Apply graphics to rubber shoes method one - water transfer

To follow up my article about how rubber shoes are made, I am introducing the next step to style these rubber shoes. Most rubbers are very color driven, brands like to use fun colors to create a story around these seemingly “boring” shoes, such as neons, retro color palette, etc. Sometime brands will take one step further to make these shoes extra fun in order to add diversity to an exiting style.

The method is printing. Yes, printing. An ages old technology. The fact is that this printing method on shoes are a bit different than what you may think. First of all, how do you print something on not-a-flat surface? That’s right! Most graphic prints are being applied on a flat surface, such as packaging, T-shirts, etc. Printing (graphics) on shoes requires a new set of processes and tools.

Below videos are separated by steps involving processes of printing graphics on a rubber shoes.

There’s no professional name for this method. Commonly factories in China call this method water based printing. This is not the only method of applying graphic prints onto a rubber shoe. There’s another method, which is a bit advance. Factories call it “3D printing”, which I will introduce in another article.

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Step One: Laying out print

Each individual print (print side up) is placed in a water tank, which is separated by a piece of metal plate.

Step Two: Applying lacquer thinner

A layer of lacquer thinner is spread to dissolve the prints. Graphics are expanded after thinner is applied.

Step Three: Placing shoes

A rack of shoes is being placed on top of each print, which is different than most printing method that prints are placed on top of an object.

Step Four: Rinse

Each rack of shoes is taken out to be rinsed to clean off chemical and obvious dirt from water tank.

Step Five: Deep Cleaning

After rinsing, shoes are placed back to water tank. I believe the shoes should be placed back to a different sets of water tank, not the original ones. It is a common practice that factories will cut certain steps on a production line.

Step Six: Drying

Shoes are being placed in a heat and wind tunnel to be dried.