Water Transfer Printing, or hydrographics, is a surface decorating process where elaborate graphics like wood grain, carbon fiber, camouflage, and designer prints are applied to a 3-D product’s surface.
The Water Transfer Printing process is used extensively to decorate items that range from entire all-terrain vehicles and car dashboards to small items like bike helmets or other automotive trim. Films can be applied to all types of substrates including plastic, fiberglass, wood, ceramics, and metal. For the most part, if the item can be submerged in water, it can be dipped using Water Transfer Printing technology.
The process utilizes a water-soluble film that contains complex patterns printed in ink. The film dissolves in the water and leaves the ink on the surface. In the typical process, the item is first coated with a primer or an adhesion promoter. After the primer is dry, a base-coat paint is applied which controls the hue of the pattern. Many hydrographic films are transparent which means you can achieve unique designs by customizing the base coat colors. For example, wood grain films often utilize a brown base coat and many camouflage patterns use a required base coat color to maintain the integrity of the pattern.
After the base coat is applied, the item is ready for decorating. The film is activated. The item is then dipped into the water and the ink wraps around it. Excess PVA residue is then washed off, the part is dried, and a clear top coat is applied.
Powder Coating is a type of coating that is applied as a free-flowing, dry powder. The main difference between a conventional liquid paint and a powder coating is that the powder coating does not require a solvent to keep the binder and filler parts in a liquid suspension form. The coating is typically applied electrostatically and is then cured under heat to allow it to flow and form a "skin". The powder may be a thermoplastic or a thermoset polymer. It is usually used to create a hard finish that is tougher than conventional paint. Powder coating is mainly used for coating of metals, such as household appliances, aluminum extrusions, drum hardware, and automobile and bicycle parts
Abrasive etching is a common technique for creating patterns and, creating a "frosted" look. It is often used commercially. High pressure air mixed with an abrasive material cuts away at the surface to create the desired effect. The longer the stream of air and abrasive material are focused in one spot, the deeper the cut.