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- Last updated: 26/01/2017
Hydrographics are a long established firm with an enviable reputation for quality. Jon Sykes, the main man, was a shooter before he turned his hand to dipping things in big tanks of water. I knew Jon from years ago on the Field target circuit. Over the years Hydrographics have dipped half a dozen rifles, stocks and scopes for me as well as making custom parts for my airguns and firearms. It was high time I made a revisit to see how they are getting on, and I was shocked to see a much bigger range of patterns available than when I went there a few years ago.
First, a re-cap on the dipping process. A clue to the process they use is in the name, Hydrographics, as hydro of course suggests water. It is a very clever process where patterns are printed on P.V.A.film which can be dissolved just leaving the printed ink pattern. A suitable size piece of film is cut from a roll and floated on the surface of a large stainless steel water filled tank. An activator is then sprayed over the film. This dissolves the P.V.A. carrier film leaving the printed ink pattern floating perfectly in place on the surface of the water. The previously background colour sprayed article is then dipped through the layer of ink into the water. The ink is picked up by the painted surface of the article, leaving a perfect pattern as printed on the P.V.A. film in the first place. Very, very clever indeed. It’s fascinating to watch. The shape of the article doesn’t matter. The water carrying the ink flows over the items surface as it is “dipped” into the water. It will cover any surface, no matter how detailed. When you actually see it in action, it really does blow your mind. The ink flows into the checkering of a stock or engraved letters on an action. Jon did explain that the ink does not stick to itself leaving a double pattern - something to do with the chemical properties of the ink.
Hydrographics have a big range of camouflage patterns and have a licence from Realtree of America to dip their patterns. Camo is not the only thing they can do. They have many carbon fibre patterns, dollar bills, chequer plate, and so on. The skull patterns are proving very, very popular and there was a March FX scope being dipped in skulls over silver when I was there. March scopes cost thousands of pounds but as long as the scope to be dipped is waterproof it suffers no ill effects. Jon was keen to stress that any scope is dipped at the owner’s risk, it has to be that way, as the company can’t be held responsibleif a customer’s scope isn’t waterproof. All reasonable quality scopes are waterproof and I have had many scopes dipped and never had a single problem.
Remember also that the base to be dipped over can be any colour any you want. A popular one is to have a silver base with a Realtreecamo pattern over it. I had this done on my Remington 700, as well as having adjustable cheek pieces and butt pad done by Hydrographics at the same time. I also have four stocks on airguns with an orange base over a simple camo pattern, very striking they are too. They can match virtually anything and have over 40,000 colours to choose from, yes forty thousand. After dipping the residues of the P.V.A carrier film and activator has to be washed off. A dousing under a bank of shower heads in another custom made tank sorts that out. Once dried that only leaves a coat of hard wearing lacquer of your choice. Again top quality car lacquers are used. Matt or gloss, it’s up to you. Hunters should go for the matt to cut down on tell-tale reflections. Hydrographicshas a new very tough matt finish which is very popular with hunters.
Camo choice has a lot to do with personal preference and experience in the field as well as where and when you hunt, so people will prefer different patterns. I do like his new digital patterns and he does an A-TACS style too. He can even dip a beech wood stock to look like high grade walnut. There are also various rain drop patterns, making it look like you have rain drops on the surface.
If you are having the whole gun done Jon first has to strip and clean everything.
The surface to be painted and dipped is rubbed with fine abrasive paper to provide a keying surface for the paint. Once stripped down and sanded, certain bits have to be sealed too. The barrel and other delicate bits like the lenses of scopes and lasers. Once all dried off from the top coat, Jon puts everything back together again. The result is spectacular when a whole gun is done. Many old guns with rusty actions have been given a whole new lease of life after the Hydrographics treatment. I had a dent in a scope (dropped getting over a fence!) and Jon filled this in and dipped the scope along with the mounts, that was ten years ago and it’s still as good as new.
They can and have coloured everything from phones to aeroplanes. Dipping is limited to what they can fit in the tank, although it is a big tank. To give you an idea of how big the tank is, they have been dipping bike frames recently. However, they also do first-class spray painting and other custom finishes as required.