Sunday, July 11, 2010

Water Transfer Printing

I recently took a course that featured a focus on the industrial applications of polymers/industrial chemicals with a portion dedicated to thin films/coating/plating that lamentably mentioned nothing about water transfer printing. The process is an alternative to other traditional methods of laying designs on 3D objects (spraypainting/powder coating) that allows for complex patterns to be used on any non-porous surface. What this means for you and me is the ability to put complicated camouflage designs (Multicam, Mossy Oak, A-TACS) on anything from masks to markers.

A while ago I mentioned that A-TACS now has their design available for water transfer, but the process itself is cool enough that it's worth looking at. Here's some videos that will give you a sense of what the process involves:

I'd love to discuss the science behind it... but I can't seem to find any documentation (even at libraries) about the chemistry of hydrographic printing. The basics are that a polyvinyl alcohol (PVA, a polymer) base film with a solid ink component is placed in water, where it sits on the surface. An activator is then sprayed on the film, dissolving it, and leaving the ink floating as an oil-like liquid on the surface of the water, which then wrapped around the object being printing upon.

If you're in Canada and looking to get your marker etc. dipped, then check out WT Deco, based out of Québec. Here's a pic of a Hummer they "dipped":

Check back soon for more water transfer articles!


  1. Checked the website, they don't have prices, is it all a customs order deal?

  2. Because they can dip anything from a pen to all the components of a hummer, pricing is all over the place, so you have to email them for a quote. On this page you can get a sense for how much a rifle stock would cost to be dipped:

  3. Cobra Imaging in Salmon Arm, BC also is a provider of water transfer printing technology in Canada and they do work right across Canada.

  4. Thanks for the read and the comment Anonymous! Have any cool work you'd like to show off?

  5. The mechanics of WTP are that when the activator is applied to the film it hydrates the ink. The water disolves the PVA and you are left with the liquid ink floating on the surface. As the item is pushed through the ink and into the water, the water acts as the transfer mechanism to push the ink into all the contours of the item. That is why this process is perfect for complex shaped items. After the dip there is some residue from the pva that is rinsed off, the item is then top coated. Because the majority of work goes into preparation and the dip is only minutes every dip is an event. As I don't know how to post a photo all I can offer is a link to the Cobra Imaging site and a youtube Video showing off some gun work. and I always like to talk about WTP and if you would like more information I would be happy to discuss it,


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