A custom paint job is the difference between every other all-black JK or silver-accented F-150 and the rig with the camo wheels and bumpers you’ve always wanted. However, a professional, custom paint job like that could rapidly empty your wallet of the money you’d otherwise be using to buy new truck accessories and Jeep parts. Hydro dipping is giving the automobile industry another option.
Though a relatively new trend in the automotive industry, hydro dipping (also known as water transfer printing, hydro graphics, dipping and cubic printing), was invented in 1974 by Taica. The technology behind it is relatively simple: a thin, water-soluble film with a layer of paint is floated on the surface of a large tank of water. Then, the film is sprayed with an activator, which dissolves the film, leaving the paint to float alone. When an object is dipped in, the paint covers the entirety of the surface – even the smallest nooks and crannies.
It is gaining a foothold in the 4x4 community, but many are skeptical about the application, removal process and durability of hydro dipped parts and accessories. But if anything that’s over three decades old can be called revolutionary, hydro dipping certainly is.
The Internet is littered with videos and step-by-step instructions for how to hydro dip various objects, from lamp shades and game controllers to whole Jeep doors. Most DIY kits also come with instructions in the form of a DVD, which explains the entire process. However, it is a job best done by professionals.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize how much work it actually is … there is just so much preparation that goes into it,” says Jacob Tranum, assistant manager of the Memphis 4 Wheel Parts store.
Before your new D-rings can be hydro dipped, they must have a base coat of whatever color is most prominent in the hydro dip. This is because hydro dip is partially clear and the paint will show through the film. After the part has been painted, the dipping process itself takes a handful of painstaking hours, and then several layers of protective clear coat need to be applied.
While the work is best chartered out to a professional, the results are truly exceptional and the cost is still much less than a custom paint job.
One of the biggest concerns many have about hydro dipping is the question of whether it can be removed or not. The answer is yes, it can, but painting over it is simpler.
One way to remove hydro dip is by using acetone to strip it off. However, a new base coat followed by another dip and a fresh layer of top coat is a simpler, easier way to change your vehicle’s look. After all, once the paint has been stripped off, the part will be in need of a new paint job anyway.
4x4s, more than any other vehicle, need to be able to take a beating. Not only do they need to get you from A to B, but they need to be able to handle the trail off the beaten path, haul your camper and trailer and stand up to a fully-loaded truck bed. There is a lot of concern that hydro dipped parts won’t be able to handle the abuse, but experience with them tells us they definitely can.
When properly applied, any part of your Jeep which has been hydro dipped will have several layers of top coat to protect it. Tranum says, “It has the same protection a paint job would have.”
Because both the paint and top coat are the same quality used by automotive shops and manufacturers, there is no reason to think it couldn’t hold up just as well as the original paint job – if not better.
“From my experience, I would say it’s almost a little more durable than paint against scratching, scuffing and peeling,” says Tranum.
Rachel Bowes is a wordslinger for 4 Wheel Parts
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