Those Canadians sure know how to bring the bling, if you know what I mean. While Americans toiled away over vats of dangerous chrome plating chemicals, a Canadian manufacturing company was quietly producing and supplying ultra-high-grade chrome spray paint products across the globe.
The company is called Cosmichrome, and since 2001, it has been slowly but surely turning the world of chrome on its head. By utilizing its own patented line of advanced spray paint systems, Cosmichrome has developed a way to offer pros and DIYers alike the ability to quickly and cleanly create a reflective surface, all at a fraction of the cost of traditional plating.
Headquartered in Montreal, Canada, the Cosmichrome of today has distributors hailing from the United States, France, Portugal, Italy, Finland, and India. Utilized in over 50 countries, and connected to a reputable chain of distributors, thousands of users have turned the human eye’s obsession with shiny stuff into a profitable pastime. Some of these more famous installers may tootle a horn too, with bigger names including Andretti Autosport, Count’s Kustoms, and West Coast Customs. But they’re not the only recognizable names on Cosmichrome’s roster. Many manufacturing powerhouses have hopped on the Cosmichrome bandwagon in recent years as well, including General Motors, Moen, and Zebco being but a few.
So what makes Cosmichrome so special, and is it worth investing in, either from a customer’s standpoint, or from an installer’s perspective? There’s a lot about this chroming product that seems appealing, but surely there have to be some downsides. Right?
How Chrome Came to Be Commonplace
Before we get into the perks and problems associated with various chrome coatings, let’s back up a bit, and embark upon a brief history lesson focusing upon the time honored practice of making boring shit look expensive.
While plating over inexpensive materials to make them look pricey or shiny has been around for thousands of years, the history of modern chrome began in the early 19th century. Italian chemist Luigi Brugnatelli had just discovered that by submerging metallic objects in a solution of dissolved gold and applying a charge with a Voltaic pile (aka rudimentary battery) he could cause the gold to cover various objects. Electroplating had officially been discovered, and the world would never be same.
However, the world took a while to catch on on to this act of electroplating surfaces, and decades passed before it became commonplace. But the moment word got out that there was a way to turn worthless junk into valuable looking objects, everybody and their auntie wanted their shit chrome plated. Back in those days, gold and nickel plating were the only options, which meant the hoi polloi had to wait for decades before it was granted access to the super shiny stuff: chromium plating.
It was the early 20th century, and George J. Sargent had no idea that his 1912 doctorate degree focusing on chromium deposition was about to encourage Colin Fink and Charles Eldridge to develop a commercial process for chromium plating a full decade later. Several high dollar mergers down the line, and United Chromium, Incorporated was founded in 1927, at which point the public went absolutely wild over chromium plating and all that it had to offer.
Over the years chromium plating, or chrome, has become a staple of consumer culture, with all things transportation oriented receiving its own benefits from the shiny stuff. From car bumpers and bicycle fenders, to motorcycle handlebars and train horns, chrome coats it all. By the 1950s, chrome had hit the mainstream so hard, that everything from bar stools and bowling alley equipment, to doorknobs and shower heads were getting coated in the stuff.
Quick Nerd Note: There are two kinds of chrome. Engineering/functional chrome plating, and decorative chrome plating. Decorative chrome plating is applied in a much thinner layer, whereas its more hardcore, and far pricier plating alternative requires heavier coats and additional production steps.
The Perks and Problems of Chrome Plating
Although traditional chrome plating, or “electroplating” is an old process, it definitely has its advantages. Reports have shown that time and time again, electroplated chrome can withstand some really intense abuse. From extreme weather and temperatures, to its ability to repel corrosion and oxidation, and all of its low maintenance upkeep requirements, plated chrome is just as tough as it is shiny. Unlike authentic precious metals, damaged chrome-plated parts can be refurbished, and once stripped and re-plated, can be restored to a “like-new” status, thus eliminating the need to purchase new parts.
The biggest downside of electroplating parts is that if they get damaged in some way, they must be sent off to a company specializing in chrome dipping, a process that is both expensive and time consuming. Chemicals used during the chrome stripping and plating processes are also very toxic, with things like Hexavalent Chromium being labeled as a hazardous, heavily regulated air pollutant by most governments.
Another issue with traditional chrome plating, is that parts are limited by the size of the vats being utilized during the chroming process, so there is no “one size fits all solution.” Corrosion resistance on thicker coatings in particular tends to not be very good either, with the chrome plating process itself offering little to no control.
Don’t Plate It, Spray It!
Those looking to forego these traditional chrome installation issues, have turned toward a method that has come to be referred to as “spray chrome,” which as its name implies, favors a paint approach. With a little bit of practice, and the right equipment in place, a spray-on chrome job can be completed over the span of just a few hours, all from the confines of a workshop or garage. There is no dipping or plating stage with spray-on chrome either, thus eliminating the need for vats filled with expensive, and often dangerous chemicals.
Without a dipping/plating stage, spray-on chrome applications have-off a substantial amount of time and money. Being that spray-on chrome is not limited by the size of the part being coated, it is also considered to be far more versatile, and can coat damn near any material too. For instance, Cosmichrome spray chrome paint can be applied over any substrate that is labeled as a “porous material.” Therefore wood, plaster, urethane, foam, metal, and more are all fair game just as long as proper preparation has been made prior to painting.
Finish wise, spray chrome offers the same levels of strength and shine as traditional electroplating. The only downside, is that unlike the act of dropping an object into a vat of plating chemicals, the application of spray-on chrome requires a fair deal of concentration and finesse, so a steady hand and an acute attention to detail are a must with this approach.
Quick Nerd Note: Cosmichrome is used by automakers like GM because it “meets many OEM automotive paint standards,” which as you shall soon discover, is brought forth via a bevy of bonuses that conventional chrome spraying technologies just don’t offer.
How Cosmichrome Works
Cosmichrome is completely different from traditional plating procedures for a number of reasons. Since this stuff is applied with a spray gun, a base coat can be used to make the subsequent shiny coat stick to the surface, thus causing an immediate plating reaction to occur.
The company’s spray-on chrome plating chemicals are all water-based products too, which when placed in contact with a base coat covered substrate, produces a reaction that generates an extremely shiny reflective finish. Since this basecoat can’t be over-dried, losing intercoating adhesion is no longer a concern, and the drier the basecoat, the greater the adhesion and gloss.
Once a Cosmichrome topcoat has been applied and given the chance to fully dry, the surface becomes equal parts reflective, rock hard, impervious to extreme heat, and surprisingly flexible. It also remains “…the only product of its kind that is guaranteed not to turn yellow from the sun.”
Benefits of Using Cosmichrome
One of the main benefits to the Cosmichrome approach, is that you can treat the topcoat like you would any other automobile outer coating. Sanding, cutting, buffing, ceramic coating it with Armor Shield IX, polishing it with your ex’s undies… it’s all possible.
Unlike its competitors, which rely upon multiple guns for various jobs, Cosmichrome utilizes a single spray gun with four built-in nozzles. Weighing in at 0.7 kilograms (1.5 pounds), the gun itself is also considerably lighter than traditional spray guns, which range anywhere from 1-3 kilograms (2.2-6.6 pounds).
These far heavier applicator guns often require complete disassembly and cleaning after each use too, which tends to take about 15 minutes per gun, whereas the Cosmichrome gun is self cleaning, and does so in about 1 minute flat. The same goes for the tanks themselves, which instead of being manually labor intensive, can be completed with the flip of a switch in under 1 minute.
Based on the reviews we’ve read, all of Cosmichrome’s mixed plating chemicals have an extremely long shelf life, which once opened and/or blended, can last up to 90 days. As for the brand’s entire line of gold plating solutions, that’s all cyanide and arsenic free, regardless of whether you choose 14, 18, 24k, or rose gold.
Quick Nerd Note: Cosmichrome warns that all of its paints are “specifically formulated to bond and react chemically.” Which means that the replacement of the brand’s topcoat with a product from another manufacturer will likely result in the development of an unpleasant, yellow tint, regardless of how much UV protection or ceramic coating you place on top. However, once a Cosmichrome topcoat has been applied and allowed to dry for 24 hours, it is safe to spray topcoats from other manufacturers on top.
Finding a Professional Cosmichrome Installer
We don’t have the time to go down the entire list of Cosmichrome installers, because there are damn near 1,864 of them globally at this point. So if you are seriously interested in giving that deer skull mounted on the wall a super shiny upgrade, or just dig the idea of seeing your hardcore 4x4 outfitted with a Tuscan pot metal rose gold motif, chances are there’s a shop near you that specializes in spraying the stuff.
Now as for how much that Cosmichrome installation will set you back, that’s a question best reserved for the shop that’s doing the spraying. Much like traditional chrome plated surfaces, the price of a Cosmichrome install varies depending upon the installer and the size of the job.
Shop located, you will also have to choose what pigments the Cosmichrome system will be applying. Regardless as to whether you are coating wood, plaster, urethane, foam, metal, plastic, or that petrified chimpanzee phallus your uncle left you in his will, the array of colors awaiting you are substantial.
Wanna Spray Cosmichrome on Your Own?
For those looking to get into the spray-on chrome game, Cosmichrome currently offers two setups: The Master System Pro, and its baby brother, The Mini System Pro.
While a Cosmichrome system will set you back a few grand without add-ons, it is an all-encompassing system as it sits, and from a business perspective, will pay for itself quickly. All of its prompts are color coded for easy recognition, and the machine comes equipped with an airless multi-phase spray gun, a self-cleaning system with dual gun adaptability options, 13-foot expandable hoses, an automatic tank return for unused media, and full stainless steel construction.
Cosmichrome’s “e-Gun” is a really cool tool too, as it allows you to cycle through the application sequence and apply all the required chemicals via the push of a button. This gun pretty much take all of the guess work out of the equation too, as the LED light on the back changes color to indicate when a new step in the coating process is ready to begin. This top of the line unit can also be paired with the company’s “Chemical Heating Unit,” which we find to be so very Canadian. those living in frigid environments will appreciate how this bolt-on heats the Cosmichrome chemicals to optimum functioning temps, and can be controlled via a digital panel in order to create what the brand refers to as “balanced plating for a flawless finish.”
As for The Mini System Pro, this compact system contains many of the same components as its larger sibling, but is geared more toward the DIY crowd, and those looking to chrome coat smaller parts. Compact, far more affordable, and yet still constructed from stainless steel and rocking an e-Gun like his big bro, The Mini System Pro offers a lot of value for its modest asking price.
Regardless of which system you select, all new Cosmichrome customers receive one day of free spray-on chrome “bootcamp,” an intensive training class engineered for those looking to delve deep into all things bling. Each of these classes is held at Cosmichrome’s training center, where instructors demonstrate and lecture about:
• Understanding the various parts of spray chrome equipment and their importance
• How to properly prepare and handle every component
• Learning how different products react to one another
• Avoiding common chrome spray errors
• Minimizing waste while obtaining consistent coats
Cosmichrome is also the only spray chrome company to offer a mobile app for both customer support and seminars. Training videos, technical documentation, order placing, direct messaging, and more can all be done on the company’s app, with support being offered in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, and Klingon. Just kidding. No one offers Klingon support. Now Huttese, that’s a different story…
Quick Nerd Note: Cosmichrome warns that any waste encountered during the coating process should be recycled, for it contains silver, a precious metal. It is also imperative that you follow all local regulations regarding the disposal of Cosmichrome waste, because the fuzz will clasp you in irons and throw you in the brig if you don’t.
The Spray-on Chrome Process
Before you begin chrome coating objects, Cosmichrome suggests that you have the following things at your disposal. This will not only help guarantee that the spray-on system functions properly, but that your work space provides a productive, safe environment.
Cosmichrome System Requirements
– a well-ventilated paint booth (or some form of structure to keep dust and other airborne contaminants away from what you are spraying)
– an air compressor (clean compressed air is required to operate all Cosmichrome machines)
– an air dryer setup (to reduce humidity and contamination)
-distilled water from a reputable supplier
-some knowledge of the painting process (Cosmichrome does offer limited training to help the inexperienced gain basic knowledge)
– an oven to decrease waiting times (all Cosmichrome products can dry at room temperature, it just tends to take a full 24 hours or so for them to fully do so)
Once these things are put in place, you can proceed with the spray-on chrome coating process, which as you shall soon see, is fairly straightforward.
1. Surface Prep & Basecoat
All surfaces must first be prepped so that they are as smooth as possible, which will help the basecoat bond and look uniform. Sanding and prep complete, you can spray the basecoat over the object in steady, sweeping motions.
Basecoat sprayed, it must then be allowed to dry naturally at room temperature for no less than 24 hours, or if constructed from metal or another heat resistant substance, baked for 1 hour at 60°C/140°F.
3. Plasma Treatment
Using a propane torch, pass the flame over the dried basecoat, assuring that the flame comes into contact with the surface at all times.
Spray the activator over the entire surface, which will kick the basecoat into “work mode” ahead of the plating stage.
This is when all that bling arrives on the scene. Here, a chemical reaction takes place, when two products are sprayed simultaneously from the e-Gun, resulting in a metallic reflective finish.
The final step is the spraying of a topcoat, which will both seal and protect the layer of metallic plating. It is at this point that any number of pigmented color can be added to the equation, creating a custom shine that is uniquely your own. It is this final clear coat that seals and protects the finish, adding a sort of chemical resistance to the stuff, which explains why it is so imperative that this topcoat is properly applied. Screw this stage up or skip it entirely, and your entire venture will look like crap. So if you want that bling, stick with the directions and don’t cut any corners.
Quick Final Nerd Note: As opposed to powder coatings, which rely upon an electrostatically charged substrate and an intense baking process, Cosmichrome is more of a “spray and pray” application, and cannot produce things like matte, or semi-gloss finishes. And while Cosmichrome does have a decent heat threshold, it is nowhere near as resilient to extreme temps as powder coated parts.