How to Hydro Dip Without Spray Paint?

So, you want to hydro dip to give your things a cool and unique look. Great! But, After a quick search on the net, your heart drops as almost all the “How to articles” only talk about using paint sprayers. We understand that not everyone is comfortable using spray paints. 

Now the question is “Can You Hydro Dip Without Spray Paint?” Definitely. The method of hydro dipping – with or without the paint sprayer – is more or less the same. While spray painting does give you some advantages, with proper care you can use a brush and paint.

The rest of the article goes into great detail on how to hydro dip without spray paint. We also go through some of the common mistakes people make when hydro dipping so that you do not fall into the same trap.

What is Hydro Dipping?

Before we go into the steps, let’s get you well acquainted with Hydro dipping – what it actually is. 

Hydro dipping is basically transferring a design on a surface of your choosing using water as a medium. This is why another common name for hydro dipping is Water Transfer Painting.

So, how does this hydro dipping work? The magic lies in the film that is used. These films are made from Polyvinyl Alcohol. Then specific designs are printed on these films with ink. You can think of these prints on the films as an ink repository.

Because of the chemical structure of the Polyvinyl Alcohol, very soon after the film touches water, it breaks down, freeing the ink and the design that was trapped inside the film. Now, this designed ink is free to be transferred to the surface of your choosing.

How to Hydro Dip Without Spray Paint?

Well, as we already said, hydro dipping with or without spray paint is almost the same. Now you might wonder, “If the ink is already in the film then why would I need to add extra paint on the surface?” 

This is because the paint on the surface of your object gives the ink particles floating in the water tank something to grab on to. So, it is essential to paint the surface of the object first. Here many people choose paint sprayers, but you can paint in other ways too.

Here’s a quick overview of what you need to do.

Prepare the Surface

Like any other painting you first need to prepare the surface. Here are some of the things that are a must:

  • Before you start hydro dipping properly, clean your object. The importance of a clean surface while painting cannot be overstressed. If you have dust on the surface you are about to paint, then the paint will not stick to the surface, and to make things worse, the dirt will become a somewhat permanent feature.
  • Now completely dry it off. You can use air blowers to make the process faster.
  • Follow this step only if you want a custom design and don’t want the paint to reach everywhere. To do this apply sellotapes to selected places. You will end up getting a customized design.
  • Depending on the paint you use, you need to use a primer. Primers help the paint to stick to the surface. However, some modern paints come with a “built in” primer of sorts and require no additional primer. 
  • Add thin layers of paint before you dip the object. Many people spray paint on this stage. But you can simply buy liquid paint and apply it to the surface with a brush or a roller. This will basically be your base coat.

Choose the Right Paint

It’s best to choose a paint that is specifically designed for hydro dipping.

This is because normal paints have a very short “Open window”. On the other hand, hydro dipping paints usually have an open window of more than 10 days.

An open window is a time in which the paint can take in another layer of paint. That means other paints will stick to the initial layer if it is applied during this time. From start to finish hydro dipping is a long process. So you want to keep an adequate amount of time in hand.

This is why we strongly recommend you buy a paint specifically designed for hydro dipping – especially if you are a beginner or someone who just doesn’t like to be in a rush. You can check out the paints from One Hit Wonder.

Prepare the Film

Now, you need to prepare the film. This film is what contains the inked design. You can easily find many Pre-Designed Films. You can also buy a Blank Film to print it yourself.

As the name of Water Transfer Painting suggests, you now need to transfer this ink from the film to a tank/basin of water. This can be done easily by following the steps mentioned below:

  • First, separate the portion of the film you are going to need. Make sure that the portion can fully cover the object you want to dip.
  • Apply tapes all around the border of the film so that it does not start to rotate and become unmanageable when entered into the water. It also protects the film from expanding too much.
  • Now take a tank, basin, or box whichever you have but make sure that it is big enough to fully contain the object. Fill up this tank with lukewarm water – around 30-35 degrees celsius.
  • Now carefully place the film in the water tank. If you carefully place your hand over the film you will notice that there is a sticky side. Make sure that this side is facing the water surface.
  • Gently tap on the surface of the film to remove bubbles from forming below the film. Bubbles will create holes in the design.
  • Now you will need an Activator. This activator will essentially help to release the ink and create a better adherence with the object you want to hydro dip. Apply the activator in a moderate amount – at most two thin layers.

By now the film will start to dissolve. The ink will be released in the water tank in the shape of the film.

Apply the Design

Now you just have to dip the object in the water tank. Make sure that the full body of the object goes underwater. The best practice is to dip the object at a 45-degree angle. Also, take care when dipping it so that you do not shake the water too violently.

You can pull out your object after a few seconds. Congratulations! The design that was in the film has been transferred to the surface of your object.


Now all you need to do is clean the object in moderate-high water flow. The excess ink on the surface of the object will be washed away with water. You will need to clean the surface for around 3 to 5 minutes. 

There is one last step that we highly recommend. This is to apply a Clear Coat. The clear coat will protect your design.

Benefits of Using Spray Paint

In all the steps we mentioned till now, we have tried to give an alternative to using any spray paint.

Activators are clearly not paints, but you do need to spray them as they come in aerosol cans. Other than that, as you can see, everything has an alternative. So, are there any benefits to using sprayers when hydro dipping?

Yes. Spraying makes the job much less time-consuming. 

But the main benefit of spraying is that spraying helps you apply a thin and fairly smooth layer of base coat. If you apply the base coat with a roller you might accidentally apply too much paint. This makes it more difficult for the ink to form a bond. Too much base coat negatively impacts the ink’s ability to bond.

Also, almost all the pre-packaged tools available in the market for hydro dipping come with a paint sprayer. By buying these Hydro Dipping Kits you can get all the tools at once and at a low price. But if you don’t want to use the spray paint then you have to buy each tool individually.

Common Mistakes While Hydro Dripping

People sometimes complain that hydro dipping does not actually provide such beautiful results. Most people who fail to get an amazing finish most probably does one or more of these mistakes:

  • Applying the base coat on a dusty surface. This will create spots where the paint cannot reach. So, clean the surface first.
  • Using a type of paint with a small acceptance or open window as a base coat. This results in rushed work.
  • Placing the wrong side down when putting the film in the water.
  • Applying too much activator. Too much activator will actually limit the ink’s ability to bond.
  • Dipping the object in the water too fast. This shakes the water and can distort the design.
  • Forgetting to apply a clear coat. This significantly reduces the lifetime of the paint.

These are some of the places where many people mess up. So, give special attention here, and you should get a picture-perfect result.

Removing Hydro Dipped Design

No matter how much you try, it’s only natural for accidents to happen. Or you might feel like the design could have been better and want to start again. But can you remove the hydro-dipped design?

Yes. You can very easily remove the design if you do not like it. All you need to do is pour some Denatured Alcohol into a napkin and rub it on the surface of the object. Soon you will see that the ink getting dissolved. Now wash it off and you are all set to hydro din once again.


Is Hydro Dip Less Durable Than Using Cerakote?

No. In fact, compared to Cerakote, the hydro dip is a bit more durable. How long-lasting the design is going to depend on your usage. To make it more durable, we strongly recommend applying a clear coat.

Can You Use Any Paint in Hydro Dipping?

There are 2 things you should notice while buying paint for hydro dipping. First, check if the paint will stick to the surface of the object you will hydro dip. Otherwise, it will fail to work as a base coat. Secondly, buy paints that have a longer “open window”. 

Why Use Hydro Dip Instead of Painting?

Hydro dip allows you to insert even the smallest of designs in your desired object. Painting these intricate details by hand would require a master artist, and even then, it would be extremely hard. The designs would not be uniform. 

Final Words

By now, you know everything about how to hydro dip without spray paint!

Using spray paint while hydro dipping makes things easier. But as you have already seen, hydro dipping is completely doable without spray paints. Hydro dipping with or without spray paint is a fascinating task. A proper water transfer painting will often leave you mesmerized!

Happy designing, Y’all.

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