A First Timer’s Guide to Trying Water Transfer Printing

A First Timer's Guide to Trying Water Transfer Printing

Water transfer printing (WTP), also known as hydrographic, applies a design to a three-dimensional object. The process begins with the item being immersed in a tank of water. After that, the desired design is filmed onto the water’s surface using a film positive. The object is then carefully lowered on top of the film, causing the water to engulf the material. The item is then carefully taken out of the tank and allowed to dry, after which the design appears on it. This process is also known as dipping or submersion printing.

While the design of WTP is simple, doing this process on your own can be very challenging. Many factors need to be considered, such as how big or small the item is, what type of material you will use, and the condition of the film positive. If you’re still determined to try water transfer printing on your own despite all of this, here’s a list of supplies and equipment that you will need:


  • A Tank Big Enough to Immerse the Object- The tank should be sturdy and made out of corrosion and impact-resistant material. It would also be helpful if the tank could fit on top of an ordinary table or desk.
  • A Good Quality Film Positive- This is the most important piece of equipment needed for WTP and you should only purchase from a reputable supplier.
  • Waterproof Inkjet Paper- You can also use regular paper but the results won’t be as good.
  • A Fine-Pointed Permanent Marker
  • Clear Coat or Lacquer- This will be used to seal the design and protect it from wear and tear.
  • A Container to Hold the Clear Coat or Lacquer
  • A Stirrer Or Stick To Mix The Clear Coat Or Lacquer
  • Latex Gloves
  • Safety Glasses


  • An Air Compressor with a Tank that can Hold at least 60 PSI
  • A Spray Gun with a Wide Pattern and a Fan Control that can be Set to Low or Off.
  • A Mask to Protect Your Lungs from the Fumes Given Off by the Clearcoat or Lacquer
  • An Oven Big Enough to Bake the Item
  • A Baking Tray that is Big Enough to Fit the Item
  • A Timer

Once you have all of this, you’re ready to start water transfer printing. Here are the steps that you need to follow:

  • Prepare the object that you want to print on. If it’s a metal or plastic item, make sure that it is clean and free from dirt or grease. If it’s a wooden item, make sure that there are no knots in it.
  • Prepare the clear coat or lacquer by mixing it with the desired color so you will have a custom tinted version of whatever design you want to print on your item.
  • Place the object on top of the tank and ensure that the surface is level with the water. This will prevent any excess paint or clear coat from spilling onto other parts of your item, so be sure to check it before you take it out.
  • Place a sheet of inkjet paper inside your tank, then place the object on top of that. The film positive should now be laying face down on the water’s surface.
  • Turn on your air compressor, then slowly lower it into the tank, ensuring it does not touch the film positive on top of the water.
  • Once you have set up everything, allow some time for your AAC device to be completely submerged in inkjet paper before you pick up your item.
  • Carefully take your item out of the tank after about five minutes, then lay it down on a flat surface until it’s scorched.
  • After your item is dry, lightly coat it with a clear coat or lacquer (two skinny coats are better than one thick coating). You can use a brush or spray to apply the clear coat or lacquer.
  • Place your item in an oven set to between 175 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit, then bake it for about 20 minutes.
  • Once the timer goes off, remove your item from the oven and allow it to cool down before you handle it.

Water transfer printing can be a lot of fun, and the results can be pretty impressive, but it’s important to remember that it’s not a process that can be rushed. If you take your time and follow the steps carefully, you’ll be able to create beautiful prints that will last for years.