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What is hydro dipping?

Hydro dipping, also known as water transfer printing, is a technique for applying customized designs to three-dimensional objects. One of its biggest advantages is that its designs can be printed from a digital file. This means that designs can be easily replicated, edited as needed, and have virtually unlimited design freedom.

Although the technology for hydro dipping was first patented back in the 1960s, it was only in the last decade or so that it has caught on. Its versatility has been one of its most distinct benefits. 

How does hydro dipping work?

Hydro dipping, also known as water

In a typical hydro dipping process, the digital design is printed on a piece of PVA paper.  (Polyvinyl Alcohol) 

Once the design has been printed, the piece of PVA paper is placed on a vat of water. This vat needs to be just deep enough for the entire piece to be submerged. Depending on the type of PVA paper, the vat may need to be heated to a certain temperature. Some waiting time may also be necessary to allow for complete hydration of the PVA layer.

When the PVA layer has melted, you will be left with a replication of the printed design floating on top of the water surface. This will naturally expand along the surface of the water. To control the expansion, the best option would be to do the hydro dipping process in a vat with movable borders. You can also use strips of masking tape as makeshift borders.

Once the PVA layer has hydrated, the layer of ink is sprayed with an activator. This makes the transparent film holding the ink together dissolve, finally liquefying the ink. The activator needs to be applied sparingly with a very fine mist – using too much can cause the design to be ruined.

Finally, it is time for the workpiece to be dipped into the hydro dipping solution. As the piece is being very gently lowered into the water vat, surface tension will allow the design to be pressed against the surface of the piece. The water-based medium will also the design to permeate into the smallest spaces on your workpiece.

 

The angle at which the piece is dipped, as well as the rate at which it is lowered, significantly affect how the finished product will look like. This is something you need to plan for and learn through experience.

Once the entire piece has been submerged, the remaining film on top of the water is pushed away before raising the piece again. There will be some sticky residue on the surface of the piece. This can be washed with water, preferably using a shower head or water hose. Gently rubbing can help remove the residue but be careful not to rub too hard, as this may damage the design.

The final step of hydro dipping is coating the surface of the workpiece with a coat of polyurethane. This protects the design from mechanical damage and gives it a nice, glossy finish.

Applications of hydro dipping.

Coming up with a list of hydro dipping applications is tough because just about anything can be customized with this technology. Anything that can be dipped in water without damaging it is a great candidate for hydro dipping. Here are some examples of items that we have asthetically improved via hydro dipping:

Electronics and computers

 

Home furniture

Automotive parts.

Tactical gear.

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