Hydro dipping, also known as immersion printing and water transfer printing, is an industrial process that applies printed patterns to three-dimensional surfaces. It is typically used on consumer goods like cell phone cases, laptops, and other electronic accessories, but it can also be applied to many other home items including light switch plates, signs, furniture, and more.

Since this process involves water (or paint) transfer, it makes for a great DIY up-cycle project. Even if you don’t want to do it commercially, hydro dipping is a great way to add some unique flair to your things. It is an extremely fun activity, especially for teens, with a bonus memento after!

In this article, we’ll go over the history of hydro dipping, the different types of paints that work best for this type of printing, the supplies and equipment you’ll need for this project, and a step-by-step process for getting your design on!

A Brief History Of Hydro Dipping

Also known as water transfer printing, the first hydro dipping equipment was registered and patented back in 1982 by Motoyasu Nakanishi. Motoyasu was a team member of Kabushiki Kaisha Cubic Engineering, which is the company that holds this patent.

Years after its invention, the water transfer printing method gained traction and has become more popularly known as ‘hydro dipping.’ In recent years, hydro dipping supplies like hydrographic film, hydro dipping kits, and spray paints have become more available to hobbyists so they can do DIY hydro dipping at home.

Hydro Dipping DIY guide

How Does Hydro Dipping Work?

Whether it is through a ready-made hydro dipping kit or your own set of tools and supplies, hydro dripping can be used to decorate items ranging from automotive wheel rims to cellphone cases. The basic idea behind this process is surface tension, a liquid surface property exhibited by the liquid acting as if it were a stretched elastic membrane. Due to their differences in properties, the paint molecules rest on the water’s surface.

Surface tension keeps the ink against the surface as the item is submerged, fitting the form of the object and hugging every curve and angle while leaving no bare areas. Using hydro dipping, any three-dimensional component may be decorated.

Different Types of Paints for Hydro Dipping at Home

Practice hydro dipping at home and create amazing, beautiful creations with unique hydro dipping patterns. It is the surface tension that allows you to apply color and graphics to almost any type of material. But first, you need to have the right paint.

The type of paint you’ll require for the hydro dipping technique is determined by the item you’re dipping, as well as the look and finish you want.

  • Spray Paint: The most common paint used and the best for the beginner enthusiast is spray paint, because it is easier to apply. Choose the oil or synthetic-based spray paints. Water-based paints are not a good option as they usually do not float well during the process.

The spray paint method is best used for 3D objects and those with tricky surfaces, like video game controllers and tumblers.

  • Oil-Based Paint: Great for flat surfaces like paper or canvas, oil-based paints create a marbled effect when used in hydro dripping.

Drop the oil-based paints onto the surface of the water and swirl the colors together with a pin-like tip. You may also use a straw to blow the ink around to create unique hydro dipping patterns and designs.

  • Acrylic Paint: It may not be as popular as spray paint, but acrylic paint is also used to create a marble effect or other mesmerizing hydro dipping patterns. Acrylic paint, on the other hand, should be handled with extreme care to prevent it from settling to the bottom. Use a skewer to lift some paint and move it gradually to the top of the water using your fingertips.
  • Hydrographic Film: Technically not paint, but a custom-printed, water-soluble film, hydrographic film is a more complicated material and is used by professionals and companies. Hydrographic film has a liquid activator that breaks down the film, leaving only the ink which slowly softens. Although the ink on the film is liquefied, it still keeps the crisp colors and lines of the pattern, which yields amazing results.

Hydro dipping fashion ideas

Hydro Dipping Supplies and Equipment You Need

While you can opt to buy DIY hydro dipping kits, you can also buy the supplies you need as individual items. My favorite items to dip are fashion selections like these shoes!

Spraying paint hydro dipping is the most straightforward (and popular, of course!) technique to use at home, therefore we’ll concentrate on it.

To do hydro dipping using spray paint, you will need:

  • Object of choice
  • Masking tape
  • Warm water (ideally >70 Fahrenheit)
  • Drying oil (I used walnut oil from the supermarket, but there are lots of types)
  • A spray can in a color you want to use for your hydro dipping.
  • Any other paints you need e.g. base color, clear coat(recommended), any other custom colors
  • A can of petroleum jelly (optional)
  • Sandpaper 100/180/240 grits
  • String or wire for hanging pieces during spray painting. You can also use clamps to secure the piece on a table.
  • A container big enough to dunk your piece in. I used metal trays from the supermarket again, since they’re about $1.50 each and can hold a lot of weight.
  • Dish soap (optional)

Tip: If you just want to dip a few things, pre-made hydro dipping kits might be more practical since the ingredients are smaller.

Hydro Dipping Artwork

Step-by-Step Process for a Successful Hydro Dip at Home

Practice makes perfect – and that’s true even in hydro dipping! You too can create beautiful art like this with our water paint transfer step-by-step process. Before dipping anything, make sure to clean it thoroughly so that paint will stick on it properly. If it’s a wooden item, you should sand or scratch it to provide a smooth surface for good paint adhesion.

  1. During the dipping process, just tape over any portions of your object that you don’t want to get painted on, such as the logo or the insides of an item.
  2. Spray a thin layer of translucent primer (base coat) over the whole object and allow it to dry for an hour.
  3. Fill your container with warm water to a depth of about ¾. It should be deep enough to submerge your item without lying on the bottom.
  4. Spray your paint cans directly into the water. Wear your mask and as much as possible, do this in a well-ventilated area like your backyard. Ensure the paint layers you are spraying are thick enough to coat your object but also remember that the thickness of the layer of paint will affect drying time.
  5. For better results and a more attractive design, combine colors next to one another. For a distinctive pattern, gently mix the water.  Feel free to be creative – no idea is too silly for this! It is YOUR project!
  6. Dipping your item is the most crucial part! When you’re submerging your object, dip it gradually until it’s completely submerged. Remove any paint from the surface before removing your object from the water to avoid creating a mess. Any paint that remains on the surface will adhere to your thing and ruin the design.

Water transfer painting ideas

7. Remove your object from the water and set it upright to air dry. I love this drying mechanism Jodi Herring came up with.

8. Let the paint dry completely before applying a layer of topcoat as paint protection. Let it dry again and apply 2-3 additional layers to completely seal the paint and protect it from chips and scratches.

That’s it. You’ve just created your first hydro dipping project!

More Ideas Teenagers Will Love

If you love these fun activities, here are other fun activities that you can also do at home:

  • Teen Party Game Ideas – There is a lot that needs to be done to plan a party that teens will love, for instance, food, music, location, maybe even a theme. But another one of my favorite ways to turn up the good time is by making sure to have tons of games readily available for when there is that awkward low in the party. Throwing in a game helps break the ice and get all the teens involved in the fun. From board games to classic teen fun here are our favorite hilarious teenage party games.
  • Teen Pool Party Ideas – Since we are in the spirit of planning teen parties, check out these fun pool party games. From cool and trendy decorations and pool toys to a few fun food ideas this pool party post is packed full of great ideas.
  • Creative Ideas Family Photos With Teens – Planning family photos can sometimes be a HUGE headache. The one challenge I have come across when it comes to planning family photos with teens is posing. These cute, casual, and classic poses are great for creating non-cheesy photos. Check out our favorite poses for teens, their siblings, and you all together and get the photos you have been dreaming of.