Tony Mittelstaedt has always been hands on, whether in the Army as an assistant team leader on a LRSD team, overseeing the installation of fiber optic cable, constructing cellphone towers or contracting on a personal security detail in the Middle East, but he never discovered any untapped artistic prowess. “I can barely draw a stick figure,” he says with a laugh. It might come as a surprise then the former Midwesterner, who moved to Florida in 2007, owns a company that is gaining notice for custom work that is as artistically striking as it is durable.
Mittelstaedt, 39, launched Tampa Hydrographic Facility in St. Petersburg, FL in 2014. The company does hydrographic printing for automobiles, Cerakoting, KG Gun Koting and Duracoating for handguns and firearms. He is certified in hydrographic printing through TWN Industries. “The beauty of this process is you don’t have to draw or paint the pattern,” he explains. “It’s already there for you.” Mittelstaedt still remembers the day he discovered his new calling. He was tired of working for someone else and he didn’t want to pursue a franchise business where he would have to pay royalties for the use of a corporate name. “A buddy of mine showed me some pictures one time of some firearms he wanted to get hydrodipped and Cerakoted,” he said, and the process intrigued him. Looking back in time at the archaic and crude, but effective way we used to camouflage our CAR-15’s, M4’s and gear for missions using local flora, ghillie suit netting and spray paint for our patterns, this is the same concept, but applied and presented in a professional and show quality manner.
Mittelsteadt received his federal firearms license so he could begin custom coating handguns and firearms with a trio of different techniques. But his heart remains firmly fixed with the promise and possibility of hydrographic printing. If there’s one thing he wants customers to know, it’s that the craftsmanship isn’t something that can be done in a day. It might look easy in a YouTube video demonstrating the practice of hydrographic dipping, but the skill and attention to detail needed to achieve the perfect application is anything but.
“The biggest thing that ruined it for hydrographics is YouTube,” he says. “It’s the prep work leading up to the dip. Spraying the clear coat after cutting and buffing once the clear coat has dried. The dip has to go right the first time. On YouTube, they never show the final product. All they show is them slamming it into water. A lot of people think I can just stop in today.”