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Water Transfer Printing Explained

Water Transfer Printing Explained

Water Transfer Printing Explained

Everything old is new again, and so it goes with the water transfer method of printing, which has been around for many years. Only recently, with the advent of transfer wrap printing seen extensively on vehicles, has interest in water transfer printing come back.

This manner of printing has attracted attention during the last 10 to 15 years although it has been in use for more than 40 years. The name of this technology is often referred to as hydrographic printing or hydro dipping. With the use of this process, colorful graphics can be applied to a 3D surface. It utilizes a film that dissolves within the water.

What Industries Use Water Transfer Printing?

In the past, you might have seen camouflage applied to a helmet or a gun stock. Vehicle interiors have used this type of printing to add a statement of design to steering wheels or rims. Today, industries such as manufacturing, engineering, and construction well as the automotive industry might use water transfer printing.

What Types of Patterns Can Be Done?

From woodgrain to camouflage to geometrical to carbon fiber, there is an extensive list of patterns and textures that have been used in water printing. Even cartoons have been water printed. Dashboards, entire all-terrain vehicles, and even small items like bike helmets have incorporated designs and patterns accomplished through water printing.

What Is the Process for Water Transfer Printing?

The pattern is printed on a water-soluble film. As the design is put in the water, the film slowly dissolves, leaving the ink to float on the surface of the water. The item about to be printed has gone through a process of coating with an adhesion promoter or primer. After the primer has dried, a base coat is applied; this can be a color, such as green or neutral for camouflage or brown for the grain of wood.

The object is ready for the bath after it has dried. A chemical activator is added to the film in the water to prepare it for adhesion. The next step is to dip the item in the water, allowing the ink to adhere to its shape. After it is decorated, the item is thoroughly washed and dried. A drying room, heat lamps, flash drying, and other means of circulating air are used.

After it is completely dry, a clear topcoat is added to preserve the color and design.

What Type of Materials Is This Method Suited For?

Some of the substrates used in hydrographic printing include:

  • Plastic
  • Wood
  • Ceramics
  • Fiberglass
  • Metal

Hydrographic printing has been used in a number of different industries, such as sporting goods, home decor, automotive, marine, and many others. Vibrant color as well as muted designs can all benefit from this type of printing on a 3D surface.