Skeeve’s Guide to making your own decalsTools Required:
An Inkjet or Laser Printer, (My printer is an HP DeskJet F4180)
Graphics Software (I am using GIMP 2.6.2 a free download from http://www.gimp.org/
Inkjet (or Laser) Decal Paper, with white or clear background. (I am using Experts-Choice that I purchased locally at Colonial Photo and Hobby Inc.)
Decal Bonder (I am using Testors Decal Bonder)
Lacquer Overcoat (I use Testors Model Master Semi-Gloss or Lusterless Flat)
Small soft bristle paintbrush
Micro Sol, setting Solution for Decals (Optional)
Future, Floor Finish (Optional)Step 1, Planning and Creating the Artwork:
The first step is obvious in that you need to create the image you wish to use on the decal. What may not be quite as obvious is that you need to decide if the image should go on a clear or a white background decal paper. Printers typically do not print the color white. While you can get some printers that will do this, (ALPS printers or very high end specialty printers) your average inkjet or laser printer will not be able to print in white.
To use the white in your decal, you basically have two choices. You can use white decal paper, or you can paint the area you want to appear white and place a clear decal over the white paint. Both of these will work fine unless you have a complicated white edge which leaves you trying to match the outside color of your printed decal with the surrounding paint colors (very difficult but not impossible).
I should also mention that any decals covering dark colors would look better printed on the white decal paper. Trying to cover a dark color with a light color printed on a clear sheet typically will not provide a realistic look as the dark color will remain visible through the translucent decal colors.
I recommend you consider the above factors while planning out the image you wish to create and choose the type paper that fits your idea best.
You should also consider the resolution of your decals when you work in GIMP or Photoshop. Typically you can work at a much larger scale than the detail you are going to print and then scale the image down to size. I have had nice results working at a scale twice as large as the final printed decal at 600 dpi.
A final thing to consider in this step, is that when you buy this paper it typically comes in 8-1/2” x 11” sheets and most decals are no where near that large. I suggest you combine multiple images on the page prior to printing so that you do not waste the paper. If you only need a portion of the paper you can place the image near the top edge and cut off that portion of the sheet prior to spraying it (see Decal Bonder). Be sure to cut the page square so it fits back through the printer the next time you want to use it. Step 2, Printing the Decal:
First, I highly recommend that you test print a page with the image you wish to use for a decal prior to printing it on the decal paper. Regular paper is much cheaper than Decal paper, so if there is a problem with the image or the placement on the page, its much better to see it on the regular printer paper first.
I suggest you now test your printer with the decal paper. To do this I took a small image and printed it in the upper left hand corner of the page. This allowed me to see how the printer settings looked on the decal paper. Through experience I discovered that the clear and the white backed decal paper react differently to the printer and that the same settings don’t always work with both types of paper. The clear paper in my experience was far less problematic and a great deal more forgiving as far as the printer settings are concerned. The white decal paper on the other hand really took a lot of effort to find the correct settings.
When I went to use the white paper I had results where the black ink printed blue, where it developed cracks as it dried, where it was streaked or where it printed far too light. As a warning, this may take some experimentation and patience on your part to get the setting working.
On my printer I had to use the “Other Photo Paper” paper type and print on Maximum dpi. I also used the color settings to darken the image slightly. Again test it with a small image first. Additionally when testing the image for printing on the decal paper, before sending the paper back through the printer, be sure the ink is completely dry. It is tempting to send the decal right back through the printer when testing for the correct settings on the printer. Don’t, it will only smear the ink around and mess up the decal sheet and/or your printer. Let it dry completely before you use it again. I got around this somewhat by testing images on two separate sheets, although I still had to wait for ink to dry prior to proceeding. With patience and some experimentation you can get the colors and the print settings correct for your software and printer. Step 3, Bonding or Fixing the Image
Once you have your perfect artwork printed on the decal paper let the ink dry completely, then spray on the Bonding agent. There are several products you can use for this; both spray and brush on products are available. I recommend the spray type because the brush on bonders can smear the artwork from inkjet printers. As noted above I use the Testors Decal Bonder. I believe Krylon Crystal Clear can also be used but as of yet I have not tried it. I spray on a minimum of three coats of the bonder allowing each coat to dry thoroughly before applying the next one. I usually allow 24 hours from the last coat of the bonding agent before applying the decals. Step 4, Applying Decals
Now that your custom decal is ready you may want to prepare the model surface to receive the decal. I apply a coat of Future Floor Finish to the area on the model where I am planning to apply the decal. This creates an ideal surface for the decal to bond to the model. Again you need to wait for the Future to dry before proceeding, I usually allow about an hour, although the manufacturer notes that the Future should dry in about 30 minutes.
Now cut out your decal from the paper as carefully as possible. Remember that if you are using the white decal paper any edges left around the image will be white. Precision cutting is not quite as critical with the clear decal paper as you will not really see the “clear” edge, but a lot of care should be taken when using the white decal paper as any and all of the white edges will show.
Once you cut out the decal place it in some Distilled water. The depth can be fairly shallow but you should use a container large enough for your entire decal to fit into and be submerged by the water. I use Distilled water as it eliminates any possible reaction to minerals and other contaminants typically found in tap water. I also place a little distilled water (a drop or two) on the model surface to “lubricate” this surface for the decal. This makes it easier to slide the decal around once it’s on the model. When the decal has soaked enough so that it is ready to slide off the backing, I carefully slide it onto the model and, using a soft paintbrush, maneuver it into place. If the decal tries to stick before I am ready, I add a little more water and this typically loosens it up so I can continue to adjust it into place.
Once the decal is in place and I am satisfied with the orientation, I add a drop or two of the Micro Sol decal setting solution. The Micro Sol softens the decal and gives it that “painted on” look. Note; do not put the Micro Sol on the decal until it is in place. Once the decal begins to soften moving it becomes very difficult as it will likely tear. I highly recommend this step if you want your decals to look like they are part of the paint job instead of being an after thought. The Micro Sol really adds that professional look to your work. Now, before proceeding, allow everything to dry. It’s easy to get impatient, but allowing the proper time in each step will save you a great deal of frustration and enhance the look of your model or game figure.
Finally, once the model is completely dry I apply a coat or two of the Lacquer Overcoat in the flat or semi-gloss finish. (A gloss finish is also available) This gives the model a consistent finish and helps protect the decals and the paint.
If you have any questions, please post them here in the forum and I’ll answer them as best I can. I hope this is helpful.