You’ve probably heard of hydro dipping with spray paint or hydrographic film. While you can get awesome results with these two paint dipping methods, there’s another, lesser-known method that the pro’s use…
Borax paint dipping uses the same basic hydro dipping principles but with a couple tweaks to the materials and techniques.
If you want to achieve the rich, flowy and clean spirals of paint that just look so unique they’re out of this world, you need to try this method of swirl painting. The pro’s use borax paint dipping for everything that normal hydro dipping methods can be used for—guitars, guns, bike frames—whatever you want!
Here’s your ultimate guide to swirl painting using borax, enamel paints, and your soon-to-be-awesome item.
What is Swirl Painting?
Swirl painting is a result of beautiful printed patterns of paints that have been allowed to form organic swirls. It has its roots in Japanese paper marbling and is a subset of water immersion printing (AKA hydro dipping). Popularly used to decorate guitar bodies for one-of-a-kind custom looks, it can actually be used for any 3D object made of metal, wood, plastic etc.
What is Borax Paint Dipping?
Paint dipping involves paints floating on the surface of the water, and when an object is dipped, the paint wraps around the object in an unrepeatable, unique pattern. Generally, when paint is introduced to the water’s surface, it forms concentric circles which are difficult to control.
In borax paint dipping, sodium borate (known as borax) is added to the water. This chemical compound changes the water’s tension properties, allowing the paint to flow without breaking, and therefore allowing you to control its pattern. The addition of borax is what creates the swirl effect.
What also makes this method unique is that it uses enamel paints (“dropped” onto the water) rather than spray paint or hydrographic film. This in combination with the borax allows for stunning final results.
How to Get Started with Borax Paint Dipping
First, choose your item to dip. Begin with something small and simple (instead of a guitar or any complex object containing electronic components). Items made of metal, wood, or plastic will work—anything you can think of can be dipped with the right procedures. An object with enough visible surface area to bring attention to those spirals is a good idea. You might even want to start with some dummy items like a block of wood or a spare tool.
Next, gather your supplies. You’ll need a wide and deep tub or bucket to be filled with warm water, borax, primer, enamel paints, pipettes to lay the paint, and a stirrer. Additional supplies you might want are a base coat, a gloss or matte top coat, and a thermometer.
The right container will help make your swirl painting project go smoothly. Find a container that is deep enough to submerge your object fully. Avoid using a shallow container or a too narrow container. A popular choice for those dipping guitars is a large trash can—you can even use a small trash can for small objects. If you want to keep your container clean, you can line it with a trash bag.
Humbrol enamel paints do not need to be thinned while using water mixed with borax. However, if you are using other paints, then thinning may be required before you start swirl painting.
The viscosity (thickness) of oil-based paints is high, which means the paint may sink when dropped into water. While borax is used to decrease the surface tension of the water and allow the paint to move more freely than it normally would, the thinner will allow the paint to float. Your enamel paints may say not to thin them, but this is not applicable for water immersion printing. You will need to buy a paint thinner that can thin enamels.
Try testing out what works with the materials you have. With your water ready, use a cup or bowl to pull out a little bit of water to test with. Gently drop paints thinned and unthinned to see how they swirl. Repeat to get the right thinner ratio.
Beginners Supply Guide
Rust-Oleum Flat White Primer is ideal for beginners and works on any surface from wood to metal to plastic. It is also available in grey and black. Alternatively, you can use a Paint+Primer with more color options to get a base coat you’re looking for.
Borax is just a plain household chemical, so any brand will do. Make sure to check the price per ounce to get the best value.
We recommend Humbrol Paints. These enamel paints do not need to be thinned, so they are ideal for borax paint dipping. Check out the entire range of Humbrol enamel paints which are available and both gloss and matte options. These can be used by both beginners and experts, and all of the colors are available in 14ml sizes for you to start your borax paint dipping journey with.
Rust-Oleum automotive enamel spray — Only use a polyurethane automotive grade clear coat over your enamel paint dipped object. If you are buying another brand or think you might have some automotive clear coat, check for the word enamel—do not use it if it says acrylic.
- Paint pipettes
- 5 gallon bucket or 14-Gallon Rubbermaid Storage Container (for dipping large objects)
- 2” painters tape
1) Prepare your item
Make sure your object is cleaned, sanded, and degreased. Apply primer, and let it dry. Handle with gloves to keep it clean. Tape off the sides you do not want to be painted. It may help to add a makeshift handle using wire or a piece of wood depending on the weight of the object.
Optional: Add base coat. This will be the color visible if there are any gaps in the dip.
2) Prepare your water
Fill your water container with warm water (70 degrees fahrenheit and above). Ideally, use a heater with a digital reader. If your warm water is from the tap, dip your hand in for a couple of seconds to double check the temperature—it should be warm. Keep track of how many gallons of water you add.
3) Add borax
Start mixing in the borax with your water. You need roughly 1.5-2 tablespoons for every gallon of water. Wait for the borax to dissolve completely. Let it sit for roughly half an hour. Alternatively, you can dissolve the borax in a separate pot of hot water, then add this to the container.
Once the water is ready, test it for the correct borax to water ratio. Pull out some water, drop some paint and see if it spirals.
4) Add paint
Now the fun part. Whether it’s two or more colors, start from the darkest and make your way to the lightest. With a pipette or spoon, start as close to the water surface as possible and be gentle as you introduce the paint to the water surface so as to not splash it.
5) Add more paint
You want the paints to occupy the whole surface, swirling into each other. Continue adding paint until the whole surface is covered. Consider placing drops in different areas to achieve a unique pattern.
6) “Swirl” the paint
Take the stirrer, insert it into the water, and move it around very gently to create your desired “swirled” effect. This step is optional.
Take your object, and slowly dip at a slight angle. While submerging, you can gently move your object around to capture the paint where you would like it to be. This requires observing the pattern before you dip the object, and then dipping the object in a calculated manner to meet those patterns. Remember, this is a delicate process—you can only adjust your movement so much once the item is immersed.
Once your item is fully immersed, clear the surrounding water with the stirrer or your hand. Then pull out the object and admire your work.
9) Let dry and finish
Let your item dry. This could take a day or two.
When it’s completely dry, use a clear coat to seal in the colors. Automotive clear coat is preferable as it’ll provide protection against environmental damage to the highest degree, and for a long time. Spray this only when you’re wearing a proper mask and in a very well ventilated area.
10) Enjoy and repeat!
Enjoy your newly dipped item! Make note of how your swirl turned and anything you can do better in your next go-around. There are infinitely many ways to experiment with borax paint dipping.
- If you’re immersing wood or some other buoyant object, expect pushback from the water. It will resist going under, so be careful to use the correct force while dipping—not so much as to agitate the water, but not so light that it jerks back suddenly.
- A slight angle (30 degrees) while dipping will offer a smooth breakthrough of the surface tension of the water.
- If you’ve ever hydro dipped with acrylic paints, you’ll know that they dry in a couple of hours. This isn’t the case with enamels which can take up to 48 hours to dry if not more.
This borax paint dipping guide will help take you from beginner to happy hobbyist, or even professional. Stay safe and have fun swirl painting with the borax!