In your early automotive days, you probably stripped and spray-painted your fair share of valve covers for yourself and maybe a few friends. You got used to the idea of shaving letters and maybe spraying a few coats of wrinkle finish to add a little texture. Then you moved on to having parts powder coated, limited only by the color wheel and the funds in your bank account.
Another option, one you may have seen or even considered, is Hydrographics—the process of laying out a design on top of a controlled container of water, then "dipping" the part through the design and allowing the graphic to snag as it passes into the water and the image adheres to the item and engulfs all of the edges and grooves before being pulled from the tank. I had this process done to an S2000 valve cover about 10 years ago (shown above) by a group in Texas. Typically reserved for professionals using proper chemicals, Hydrograpics or Hydrodipping isn't as common as powder coat, can be applied to all types of surfaces, including hard plastic, and offers a number of designs to choose from. In the past, Hydrographics were only reserved for professionals or very experienced end-users, but OHW is looking to change that with their DIY Hydrographics kit.
OHW has been a part of the paint industry for over three decades. A request from Kia's factory race team to put their hydrographic spin on a few select parts that would be offered through dealerships around the country served as an opportunity to advance the business, but also introduced a new challenge. In order to keep up with the demand, OHW needed to develop a more streamlined process of production. Plenty of R&D eventually led to OHW creating their One Hit Wonder—a ready-to-spray basecoat that doesn't require any additional primers, reducers or adhesion promoters. This was an important step in the process, but also a gateway to offering an off-the-shelf product to consumers to try Hyrdrographics at home.
OHW shipped us their complete Hydrographic Dip Kit to try out, which included all of the prep materials along with a large sheet of their carbon fiber design graphic. Just as an experiment and to see how difficult the process was, I chose a random aluminum tow hook that was collecting dust in my garage. Rounded with sharp edges, it seemed to be a good candidate to find out just how well the product wrapped around tough transitions.
Included in the OHW DIY kit is One Hit Wonder along with Ink Drink, a spray-on film activator that maintains the graphic's richness and color. Also inside is a can of clear coat to apply after the process is complete, as a layer of protection.
The carbon fiber graphic film comes in a roll that measures 16.4 ft. x 20 in. when laid out. Very thin—even my dull house scissors sliced right through without issue. Gloves, Super Tac rags and even a Scotch pad come with the kit; all you supply is the water and tub, and some tape.
After cutting the amount of graphic film that you'll need to completely cover your item, that tape is applied to the edges to help keep the film in place once it's positioned on top of the water. The part being dipped is thoroughly cleaned and then scuffed using the Scotch pad before being sprayed evenly with One Hit Wonder. Once the film is taped and set on top of the water, the Ink Drink is applied and you're ready to dip.
Here's a look at the process, which I did at home in my garage. The weather wasn't ideal, being that it was in the mid-40s (cold for SoCal), but I didn't run into any issues with the film and the cold air didn't seem to have any negative effects on the item I was dipping. Gloves got in the way of handling the camera so I didn't use them during the final process, and a carbon fiber palm was the result—I survived.
In all, the process took about an hour while stopping to grab a quick photo or video clip in between each action. After watching a few tutorials on YouTube, it seemed the best approach was to enter the part into the tank at a slight angle, follow through, give it a slight shake and bring it right back up. The finished product wrapped around the corners well and I think doing this a few more times will get me more comfortable with the process. The directions provided couldn't be any simpler and every step is laid out for you by OHW. The product they supply means you don't have to figure out the amount of reducer or adhesion promoter to add, One Hit Wonder has it all done for you, packaged in a convenient aerosol can.
In hindsight, I let the graphic sit on top of the water after activation for a little too long as I set up and focused the camera. Nevertheless, it worked great, but the next time I do this I'll be a little faster into the tank. If you're interested in doing this at home, the OHW kit is as complete as it gets, very affordable and I'm confident you're far more talented than I am. If I can pull this off, trust me, you can do it better.