Cover Me: Chris Trout on Hydrographics
Chris Trout, 44, arrived on the Grand Strand in 1989 to pursue a business management degree at Coastal Carolina University. At that time, the school was still affiliated with the University of South Carolina and Broadway at the Beach was nonexistent.
Originally from Lansdale, Pa., Trout says he moved around frequently because of his father’s job with Sonoco Products, a global packaging provider based in Hartsville. “That took us to [Burlington, Ontario] Canada,” he says. “About the time I was graduating high school, he was looking at transferring back to Hartsville and I started looking at colleges. I decided –‘hey why not go to college near the beach,’ so I ended up at Coastal and stayed here.”
Trout says he is a multitasker, and is a partner in several businesses which lately have been focused on the amusement industry. He has been involved with the Myrtle Beach SkyWheel, Sling Shot, Skyscraper and the Soaring Eagle Zip Line at Family Kingdom. He says that there are more rides to come.
But a couple of years ago, he was getting ready to send off a gun stock to be camouflaged through a process called hydrographics, or water transfer printing – which is basically a method of applying printed designs to 3-D objects. His wife, Nan Trout, became interested in hydrographics and started doing some research. When he got his finished product back, she showed him online how it worked. “She said, ‘we could do that.’ I said, ‘you’re right – we could do that.’”
That was the inception of Undercover Graphics, Inc. [ www.undercovergraphics.com] in Myrtle Beach, co-owned by Trout and business partner Simon Spain.
“Undercover Graphics is an opportunity to change the look and design of just about any object with a solid surface,” says Trout. “Our primary business is probably firearms – we camouflage a lot of guns for people – but we also do a lot of car parts like engine covers or dashboards. We can turn a basic black plastic dashboard or dash panel into a wood grain or a carbon fiber dash – or we’ll camouflage it.”
Anything from household switch plates to tablet and cell phone covers are examples of what can be covered.
He says there are tens of thousands of patterns and options available. “People see hydrographics, or at least the finished product of hydrographics, almost every day but they just don’t realize it.” He cites the wood grain dashes in luxury cars. “Everybody knows they are not wood grain. That’s hydrographics.”
But what of the process?
“The biggest challenge is with every dip, but the process itself is simple. You have water, film and chemicals – and you dip your object into the water. Sounds incredibly simple, doesn’t it? The hard part is learning how to dip each item because every item is a little bit different.” He says there is always the possibility of creating water pockets or splashing, both detrimental to the process. “You need to dip your item into the water so that the water continues to flow smoothly, because any bubbles or splashing will mess up the product and you have to start over.” Obviously some items are more difficult to dip than others.
Of note is that partner Spain is a certified gunsmith. “To properly dip the firearms and get good coverage, we take the guns apart. With Simon being a gunsmith and my knowledge of a firearm, people feel better dropping their products off – knowing that they are going to be taken apart and reassembled correctly.”
The Trouts lives in Myrtle Beach and have a daughter Charley, 12. Trout enjoys hunting and four-wheeling. He might be spotted hunkering down for a meal at Joe’s Bar & Grill in North Myrtle Beach. “Joey Arakas is the owner there – and it’s by far my favorite restaurant on the beach.”
As for the future, Trout says he has plans to expand Undercover Graphics and introduce a new process shortly. “I like to go day-by-day and see what each day has to offer. I guess that’s why I got into so many businesses with different people.”
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