What is Hydro Dipping, Hydrographics Printing, or Water Transfer Printing?
Hydrographics is also described as immersion printing, water transfer printing, water transfer imaging, or cubic printing. It is a method of applying hydrographics printed designs to three-dimensional objects. The hydrographics process can be used realistically on any hard surface. Use your imagination and you can hydro dip almost anything you desire. Some of the common surfaces include: metal, plastic, glass, hard woods, and various other materials.
Now before you paint your project using the spray gun you will want to pre-tape the item. This is also a tedious task which most hydro dippers do not like to take the time to do. The good ones like we have here at Dipology always take the time to prep the item correctly. If you do not prep your item correctly your dip could end up very flawed and then you will have to restart with your prep work. On the subject of taping the item you must realize how the item will lay when you hydro dip it. Some items could require you to dip multiple times to obtain a flawless finished product.
We recently hydro dipped a hunting bow that came out perfect! We first added a neon orange base coat to give it a really unique look. This bow required two hydro dips because of the intricate curves and the shape of the bow. So always remember to take into account the surface of your project before dropping it into the water. After we added a clear hydrographics flame pattern over the top of the orange. The color showed through and the overall look was something to be proud of. The customer was ecstatic when they saw their bow and knew there would be no other like it!
To give you an idea of the technical aspect of how hydro dipping works here is a brief explanation. A polyvinyl alcohol film is gravure-printed which means the image is engraved onto the film with the graphic image to be transferred. Once you measure your item it’s time to cut your desired piece of hydrographics film. Remember to give yourself a buffer zone depending on the size of the item and the shape. When you lay out the film use masking tape to cover both sides of the film. Use a blade and cut a clean line down the middle of the masking tape. This will prevent the water transfer film from floating away on you. Whether you are using a dip tank or not be sure to place dams on each side of the hydrographics film. You will also need to place a dam on the top portion of the film boxing it in on all sides. Again, this needs to be there to keep the shape of the film and the aspect ratio of your pattern.
Once you place the film carefully it is then floated on the surface of a vat of water. Check closely to make sure there are no bubbles and if so you can gently use your finger or blow them out. If you use your finger do not let any excess water touch the top of the film. The next step is to spray the film with an activator chemical to dissolve it into a liquid and activate a bonding agent. There is a timing piece for how long the film should sit on the water so you almost always want to do a trial run on a speed shape. The item is then lowered into the water starting at one end and slowly covering the entire surface of the item. You will push the item through the floating ink layer, which wraps around and adheres to your item. Once you submerse the
item you will want to shake it out and wash away
any excess film before pulling it up.
The next step is to take it to your wash station. All you do is simply run water on the item and remove any excess gel from the item. This should take a few minutes depending on the item. When the soap like bubbles are gone it is safe to begin the drying process. The best way to dry the item is by using a pressure sprayer attached to a compressor. If you do not have one I would suggest hanging the item and using a conventional fan. Once the piece is dry you are ready for the next step in the process.
If you have any additional questions about the process or a project please tell us about it so we can help!
855-900-3477 or Request a Quote
We are a full service hydro dipping company with lots of creativity and precise execution. Our work can be seen on our site, but we always love to help fellow hydro dippers who want to try the process out as well. Thank you for your interest in a new innovative industry and good luck!
Hydrographic Process Video
Here’s a quick step-by-step video for dipping multiple pieces
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