# Hydrodipping 101

Style counts, and sometimes all it takes to jazz up the product of a 3D-printer is a 2D printer and a how-to guide on hydrographic printing.

Hydrographic printing, sometimes called hydrodipping, is a process for transferring graphics onto complex-shaped objects in one simple step. A design is printed on a special film which is then floated on the surface of aΒ tankΒ of water. The object to be decorated is carefully dipped into the water right through the film and the design wraps around all the nooks and crannies in one step.

The video tutorial below details the steps to hydrographic printing and outlines how easy the method has become with the availability of water transfer films for inkjet printers. The film is polyvinyl acetate, which is essentially white glue and hence quite soluble in water. The film dissolves and leaves the ink floating on the surface, ready for dipping.

The video lists quite a few tips for optimizing the process for 3D-printed parts and should let you decorate your parts quickly and easily. And once you master the basics, you might want to look at mathematically warping your design to hydrodip complex surfaces.

Thanks to the delightfully named [Random Noise from the Abyss] for the tip.

## 35 thoughts on “Hydrodipping 101”

1. π π says:

No it is actually pretty useless and good only for low precision eye candy used to attract shallow thinkers to otherwise worthless products.

1. Brodieman says:

you must be fun at parties

1. π π says:

I’ve never been to a clock party. Do you still take a lot of drugs when you go to parties to make yourself fun?

2. Wow, your superior intellect has me absolutely humbled. Please teach me more about how we’re all so much dumber than you are.

1. π π says:

Well you can start by putting aside the intellect delusion and just consider collecting facts. That should sort you out, and keep you busy for a lifetime.

1. Gravis says:

To me, what this really says is that we need an additive based filament coloring for 3d printers.

2. The Gambler says:

so is anything to do with fidget spinners the new arduino here on HAD?

3. Daniel says:

Are there really places where boiling water comes out of the tap?
And where is the Β°?

1. Silis says:

Yes, brands like Quooker sell taps that will dispense boiling water. I have always regarded it as a practice that could lead to serious hurt, but it is a popular upgrade for better than average equipped kitchens.

2. Garrett says:

Dont know if it will reach proper boiling temp, but I have mistakenly set my water-heater to ‘scalding’ before.

3. Igor says:

Yes, I have one and it’s fantastic. It’s not suitable for countries run by lawyers though. It’s fairly safe but they keep making better idiots.

4. papa marc says:

Anybody know where to buy the dipping paper? None of the links or how-tos give any sources, and my searches only come up with “water-slide” transfer paper, otherwise known as decals.

1. papa marc says:

Thanks, looks like a good source! Although the process as described on this site seems a bit more complicated than the one on Adafruit, and calls for more chemicals, which they say are required for a successful transfer.

1. Aliexpress and seach term “hydro graphics film”

5. Ostracus says:

Wonder how durable this is?

1. diekinoordhoek says:

Just clearcoat it and you’re fine.

2. lilhasselhoffer says:

The process is surprisingly robust. I come from a background where black polypropylene parts are shot, then hydro-dipped with a leaf/camo pattern. Said parts are then installed onto RTVs and ATVs. They see a surprising amount of abuse, and still maintain as well as a eurethane decal.

I will say though, precision and this process are not easy. The attempts to bake in an edge line were….better left forgotten. If you have some slop, and patience, the process is fairly painless and can add a lot of color. Just don’t expect precision.

6. Lee says:

It’s polyvinyl alcohol, not polyvinyl acetate as this isn’t water soluble once dry.

7. Alphatek says:

From 2015…

Nice to see it reach hobbyists.

1. diekinoordhoek says:

The video in the post is just regular hydrographic printing, which has been around for decades.

The video you’re linking is a method for distorting the image to match the shape of the object, which is not featured in the post.

1. notarealemail says:

But it should have…

2. Alphatek says:

That’s a real shame. Just hydrodipping isn’t worthy of mention over fidget spinners…

1. diekinoordhoek says:

Eh. They demonstrated it with a fidget spinner because those are a fad right now, but the technique is applicable to whatever you want to make.

8. Wait. He says it smells like Elmers glue. Why shouldn’t I build a scraper system that applies micro teensy tiny layers of wood glue on a piece of paper? Oh yes I know, still working on the Mira clone (working title Miro) and 3d printed headphones and a 4/4 violin. I need to create a hackspace to hire minions who finish stuff for me.
So about the paper and separating the wood glue layer from the paper… how about coating cheap photo paper or some glossy magazines?

1. It would also be possible to take gelatine and crosslink it with formaldehyde. This way the gelatine behaves more like a polymere and loses it’s water-soluble properties. BTW with this method you can even create a material that is hardly distinguishable from ordinary PP or ABS packages/cases/etc. And it stays biodegradable. Much faster then PLA.

2. Delgir says:

PVA (regular white glue) glue peels cleanly off of printable transparency sheets.

You can spread it with a “metering rod”, which is a metal bar wrapped in small diameter wire.

https://www.accudynetest.com/metering_rods.html

So you can make your own waterslide decals/hydrographics.

Or for quick and small application just print right on the transparency put a little super glue on the item you want the graphics on and press the ink side of the transparency down before the glue dries. When you peel off the transparency it tends to get stretched so you can only use it a few times but the resulting transfer is nearly instant and if you used a laser printer it’s waterproof.

3. Annie says:

Wich kind of Elmer’s glue? They have hundreds.

4. Maave says:

How even does the coating have to be? PVA sprayed out of an airbrush would be fast and easy.

9. I have suggested to the tip line that they sell a hackaday logo (several sizes) on hydro graphic sheets. but no takers so far :)

1. Surfingtheither says:

Cool idea, could sell a starter kit as well.

10. loutre says:

ok. what to do now with the precious water filled in with chemicals?