3D printed shoes with water transfer print. Source: http://www.3ders.org
3D printed shoes with water transfer print. Source: http://www.3ders.org

Bertier Luyt, President of the French 3D printing company called Le Fab shop, decided to experiment with 3D printed objects and water transfer printing. Luyt was inspired by a YouTube video of a man dipping his hand with a carbon pattern using Hydrographics (see video below). Luyt decided to see if the process would work on 3D printed plastic items.

"Bertier was extremely excited by his discovery because he realized that it could be applied to almost any plastic object... which meant it was perfect for... 3D Printing!" writes Le Fab Shop.

Hydrographics applies printed designs to objects using a water transfer process. This process is ideal for objects that cannot easily be printed using traditional 2D print methods. Objects to be printed on receive a base coat material. Polyvinyl alcohol film is gravure-printed with the image and floated on the surface of a vat of water. A chemical is sprayed on the film that dissolves it into liquid. The object is lowered into the vat through the floating ink layer, which wraps around the object and sticks to it. Once the object is removed from the water, a top coat is applied to protect the design.

Le Fab said, “Our first tests left us speechless. This technique really does feel like magic.”

To try the process for yourself, check out the Custom Hydrographic Design for 3D Printing on Instructables.