Have you ever wanted to give the daily objects around you a splash of color? Maybe you want to add a cool pattern to a plain-looking item like your shoes or phone? Wondering how to do this without shelling out a ton of money?
There’s a simple and fun method you can use! With just some paint and water you can turn almost any object’s surface into a colorful, patterned delight.
Welcome to the world of hydro dipping, a printing technique that transfers stunning colorful patterns onto any object you choose. This customizable and easy to do artform has become so popular that it has generated thousands of videos of people hydro dipping everything from their sneakers to their laptops.
You may have seen these videos on Youtube and have been itching to try it out yourself. Here’s how you can begin in the comfort of your own home!
What is Hydro Dipping?
Hydro dipping (also known as water transfer printing, hydrographic printing, swirling, and marbling) is a simple process involving water immersion and paint. The process works by transferring paint from the surface of water directly onto a 3-D object, often creating marbled and even ‘psychedelic’ effects.
The History of Hydro Dipping
Technically known as water transfer printing, hydro dipping is a technique that originated out of Japan in the 1980s. It was originally a printmaking method in which a surface is cut, or ‘incised’, with a pattern that would catch ink to form the print. Later, it was discovered that if a soluble film was laid out on water, it would curve to the shape of an object that was immersed. This was a boon to commercial outfits as they could now print unique designs involving complex patterns onto objects that had tricky surfaces — curves, grooves, nooks.
In the four decades since its invention it has moved into the cultural mainstream acquiring its everyday name, ‘hydro dipping’, along the way. While hydrographic film is now sold in readymade kits for the experienced hobbyist, methods such as the spray paint method have made it easier and more accessible to a wider range of people.
This spray paint method is what is often employed in viral videos, which have people hydro dipping objects ranging from their kitchenware to deer skulls!
Why Hydro Dip?
Apart from looking amazing, it’s the most cost-effective way to jazz up everyday objects. You can have custom designs printed onto 3D objects in ways that would be very difficult to do manually. It’s also great to use for items that are available only in limited colors or have no customization options available.
Hydro dipping is quick and useful for objects that have surfaces which are not flat making it impossible for a paint brush to reach everywhere. It’s a method anyone can execute with no prior artistic experience. If you have a really complex design, you could print that onto hydrographic film and apply it to your object.
With hydro dipping, dips will never look the same, so every object you print is unique. It’s easy to master, and once you have, opens up possibilities for experimentation of all kinds.
You can fix up your favorite objects that have become old or damaged with a coat of fresh paint using hydro dipping. When properly executed, the prints are durable for several years, resistant to a variety of environmental conditions.
Hydro Dipping Techniques: An Overview
The basic principle of hydro dipping is surface tension. The paint rests on the surface of the water as the two do not mix. When an object is immersed, the heavier water below pushes the surface water molecules onto the shape of the object.
- Spray Paint: This is the method most suitable for beginners who want to dip like they do in online videos. You simply use spray paint in a tub of water and immerse your chosen object. Read below for step-by-step instructions.
- Hydrographic Film: Sometimes hydro dipping is done with special hydrographic film and an activator. This is a more complex and semi-professional process, but it tends to yield fantastic results. The difference is instead of paint, custom-printed water-soluble film is laid on top of the water for the object to be dipped through. For the at-home version, readymade hydro dipping kits are available which come with hydrographic film. You can choose from available prints or design your own to order.
- Borax: Forms of hydro dipping are also commonly done with borax. This is sometimes known as water marbling or paint swirling, where borax is put into water and liquid paint is used in place of spray paint. Borax reduces the surface tension of the water allowing the paint to flow into swirls.
Can I Hydro Dip at Home?
Of course! In the past hydro dipping has been available only commercially and was used by businesses all around the world for branding and customizing various products. Thankfully, today we can practice hydro dipping at home whether using a readymade kit or not. It also requires relatively little equipment or experience to practice.
What Can I Hydro Dip?
Hydro dipping techniques can be used on materials like plastic, wood, glass, ceramics, metal and fabric.
One of the great things about hydro dipping is the almost endless list of things you can dip! Popular objects you might see being dipped include phone cases, sports equipment, guitars, shoes, car parts, and more.
An equally popular hydro dipping item is bone. Antlers and skulls of various animals can be printed using the same spray paint used for plastic, fabric, metal etc.
Once you have some practice, you can even dip electronics like video game controllers and AirPods! Doing so requires that you separate the casing from the electronic components, or if that isn’t possible, seal any openings in the device properly.
Smaller items are certainly easier to dip as they require less paint and smaller water containers. Small, non-electronic items are the best choice for beginners.
What Supplies Do I Need?
Spray paint hydro dipping is the easiest and most popular method to use at home. You will need:
- Your object to dip
- Warm water (70 degrees Fahrenheit and above)
- A container that can hold enough water to fully immerse your object without it touching the bottom, sides, or being visible from the top. A plastic, see-through container would be ideal.
- Spray paints (oil based) – begin with 2 or 3 colors
- Primer (spray can) (clear or white) – for the basecoat
- Gloss or Matte Finish (spray can) – for the topcoat
- Masking Tape – To cover the areas you don’t want printed
- A pair of gloves + A mask
- Stirrer or piece of wood (optional)
While many people opt to buy DIY hydro dipping kits, it isn’t essential. You can buy all of the products you need individually, and it also saves money as you tend to receive smaller sample sizes of each product when you buy a kit. However, ready-made kits may be more convenient to use if you only want to dip a few objects, or if you are looking for specific customized patterns.
How to Hydro Dip with Spray paint: Step-by-Step
Before You Start
Hydro dipping can take some practice to get right. For your first dip, it’s a good idea to choose an item you wouldn’t mind messing up. Start with a white object, either buy a standard white mug or find a pair of old sneakers. A scratched dinner plate or any unused piece of ceramic or plastic lying around your house will do. You could even practice with smooth rocks!
Once you have the hang of it, you can dip your real item and get great results. By clearing your water and staying organized, you can do your practice items and your real item all in one session!
If your item isn’t brand new, make sure to clean it thoroughly. Especially if it has grooves and crevices where you want the print to stick, proper cleaning is essential. Dirt and grime will lower the chances of successful paint adhesion.
If it’s a wooden object, you might even want to sand or scuff it for a smooth surface.
- Tape over any areas of your object that you don’t want paint on during the dipping process. For example, if you’re hydro dipping a shoe, you can tape the sides and bottom. If there’s a logo you want to cover, place a square piece of tape first then gently cut out excess tape around the outline of the logo.
- Spray a light coat of clear primer (base coat) over the entire object.
- Let the primer air dry for one hour.
- Fill approximately ¾ of your container with warm water. A full container could overflow, but you want the water to be deep enough so that your item doesn’t hit the bottom during the dip.
- Spray your chosen colors on the surface of the water, holding the can about 6 inches away, careful not to splash up any water.
- After spraying the paint, you can gently stir the water to achieve a unique pattern. Colors can be used multiple times in different areas until the paint patterns are to your liking. This step is optional.
- Now you can dip your item! Hold it above the area of paint you want to transfer to your item and lower it slowly into the container.
- STOP with your item fully submerged. With a stirrer or your free (gloved) hand, swirl the surrounding water so as to clear the surface of paint.
- Pull your item out of the water through the same spot to avoid picking up additional paint.
- Once removed, set it aside to air dry completely.
- Once dry, apply a layer of gloss or matte topcoat to the item to seal the paint in and protect your work. Allow to dry and repeat with 2-3 coats for best results.
- Once the topcoat is dry, you’re done!
Does it look like you imagined it would? Don’t worry if it doesn’t. It’s common that the first attempt isn’t perfect. Don’t give up. Hydro dipping is a straightforward process with limited variables. Tiny mistakes can affect the outcome, but they’re easy to avoid. Take a look at the following two sections which will help you remember these key variables, and adjust accordingly.
Do’s and Don’ts
- Do keep the side to be printed facing the water.
- Do use only warm water above 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius)
- Do keep the layer of paint just right, too thin or too thick and it won’t wrap around the object properly
- Do keep the pace slow and steady while immersing the object and taking it out.
- Don’t move the object itself when immersed.
- Don’t move on to any stage before the object is dry. Wait for the appropriate amount of time between each stage.
- Remember to separate the casing from electronic components in gadgets such as a speaker or phone. If you want to dip an object such as headphones then carefully seal every entry point.
- If you have an object that isn’t white but you want to keep that color beneath, for example a yellow mug, then spray clear primer as the basecoat.
- Depending on the item, you can attach a temporary handle to get complete coverage. Paint coverage is more controlled with a handle than using your hands.
- If you live in a particularly humid place where air drying isn’t possible, you can use a blow dryer.
- Note that temperature and humidity play a critical role in determining how paint behaves. This will take some practice and experience to grasp, so be patient.
- Try to hydro dip outdoors. If you have to do it indoors, make sure you’re wearing a mask and that there is enough ventilation to clear the air.
- Use food-safe paints for printing on kitchenware that you intend to use after
- Use a container you don’t need for other purposes since there will always be leftover paint.
- Remember to wear disposable gloves to avoid skin exposure to harmful chemicals in primers, paints, and finishes.
- Always wear a mask to shield yourself from aerosols as they’re highly toxic to breathe in.
Project Ideas to Get Started
The Popular Stuff:
Get started with the most popular items. Grab an old pair of shoes and give them fresh life. Try different kinds of footwear, anything from sneakers to pumps will work. Maybe you’re bored of your phone case, makeup brush handles, water bottle, helmet, or belt buckle.
Guns, car parts, and bike parts are all popular items to dip. Hunters will often dip deer skulls or antlers.
Kitchenware & Household Goods:
Plain ceramic cups, mugs, and tableware can be transformed into a more interesting experience when used to serve food and drinks in. If they’re scratched or cracked this is a nice way to fix them up and give them new life. Also fun choices are water bottles/tumblers and flower pots.
Match all your electronic gadgets or have each one be a different color and pattern. Your console and controllers can be colorful instead of just plain old black. Your headphones can be a jumble of colors that you can accessorize with everyday. Just remember to only hydro dip the outer cases of electronic equipment or super seal every entry point to protect from water damage.
Old Metal Objects:
Clean rust off metal objects and hydro dip them to not only make them look new but prevent further corrosion. Useful for door knobs, pipes, automotive parts, garage equipment like cans, and hammer handles.
Try and see if you can find materials that aren’t listed here to hydro dip but check to see if they require a different set of primers, paints, and finishes.
That’s it! You’re ready to produce your own hydro dipped creations. It might seem like quite a lot of information to take in, but once you start, you’ll be surprised at how easy and intuitive it is.
Hydro dipping can take practice, so don’t be discouraged if your first couple of tries aren’t perfect. Make note of your techniques as well as supplies and external conditions. Try adjusting these variables and attempt again!
The whole process is fun and rewarding. Before you know it, you’ll be turning everything around you into awesome, one of a kind pieces. Happy Dipping!