Sign & Digital Graphics

2016 WRAPS

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2 0 1 6 • WRAPS • 113 skilled practitioners to wrap snazzy-look- ing, permanent images around objects from motorcycle helmets to gun stocks, water bottles to video game controllers. Wheel rims and vehicle parts tend to command the most attention. Hydrographics, also known as hydro- dipping, water transfer printing, cubic printing, immersion printing or even camo printing, is a somewhat technical process that uses a water-filled immer- sion tank to wet-transfer ink on a special polyvinyl alcohol ( PVA) film to prepared objects. That film, floated on the surface of the tank, is sprayed with an activator solu- tion and can then be gracefully applied to virtually any non-water-porous object, creating a seamless and absolutely wrap- around image. A spray of clearcoat per- manently seals in the work. Depending on the size of the immer- sion tank to use in the process, some experts have been able to add amazing animal skin prints and flashy designs to things as large as ATV bodies, motorcycle gas tanks or even commercial vending equipment like soft-serve ice cream dis- pensers. Trophy helmets for winning drivers at the PortaCool World Dirt Track Championships, held at the Texas Motor Speedway, received the 3-D water-transfer printing treatment from Fort Worth HydroGraphics. Larry McDonald, who runs Fort Worth HydroGraphics as part of wife Teresa O'Neil McDonald's T.M. Signs business—located at the Texas Motor Speedway, a major NASCAR and rac- ing facility—has been specializing in the "dipping" business for the past three years. "We can do everything from rifle stocks to golf cart bodies, running boards, rims… really, anything that can be dipped in our tank," he says. "It's kind of a spe- cialty item for us to do, as you've got to have the right equipment. You can buy a cheap little kit off eBay and do it yourself if you want, but for larger stuff, it's sort of a limited class of people who are able to do it." McDonald uses an 8-foot by 38-inch tank to provide the necessary clearance for prepped surfaces as large as ATV chassis or full motorcycle tanks and fair- ings, working out of a 4,000 square-foot space that conveniently backs onto the speedway facility. The four-step process, McDonald explains, involves stripping and cleaning the desired item back to its original sub- strate, and then applying a coat of quick- dry, water-based AquaLac lacquer primer to provide ideal adhesion for the ink and the PVA backing film. "Because it's water-based, you can spray it and finish it a year later, as well —it doesn't have to be done immediately, like automotive paints," he adds. The third and most important step is to carefully float the onionskin-styled PVA film on the surface of the tank, then spray on the activator, which liquefies the image and makes it ready for transfer. If you've seen videos of the process, the ink from the image will then adhere

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