Hydrographics or HydroGraphics, also known as immersion printing, water transfer printing, water transfer imaging or cubic printing, is a method of applying printed designs to three-dimensional objects. The hydrographic process can be used on metal, plastic, glass, hard woods, and various other materials. In the process, the substrate piece to be printed is pre-treated and a base coat material is applied. A polyvinyl alcohol film is gravure-printed with the graphic image to be transferred, and is then floated on the surface of a vat 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, which wraps around and adheres to it. After removing the piece from the water, a top coat is applied to protect the design. With multiple dippings, hydrographics printing can achieve full 360° coverage of the part surface, including small crevices
(Quoted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrographics_(printing))
In the Northern Hemisphere Hydrographic Printing is used widely. A large number of professional painting companies offer Hydrographic Printing as a regular part of their business. A quick Google search will bring up many companies offering this professional service. It is usually a premium service supplied at a reasonably premium price.
There are many items in modern day use which have been coated using this process. Most modern cars with Woodgrain dashboards have been produced using this technology.
In Australia the number of painting companies offering this add on service is currently quite low. There is a market out there for enterprising companies for sure. Pricing from professional companies is always going to be at the higher end mostly due to equipment setup costs and the labour involved.
Aussie DipKits is offering to the Australian public the ability to produce high quality results at a very cheap cost. You simply add labour.
Hydrographic printing offers the ability to coat a 3d shaped object with a printed pattern. It is possible to use photographic images if the volume demands. These items would have been air brushed in the past at great cost.
Prepare your item by either sanding, or sandblasting the item. It is then primed and painted with a base color. Patterns usually get some of there tint from the base color so patterns can be manipulated by what color an object is painted. Choose your filb with the graphic that you wish to transfer to the item. This film is cut to size, layed on water and sprayed with an activator. The activator dissolves the film structre and leaves a paint layer containing the pattern floating on the surface of the water. The item once dry is then dipped through the water soluble film and the pattern is transferred durin this.
It is then rinsed off with fresh water and allowed to dry.
Once dry - Touch Ups if necessary can take place, then finally a clear Coat is sprayed to protect the finish.
The painting process uses similar materials and processes to the automotive industry,
See here for instructions