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The water transfer printing process is extensively used to decorate a wide range of items. 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 dipped in water and can be painted using traditional techniques then the hydrographic printing process can be used.

A polyvinyl alcohol filmis gravure-printed with the graphic image to be transferred and is then floated on the surface of a tank of water.

An activator chemical is sprayed on the film to dissolve it into a liquid and activate a bonding agent. The piece is then lowered into the vat through the floating ink layer. The ink layer along with the polyvinyl alcohol backing then wraps around and adheres to the item. The adhesion is a result of the chemical components of the activator softening the base coat layer and allowing the inkto form a bond with it.