How to Hydro Dip Without Spray Paint


Last updated: July 13, 2023

Hydro dipping is an extremely fun way to transfer colorful …

A painted image showing how to hydro dip without spray paint

Hydro dipping is an extremely fun way to transfer colorful swirled designs to objects and create beautiful mementos that are personal. While most DIYers prefer using spray paint to hydro dip, this is not the only way to do it. In fact, using spray paint exposes you to harmful fumes that can cause several health problems. Not to mention the fact that you have to wear extra gear.

Luckily, there are other ways to hydro dip that don’t require you to use spray paint. And that is what we are going to look at in this article-how to hydro dip without spray paint. These methods are not only safer than the spray paint method but are also easy for beginners.

Can you hydro dip without spray paint?

Yes, you can. Hydro dipping methods that don’t require spray paint include paper marbling, 3D Marbling, acrylic Marbling, hydrographic film, and nail polish. These spray paint alternatives provide the same fun experience of hydro dipping and are just as effective!

What is hydro dipping?

Hydro dipping is a type of paint application that allows a color or pattern to be transferred to an object with water. So, basically, you apply color to the surface of the water to create a pattern or design. Then, you dip the object you want to customize into the water, so the color or pattern adheres to it.

The visual effects produced by hydro dipping are usually incredible and psychedelic. Even more interesting is the science behind it. You will never get any two dips that look exactly the same!

The process is widely adopted in the automotive industry to print complex designs and produce a smoother finish than vinyl. Today, it’s becoming more popular in households, especially among young people, where it’s used to personalize items like phone cases, game controllers, trainers, and ornaments.

In most cases, three-dimensional objects are hydro-dipped, but the process also works on flat surfaces.

Other terms often used to describe hydro dipping include immersion painting, water transfer painting, hydrographic printing, and water marbling.

What can you hydro dip?

You can hydro-dip any item as long as it can withstand being “submerged” in water. This could be any material, such as ceramics, metal, glass, rubber, plastic, fiberglass, or even wood.

So, whether it’s your shoes that need a change up or your phone case that needs a color lift, there’s no end to what you can hydro dip as long as you use the proper techniques. You can even try it on Halloween pumpkins if you’ve got those, and you will be amazed by the results.

NOTE: When hydro dipping wood, it’s highly recommended to use a sealer primer; otherwise, the process may warp the wood. 

Here’s a list of popular items you can hydro dip in the home:

  • Tumblers
  • Vases
  • Water bottles
  • Glass bottles
  • Cups and Mugs
  • Shoes
  • Helmets
  • Fabric
  • Paper
  • Hydro flasks
  • Baseball bats
  • Outdoor pots
  • Musical instruments
  • Guns
  • Game controllers
  • Vehicle Parts.

We could go on and on; the possibilities are endless. 

Note: With electronic items, only the outer casing should be hydro-dipped. Also, make sure to seal off all openings. 

What kind of paint can be used for hydro dipping?

You can use any type of paint for hydro dipping. However, some options perform better than others. It all depends on your desired look and finish.

Acrylic is often considered the best option because it works on both solid and flat surfaces and will stick to any object dipped into the water. It is durable and will also help you achieve a marbled effect.

Another good option is latex. Like acrylic, latex paint is water-based and very durable. However, it’s better suited for larger objects.

Enamel paint is recommended if you prefer an oil-based product. It’s very tough; however, it’s not be used on non-porous surfaces such as plastic and others. I also have a dedicated article about the best spray paints for hydro dipping you can check out later to learn more.

Whatever paint you use, make sure it’s compatible with the object you’re customizing as well as the clear coat. Also, you may need to use a binding agent or primer to help the paint stick better. Lastly, make sure the paint fully cures before you apply a clear coat or handle the item.

Do You Have To Use Spray Paint To Hydro Dip?

No, you don’t! Many people believe that you need spray paint to hydro dip, but that’s not true. What actually matters is the liquid component of what’s inside the can. This means you can use any kind of paint for hydro dipping; it doesn’t have to be spray paint.

Fortunately, there are other methods of hydro dipping that are without the toxicity of spray paints. These include acrylic Marbling, hydrographic film, paper marbling, using nail polish, etc.

It is worth mentioning that each method doesn’t apply to all materials. So, you will need to find one that works best for you. For instance, nail polish works best for ceramic and pottery, but acrylic Marbling is preferred when hydro dipping paper or bare wood.

Regardless of your chosen method, you should achieve a similar effect to spray paint method, even though the final results are different. Two main areas you may notice some differences are the color vibrancy and adhesion. Also, some methods may require using a base coat or primer, while others may not. In any case, follow all the steps, and the result will come out as expected.

In the next section, we will look closely at each method and the steps involved.

Why Hydro Dip Without Spray Paint?

There are several reasons why you may decide not to hydro dip with spray paint.

No Need For Extra Gear

First, not using spray paint helps you to avoid the toxicity that comes with it. Spray paint fumes can be quite toxic; this forces users to wear gloves and respiratory masks to protect their lungs.

When you don’t use spray paint, you don’t have to bother about the extra gear.

It’s Safer And More Convenient

Secondly, when spraying items, you have to work outside due to the fumes. Even if you want to paint indoors, it must be in a well-ventilated room.

Unfortunately, sometimes the weather might not permit you to paint outdoors. You may also have a problem if you’re living in inner-city buildings or apartments where a garden space may be lacking.

Without spray paint, you can hydro dip anywhere, whether indoors or outdoors, and even with kids around. This is because the other methods are much safer than using spray paint.

The spray Paint Method Is Not Always The Best Solution

Finally, even though it’s possible to hydro dip virtually any item using the spray paint method, sometimes it may not be the best solution for the material. Also, you may want a different, achievable only through some other method.

In other words, the spray paint method is not always the best!

How To Hydro Dip Without Spray Paint

Hydrographic Film

The hydrographic method is an old technique that uses a water-soluble PVA film to add color or pattern to an object. It’s commonly used to customize vehicle parts and rims but works for virtually any material. These include plastic, glass, wood, chrome, metal and fiberglass.

Nowadays, it is used in households to hydro dip items such as game consoles, tumblers, guitars, guns, and so on. 

What You Need

  • Activator.
  • Warm water.
  • Hydrographic (PVA) film.
  • Paint.
  • Clear coat.

Steps to follow:

  1. Start by painting the item with a base coat. We strongly advise not skipping this step as it will affect the overall finish. 

  2. Next, float the hydrographic film on the water surface for two minutes. This will soften the backing.

  3. Now, spray the side of the film facing up with an activator to activate the binding agent. Then slowly dip the object into the film and watch it wrap around the object.

  4. Next, take out the object and rinse off the excess paint or PVA with water. Please leave it to fully dry, then apply a clear coat for extra protection.  

Nail Polish

Nail beauty doesn’t only provide beauty benefits; it can also be used for hydro dipping. Specifically, it works great for customizing a white item, especially non-porous surfaces like plastic, porcelain, and glazed ceramic.

What You Need:

  • Deep container.
  • Water.
  • Nail polish.
  • Toothpick.
  • Wax paper or parchment.

The steps for hydro dipping with nail polish are as follows:

  1. Clean the object you want to hydro-dip. Make sure it’s completely dry before moving on to the next step.

  2. Next, get a large, deep container and fill it with water. At the same time, open all the polish bottles to be ready for use.

  3. Now, start drizzling the color(s) close to the water surface. Pull the colors into a marble design using a toothpick. Alternatively, you can do zig-zag lines with each color. This will often result in a swirl pattern.  

  4. While moving the colors with a toothpick, be careful not to break them. Nail polish dries fast, so you must work very quickly and swirl it before it dries. 

  5. After swirling the colors, slowly dip the item and hold it under the water for 2 to 3 seconds so the polish can adhere to it. Then pull it out at the same pace and angle you dipped it. When dipping the item, aim for the parts of the design that appeals most to you.

  6. Place the object on wax paper or parchment paper and allow it to dry completely before handling. 

3D Marbling

Marbling, whether 3D or paper marbling, is generally considered the most effective method of hydro dipping. While paper marbling allows you to create beautiful art on paper, 3D Marbling allows you to print on 3D objects. 

How To Hydro Dip Without Spray Paint

What You Need

  • Brush.
  • Acrylic paint
  • Large container (e.g., storage bin, bucket)
  • Small pieces of wood to dip (should be sanded for best results)
  • Pipettes.
  • Borax (or cornstarch)
  • Water.
  • Toothpick.

The steps for 3D Marbling are as follows:

  1. Start by making a slurry of cornstarch. To do this, combine 1 part cornstarch with two parts cold water. You can add two tablespoons of cornstarch to ¼ cup of water. 

  2. Then heat 3 cups of water on the stove. Allow it to boil, then add your cornstarch slurry. Stir the mixture until it becomes thick. 

  3. Bring it down from the stove and allow it to cool down. 

  4. Next, select your acrylic colors in different containers. Then each color with water till they have the same consistency. It shouldn’t be too thick or too thin. 

  5. Then layer the paints onto the surface of the cooled cornstarch water. If they sink or show, it means they’re too heavy or too thin, respectively. You can either thin them further or add more color until they float on the water.

  6. Get a toothpick; use it to swirl the colors (paint) into your desired pattern. 

  7. Next, gently dip the wooden piece into the water and slowly lift it with the colors out of the water. The angle at which you dip the wood doesn’t matter.

  8. Give the piece some time to dry. The good thing about acrylic paint is that it’s fast-drying, so you won’t have to wait too long. In most cases, 20 minutes is enough.

Paper Marbling

Like 3D Marbling, in paper marbling, ink(s) is transferred from the water surface onto a sheet of paper. 

What You Need

  • Tray.
  • Borax (you can also use a liquid detergent)
  • Paintbrush.
  • Acrylic paint
  • Paper


  1. Mix 3 parts borax with 1 part water in a tray. 

  2. Select your acrylic preferred acrylic colors. They should be in separate ramekins. 

  3. Since you’re selecting different colors, they will have a different consistency. To get them to the same consistency, thin them separately with water. 

  4. Next, dip a paintbrush into a color and hold it directly over the water, about an inch. Then tap the handle so the paint splatters onto the water. Alternatively, you can slowly dip the brush into the water. The paint should float; otherwise, thin it further. 

  5. Optionally, use the other end of the brush to swirl the paint to create patterns. 

  6. Next, get the paper and lay it on the water so the paint will transfer to it. Slowly lift it out and place it to dry.

Specialty Hydro Dip Paints

Instead of using household products like cornstarch or borax, consider purchasing a purpose-made hydro dip paint. These paints are specially formulated for hydro-dripping purposes and don’t need to be thinned. Also, you don’t need to add borax, cornstarch, or any other product. A perfect example of such paint is Marabu Easy Marble Paint

The exact steps depend on the particular paint you’re using, but the process is pretty much the same – drop the paint, drip the object, and that is it! 

Can you Hydro dip without primer?

Yes, you can, but it’s not recommended. Applying primer is an essential step that ensures the paint adheres well to the item.

Before applying primer, make sure the item is clean and dust-free. Also, wait for the primer to dry before you apply a second coat fully. This can take up to two hours, depending on the product.

Be sure to wear a mask and choose a well-ventilated area to work.

How do you prepare a surface for hydro dipping?

Dirt, grease, grime, and moisture can all affect the ability of the paint to adhere properly to the object. To prevent this, you want to ensure the object is completely clean and dry before priming or dipping it into the water.

Use warm soapy water to wash the object. You can also clean it with a degreaser. Pay attention to all the small crevices and corners. Once you’re done cleaning, wipe dry with a clean cloth. Then allow it to dry.

Isopropyl alcohol is another cleaning solution you can use for more thorough cleaning.

Depending on the material, you may need to scuff or sand lightly to give it some dullness before applying a primer or base coat.

Tips For Hydro Dipping Without Spray Paint

  • Before hydro dipping, ensure the item you want to work on is completely clean and dry. Dipping a dirty piece will affect the overall finish.

  • Get rid of any excess film before doing another dip. Also, with each dip, always use fresh water. 

  • Before dipping, mask any part of the object you don’t want paint to get on using masking tape. 

  • For Marbling, it is best to use cold water. Warm water makes the polish dry faster and forms a skin. When this happens, you will no longer be able to swirl or blend the colors. Cold water gives you more control by extending the working time. 

  • Before using any nail polish, be sure about the color, test it on a white surface such as a plastic cup or spoon. Not all brands are suitable for Marbling. 

  • Avoid applying too much or too little activator. Using too much can cause paint reactions and holes while using too little can cause ink not to adhere to some parts and make the film appear “crispy”.

  • Make sure the polish you’re using is not quick-drying because then the fun will form too quickly. Also, make sure there are no fans blowing directly over the water.

  • For better color dispersion, you can gently tap the sides of the container. 

FAQS – hydro dipping without spray paint

Can you do hydro dipping with nail polish?

Yes, you can. Nail polish isn’t just a beauty essential; it can also double as paint for hydro-dipping projects. It’s not only fast-drying but also provides a glossy finish. However, the fumes can be toxic, so make sure to wear gloves and a mask to protect your lungs.

Can you Hydro dip with glitter?

Yes, you can. One of the best ways to go about this is to use a cup that is already glittered. Adding a layer of epoxy is also recommended. After removing the cup or object, apply acetone to remove some of the paint and allow the glitter to show through.

Can You Hydro Dip With Regular Spray Paint?

You can use regular spray paint or any other type of paint for hydro dipping. However, some paints work better than others. For example, acrylic spray paint is often recommended because it’s easy to control and sticks easily to items.

Do you have to paint before hydro dipping?

Not really. However, it’s often recommended as it will influence the overall look of the final finish.

Do you need a base coat for hydro dipping?

The base coat or primer serves as the foundation of the final design. It serves two main purposes. First, it helps the paint to stick to the surface of the object. Secondly, it helps to prevent gaps in the hydro dip.

Conclusion – hydro dip without spray paint

To conclude, there are several ways to hydro dip without spray paint. In this guide, we’ve looked at five methods, which include paper marbling, 3D Marbling, acrylic Marbling, nail polish, and hydrographic film. These methods are not only fun and quick but also just as easy as the spray paint method.

Also, unlike using spray paint, each of these methods doesn’t require the use of aerosol cans of any kind. This makes them safer and more convenient.

You can try out each method for different materials. Regardless of the one you choose, you will need some time and practice to perfect the art. Until then, happy dipping!

Leave a Comment