. The base layer is printed in regular (non-conductive) plastic, and the board’s extra-thick traces are printed in conductive filament. Electroplating takes care of coating the conductive traces, resulting in a pretty good-looking 3D-printed circuit board whose conductors feature actual metal. [hobochild] used conductive filament from Proto-pasta and the board is a proof-of-concept flashing LED circuit. Soldering might be a challenge given the fact that the underlying material is still plastic, but the dual-material print is an interesting angle that even allows for plated vias and through-holes.

We have seen conductive filament used to successfully print workable electrical connections, but applications are limited due to the nature of the filament. Electroplating, a technology accessible to virtually every hacker’s workbench, continues to be applied to 3D printing in interesting ways and might be a way around these limitations.