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The Difference Between Hard Chrome Plating and Decorative Chrome Plating

Chrome Plating, often referred to simply as chrome, is a technique of electroplating a thin layer of chromium onto a metal or plastic object. There are two main types of chrome plating used by industries today, hard chrome (industrial or engineered chrome) and decorative chrome (bright or show chrome). The chromed layer can provide protection of the base material, ease cleaning procedures, and increase the surface hardness or aesthetics.

Image of Chromed Parts

Hard Chrome

Hard chrome plating is the process of depositing a thick layer of chromium metal onto metallic components for the benefits of reduced friction, improved durability through abrasion tolerance and wear resistance in general, minimizing galling or seizing of parts, and bulking material for worn parts to restore their original dimensions. It is very hard, measuring between 65 to 69 HRC. Hard chrome tends to be thicker than decorative chrome, with standard thicknesses in non-salvage applications ranging from 0.0002 to 0.020 inch. Unfortunately, greater thicknesses emphasize the limitations of the process, which are overcome by plating extra thickness then grinding down and lapping to meet requirements or to improve the overall aesthetics of the “chromed” piece. Increasing plating thickness amplifies surface defects and roughness in proportional severity because hard chrome does not have a leveling effect.

What Is Hard Chrome Plating Used For?

Hard chrome plating is often used in tough applications in order to improve service life. Typical applications include tools and die, hydraulic cylinder rods, linkage pins, and many others. Hard chrome can also be used to repair damaged, worn or mis-machined parts. For example, a hydraulic cylinder that has been worn down, can have the remaining chrome stripped through a chemical process. After, it can be repaired by applying a layer of hard chrome to the exact dimensions or an even thicker layer to be ground down.

Hard chrome is used for a wide variety of industrial components because of its wear, corrosion, and heat resistance. Here are some additional examples of applications that use hard chrome:

  • Tools and Die
  • Hydraulic cylinder rods
  • Valves
  • Bearings
  • Crankshafts and Rotors
  • Piston Rods
  • Bailing Hooks
  • Harvester Rolls
  • Actuator Housings
  • Injection Molds
  • Rod Cylinders
  • Compressors
  • Presses

Decorative Chrome

This type of chrome is the process of depositing a very thin layer (sometimes as thin as 50 millionth of an inch) of chromium over nickel-plated components resulting in a bright, shiny finish. The function of a thin chrome layer is twofold; it protects the nickel from oxidizing or tarnishing and provides wear resistance, preventing surface scratches. The nickel under layer keeps its intended finish longer by providing corrosion protection to the base material. In some applications, copper plating is used as the under layer to improve the strength of the base material.

What Is Decorative Chrome Plating Used For?

Decorative chrome plating is often used on car parts, tools, and kitchen utensils. While it does offer similar characteristics to hard chrome, such as durability and hardness, due to the thickness of the chrome layer, it will not be able to stand up to the same type of abuses as hard chrome. Decorative chrome will provide a layer of protection for minor incidents and protect against rust when exposed to wet or corrosive environments.

Decorative chrome is used for a variety of consumer products because of how easy it is to clean and its bright, smooth, and shiny appearance. Here are some additional examples of applications that use decorative chrome:

  • Car Parts: bumpers, wheels/rims, trim, mirror covers, door handles, pillar posts, tailgate trims, body side moldings, rocker panels, headlight bezels, grills, and more. Since these parts are out in the elements, subjected to rain and snow, decorative chrome will increase the corrosion resistance to stop rust.
  • Tools: ratchets, sockets, wrenches, screwdrivers, pliers, and more. Applying decorative chrome to these parts will increase their corrosion and wear resistance. This coating will not only make the tools look good, but also help keep them from being damaged when used.
  • Kitchen Utensils and Accessories: forks, knives, spoons, spatulas, silverware caddies, dry racks, wastebaskets, soap pumps, mesh food covers, shelving unites, serving trays, ladles, and more. Most of these require some form of corrosion, wear, and heat resistance. Decorative chrome is easy to clean and when used on utensils, perfect for the tough environment of a dishwasher.

U.S. Chrome Corporation does not provide decorative chrome services at any of it’s facilities. We recommending searching online for decorative, show, or bright chrome.

How Is Hard Chrome And Decorative Chrome Similar?

Both of these finishes are applied in the exact same way, by submerging a part into an electrolyte bath of chromic acid and then passing an electrical current through it. No matter the size or shape of the part, chrome will plate evenly onto the surface. This includes cylindrical parts and parts with uneven surfaces, holes, and recesses. Chrome conforms to many components, making it one of the most used options for surface finishes. Both are easy to clean due to their corrosion and wear resistant properties.

Despite having similar electroplating processes, the form and function of these two plating options make them very different. What you use on your parts will ultimately depend on the environments that they will be in.

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