You have a
model. It might be a structure, locomotive or it may be a car. You put a
lot of time into its construction and agonized over the paint job. Now it
is time for the finishing touch. Decals make any model look better
If you can find what you are looking for it will be more economical and
time saving if you can find and buy what you want. This is usually not a
problem for modern era models but it can be a problem for older and rarer
models like the horse car above.
are specialists who can exactly match many of the old time fonts but it is
both time-consuming and expensive, and if you want, more than one set the
cost can become prohibitive. This is where printing you own can save you
time, money and give you exactly the design you want.
Actually, there are several
types of decals but the two that we are most interested in are the “water
slide” and “rub-on.” The Water slide, so named because it slides off the
paper hen soaked in water, is the most popular decal especially in modeling
and starts with a paper backing or carrier that forms the base. On top of
this, there is a thin binding or release layer of water-soluble glue that
will hold the decal to the surface to which it is applied. A thin
transparent layer forms the decal proper. The only thing remaining is for
you to apply your own artwork via inkjet or laser printer.
decals are similar to “water slide” but come in two slightly different
versions. Both versions have the same paper base and a transparent film
upon which the artwork is applied. Both also have a binding and tack
layer. In the first version there is a tack layer is on top as shown.
The artwork is applied in reverse and pressure is applied from the paper
side to apply the decal. In the second version one additional transparent
is added over the tack area. This layer must be peeled back (along with
the tack layer, artwork and film) and applied to the surface to be
Decal papers are commonly used for Dry-slide and
Rub-on decals but can also be used to photo-etch photo-sensitive printed
Vellum papers can be used for transparent for
windows or to create nighttime interior scenes in buildings. Print people
etc. on vellum and backlight with white LED. Vellum can also be used for
signs and billboards
Acetate - Both clear or tinted can be used to
create stained glass and clear store front windows. Just print whatever
lettering you want to use.
Foils – Can be used to Create mirrors and a large
number of special effects
Adhesive backed papers come in thicknesses
ranging from simple paper to 1/8” pasteboard. The thinner papers are
suitable for covering the solid walls (or roofs) of a model while the
thicker papers can be used for the walls themselves. You can even create
whole towns from built-up the thicker papers. Simple print pictures of
individual buildings, then stack the cut-outs several layers deep for an
your own decals is not that expensive all things considered. The cost of a
blank sheet ranges from about $0.50 to $2.00 depending on the paper type
and the quantity you buy. Printer ink is negligible unless you are
creating brick walls or other patterns that fill the page with ink. I
figure a set of decals for a car costs from $0.20 to $0.50 including waste
papers come in the standard 8-1/2” x 11‘’ letter size sheets. One way to
cut the expenses involved in printing decals is to cut the sheets down to
the size of a standard 3” x 5” index card. This task can be made easier
through the use of the same graphics program used to create the decals to
create various templates to guide the cutting of the sheets. Just print a
“+” at the corner of each card to guide your cutting.
trick is to print a “traveler” on the back side of the paper. This helps
to show which side of the paper is the back and which side contains the
decal film. It also helps to keep track of what has been done where steps
such as spraying varnish may not be obvious visually. Another benefit is
that it helps keep track of drying times and test what materials to use for
best results. I also have a supply of plain paper “coupons” cut to the
same size to use for testing until I am satisfied with the results.
according to most manufacturers, are a perishable item and have a shelf
life of around 90 days. There may be some truth to this statement but I
have decals that are over 30 years old and still quite usable. The trick
is to follow the other instructions carefully and faithfully. Store all
decals flat and at a constant humidity. Keep away from sunlight and at
room temperature. Another reason for cutting the larger sheets into
smaller sizes is that it is easier to store both printed and unused sheets
in plastic bags. This reduces sorting and handling supplies and prevents
contamination from dirt and finger oils. One source for bags and tags is
Rings ‘N Things.
two programs to develop my designs. The first is Corel Draw for
manipulating images and creating artwork. The second is the MS desktop
publisher where the images, fonts and other components are assembled into
the decal artwork. Both programs are fairly inexpensive and have plenty of
power to do the job. This sheet shows complete decal sets for (2) cars.
Note the “+” marks used as cutting guides. You should include car numbers
and reporting marks in your design and do not forget the car ends.
want to look at a few special fonts for help in your overall design. Fonts
can range from special lettering to various images you may want to use such
as logos, reporting marks and special symbols. When purchasing fonts you
should realize there are two different categories. The first and most
common are the raster fonts. These are less expensive and you can control
the exact size in points. The point is a newspaper term and equals 1/72
inch. The other category is the vector fonts. These are more expensive
and more detailed so can be resized easily without loosing any detail
use small images for your artwork or highly detailed raster fonts, you may
have problems getting crisp images on the printer. One way to get around
this is to make your decal image two or four times larger than you plan to
use, then scale the printer down by a half or quarter. This can
dramatically improve the resulting image.
inkjet and laser printers make great decals. Just make sure you match the
paper to the printer you use. This DOES make a difference. Inkjets use
wet ink and are a bit less expensive to keep in supplies. Lasers use a dry
powder that is heated and fused to the paper. They are a bit more
expensive but work equally well with the proper paper and the right
you will probably find that the printer should be set for photos instead of
plain paper. Make these settings on the decal paper, not the plain paper
coupons and record the printer’s paper type, quality, ink volume drying
time and whatever other options are available for later use. Some printers
allow you to set a dwelling time between the printing of each page to allow
the ink to dry and prevent smudging. Glossy finishes like decals should be
set for a small volume of ink and a long dwelling time. Work carefully and
do NOT touch the front surface of the paper at any time. Keep your work
area dust-free and allow two to three days time for the ink to completely
problem you may encounter is paper size. Most but not all printers will
handle a 3x5 paper size. Here you can use another template. Print a 3x5
rectangle on an 8-1/2 x 11 sheet, then tape the coupon within this
rectangle and feed it through the printer. You probably only have to tape
it on the leading edge and let if feed through.
decal, once dry, is now ready for finishing. Some sort of top coat or
fixative is required to seal the ink from running in water or smudging.
Some manufacturers have their own product however the most common product
recommended is either Krylon Crystal Clear or Matte Finish available at A.
C. Moore and other craft stores. Spray the first coat sparingly then when
dry spray another heavier coat and let dry again thoroughly. Certain types
of Rub-on decals will also require a tack layer
It is now
time to turn our attention to the model itself. Paint but do not weather
the model and let dry for at least a week before decaling. DO NOT TOUCH
the surface to be decaled. Oils on skin can be surprisingly potent in
preventing decals from sticking You may touch a surface next to area where
decal is to be applied. Use a brush to “scrub” the surface clean. If this
is your first time you might consider practicing on a simple sheet of wood
or scribed siding.
trimming the decal as close to the artwork as possible. Use only a minimal
amount of water when applying water-slide decals. Excess water can warp
the surface and wash away the glue in the binding layer that holds the
decal to the surface. It will also clog the pores that give the glue
purchase to cling to.
will tend to curl a bit as they soak up the water. This is normal with new
decals and more pronounced with those that are older. Never force the
decal to flatten out as this can crack the file supporting the artwork and
make the decal unusable. Wait for about a minute or until the glue
dissolves enough to be moved the work the film gradually so that it extends
past the paper backing.
overlapping edge of the decal along the surface where it is to be applied
to deposit a single drop of water. Then hold the overlapping edge against
the surface and withdraw the paper from underneath. Carefully coax the
decal into position using a knife, pin or some sharp object and blot dry
with a piece of tissue. Start from the center and work out. Puncture the
film and squeeze any air bubbles trapped beneath the film.
Once the decal is
in place you can add a solvent such as Solvaset to partially dissolve the
film so that it can snuggle into any cracks and crevices. Do this once and
once only at this time as any further action will likely cause the film to
wrinkle and distort.
the decal carefully. Once the solvent has dried you can cut the decal
along the scribing and cracks of a car side and apply another layer of
solvent. As before, brush the solvent on once then refrain from further
touching until the solvent as dried. I you do this right you may still
have a tell-tale shine around the decal where the film shines through from
under the artwork but it should be minimal Note that the bluntness or
sharpness of the knife used to scribe the decal will have a great effect as
to how the film wraps around the corner of the scribing
decals do not have the same shiny film as water slide decals but are more
fragile and can be a bit trickier to apply. Use a blunted point to apply
pressure to the center of the decal. Some use a blunt pencil or the stylus
used on a PDA. Another weapon of choice can be the type of orange-stick a
manicurist used to clean under fingernails. Hold the decal against the
surface and start rubbing the center with the point. Work in increasingly
larger circles and you should be able to see when the artwork separates
from the backing. Keep holding the backing against the surface until the
artwork has been completely separated and is adhering to the surface.
Again, use some kind of varnish to protect the decal.
surface may now be weathered if desired.
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