water transfer printing on a helmetWater transfer printing has become known as hydrographics, but on the streets and in customization, it is called hydro dipping. The technology is so pervasive that it has many other names like fluid imaging and probably the most popular hydrographic printing. This technology has myriad uses across multiple sectors of business and has replaced much of the archaic methods of printing on three dimensional items like clothing, helmets, cell phones and their cases, rims and many other real world practical applications.

All strata can be replicated using this process including techniques that once required a skilled airbrush artist and many man hours like replicating wood grain, camouflage and even certain geometrical shapes on 3rd dimensional products like even parts of motorcycles. That new fashionable paint job may not be a paint job at all because if it can be immersed in water, it can be printed on with hydrographic printing. Additionally, because of the very high price to have these products printed on in old archaic methods, this type of printing process becomes very cost effective comparatively.  Here’s a great company in the bay area that specializes in water transfer printing – http://goexo.com/site/hydrographics/

The process uses film that can be dissolved in water, but not completely initially. This films has the design embedded, and it lays on the surface of the water tank of whichever size is appropriate. With the addition of an activator, the film then dissolves away totally leaving the ink which is in the form of the design to be printed on the product, but floating on the surface of the water. The item to be printed upon is then immersed into the water through the ink layer which envelopes the product and affixes itself.

The item is finished with the printing process at this point. However, it must be removed, rinsed cleanly, and in order to protect the design and give it that finished look, a topcoat is applied. This topcoat is an automotive grade topcoat, so it provides the same level of protection as a high end vehicle’s paint jobs and clear coat topcoat provides. Beyond airbrushing, several advances in printing on three dimensional items were invented, but they all had huge drawbacks including the quality of the print itself. Many were nothing more than heated stickers like transfer printing and heat printing methods.

Because of the drawbacks of these old methods of printing, many were not able to be utilized in many industrial applications, but this process is so easy and forgiving along with its major scalability, that the automotive industry employs this technique more than any other industry. They contract much of this business to smaller operations, and this makes hydrographics a great start up business with ready for business customers. The incentive for starting one of these operations is even greater because there are still not as many providers as needed, so the demand hydrographic services will be great across many sectors. Additionally, the technique can be applied to plastic, wood and metals of all kinds. To reverse an issue or a misprint, the image is easily sanded away and reprinted.

The process from beginning to end is approximately four to six weeks after the artwork is produced. This process is much shorter than the alternative older processes by many weeks. The artwork has to be printed in a cylindrical photographic engraving process to produce the film, and this requires the most time in the process. Additionally because all that is left is the ink after the film is dissolved and no base color, the required base coat color must be applied first. This allows certain effects to be reproduced perfectly. Items may already contain the correct base coat color, but other may have to incur an additional painting process. This process would have to have the same quality and integrity as any painted automotive factory piece would have because it is the base coat, and it is apart of the durability of the final product.