What is Hydrographics?
Hydrographics is the method used to give 3 dimensional surfaces a printed, usually patterned, design. This process also goes by the names of water transfer printing, water transfer imaging, cubic printing, immersion printing or hydro dipping. There is even a trend called “camo-dipping” where items are given a camouflage pattern. Many different types of materials can have a printed design applied to them through hydrographics and this includes plastic, metal, hard woods, metals, fiberglass as well as other materials. From car parts to helmets, there are a lot of different things we use hydrographics for. As long as you can dip it in water and paint it, then it will work just fine to use the hydro dipping method.
While you may have seen cool videos of hydro dipping on YouTube (and if you haven’t you probably should), it’s known that the first registered and patented back in 1982 by Motoyasu Nakanishi. Motoyasu was a team member of Kabusiki Kaisha Cubic Engineering, which is the company that holds this patented hydrographic equipment. Being probably the coolest way to get a patterns on 3D objects, water transfer printing is intriguing to say the least. How does it work? Luckily for you we’re going to be breaking down the process of hydro dipping, step by step, so you can have a better understanding of this method.
What You Need in Order to Hydro Dip
Before we dive into the entire process, it’s important to know about what kind of equipment you’re going to need for this method. You’re going to need the following things in order to successfully hydro dip:
- Primer/base color paint
- Clear coating paint
- Hydrographic film activator
- Scuff pad
- Polyvinyl alcohol hydrographic film
- Brush for touch ups
- A large dipping container
- Tap water
The water transfer printing method is quite extensive and it’s important to make sure you have everything you need before you get started. While you can obtain all of these items separately, a great place to get any of the hydrographics supplies you need is easily done online at www.infectedhydro.com. We offer a complete hydrographics dip kit that includes most of the items above as well as some additional items. It also comes with easy to follow instructions for you to follow so you don’t have to worry about going back online to make sure you’re doing everything right.
With the Vortex/Infected hydro kit by Infected Hydro, you’ll be ready to start in no time. Available for a great value, you can get this kit for less than $100. You get to choose your desired film pattern, base color as well as the finishing coat. If you’ve been curious about camo dipping, this would be perfect for you to start out. Another amazing thing that infectedhydro does is give you a “30 day hassle free return” policy so you can be reassured.
Aside from the hydrographics kit, you’ll want to make sure that you get yourself an AirGunsa Anest Iwata spray gun, which also happens to be available on the Infected Hydro website. It’s ergonomic for a comfortable grip and it gets the job done quick by needing only a single pass over the film. Pair the spray gun with the hydrovator or Antidote activator, which is also available in the hydro dip kit, you’ve got a perfect match. You should be aware that the activator is one of the most important things when it comes to creating the best and highest quality, professional hydrographics performance.
You might be confused on what kind of container you’ll want to use in order to hydro dip. You’ll need to consider the size of whatever you want to hydro dip. For instance, 18 gallon containers would be nice for smaller items while if you want to hydro dip, say, a guitar, then you should go for at least a 50-55 gallon tote container. Remember, you are going to be completely submerging the items you hydro dip, so the size really matters. Also keep in mind to not over-fill your dipping container so it doesn’t overflow as you are hydro dipping.
Where can I get Hydrographics Film?
The best part about hydrographics has got to be the different patterns you’ll be able to use on the items you hydro dip. Just like the hydrographic supplies kit and spray gun, you can find a wide array of hydrographic films available on www.infectedhydro.com. Having hundreds of different options available, there is something for everyone to enjoy. If you are particularly interested in camo dipping, there are many different types of camouflage patterns available at your disposal.
Each film pack contains 3 meters of pattern you can use. There are so many different styles and patterns to choose from, suitable for both genders, and also for a great price. Some of the most popular options they have involve camouflage, skulls, flames, flags, galaxies, animal skins and so much more. Now you can hydro dip whatever you please with the film of your choice.
The Hydro Dipping Process Explained
Now that we’ve finally gone over everything you’re going to need for this process, we can finally get started on how you actually perform the water printing transfer. If this is your very first time, try it out with a smaller item and then move up as you get more comfortable.
- To start off, the item that is going to be hydro dipped must be determined. Hydrographics films work perfectly on plastics, woods, metals, ceramics, metals and many other materials. Always make sure the object is actually safe to dip in water for at least 10 seconds. It’s also important to be sure it’s not electrical and that it won’t absorb the water.
- Once the piece is determined, it must go through a preparation process. You will need to thoroughly clean and de-grease your item, which can easily be done with some degreasing dish soap. After that, then you’ll want to sand the surface to make it dull and unfinished. Go through the cleaning and de-greasing once more and use a clean tack cloth to rid of any debris on the item. Sometimes you’ll need to tape some parts of the item you’re dipping. This is done when you don’t want a certain part to be painted or dipped.
- Now you’re going to need to paint the item you want to dip. It is suggested that you warm the paint a little bit to achieve the best results possible. This can easily be done by placing the paint cans in some warm water 10-20 minutes before you need it. The first coat is going to be the base color. After shaking the paint can until the ball rattles (about 1 minute), spray your item at an upright, 45 degree angle about 1 foot away from it’s surface. After applying a light and even coat, let it dry before applying at least two more coats. Once the coat is dry to the touch, it is important to dip your item within a window of 24-48 hours after painting. This is to ensure the pattern goes on effectively as well as doesn’t smear if the paint is too wet.
- After prepping your object for dipping, you’re going to need to prepare the hydrographic film. To do this measure the film to accommodate the size of your item while also taking into account the dimensions. It’s always better to use slightly more than you need. Be sure that the surface you measure and cut your film on is dry so it does not get contaminated and can adhere to the item properly during the dipping process.
- Because the film will expand to the size of the container as it is activated, a method to prevent the pattern from stretching too much is by using tape. Outline your film with tape leaving a small amount of space between the tape and the film. Use this tape border to keep your film from expanding to the size of your container. Alternatively you can use enough film to leave about an inch of space between the film and the container, but this usually wastes some of the film.
- Now it’s time to prepare for dipping. Fill the dipping container with water, making sure to not over-fill and leave a bit of room for items to submerge. The ideal water temperature is between 75-90 degrees in Fahrenheit. Before placing your film into the water, use a wet finger to determine what side of the film is stickier. Whatever side sticks the most is the side that should be facing down towards the water. Don’t forget about your tape border if you made one.
- When placing the film into the water, make sure it does not fully submerge, but stays afloat on top of the water. By placing the film on the water slowly you can avoid air bubbles. If you happen to get air bubbles, just gently push the bubbles to the edge. You can do this by blowing across the film or by using your finger. Let the film hydrate for about one minute. After this, you’ll need to spray the activator evenly across the film, staying about 10 inches above it. While sometimes you’ll need two coats, one should be enough most times. You’ll know the film is activated when it gives off a glossy look. Be careful not to use too much or too little activator. This is because the wrong amount can cause a failure of the film to adhere to the item.
- It’s time for the best part; the actual dipping. When you are dipping, you want to make sure that every single square inch of surface that needs to have the film applied is exposed. Dipping should be done slowly and at an angle of 30 to 45 degrees in order to avoid any air pockets forming. After the item is fully submerged, shake in a circular motion in order to move the extra film out of the way before item removal.
- The post hydro dipping process consists of washing the item with water. Clean it until there is no more residue that is slimy. Rinsing should be done for up to 5 minutes and the item should be allowed to dry completely before doing the final touch ups. When you touch up, you are looking for any holes in the pattern. You need a brush and a little bit of activator to fix these minor problems. By touching the brush with activator on a part of the film of the same color of the part you’ve found an imperfection, you just need to apply it to the affected area. It’s surprisingly easy to say the least. Again, let the item dry completely.
- Adding the clear coat is the final step of the hydrographic process. Apply the first coat lightly, wait 10 minutes, then apply a second light coat, waiting 10 more minutes for it to set in. You will then need to apply 1 or 2 medium coats, making sure to wait about 10 minutes between each one. Apply as many clear coats as you would like to, but keep in mind that it will get thicker with each coat. After you finish adding coats, let the item cure over the course of several days. Waiting at least 10 days will guarantee that your item has cured completely.
While the process is quite extensive, this is definitely something you can get good at, even in your own home! With the hydro kit from infectedhydro.com, all you need is a dipping container and some water then you’ll be ready to go. Become a hydrographics processor at home and on your own time.
As this trend is steadily on the rise, you can use your new skills to your advantage. Offer to hydro dip some things for your friends and family for a small fee. You can even teach people how to correctly perform the process for a little bit of cash as well. Find cool things to perform the hydrographics method on and put it up on E bay even. There are so many different ways to utilize these skills. Plus, everyone will be super amazed at what you can do!
For more in depth look read our Dip kit Instructions