Say goodbye to boring shoes! Now there’s a fun way to turn your ordinary kicks into a one-of-a-kind pair of shoes. What is this technique? It’s called hydro dipping.
Why have the same shoes as everyone else? With hydro dipping, you can make any pair of shoes your own. With just a little bit of supplies and time, you can hydro dip your way for a unique and custom design you love. Plus, it’s fun!
Here’s how to hydro dip shoes at home.
Why Hydro Dip Shoes?
If there’s one piece of clothing that matters the most, it’s your shoes! Shoes are arguably the most important part of your daily look. They not only provide comfort and functionality, but complement your outfit and define your style. We all know the feeling of wearing a fresh pair of shoes the first time.
Many shoes, such as the Nike AF1’s, come in limited colorways. Plain white sneakers look nice, but they are also a perfect platform for customization.
By hydro dipping shoes, you can have a custom and individual look — no two pairs are ever alike! Your hydro dipped shoes will pop, and the more you dip, the better they’ll get.
Best Shoes to Hydro Dip at Home
If you have a new pair of shoes you want to customize, or an old pair you want to give new life to, go it! It doesn’t matter what the material is — hydro dipping works on all kinds of fabric as long as you apply primer and paint correctly. They don’t even have to be white!
- A pair of shoes
- Tub or bucket large enough to immerse a shoe
- Warm water (70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Masking Tape (painters tape)
- X-Acto Knife (precision cutter)
- Flat white primer
- Spray paints (oil-based acrylic) or Hydrographic Film with Activator
- Matte Clearcoat
- Waterproofer spray
- Stirrer (optional) (for swirling in spray paint method)
- Disposable gloves
- Respirator mask
Hydro dipping is a relatively simple process. We will describe two methods to hydro dip your shoes at home: the spray paint method and the hydrographic method. Grab a pair of gloves and a respirator mask and bring on the fun!
Both methods described here require the same preparation of your shoes.
Prepping your shoes properly is a very important step. If you don’t do this step well, you may find your paint not adhering well or leaking in places you don’t want it to. So make sure to take extra care.
Clean and Tape the Shoes
Unlace your shoes and take out the insoles. Clean the shoes thoroughly. Begin masking off any areas you don’t want paint on using tape. Make sure to tape the bottoms of the shoes for a clean look. If you don’t want the inside of the shoe painted, then tape the insides of the shoe.
You may also want to tape the tongue, the logo, or other specific parts of the shoes. For example, if you want to cover the Nike swoosh, tape over, then with a cutter, carefully cut out the extra tape without damaging the shoe.
Rub the shoe with acetone (nail polish remover). This helps remove the factory finish on the shoe and allows the primer to stick properly. This is true especially for leather shoes such as the Nike Air Force 1.
Spray a flat white primer covering the whole shoe. Let it dry. You can then apply a basecoat of paint if you want a color other than white, say tan for a camouflage print using hydrographic film. This color will show if there are any gaps in your dip
Get Your Water
Get a tub large enough to dip your shoe comfortably without it touching the bottom or sides. Fill it with warm water, 70 degrees Fahrenheit or slightly above.
Method 1: Spray Paint
Make sure you’ve chosen 2-3 colors and have all your materials ready. Try to be outdoors or in a well-ventilated indoor space. Wear a respirator mask either way.
From an arm’s length away, spray each color one after the other in quick succession directly onto the water. Spray them in the same spot to create concentric rings of alternate colors.
Holding on to the bottom of the shoe, dip it slowly and steadily into the water. Do not go too fast — you don’t want to unsettle the water. Do not move it once inside. Clear the surrounding water with your free hand or a stirrer. Take the shoe out just the same way you put it in.
Remove any masking tape NOW. Then let your new shoes dry. This shouldn’t take longer than an hour depending on the temperature of where you are, but it is recommended to wait 24 hours.
Method 2: Hydrographic Film (AKA Water Transfer Printing)
This is an alternative method in which you buy a pre-made film to place on the water instead of spray paint. It is recommended to start with the spray paint method before moving to the hydrographic film method.
Lay your printed hydrographic film onto the water. Make sure the sticky side is touching the water and that there are no trapped air bubbles. Wait for one minute.
Then, spray the activator evenly from side to side. This will dissolve the film and activate the binding agents. Give it a couple of seconds.
Start dipping your shoe at a slight angle, and guide it gently downwards. The print should wrap itself around the shoe. Clear the surrounding water with your free hand, and pull the shoe out of the water.
Rinse off any residue, again with warm water. Remove any masking tape, and let the shoes dry for 24 hours.
It’s important to properly finish and protect your hydro dipped shoes. After all, you’re going to be wearing them and they’ll have to put up with some wear and exposure to the elements.
By this point, you should have already removed any masking tape — doing this step after your shoes are dry can lead to paint coming off.
You will need to apply a matte or glossy clear-coat to seal in the paint. Alternatively, you can use a waterproofer spray (which is good for cloth or canvas shoes). Let each coat dry according to the spray’s directions, and repeat for 2-3 coats.
Then your shoes are done!
Common Mistakes & How to Avoid Them
Not taping properly
Take your time! Do not rush any part of the hydro dipping process, especially the taping step. You should always tape the bottom of the shoes, because paint will affect their grip. Tape should be smooth and well-adhered so as to not let any paint leak through.
Not drying properly
Drying times in-between stages are crucial for proper results. Do not be impatient, and remember that drying times vary depending on atmospheric conditions.
Using film that is damaged
If your film is crumpled or curling sharply at the edges, this will ruin adhesion and the pattern. To avoid this, store film away from light, heat, and humidity. Make sure it’s as smooth as possible before it goes onto the water. Do not touch the top side. Touch the edge to determine the sticky side that goes facedown on the water.
One easy way to handle hydrographic film is to create a frame on all sides of the film using wide tape, allowing you to hold the taped edges without worry. It’s also possible that the film is bad quality, so make sure to purchase wisely.
Do not double dip, especially with film. This won’t work and will probably make things worse. If you want to redo your dip, you’ll have to let the shoes dry and then start over with the acetone and primer.
- Experiment with different color combinations. Use complementary colors within your spray paints for the best aesthetic.
- With a stick or other stirrer, you can gently swirl the paint into a zig-zag pattern. Do not use a stirrer made of wood, because the paints will stick to it. Try a metal stirrer.
- By taping off specific panels of your shoe, you can really highlight your paint job by having it contrast with the original finish.
- You can print your own custom designs onto blank hydrographic film using your desktop inkjet printer. Do not use a laserjet printer.
- Once you get the hang of it, experiment with basecoat colors other than white. Remember the colors or inks from hydro dipping will look different on a basecoat other than white. If you use a yellow basecoat and have spray paint that is blue or hydrographic film with a blue ink design, it will show up as green once hydro dipped and dry.
- It is possible to have two different prints on the same shoe. For example, if you want one side of your shoe red and the other blue, you can mask off one side and dip in red. Then, once this dries, you can tape tape the other side and dip in blue.
That’s how to hydro dip shoes at home! It’s pretty easy, but small things can affect your results significantly, and so it takes practice to get perfect. It’s a good idea to first practice hydro dipping on something other than new $150 shoes.
Stay positive as it just takes a little bit of practice to go from your first attempt at hydro dipping to pro shoe dipper. Grab an old pair of shoes first to practice or try dipping some other small object such as a piece of wood or a hat.
That’s it! Remember to take photos of your work and enjoy your new shoes.