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What is the difference between plating and coating?

Plating and coating are two of common processes used to apply a protective layer to the surface of an item. The surface that is being coated is usually referred to as the ‘substrate’.

What is plating?

Plating is the process of depositing a metal onto a conductive metallic surface. One example of plating is carried out by jewellers who plate items with silver or gold.

There are two main methods when it comes to plating: electroplating, and electroless plating. Electroplating involves the use of ionic metals and electric currents to form a coating on the substrate.

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Electroless plating involves adding a film to the substrate by creating chemical reactions.

If you would like to learn more about electroless nickel coating, there are a number of expert firms who have excellent online resources for you to look at, such as those seen here:

The advantages of plating are that it can be applied to a wide range of metals, and it can increase the rigidity and stiffness of metals. The main downside is that the plating may crack or chip when exposed to harsh environments.

What is coating?

Coating is a technique that adds a layer to the surface of the substrate using a powder or chemical composition. Coatings are usually applied by hand (brush) or by dipping the object into the composition.

The advantages of coating are that it can enhance the performance of a variety of materials, and it uses less electricity than plating. The disadvantages are that it needs to be reapplied when it is worn out, and it does not work as well on some materials.

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Despite sounding relatively niche, the global market for metal coatings is estimated at around $15bn whilst for metal plating it is estimated to be around $13bn.

The main difference between the two techniques is that the substrate for coating can be any surface whereas for plating it must be a conductive metal. There are also differences in uses and techniques, and plating is thought to offer better protection in the longer-term.


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