Anodizing Aluminium: An Effective Finishing Option

This article explains the post-processing procedure of anodizing, its benefits, and an overview of the possible colouring options.

Anodizing is a post-processing operation used for finishing. It is a conversion coating method that converts the surface of aluminium, and other compatible metals, to their oxides. This electrochemical process increases the thickness of the oxide layer that occurs naturally on the surface of metallic parts. 

Unlike painting which adds a superficial layer to the material, the anodizing process fully integrates the oxide layer with the underlying material, thus preventing it from peeling. This layer is a highly ordered and quite porous structure that allows other subsequent processes like colouring and sealing. The ideal material for anodizing is aluminium. However, other metals such as magnesium and titanium can be anodized.

Anodizing is commonly carried out as a finishing process on parts made from CNC machining and sheet metal fabrication. It is a simple yet effective process that enhances the durability, wear resistance, hardness, and corrosion resistance of a part. It also improves aesthetics as it creates a shiny surface finish, with the option of colour, on parts.

Anodizing Process: How Does It Work?

Anodizing is carried out using the electrolytic cell electrochemical process. The aluminium to be anodized is thoroughly cleaned to remove impurities and immersed in an acid electrolyte bath. The cathode is mounted inside the anodizing tank. The immersed aluminium becomes the aluminium anode.

As direct electric current is passed between the anode and the cathode, oxygen ions released from the electrolytic bath migrate towards the aluminium and combine with atoms of the aluminium to form aluminium oxide. As a result, an anodic oxide barrier layer is formed on the surface of the part.

This process changes the microscopic texture of the metal surface and the crystalline structure of the parent metal near the surface. Titanium racks and lead cathodes are the most ubiquitous cathodes for anodizing aluminium.

A simple electrolytic cell
A simple electrolytic cell

What Are the Different Types of Anodizing?

There are three types of anodizing that differ by electrolytic fluid:

Type I Anodizing: Chromic Acid Anodizing

In Type I, the electrolyte is chromic acid-based. Anodizing with chromic acid forms a thin coating (the thickness depends on the process) and provides the least colour absorption during dyeing. This type is not commonly used as it offers not-so-great wear resistance and low porosity.

Type II Anodizing: Sulfuric Acid Anodizing

Type II sulfuric acid-based anodizing creates a thickness of approximately 8 to 13 µm and has better colour absorption. It has good corrosion resistance and wear resistance.

Type III Anodizing: Hard Anodizing

Type III is carried out using sulfuric acid, albeit at much lower temperatures. Hard anodizing gives thicknesses in the range of 40 to 60 µm, the highest of the three types. Hard anodized aluminium parts are corrosion-resistant with excellent resistance to wear, and their layers have the highest porosity. 

A different kind of anodizing commonly referred to as architectural anodizing makes use of metallic ions.

CNC machined part with a black hardcoat anodising finish
CNC machined part with a black hardcoat anodizing finish

Type II Anodizing vs. Type III Hard Anodizing

The major difference between Type II and Type III anodizing is the thickness of the oxide layer. The oxide layer created by Type II anodizing is much thinner than that of Type III.

Type II anodized parts are great for cosmetic finishing, as they provide a smooth, attractive finish along with good resistance to corrosion and wear. However, if you need matte finished anodized aluminium parts, you need to bead blast the as-machined part before anodizing. Type II is also best for implementing different permanent pigments into the anodized parts to get the desired colour finish.

On the other hand, type III (hard) anodizing is suitable for parts that need to remain functional in harsh environments, such as aerospace and automotive components. Parts that need excellent scratch-resistance properties and durability prefer Type III hard anodizing over Type II anodizing.

Type II anodizing Type III hard anodizing
Oxide layer Thin Thick
Part’s properties Smooth finish, good resistance to corrosion and wear Excellent scratch-resistance properties, remain functional in harsh environments
Natural appearance Little bit yellowish Brownish
Cost Relatively cost effective Type III is more expensive than Type II due to its thicker aluminium oxide layer, which requires more power for production

Materials Used for Anodizing

Anodizing can only be carried out on conductive materials. The most common materials are aluminium alloys. Non-ferrous metals such as magnesium and titanium can also be anodized. 

Other materials include zinc, niobium, zirconium, hafnium, and tantalum. Ferrous metals are anodized using nitric acid or by using red fuming nitric acid for treatment. This forms a hard black iron (II, III) oxide that maintains conformity. 

Steel and other ferrous metals cannot be anodized as they will corrode when subjected to the anodizing process.

Anodised parts in colour
Anodized parts in colour

Benefits of Anodizing Aluminium

The following are some of the benefits derived from anodizing:

  • Good surface properties: Anodizing improves the surface properties of the material. It increases the part’s corrosion resistance as well as  scratch and wear resistant
  • Better protection: Anodizing aluminium offers better protection than painting as the protective layer is one with the part and can neither peel nor chip
  • Better surface absorption for coatings: The layer created has improved absorption, so paint primers and glue adherence on anodized metals are much better and improved than bare metals
  • Galling prevention: Anodizing prevents galling (wear caused by adhesion of sliding surface) of threaded components such as bolts and nuts
  • Shiny surface finish: Anodizing gives surfaces a shiny aesthetic finish. Also, it provides the option to apply a variety of colours to parts
  • Good insulation properties: It improves insulation properties as it produces parts with lower electrical conductivity compared to bare metal.

Anodizing Aluminium in Different Colours

The standard colours available for anodized parts are clear, bronze, champagne and black. Other colours include; red, pink, gold, yellow, green, brown, black, blue, violet, olive drab and grey. But the most common colour is black followed by blue, red and gold.


An anodized aluminium part may be dyed or undyed. The part is dipped into a hot dye tank immediately and directly after anodizing. A variety of colours can be obtained through this process.

Anodised parts in blue
Anodized parts in blue

Electrolytic Colouring

Another way of adding colours to anodized aluminium parts is by electrolytic colouring. In this process, the part is immersed in another electrolytic solution together with metallic salts. These salts form coatings that are UV resistant. However, the possible colours are limited to black or bronze.

Colour Selection

Colours for anodized parts can be often selected by either colour name or RAL code. Colour names specify commonly available colours simply by their name, such as green or red. This is the most commonly available option when selecting the colour for anodizing.

Large manufacturing plants can sometimes offer to anodize with the RAL colour code system that gives very exact options for the required colour. 

The RAL system differentiates between various shades and types of a particular colour, thus providing a palette of numerous colours. 

For example, while the colour name will simply specify “grey”, the RAL chart specifies ” anthracite grey” with the code “RAL 7016”, along with various other types of grey.

CNC machined parts anodised in different colours
CNC machined parts anodized in different colours

Get Anodized Aluminium Parts with Xometry

Xometry Europe offers high quality hard and coloured anodizing for all our aluminium parts. We offer various colours, including black, blue, gold, green, red, orange, and others.

To request anodized aluminium parts, simply select your preferred type and colour under the finishing column when uploading your model to our Instant Quoting Engine. 

If you are uncertain about the type of anodizing that’s best for your application, our experts are always standing by to assist.

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