What is Water Transfer Printing | FAQ | HG Arts

What Is Water Transfer Printing?

Water Transfer Printing or Hydrographics (commonly known as hydro dipping, hydro imaging, fluid imaging, hydrograghic printing) is a 3D decorating process. Graphics like Carbon Fiber, Wood grain, Camouflage, Geometrical patterns are applied to decorate the items.

The Hydro Graphics process is worldwide used to decorate items that vary from Airplanes interiors to very small items like cell phone cases. Films can be applied to all kind of materials including plastic, wood, fiberglass, metal, and ceramics. For the most part, if the item can be dipped in water, the water transfer printing process can be applied.

This process utilizes a water-soluble film that contains the printed designs. Once an Activator has been applied, the film dissolves and leaves the ink on the surface of the water. The process requires a good preparation, the item to be decorated is first coated with a primer. After the primer dries, a base coat paint is applied to match with the pattern. So, for for example, wood grain prints often utilize a brown base-coat and many camouflage patterns use specific color base.

After the base color is applied, the item is ready for water transfer printing process. As previously mentioned, an Activator (EM014) is used to activate the film. Now, the item can be immersed  into the water and the ink wraps around it. It is then washed and protected with a clear topcoat.

1.What is the cost?
Water Transfer Printing is an economical process and overcomes problems faced by traditional printing methods such as conversion coating, screen printing, transfer printing, and hot printing.

2. Is Water Transfer Printing durable?
Some of our biggest customers are automotive manufacturers who demand highest standards of quality and durability on their products. The Hydro Graphics ink is very durable itself. However, a protective clearcoat needs to be applied to protect decorated items to last for years.

3. How difficult is it to learn the process?
This process requires technique and initial knowledge. We provide a 8h Certified WTP Training in our facility (Barcelona, Spain). After the 8h training, the customer will receive a Certificate of Professional Decorator and will be included in our new upcoming section of references (early 2014).

Check out our Available Training Courses.

4. Can items that are not correctly printed be reprinted?
Yes, items that are not decorated to customer satisfaction can be reprinted. The decorated piece needs to be sanded and painted again. Then, the piece wil be ready for the dipping process.

5. How is the film supplied?
Films come in three different widths.
(50 cm wide X any lenght)
(80-90 cm wide X any lenght)
(100 cm wide X any lenght)
Please, refer to our online film gallery to determine the width of the desired film.

6. What types of items can be printed?
A wide variety of flat or 3-D items and materials can be decorated with this process. (plastics, metals, woods etc.)

7. How long does the process take from start to finish?
The process time depends on the complexity of the item being decorated. For example, a dashboard for a car can take approximately 20 minutes in total hands-on time (this does not include time such drying) to complete.

9. What are all the components needed to successfully decorate an item? (Professionals)
The essential components are:


- The ink film with  desired design/pattern,
- WTP Activator (HGA-EM014)
- Sandpaper or an automated sanding device,
- Spray gun and air compressor,
- Primer, Base coat paint, and Clear Coat
- Dipping Machine + Washing System
- A water supply and a clean room.

- Certified WTP Training Course (basic to dominate this process)

10. How scratch resistant is the final product?
The clear coat recommended is the same as used on automotive exteriors. Resistant to UV, scratches, etc.

13. Do I have to spray a decorated part with clear coat?
The Clear Coat is very important step of the process. It protects the items from scratching and gives them durability.

14. What temperature and humidity is best to store film?
The hydrographic film is printed on Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA). It is very sensitive to humidity and temperature. You must store the film accordingly to ensure long life, durability and proper decorating. The hydrographic films must be stored in a humidity and temperature controlled room.
HUMIDITY: Below 60%
TEMPERATURE: 20 - 25°C (68° - 77°F )

15. How should I set up Water Transfer Facility?
Before setting up your production plant, many things you will need to consider while setting up your water transfer facility. Size of items to be printed and amount of items to be printed are most important. After answering these two questions you will know the approximate needed space to accommodate fixtures, primers and paints, hydrographic films and clear coating. Please contact HG Arts to help you get started properly.

16. How do I apply the clear coat?
A. Use a high quality clear coat to protect the decorated item. You can use matt, sattin or glossy finish. The Clear Coat should be very durable to overlast time and scratches.

B. Once the clear coat has dried you will need to check it for defects. The vast majority of the deffects can be wet sanded and polished.

17 How much power do I need to set up a Hydro Graphics facility?
It is very important to pick the right machinery according to your power supply in your facility. Make sure you have enough power to supply several machines:

Dipping equipment, Wash Station and paint booth. Please, check our Machinery List to check the power needed.

19. How much power do I need for my dipping machine?
Please check the Machinery Section in our website to download the Tecnical Data Sheet (.pdf) of each listed machine. For example:

HGA-ALD80 (2200W – 230V 50 Hz)
HGA-BDE200 (6350W – 400V 50 Hz 3 phases)
HGA-BDE300 (9000W – 400V 50 Hz 3 phases)


20. Do you offer some sort of Training / Courses for this process? How important is Training?
We do provide training at our facility in Barcelona, Spain. We will guide you through all the basics, dipping techniques and knowledge required to succesfully process WTP. Our Training courses will save you time, money and effort. Please, visit our WTP Training Section for more information.

21. What type of spray booth do you recommend?
We recommend an enclosed spray booth or industrial paint booth for most applications. If your focus is on processing items with camouflage, an open spray booth should work for you.

22. How do I dry my decorated parts?
A. After washing the decorated ítems, it must be dried. This step can be accomplished with heated room with circulating air, or just by normal air drying. Make sure that the decorated item is completely dry before proceeding to the clearcoating. Other options are thermal, flash drying and circulating air or blow drying.
B. Once the item is completely dry check it for defects that need to be touched up. If the defect is too obvious, the decorating process should be re-applied .

23. How do I wash the decorated items?
Recommended water temperature for washing the decorated items should be 100°F—125°F/(48°C—52°C.). We provide the specific machinery with water heaters. Please, check our Machinery section for further information.

A. Washing the item after the decor is a very important step. Keep in mind that volume of water is more important than pressure itself.  Our auto wash machine for production line is recommended. All items must be washed for at least 5 minutes. Washing the item will remove all of the excess film and ink.

24. How long does it take to create a custom design/pattern?
Artwork is taken through the cylinder engraving process to produce the required film within 4-6 weeks.

Environmental Considerations:
The Hydro Graphics process is relatively environmentally friendly. However some aspects should be addressed with the proper environment regulatory agencies from your Country/State/Province. It is the responsibility of the business owner to verify that his company is in compliance with all environmental requirements from its location.