What is Hydro Dipping or Paint Dipping?

Green and pink spray paint being sprayed into water.

Hydro dipping is taking the crafting world by storm! Hydro dipping, also known as immersion printing, uses a water-transfer printing and hydro-imaging process to apply graphics and color to just about any object.

Although some industries, like automakers and sporting goods companies, have been using the technique for quite a while, ordinary folks like you and I seem to just now be catching on to how cool this painting alternative really is.

If you enjoy taking a simple, humdrum item and turning into a totally unique creation, then hydro dipping is definitely worth looking in to.

What is hydro dipping or paint dipping? Hydro dipping is a method of applying color patterns to a wide variety of objects, using tints and paints on the surface of the water. Typically, a paint is initially sprayed onto the water’s surface. Then, the item that you are painting is passed through that fluid. When that happens, the paint or ink is evenly applied to the surface. 

If you aren’t familiar with the process of using hydro dipping or paint dipping and would like to learn more, then you’ve come to the right place.

In the following, you’ll learn how to hydro dip using spray paint and transfer film. Once you start making creative, colorful objects using hydro dipping, you’ll be hooked!

What Type of Paints Can You Use to Hydro Dip? 

Spray paint is the most commonly used paint when it comes to hydro dipping.

Most people use spray paint hydro dipping along with paper marbling and apply these designs and colors to a variety of three-dimensional objects.

As long as the surface texture of your item can absorb the color and pattern that you’ve picked, you should be able to create many unique designs.

If you aren’t sure whether your surface can absorb the colors and patterns, then consider using sandpaper to sand down your surface to make it more suitable for the paint.

If you have an object that’s a complex shape, then you can use sandblasting instead to prepare the piece.

Once you’ve done that, you can tape all the parts you don’t want to hydro dip. Some people even create their own handles with tape so the object is easier to dip. 

Using Paint to Hydro Dip

If you plan on using paint to hydro dip, the process isn’t too tricky. Just remember to wear gloves.

  1. First, get a plastic container and add water to it. Make sure the box is deep enough so that you can submerge your object. After that, grab any type of acrylic spray paint to get started. 
  2. Spray your paint into the water. (If you have any old spray paints lying around, you can use them up when you hydro dip.)
  3. Spray on different areas of the water’s surface to create bright, colorful patterns. You can make your designs as vivid and loud as you like. Keep spraying until you like the look and pattern of the colors that you’ve created. 
  4. Slowly lower your item into the container and keep submerging it at a steady pace. The floating color will start wrapping around your object almost like a towel. 
  5. It’s best to dip items at a 45 degree angle if you want to get the best results. However, you can use different angles if you’re going to create different effects with the paint. 
  6. Move the paint floating on the water away from you, so you don’t wind up adding any additional or unwanted coats or tints on your item. 
  7. After you’ve moved the paint, you can then take your object out and allow it to dry. 
  8. Spray a protective coating of polyurethane two or three times on top of your paint coating so that the color and pattern of your paint is protected. 

Hydro Dipping with Transfer Film

Another popular method with hydro dipping is to use transfer film. This became popular about 40 years ago and kicked off the mass application of hydro dipping.

You can use these films to achieve all kinds of patterns and colors. They also help to make a uniform appearance using beautiful, bright hues. 

If you want to hydro dip using a transfer film, then you’ll need a few more items than what you’d need when using spray paint.

You’ll need to use a primer to prepare your object, and after you’ve added your transfer film, you’ll also need to apply an activator to make the process set. 

While spray paint is probably the most popular form of hydro dipping today, transfer film works well for 3D-printed parts.

When you select the object you want to use the transfer paper on, you’ll need to ensure that it can absorb a lot of colors.

Just like with your spray paint, if you aren’t sure about the object’s ability to hold color, you’ll need to sand the surface. 

If you are dealing with a more challenging shape, then you should consider sandblasting the object to ensure that the colors will stay.

Once you’ve done that, tape the areas of your object that you don’t want hydro painted. Using the tape, you can make some handles to help you dip your item. 

Follow these simple steps:

  1. You can add a base coat of paint onto your object, which may work well, depending on your hydro dipping film. Some films are translucent, and when that’s the case, it’s a good idea to apply a base coat. 
  2. Grab a protective mask since you’ll be working with chemicals. 
  3. Add primer on the object you are painting. Primer is essential because it will allow the film to stick to your object. 
  4. Once you’ve primed your object, allow it to dry completely. You may need to let it sit for as long as two hours. 
  5. Use a plastic container that’s deep enough to submerge your object and add some water. Keep the water temperature at 77 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  6. You’ll need to cut down your film so that it’s the correct size. Then, glue tape to the edges so your film won’t roll or crease.
  7. Grab two edges with your hands and glide your object over the water surface dipping the two sides you aren’t holding first. Dip so that you don’t get air bubbles underneath your film. 
  8. Leave the film in the water for about a minute (this can vary depending on the film you are using, so make sure you check the manufacturer’s directions). 
  9. Spray the activator on the film when you are ready to activate it. 
  10. Slowly submerge your object into the container. The film will start wrapping around your object like a towel. It’s a good idea to use a 45-degree angle when you are dipping your objects. 
  11. After you’ve dipped, move the film away so that you don’t get another coating added onto your object. Once you’ve moved it, pull it out. Rinse off your object carefully, and let it sit to dry.
  12. After your object is dry, spray it with a few coats of polyurethane for protection. 

Now that you’ve learned two different techniques for hydro dipping, you can have some fun playing around with the process.

While there is a bit of a learning curve, as soon as you are creating unique, beautiful designs for your objects, your decorating creativity will know no bounds!

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I'm a hobby enthusiast with a real love for painting miniatures. I also happen to run this site and write the majority of its content!