How can I get consistent colors?

March 26, 2008

This frustrated email arrived today:

I live in Belgium (Europe) and have been making titanium jewellery for 4 or 5 years now. Sometimes I colour the pieces. I have a machine from Wieland, a German company. All this time I did not have any problems because the pieces I made had always the same size. Now lately we are doing titanium leaves in various sizes; Grade 2 thickness 0.5 mm. The problem with coloring these pieces is that I do not seem to have any control over the colours due to the variable sizes of the pieces. Is there a way to make a formula that gives me control (more or less) by taking the weight of the piece? Because of the irregular shape it is impossible to know the amount of surface I am working with.

At the moment I am really taking what comes out of the machine. I did make several colour charts using various shapes but with pieces 6 to7 times as big as my trials I have no control .

I would be very grateful if you have some advise on this, or maybe even a solution.

Thanks in advance.


My reply: I can’t know exactly what the problem is, for I encounter the same difficulties.
The color you end up with is a function of the electrical current density, the total time, the surface finish, and the grade/alloy (which also affects finish and current flow).

The weight is not as good an indicator as the surface area. If all the pieces are always the same thickness, then the two are functionally interchangeable. But the risk is that if you calibrate on weight, and then start working with other thicknesses, the calibration will not stand.

I passed the question on to Bill Seeley.


Uneven results from dimmer switch anodizer

March 18, 2008

Here’s another question I frequently get:

I followed your instructions on building an anodizer and I would like to say that you have made a great job illustrating it. My anodizer is the dimmer and light bulb type it delivers a maximum of 160 Volts.I prepared a solution of TSP in distilled water placed the cathode (aluminum foil) and the Ti at the anode ran the circuit. The voltage keeps rising slowly and I get shades instead of definite colors (mostly violet, golden and pale blue). I can’t hold the voltage at a definite value. What should I do to get smooth colors? I tried adjusting the voltage first then immersing the piece but the voltage after immersing is lower than what I’ve just set it to. Please help me out here and thanks in advance.
David S.

First of all, the dimmer based voltage control is going to be a bit temperamental and unstable. But I used one myself for years before replacing the dimmer with a Variac.

Aluminum should work for a cathode, but should be lightly sanded to remove the invisible insulating oxide layer that spontaneously forms. I usually use titanium, but have been told by many that stainless steel works well.

When you have a large capacitor smoothing a the choppy dimmer voltage, the top end will be a bit mushy. The lower voltages are the worst for this effect. The tan, violet and blues are at the low end of the voltage scale.

Another issue in getting smooth colors is getting the voltage everywhere simultaneously. You should have the piece to be anodized immersed in the solution before completing the circuit to the leads. That is, you need a switch to turn the leads on and off, while the anodizer is running at the voltage you want.

Cleaning and chemically etching the metal before anodizing also helps assure a uniform color, and is generally considered necessary for getting the higher voltage colors.

The voltage measured on the leads or capacitor will drop when you start anodizing, and should rise back to your preset voltage in a minute or so. The time depends on how big a piece you are anodizing, how big your cathode is, and on the efficiency of your electrolyte.

Another possible problem might be the material of your attachment to the anode piece. Only titanium or niobium should touch the electrolyte at the positive side. Never use copper wire or regular (galvanized or tinned) alligator clips to immerse your piece. The current will just go though that, and little will be applied to your piece.