Bath Plating vs. Pen Plating

Polish your plating skills with tips, tricks, and techniques that guide you to the right method for any job.

As a dedicated bench jeweler and industry professional, you know the importance of crafting high-quality, enduring pieces — whether it’s an engagement ring that will be passed down for generations or a restored heirloom that needs extra care.

Today, we talk about a strong, foundational skill that any jeweler can benefit from — rhodium plating. Plating helps to achieve a bright, white finish to any white gold, palladium, or silver jewelry, while also providing protection against daily wear or tarnishing. But, if you’re new to plating, where do you start?

Read on as we explore the world of rhodium plating, specifically comparing two methods: pen plating and bath plating.

What is Plating?

Sometimes called “electroplating,” rhodium plating effectively coats pieces with a white, lustrous layer that extends their longevity and prevents tarnishing or scratches. Thanks to rhodium’s strength and silvery appearance, jewelers can rely on rhodium plating to easily increase the reflective qualities and durability of white gold or any silver-hued metal jewelry.

Depending on the wearer’s lifestyle or how often they introduce their plated jewelry to abrasives or harsh chemicals, rhodium plating should last for 2-3 years. Plating is a relatively easy process, making it a great skill for any jeweler and a beneficial service that offers your customers a finished piece that’ll stay looking as new as the day they take it home.

Safety First

The first step to a successful plating experience starts with safety — remember, rhodium electroplating includes working with chemical solutions and high-voltage equipment, so it’s important to be cautious.

Here are a few tips:

  • Always work in a well-ventilated area when mixing or handling rhodium solutions.
  • Wear appropriate personal protective equipment, including a full-coverage apron, chemical-resistant gloves, and safety glasses.
  • If skin contact occurs during the process, neutralize the burn with a paste of baking soda as quickly as possible to reduce acid burns from the solution. Rinse with cold water and stop plating if you can.
  • Periodically check and calibrate your plating equipment to maintain the quality of your plating results.
  • Make sure your rhodium solution is fresh and properly stored.

Once you’re prepared, you can start plating!

What is Bath Plating?

Bath Plating

Bath plating involves immersing an entire jewelry piece into a rhodium solution bath, usually requiring a few steps for proper dipping. This technique ensures an even and consistent rhodium layer across the entire piece and is commonly used for larger items or when a uniform, quality finish is required.

What to Know

Rhodium bath plating is an ideal method for fully plated pieces and can be a great start for beginners. Keep these steps in mind when using the rhodium bath plating method:

  1. Thoroughly clean your piece or pieces, using an ultrasonic and steam cleaner for best results. If your jewelry is not clean, it will not plate, and you’ll be more likely to see poor results like spotty plating or even chipping.
  2. In separate beakers, be sure to have your cleaner, activator, rhodium solution, and distilled water — the magic ingredients for high-quality plating.
  3. Properly attach your anodes and be mindful of your electric current control. We recommend starting at a minimum voltage of two (2) to prevent inconsistencies or a black finish, meaning the voltage was too high.
  4. Each step should never submerge a piece longer than 30-60 seconds.
  5. Finally, always rinse, steam, and polish your piece for the best finish.

For a more in-depth, step-by-step process on how to properly bath plate jewelry, follow along with one of our in-house experts using our recommended video tutorial.

What is Pen Plating?

Pen Plating

Used as a more precise and controlled method, pen plating can be used to apply rhodium to specific areas of a jewelry piece. This technique or method is especially useful for jobs that require touch-ups, repairs, or when you need to plate only small portions of a customer’s piece like prongs, settings, or detailing.

What To Know

For customers who need a quick repair or plating service, pen plating is an incredible method for adding rhodium or plating solution to hard-to-reach areas with more control (and without adding bulk to your workspace).

Here are a few tips we recommend when operating your pen plating system:

  1. Always make sure to clean your piece thoroughly, and make sure to use a fresh fiber pen tip for every plating session.
  2. Maintain a steady hand as you move the pen in even, controlled strokes. Continuously moving your pen ensures thin, uniform layers to prevent uneven plating.
  3. Depending on the desired thickness of the plating and the condition of the piece, you may need to make multiple passes. Allow each layer to dry before applying the next.
  4. After completing the plating process, remove any residual plating solution with a rinse and polish. Use a small brush to gently clean intricate areas.
Pro Tip: Not sure which equipment to start with? Our experts recommend the compact design and voltage control of the Ikohe® Pen Plating Machine for anyone looking to start their pen plating service.

Quick Plating Tips

  • Always thoroughly rinse, clean, and polish your pieces, before and after plating.
  • To avoid rhodium contamination, never combine copper with your solution.
  • Control your current and be mindful of your equipment’s requirements.

Which Method is Best?

Every jeweler’s process and preferences are unique — this means that choosing between pen plating and bath plating will always depend on your specific needs and the nature of the pieces you work with. While both methods have their advantages, understanding their applications is crucial for achieving the best results.

Above all, consistency is key — the more you practice safety measures and different plating techniques, the more likely you are to achieve a quality finish that your customer will love. With both pen and bath plating methods, you can offer your customers a tailored experience for their jewelry needs, ultimately establishing trust that can last for generations.

Whichever method you choose, you can always rely on Stuller for your plating supplies and innovative equipment. Stock up on plating essentials that elevate your craftsmanship, keep you confident in today’s industry, and help prepare you to deliver stunning, rhodium-plated jewelry that will be cherished for generations.

Your Top Industry Resource

Whether you’re just getting into plating or looking to master your craft, we hope that today’s information helps you to feel a little more confident in your plating skills.

At Stuller, your success and growth are our priority, and we remain dedicated to offering in-house expertise and high-quality equipment to support you, every step of the way. For more help regarding step-by-step instructions, troubleshooting, or which method and supplies are best for you, be sure to reach out to our Tools Tech Team — expert support, right at your fingertips.