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Anodizing vs. Electroplating - What's the Difference?

Xomety X
By Team Xometry
April 12, 2024
 15 min read
Mark Osterman, VP of Technical Sales and Pre-Sales Engineering
June 7, 2024
 3 min read

Anodizing and electroplating are both processes that apply coatings to metal surfaces. However, they differ in technique and outcome. 

When you anodize a metal, you are electrochemically inducing a controlled oxide layer to form on its surface. This layer enhances corrosion resistance and can be dyed to achieve different colors. Electroplating, on the other hand, involves depositing a layer of metal ions onto a substrate metal surface using an electric current. This layer can enhance conductivity, improve the metal’s appearance, and protect against corrosion.

This article will delve into the differences between anodizing vs. electroplating.

What Is Anodizing?

Anodizing is an electrochemical process used to form a protective oxide layer on the surface of metals (typically aluminum or titanium). During the procedure, the metal itself serves as the anode in an electrolytic cell.

The metal is immersed in an electrolyte solution, such as sulfuric acid, and subjected to an electric current. It causes oxygen ions to react with the surface particles of metal, creating a metallic oxide layer. The thickness and properties of the oxide layer can be controlled by adjusting the parameters of the anodizing process, such as: voltage, current density, and duration.

To learn more, see our full guide on Anodizing.

What Is the Purpose of Anodizing?

The anodizing process is meant to provide metal surfaces — particularly aluminum — with improved corrosion resistance and durability by creating a controlled oxide layer. This process also enhances surface hardness, facilitates better adhesion for paints and adhesives, allows for customization of coloration, and provides electrical insulation. 

What Is the Importance of Anodizing?

The importance of anodizing lies in the property enhancements it confers on metal surfaces — especially aluminum. The improved oxide layer significantly improves corrosion resistance, making anodized metals ideal for outdoor and marine applications. Additionally, anodizing increases surface hardness, making the metal more durable and resistant to wear and abrasion. 

The resulting surface also becomes slightly porous, facilitating better adhesion for paints and adhesives and enhancing the overall appearance and functionality of coated products. Those pores can be filled with a variety of colored dyes, allowing for aesthetic customization of architectural, automotive, and consumer electronics products. 

Furthermore, the anodized layer is non-conductive, so it can serve as a reasonable electrical insulator. 

How Does Anodizing Work?

Anodizing begins by immersing a metal object (typically made of aluminum) in an electrolyte solution. The metal product itself functions as the anode and a direct current is run through the solution.

This causes oxygen ions from the solution to bond with the metal atoms on the surface of the object. The outcome of this electrochemical process is the formation of an oxide layer on the exposed surfaces of the metal.

The thickness and characteristics of the oxide layer can be controlled by adjusting factors such as: voltage, current, and electrolyte composition. It’s a thicker layer than the oxide that naturally forms on aluminum in the atmosphere, so it’s more resilient. It can also be dyed to achieve various colors.

What Are the Types of Anodizing?

The main types of anodization processes are: 

  1. Type I - Chromic Acid Anodizing (CAA): This process uses chromic acid as the electrolyte and produces a thin, dense oxide layer. It offers good corrosion resistance but is relatively uncommon because of the environmental concerns associated with chromic acid.
  2. Type II - Sulfuric Acid Anodizing (SAA): Sulfuric acid is used as the electrolyte in this process, resulting in a thicker oxide layer compared to CAA. It provides better wear resistance and can be dyed easily to achieve various colors.
  3. Type III - Hard Anodizing: Also known as hardcoat anodizing or engineering anodizing, this process involves a more concentrated sulfuric acid electrolyte and higher voltage. It produces a thicker and harder oxide layer, offering superior wear and abrasion resistance. 

These types of anodizing find applications in various industries such as aerospace, automotive, electronics, and architecture due to their associated corrosion resistance, wear resistance, and decorative finishes.

Can Anodizing Be Applied to Materials Other Than Aluminum?

Yes, anodizing works on a few other metals. While the process is most commonly associated with aluminum, titanium anodizing is widely used in aerospace and medical industries since it enhances corrosion resistance and biocompatibility. Other metals like magnesium and zinc can also be anodized. However, the process may vary slightly compared to aluminum anodizing due to differences in chemical composition and reactivity.

Moreover, the process works on alloys containing aluminum, titanium, or other metals to achieve specific properties such as: increased corrosion resistance, improved surface hardness, or enhanced aesthetics. However, it's important to note that the exact parameters and techniques for anodizing different materials may vary, and specialized knowledge and equipment are often required for non-aluminum anodizing processes.

What Are the Typical Applications of Anodized Products?

Typical applications of anodized products include:

  1. Aircraft components receive this treatment to improve their corrosion resistance in harsh environments but remain lightweight. 
  2. Architectural components such as window frames, curtain walls, and façade cladding get anodized to improve durability, reduce maintenance demands, and add unique aesthetics. 
  3. Anodization is employed in products like smartphones, laptops, and tablets to make scratch-resistant surfaces, improve finishes, and minimize mass. 
  4. Anodized parts are found in vehicle trim, wheels, and engine components for corrosion resistance, durability, and decorative value. 
  5. Anodization gives sporting goods such as bicycles, camping equipment, and firearms favorable corrosion-resistant properties and customizable colors.
  6. Anodized titanium is used in medical implants and surgical instruments due to its biocompatibility, corrosion resistance, and ability to bond with bone.

What Are the Limitations of Anodizing in Terms of Metal Treatment?

While anodizing provides enhanced corrosion resistance and decorative options, it typically cannot achieve the same level of wear resistance as certain surface treatments such as hard chrome plating or physical vapor deposition (PVD) coatings. Additionally, anodizing doesn’t work on all metals. While it is commonly used for aluminum and titanium, it is less effective (or even impossible) on metals with different chemical compositions or properties. Furthermore, anodizing can alter the dimensions of the item, potentially affecting tolerances or fit in precision engineering applications.

Can Anodizing Be Easily Repaired?

Yes, damaged anodized surfaces can be repaired, but the extent depends on the severity of the damage and the type of anodization. Here are some common methods for repairing anodized coatings:

  1. Localized Touch-Up: Minor scratches or blemishes can often be repaired through localized touch-up methods. An anodizing pen or brush can apply a matching dye or sealant to the damaged area.
  2. Re-Anodizing: More significant damage or wear may demand that you re-anodize the entire surface. This involves stripping the existing anodized layer and reapplying the anodizing process from scratch to achieve a uniform finish.
  3. Anodizing Sealant: Some anodized coatings can be repaired using sealants or topcoats designed specifically for anodized surfaces. These products can help fill in minor imperfections and restore the protective properties of the coating.
  4. Professional Restoration: In cases where the damage is extensive or requires specialized equipment, seek out professional anodizing restoration services. These services can assess the damage and recommend the most appropriate repair method, which may include chemical stripping and re-anodizing.

While anodized surfaces can be repaired, it's essential to address any damage promptly to prevent further deterioration and maintain the integrity of the metal substrate.

What Are the Advantages of Anodizing?

The advantages of anodizing include:

  1. It increases the corrosion resistance of metals like titanium and aluminum by adding an insulating oxide coating to the surface. 
  2. The oxide layer increases the hardness and abrasion resistance of the metal surface, making it more durable and better able to withstand wear and tear. 
  3. Metal goods can be decoratively customized by impregnating the anodized surface pores with color finishes in: matte, satin, and bright appearances. This makes anodizing particularly popular in architectural, automotive, and consumer electronics industries.
  4. Anodized coatings provide electrical insulation properties, making them suitable for applications where electrical conductivity needs to be minimized, such as in electronic devices and equipment.
  5. Anodizing can be an environmentally friendly process compared to some other surface treatment methods, as long as the right electrolyte is employed. Some anodizing chemicals are toxic while others are not. Additionally, anodized products are recyclable, contributing to sustainability efforts.

What Are the Disadvantages of Anodizing?

The disadvantages of anodizing include:

  1. It typically produces thin oxide layers compared to some other surface treatment methods. While this provides corrosion resistance and decorative options, it isn’t necessarily as robust as thicker coatings.
  2. The hard oxide layer formed during anodizing can make the surface more brittle, especially in certain alloys. This increased brittleness may lead to cracking or chipping under high-stress conditions, compromising the integrity of the coated metal.
  3. Anodization can be more expensive than some alternative surface treatment methods, particularly when additional steps such as dyeing or sealing are required for decorative or functional purposes. Additionally, factors such as part size, complexity, and batch size can affect the overall cost of anodizing processes.

How Does the Maintenance of Anodized Surfaces Compare to Electroplated Ones?

Anodized surfaces generally require less effort to maintain compared to electroplated ones. They’re inherently more resistant to corrosion and wear due to the protective oxide layer. This oxide layer provides long-lasting protection, reducing the need for maintenance such as polishing or re-coating. Additionally, anodized surfaces are often easier to clean and maintain, as they are less prone to staining or tarnishing than electroplated surfaces.

In contrast, electroplated surfaces require periodic re-plating or re-finishing to maintain their appearance and protective properties, especially in high-wear or corrosive environments.

What Is Electroplating?

Electroplating is a surface finishing process in which one metal object is coated with a thin layer of another metal through an electrochemical process. Electroplating can be used to improve the appearance, corrosion resistance, conductivity, and other properties of the substrate metal.

Common metals that get electroplated onto substrates include chromium, nickel, copper, gold, and silver. Each offers unique characteristics and benefits for specific applications. Electroplating is widely used in automotive, electronics, jewelry, and aerospace industries to enhance the performance and aesthetics of metal parts and components.

How Does Electroplating Work?

Electroplating works by using an electrolytic cell to deposit a layer of metal ions onto a conductive surface through an electrochemical process.

First, the metal object to be plated (the substrate) is cleaned and immersed in an electrolyte solution that contains ions of the plating metal. Next, a direct current is passed through the solution, with the metal object connected to the negative terminal (cathode) and a metal electrode of the plating metal connected to the positive terminal (anode).

As the current flows through the solution, metal ions from the anode are oxidized and dissolved into the electrolyte solution. They then get reduced when they contact the substrate’s surface. This results in a thin, uniform layer of the plating metal on the surface of the substrate. The thickness and properties of the plated layer can be controlled by adjusting factors such as: current density, plating time, and electrolyte composition.

What Is the Purpose of Electroplating?

The purpose of electroplating is to deposit a thin layer of metal onto a conductive surface, enhancing its corrosion resistance, conductivity, appearance, or durability. This may be necessary to meet specific functional or aesthetic requirements in industries like: automotive, electronics, and jewelry manufacturing.

What Is the Importance of Electroplating?

Electroplating is important because it can enhance the properties and appearance of metal objects. It provides corrosion resistance, extending the lifespan of metal components in various industries. Electroplating improves conductivity, making it perfect for electrical and electronic applications. Additionally, it has an attractive finish, enhancing the aesthetic appeal of products ranging from jewelry to automotive trim. Beyond that, electroplated surfaces will more readily accept other protective coatings, in case you need even more defense against wear and tear. Moreover, it facilitates the repair and restoration of damaged or worn metal surfaces, extending their usability and value.

What Are the Types of Electroplating?

There are several types of electroplating processes, each tailored to specific applications and materials:

  1. Chromium Plating: Used for decorative and functional purposes, chromium plating provides corrosion resistance and a shiny finish. It's commonly applied to automotive parts, bathroom fixtures, and kitchen appliances.
  2. Nickel Plating: Nickel plating enhances corrosion resistance, wear resistance, and hardness. It's used in industries such as electronics, automotive, and aerospace for both decorative and functional purposes.
  3. Copper Plating: Copper plating provides excellent conductivity and corrosion resistance. It's used in electronic components, printed circuit boards, and as an undercoat for other metals.
  4. Gold Plating: Gold plating offers excellent corrosion resistance, conductivity, and aesthetics. It's commonly used in jewelry, electronics, and decorative applications.
  5. Silver Plating: Silver plating provides high electrical conductivity, making it suitable for electrical contacts, connectors, and components in electronics and telecommunications.
  6. Zinc Plating: Zinc plating protects underlying metals through sacrificial corrosion and is commonly used in automotive parts, fasteners, and hardware.

What Types of Metals Can Be Electroplated?

Gold, copper, cadmium, chromium, nickel, silver, and zinc are just a few of the metals that Xometry electroplates onto clients’ parts. Each has its own value. Brass improves corrosion resistance and aesthetic finishes. Cadmium has antimicrobial, anti-wear, and anti-corrosion characteristics. Surfaces made of chromium are both aesthetically pleasing and resistant to corrosion. Copper is a valuable metal as an electrical conductor and antimicrobial. Aesthetic appeal and electrical conductivity are two of gold's benefits. Nickel enhances both corrosion and wear resistance. The electrical conductivity and corrosion resistance of silver are very good. Zinc is a cost-effective option when it comes to protecting steel and iron from corrosion.

What Are the Typical Applications for Electroplating?

The typical electroplating uses are:

  1. Decorative Finishes: Jewelry, watches, and home decor items are often electroplated. Gold, silver, and chrome plating are used for glossy, metallic finishes that improve product appearance.
  2. Corrosion Protection: Automotive, aerospace, and marine industries use Electroplating to protect metal components. Nickel, zinc, and chromium plating prevent rust and corrosion. 
  3. Electrical Conductivity: Electroplating improves metal surface electrical conductivity for electronics, telecommunications, and other electrical items. Copper and silver plating enhance the conductivity and reliability of electrical components and connectors.
  4. Wear Resistance: Electroplating improves parts’ resistance to friction, abrasion, and mechanical stress. Automotive engine parts, cutting tools, and molds are plated with nickel, chromium, and hard gold for durability and longevity.
  5. Dimensional Restoration: Electroplating repairs worn metal surfaces. It can restore component proportions without costly replacements by depositing metal on the substrate.

Can Electroplating Be Easily Repaired?

Yes, electroplating can be easily repaired in many cases. Minor damage or imperfections in electroplated surfaces, such as scratches or blemishes, can often be repaired through localized touch-up methods. These methods may demand nothing more than specialized plating pens or brushes to apply additional plating material to the damaged areas. It blends the repaired potion in with the surrounding surface. For more extensive damage or wear, the entire surface can be re-plated using the electroplating process. To do so, the existing plating layer should be stripped off so the process will leave a uniform finish. In some cases, specialized techniques such as selective electroplating or brush plating may be employed to target specific areas for repair without the need for complete re-plating.

What Are the Advantages of Electroplating?

Advantages of electroplating include:

  1. It provides an added layer of metal onto a substrate, enhancing its resistance to corrosion and extending its lifespan.
  2. Electroplating can be combined with decorative finishes to metal objects, enhancing their aesthetic appeal with glossy, metallic coatings such as: gold, silver, or chrome. 
  3. It can improve the electrical conductivity of metal surfaces. Copper and silver plating, for example, are commonly used to make electrical connections and signal transmission more reliable.

What Are the Disadvantages of Electroplating

The disadvantages of electroplating include:

  1. The treatment requires toxic chemicals and heavy metals, leading to environmental pollution if not properly controlled and treated.
  2. Electroplating baths demand significant amounts of electricity, particularly for processes involving high current densities or large surface areas. That can make it both expensive and environmentally harmful. 
  3. The chemicals used in electroplating processes, such as cyanide, chromium, and nickel compounds, can pose health risks to workers. Exposure to these chemicals through inhalation, skin contact, or ingestion can lead to respiratory problems, skin irritation, and long-term health effects. Proper safety measures are critical.

What Types of Electroplating Services Does Xometry Offer?

Xometry provides electroplating services in addition to its primary manufacturing processes like: CNC machining, 3D printing, injection molding, casting, sheet cutting, and more. This comprehensive offering allows customers to seamlessly integrate electroplating into their production workflow, enhancing the functionality and appearance of their parts. 

Through the Xometry Instant Quoting Engine®, clients can customize their products, choosing from a variety of electroplating options to meet their specific requirements and preferences. It's worth noting that while Xometry specializes in end-to-end manufacturing solutions, the company does not typically offer secondary processing or finishing services for parts supplied by third parties, though there are occasional exceptions. 


This article presented anodizing and electroplating, explained each of them, and discussed their key differences. To learn more about anodizing and electroplating, contact a Xometry representative.

Xometry provides a wide range of manufacturing capabilities, including machining and other value-added services for all of your prototyping and production needs. Visit our website to learn more or to request a free, no-obligation quote.


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Xomety X
Team Xometry
This article was written by various Xometry contributors. Xometry is a leading resource on manufacturing with CNC machining, sheet metal fabrication, 3D printing, injection molding, urethane casting, and more.