Decal Making

Notes on Decal Making By Brian Boot

Computer software required

Most computers purchased in the last five years will almost certainly have graphic programs that will produce suitable artwork for decal producing.

Adobe Photoshop is my preferred software but others such as CoralDraw or Seriff will produce very good results. Companies on the internet such as Amazon sell a variety of graphic programs to suite most pockets. It is essential to master the basics of your graphic program, learn how the tools provided aid you in producing the artwork or effects you are aiming for, this will enable you to get the best results from your decal making.

Computer hardware required

Colour laser printers are now becoming more affordable and will give excellent results for producing decals on any type of decal paper. However, most of us use a bubble-jet printer and because the inks are water based, they are not ideal for producing decals.

I have used Epson and Canon printers with very good results using specially formulated paper (see below).

A scanner is well worth having for introducing original artwork into your graphics programme. Decals you want in different scales can be scanned into your computer then resized as you require. In addition, you can scan photos of actual aircraft markings and produced decals after manipulating the images in your graphics program.  An example is illustrated below.


The original drawing of this Gnat was in black & white. I coloured it and used the results as a guide to producing the decal sheet seen to the right. I used white decal paper in order to produce the white edging around the markings and then surrounded the markings in a matching colour to the background of the model thus resolving the problem of printers having no white ink.

Decal Paper

A few companies in recent years have produced suitable decal paper specially formatted to use with bubble-jet printers. Experts Choice makes the decal paper I have been using for over four years. They produce white and clear sheets in A4 size. I recommend using this product. I have tried and tested it many times and it has yet to fail me. These A4 sheets are obtainable from Hannants and Little Cars.

You can buy the sheets individually or in packs of three.  Using my method of printing on minimum pieces of decal sheet makes the decals you produce reasonably inexpensive. I first print the image I will be using for the decal on plain paper to make sure it is correct for colour, size and detail. When satisfied with the image I cut a piece of decal paper to cover the image leaving a small margin all around.

I place the decal paper over the printed image on the plain paper sheet, fixing it with small pieces of selloptape pressed down firmly; making sure that it will not overlap the image area. After setting the printer parameters for the decal, I print out the image on the combined plain paper and attached piece of decal sheet, after a few minutes remove the tape and set the decal aside for around an hour.

Printer Settings when using decal paper

With so many makes of bubble-jet printers on the market now, it is difficult to make hard and fast rules regarding what settings you should use to get the very best results for your decals. In order to get the correct set up for your printer you will need to test various settings. Your printer will have settings for  types of paper such as `Plain’ `Coated’ `Matt’ or `Gloss’, with each of these settings you will of course get different results. To complicate things, the other crucial setting is for print quality such as `Draft’, `Low’ and `High’. I suggest you set your printer to Gloss paper or its equivalent and try the different quality settings. A little time spent on calibrating your settings will pay off with good results. I find it useful to use different settings for different effects.

Producing Artwork

Most modellers will have a box containing spare decals not used in past projects. If you are lucky you may find a decal suitable for copying via a scanner, you can adjust this in your graphics program for use in your next project, for example changes in scale and colour. You can at the same time clean up any image that has become yellowed by age or repair torn or damaged decals. Occasionally you will need to search for images you need, the internet is a good place to start. If all else fails you will have to draw the artwork yourself or get someone to do it for you.

An increase in scale from 1:48 to 1:32 is 133% but keep in mind that models can vary in proportion sometimes, so print out a copy of your enlarged decal sheet and cut out critical images to check against the subject you are modelling and adjust accordingly.

If you do have to produce original artwork then scale it up at least four times the intended size. This will help in producing a crisp and sharp decal, for when the artwork is reduced to the size required it will hide a multitude of sins! It also helps you to produce fine detail far easier if done in a much larger scale to begin with. This advice is also useful for any artwork you want to produce with fidelity. Before copying your artwork enlarge the image, touch up any blemishes, and smooth out any uneven areas.

The other action that will improve your work is the pixel size of the image. When using your graphics program to produce decals increase the resolution pixels to 600 per inch.  More pixels to an image results in better detail and sharpness to your decals. This also applies when scanning an image, set a high resolution.

Printing your decal

If you need more than one of the same image on your decal say a roundel, use the copy and paste in your graphics program. It is better to incorporate all the images required for your project onto one decal sheet, both for convenience and economy.

Always print out your decal artwork on spare plain paper before commencing an actual decal print and check it for flaws, correct sizing and colour correctness.

When the decal has dried thoroughly, the images need to be sealed onto the decal paper to protect them  from water damage. I use Halfords clear acrylic lacquer and spray a good covering over the decal, the lacquer dries fairly rapidly and as well as protecting the decal it also makes it stronger and ensures that it will not break up when positioning it onto your model. After 30 minutes the decal will be safe to use.

Do not leave the decal sheet in a container of water, just dip the decal in lukewarm water and ensure it is completely wet, leave it for 30 seconds or so then gently slide the image onto your model. I use a wetted brush for this task.

I have used Micro Sol without any great problems, this helps the decal conform to curves and difficult areas on models but do not wipe the decal just leave it to settle on its own accord. Constantly moving or brushing the decal after applying Micro Sol can lead to bleeding of the colours from the decals edges. Just apply Micro Sol to the area that the decal is to be placed and gently press it down with a soft brush. The decal will assume a buckled look for a while but will flatten out nicely after around 15 minutes so don’t be tempted to touch or move it because the Micro Sol softens the decal and causes the wrinkling, this is the normal reaction, so leave it!

For more info on Brian and his models see his Web site: Brian Boot’s Model Pad

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