Create an awesome aged copper patina on a 3D printed Artwork
If you love decorative crafts and would like to try something new then take a look at this exciting and rapidly developing field of arts and crafts.
Hi, I’m Koogee Brown from koogeebrown.com. I make original decorative art and jewellery from 3D printed models decorated with mixed media and craft materials.
Straight out of the printer, 3D prints typically have a plastic type surface finish with visible layer lines. Sometimes this suits the artwork but I love art with rustic character and an interesting patina. In this tutorial I’m going to show you how to order a 3D printed sculpture from an online 3D printing marketplace, and then take that piece to a whole new level by adding an awesome aged copper patina. It’s quite easy to do and it’s a lot of fun if you enjoy decorative crafts.
Step 1 Choose a suitable piece of 3D printed sculpture or jewellery from an online 3D printing marketplace such as Shapeways. If you’re like me you may find this a bit daunting but it’s really very easy and fun. See my tutorial “Diy Home Decor Ideas” for details. Yes 3D printing is moderately expensive but when you consider that you’re buying a precision made piece of art and probably very few copies have ever been made then it’s well worth it. Hey you may even end up with a valuable collector’s piece one day!
“Shapeways” is a well-known 3D printing company based in New York and the Netherlands. Their online designer shops hold a treasure-trove of incredibly beautiful sculpture (mixed up with many weird and wacky creations). Many designers like to show off the unique capabilities of 3D printing by making their work very intricate. However for the purposes of this tutorial we need a piece with easy to reach surfaces which are relatively flat so we can display our lovely patina. If you are willing to spend some time patiently browsing, you will find perfect designs for this technique.
Step 2 Order your chosen 3D printed sculpture. Once again you may find this a little scary if you haven’t done it before. “What if I order the wrong material or size or the thing doesn’t print properly?” Never fear, when you understand the basics it’s easy (see my tutorial “ Diy Home Decor Ideas” for all the info.) The material used for this tutorial is called “strong and flexible plastic” but it has a “chalk like” surface finish. If you want to get a little technical it is laser sintered nylon and it really is strong!. For this technique I recommend “white strong and flexible” which is the unpolished version. The polishing process can sometimes blur out fine details and anyway the patination process we’re using will have a smoothing effect.
Step 3 You should receive your 3D print in 2 to 5 weeks depending on where you live in the world. I live “down under” so I have to be patient but if you’re in the U.S. or Europe it should be quicker.
Although “Shapeways” is very reliable, double check your object for faults. Also there may be a small amount of nylon powder still on the piece so give it a quick rinse in water and dry thoroughly.
Next, you need to undercoat all surfaces with two coats of spray primer. It’s important you do this because, amazingly laser sintered nylon is actually porous and will initially suck up any glue or paint you apply. (Unlike the hundreds of ordinary injection moulded plastics you probably have in your house)
Step 4 Now we put on our copper leaf.
This is an easy technique, see this instructional youtube video (This is for Gold leaf but the technique is the same).
From a store that sells Art supplies get hold of some real copper leaf (not imitation), “leafing size” (the glue), and some medium sized soft paint brushes (don’t order yet, there are more items below). You will also need tweezers and cotton gloves (to handle the leaf). I borrowed (stole) one of our kitchen knives to cut the leaf and I used a folded handkerchief as a cutting board.
After letting the (size/ glue) dry for a half hour as per the instructions I basically “patted” the copper on with a small artist’s paintbrush. The very thin sheets of copper will tear and fragment but don’t worry just keep patting it on. Cut small pieces with a kitchen knife on a folded handkerchief. Small leftover fragments may be picked up with the brush and applied to gaps. Wear cotton gloves (supermarket) and use tweezers for placing smaller chunks. I found it best not to attempt to cover every tiny hole with a second coat because it’s easy to miss small areas of glue leaving them exposed, often on top of earlier layers of copper. This will wreck your patina by making shiny metal areas.
Step 5 Now that we’ve got our model well covered in a thin layer of pure copper it’s time to give the surface an interesting patina. I’m going to show you how to use a method long used by jewelers to patina copper alloys. They use a solution called “Liver of Sulphur” which is made by dissolving a special type of sulphurous rock in hot water. The modern easy to use equivalent is called “liver of sulphur gel” and can be bought from jewelry supply stores.
Wear gloves and follow the safety directions on the pack.
The instructions say 4 -8 drops of gel to 1 to 2 cups of very warm water. However I found that this will blacken your copper in a few seconds. Attempts to polish off excess tarnish will take off your copper leaf. Instead make a very weak solution by using a double dilution. In other words a dilution of a dilution. I started with 1 -2 drops of gel to 1 to 2 cups of very warm water. I added a little of this at a time to half a plastic bucket (4 litres) of cold water until I had a final solution that tarnished copper slowly.
Also make up a solution of baking soda (2 tablespoons per 2 cups of water) in a second bucket. This is your neutralising solution used to stop the reaction. Have a third bucket ready with clean water. This is to get rid of the neutralising solution.
Only do a section at a time. (If you dip the whole piece into the sulphur solution you will get an uneven result with the finer details going black and ugly). Dab on the Sulphur solution with a tissue. When you see colour, stop the reaction in the baking soda bucket. Then rinse in the water. Check this section for suitable colour. If you want a darker result go through the cycle again until you’re satisfied, then move on to the next section. Be conservative, because you’ll be surprised how suddenly the copper will become too dark. When you’ve finished the whole piece give it a gentle rinse under the tap and let it dry thoroughly.
Step 6 This step adds a blue patina to the various tones produced in Step 5 using an artist’s solution called “Oxidising Patina”. It’s optional. Remember all the colours will be enriched anyway when you apply the final protective coat. Don’t bother if you’re already happy with your patina.
The solution is available from Art supply stores and online. It oxidises copper to produce the matt blue patina often seen on weathered copper and bronze. Apply with a small artist’s brush. I mainly kept to the models crevices but it’s an artistic decision as to how much you apply. Dilute in water to lessen the effect. This solution takes time to react, maybe an hour or two.
Step 7 To finish and protect the patina I recommend two to three coats of clear gloss spray paint. Of course you can use a matt or semi-gloss finish if you wish. I used gloss enamel but I think acrylic (shown) should be Ok.
I hope you’ve had fun and have produced a unique and delightful piece of decorative craft. Well done having to courage and determination to give it a go!
If you have questions feel free to use my email firstname.lastname@example.org or use the comment box. Also I’d love to see photos of your efforts.