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How To Hydro Dip A Cow Skull With Spray Paint

Hydro dipping with spray paint is a popular method of painting three-dimensional (3D) objects.

Generally speaking, the hydro dip technique can be used for painting a wide variety of items: If you can paint it and also get it wet, it's a candidate for hydro dipping. Among other items, hydro dipping is popular for painting animal skulls, including cow skulls.

The basics of hydro dipping a cow skull or another item with spray paint (there are other methods; see the bottom of this page) is simple: Spray paint is sprayed onto the surface of water. When an object is slowly dipped through the paint and into the water below the paint gently flows around and onto all the dimensions of the object.

The exact result of the paint job is unpredictable - the paint goes wherever the water happens to carry it - but the results typically create unique patterns that are very attractive.

Here at we had a nice Longhorn cow skull hanging in a stairway to our basement. We chose this particular skull for this location because her horns were small enough to fit into the narrow area, but then we noticed we had a problem: The white (or slightly off-white) skull blended in with the off-white paint of the stairway.

While we prefer a natural look with most of our skulls, this one blended in so well with her surroundings that no one, including ourselves, hardly ever noticed her. So, we decided to go bold and paint her using the hydro dip/spray paint method so she would be more noticeable.

Below: Before - Our white (actually, slightly off-white) Longhorn cow skull in an off-white stairway.

A plain cow skull


Below: After - The same cow skull after being hydro dipped. She is much more noticeable.

A cow skull that has been painted by hydro dipping

Did you know...?
Hydro dipping is also called hydro graphics, immersion printing, or water transfer printing.

Items You Will Need To Hydro Dip A Cow Skull

Optional Items That Are Good To Have

You might like these items. Or, Article continues below.

Hand painted skulls from Etsy. Article continues below.

How To: Hydro Dipping A Cow Skull With Spray Paint

Step One

The first thing you probably want to do is paint your skull with a base coat of color. This is optional, but is often a good idea. There are likely to be areas that don't get covered with paint when the skull is dipped, and with a base coat you get to choose the color that shows through.

For our own skull we gave it a base coat with white spray paint. We didn't want any white paint on the horns, so we covered them at the base with masking tape. Make sure the base coat is thoroughly dry before hydro dipping.

Below: Our cow skull after being sprayed with a base coat of white. We covered the base of the horns with masking tape so the horns wouldn't get painted.

A cow skull painted white


Step Two

Gather the items you will need to hydro dip your skull (listed above under "Items You Will Need..."). Hydro dipping is fast and easy, so you'll want all your items ready. If you want to mask off any areas of your skull to keep them free of paint, such as the horns, do it now.

Below: Our cow skull after the base coat had dried, and with additional tape on her horns to keep them free of paint when being dipped; spray paint; and an old mineral tub (with a black plastic garbage bag for a liner) to use as a dipping container. We wound up using a larger tub.

Cow skull, spray paint, and hydro dipping tub


Below: A close up of the colors of spray paint we used on our skull. From left to right: Blue, dark green, red, and purple.

Four colors of spray paint


Step Three

Fill your container with water. If you want to keep the container free of paint residue, line it with plastic first. Make sure the water temperature is within the recommended temperature range on the can(s) of spray paint.

Step Four

Begin spraying paint onto the surface of the water. Spray one color, then a different one. Add the colors of paint however, whenever, and wherever you feel like it. Be generous with the amount of paint that you use.

Below: Spraying paint onto the surface of the water. You can spray one color at a time, or two different colors at a time.

Spraying paint onto the surface of the water


As you add paint it will naturally swirl around the other colors.

Below: Adding more paint.

Adding more paint to the water

Step Five

When there is a lot of paint on the surface of the water you can stop adding more. If you like, at this point you can take a stick and slowly and gently stir the surface of the water to swirl the colors and break up big blocks of color. Gently stirring the paint results in smaller streaks of paint swirling around each other, and is usually the preferred choice. In our case, we chose not to.

When you're ready, submerge your skull. Dip it slowly into the water, allowing the paint to gently flow into every nook and cranny. Continue slowly submerging the skull until it is completely under the water. If you're not dipping the horns, like we chose not to, then you won't need to submerge them.

Below: Beginning to slowly and gently submerge our skull.

Hydro dipping a cow skull


Below: Changing the angle slightly, and slowly continuing the dip......

Tilting the cow skull as it is submerged


Below: ......almost submerged......

Longhorn cow skull being covered in spray paint


Below: ......and, finally, completely submerged.

A cow skull submerged in a hydro dip container


Step Six

When your skull is completely submerged you're ready to lift it back up and out of the water. Before you lift it back out, you can choose to part the remaining paint on the surface of the water so the skull doesn't come into contact with it as its removed, our you can leave the paint where its at.

What's the difference? First off, neither way is right or wrong. If you part the paint before you lift the skull out of the water then the skull will get one coat of paint (the paint it received going in). This is usually the preferred method.

If you don't part the water, the skull will most likely come into at least some paint as it's lifted out, which might detract from, or possibly enhance, the paint job it received going in. In our case, we chose not to part the water.

Below: Our cow skull immediately after being lifted out of the hydro dip tub.

A red and green painted cow skull

That's It, You're Done!

When your hydro dip is finished let your skull thoroughly dry. Since bone is porous, allow extra drying time not only for the paint but also for the bone of the skull.

When your skull is completely dry you can finish it off by spraying it with several coats of clear spray sealant. This is usually available in matte, semi-gloss, or gloss. While this is an optional step we definitely prefer to seal our skulls. Sealant not only helps to keep the paint looking fresh, it helps to keep dust from settling into the bone of the skull making it easier to dust or wipe off, and helps to prevent a dingy look over time.

Other Ways To Hydro Dip

Hydro dipping doesn't have to use spray paint. A similar method calls for placing hydrographic film on top of the water instead of spray paint. The film has a pre-printed pattern on it, and after it is placed on the water and activated (usually by spraying an activator solution onto it) the object is dipped and the pattern is transferred onto the object. Like spray paint hydro dipping, this method is well-suited for 3D objects because it also covers all dimensions of the object that is dipped.

You can often find hydrographic dip kits for sale on Etsy and also Amazon. NOTE: Many of these kits are complete with everything you need, while others only have one or two items to replenish an item you've run out of. Read the descriptions carefully to know what you are, and are not, getting.


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