Decals

I started building models when I was about 5, in the early 1980s, and continued to have an insatiable appetite to build more until…well it never went away. But I didn’t know anyone else who had any interest whatsoever, and thus it wasn’t until my teens that I discovered modelling magazines and I was in my mid-twenties when I actually met other people who stuck plastic together for a hobby. This isolation had a whole host of different influences on my model-building journey, two of which were 1) for 20 years I had no idea how to pronounce the word ‘decals’ since I’d never actually had to say it or had cause to hear it said (and truth be told, whenever I say it now I never know if ‘deh-calls’ or ‘dee-calls’ is what’s going to come out of my mouth), and 2) that my modelling skills evolved very sloooowly, since there was no provocation to change; I just did what the magazines said to do.

I think this is fairly true of many modellers. We get stuck in our ways and there are well-established routines. I’ve just been decalling Revell’s 1/48 Tornado with Xtradecals decals and recalled, again, how different the way I approach decalling is from the received wisdom passed down and around in magazines, internet forums, modelling clubs, and so on. The way I read it should be done, and followed for many years, was this:

1) Make sure your surface to be decalled is nice and glossy
2) Place decal in water
3) Wet place where decal is to go with a setting solution, like MicroSet or Mr Setter.
4) Put decal in place and remove excess water and setting agent with a cloth/cotton bud/etc. to ‘remove air’
5) Brush on some decal solvent over the top, like MicroSol or Mr Softer

Well I did this for donkeys years, and to be honest, never had great results. Then, by complete accident, I discovered a completely different way to get decals to do what I wanted them to do.

I was trying to apply some enormous IsraDecals decals – yellow and black ID triangles – to the wings of a 1/48 Eduard Mirage IIICJ. On the underside I tried the above method, using Mr Setter and Mr Softer, but the decals did not settle into the recessed detail very well. Then (and this was back in 2007 and so I can’t for the life of me remember why I did this) I decided to simply flood the wing with Mr Setter, float the decal onto this puddle, position the decal gently and then LEAVE IT. No removing excess water or Mr Setter; no tamping down with a cloth or cotton bud; just leave it floating in position. Several hours later I had the most stuck down, sucked down ID triangle possible. No silvering, no bubbles. No need to use a solvent. It was astonishing.

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I didn’t change straight away, but this has now become the basic way I decal and I love it. My workflow now looks like this:

1) Get a good gloss finish (warning: Klear does not work very well for this; it sometimes reacts with the Mr Setter. I now use Tamiya X-22, but Gunze clear coats also work.)
2) Put puddle of Mr Setter where the decal is to go.
3) After soaking in water, remove decal from the backing paper with a brush loaded with Mr Setter.
4) Using brush, put the decal in place and LEAVE IT. The decal, if it’s biggish, will wrinkle horribly, but dry completely sucked down into the surface detail.

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Leave this untouched…

decals2

…to get this. (Apologies for the crappy quality, but the point is you can see the recessed detail show up perfectly across the middle ‘4’.)

 

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After the matt coat (this is actually Ammo’s Satin Varnish), it looks like this.

I’ve got this to work with IsraDecals, Microscale, Two Bobs, Hasegawa and a bunch of other decal manufacturers, but obviously I test it first each time. If some silvering does appear (rare), Mr Softer often works for me. The Mr Setter can leave a whitish residue but I find this disappears with a subsequent clear coat. On my more recent models you may see decals on vertical surfaces, like the tail or side of the nose, might silver a bit. I realised this was because the Mr Setter was running out from under the decal after I’d applied it; the decal must be horizontal as it sets.

So basically I’ve unlearned the way everyone else seems to do decals and by accident come up with my own method. But I can’t be the only one: What methods do you use that go against the flow?

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