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Prototype E & F unit diesels have stainless steel panels on their sides that are both striking and beautiful. MTH began simulating these some years ago (10+?) while Lionel only relatively recently did so with their Legacy Santa Fe F units a few years back. I've not yet seen the Lionel diesels in person but from numerous photos & videos the finish appears very subtle and subdued, differing only slightly from the painted silver areas adjacent to the SS panels. I have some MTH 'Yellowbonnet' HO F3's and F7's that are at least 10 years old that are very nice and last week at a show I saw their O scale Santa Fe F7's running on a layout. The MTH finish is very glossy and highly reflective and to me quite handsome compared to Lionel's product.  How do they get this finish - paint or plating of some sort?


In this particular image below you can see how the reflected area appears quite dark which is possibly why the original Lionel 2333's may have been interpreted as being 'Black' from a similar photo back then!



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Last edited by c.sam
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From snippets I hear here and there, the process (it may be only one of several ways) involves applying the plating to the inside of the mold itself before the plastic is injected. What that plating agent is, how it's applied, and how long it takes to apply are still mysteries to me, though I remember an MTH official saying that the production guys over in China groan every time a plated locomotive/rolling stock is brought into the lineup . How the stainless (as opposed to chrome) finish is achieved was not something I asked about during the conversation. From what I heard from K-Line's owner (this was years before they got in trouble) is that the process has a higher-than-normal failure rate, as what would be an almost un-noticeable flaw in a painted casting would be cause for rejection on a plated finish piece.


I don’t know about the above mentioned process, I’ve never heard of the plating being applied to the mold, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible ….I know some plastic parts are plated by electroless method, meaning the part or parts needing plating are first infused with copper, then they can proceed with a plating process,……plating can be in various forms, whether it be a stainless look, chrome, gold, nickel, black chrome, etc, etc, etc,….


I don't know how MTH does it, but supposedly there are some really good spray paints that can match chrome that are marketed for automotive applications.

Too tell you the truth, really good gloss or satin paint (I'm not talking about hardware store spray paint, here) always looked better for "chrome" and stainless than the typical plating product on out trains. The old plated propane tender for the MTH UP gas turbine looked not-so-good. Paint would reduce some of the rejection for surface flaws mentioned above, I'd guess.

However, plating has come a long way, I'm sure (auto parts, for example) I don't own any shiny-shiny stuff, so I haven't kept up. Most of it used to look like those awful chrome parts in 3-in-1 kits from 50 years ago.

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