It is essential that decals be applied to a glossy surface in all cases. If the
surface is eventually to be flat, you must apply a flat clear finish over the
dry decals to achieve this. If you try to apply decals to a flat surface, you
will see a "silvery" effect on the clear edges of the decals as they
will not blend into the surrounding area properly. This is not a problem with
race cars and such as the surface paint is normally glossy in the first place.
On military models such as planes and armor, I first apply a gloss clear coat
over the flat finish first. I normally use Testor's Glosscote, apply the decals,
then spray on Testor's Dullcote. When done correctly the decals look like they
are painted on. This double clearcoating also has the benefit of allowing
you to apply the initial weathering to armor prior to flat clear coat and also
even outs the finish on camouflage finishes.
I normally cut out the decals not too close to the outline as most decal makers
taper the clear decal film slightly away from the outline. This tapered edge
allows the decal to "blend" into the surrounding area better. Of
course some decal makers such as Cady cover the entire sheet with decal film as
part of their process and you then need to cut the decal close to the outline in
order to minimize the clear edge.
I next dip the decal in the water for no more than 15 seconds and then place it
on the non-porous surface and wait for it to loosen from the paper backing. This
is by far the most important tip I learned from the FSM article. Decals come
with a water soluble adhesive on the back of the decal ink and carrier film. It
is this adhesive that holds the decal in place on the model. When you dip the
decal in water, the water dissolves the adhesive and allows the decal to slide
off the backing paper. Many modelers (including myself) make the mistake of
leaving the decal in the water too long or place the wet decal on an absorbent
surface. Doing either of these things just causes too much of this adhesive to
dissipate into the water or the porous surface. This can cause the decal to curl
up at the edges or not stick at all. You can fix this as I outline later on, but
it is best to prevent it at the beginning. By just dipping the decal for a short
time into the water and placing it on the glass or plastic, you maximize the
amount of adhesive present and insures a good bond.
While I am waiting for the decal to loosen, I apply some of the Microset
solution to the surface where the decal is to go. This does two things. It
allows the decal to remain mobile during final placement and insures a good bond
to the surface by allowing the decal to conform to the minor surface
When the decal has loosened, I place the decal with the backing right next to
the final location and using a damp finger I slide the decal onto the surface
and slide the backing paper away while letting the decal "fall" to the
surface. With practice the decal will be very close to the final location and
will be "floating" on a film of water and the setting solution. I use
the tweezers to carefully move the decal into the final position. I then use the
soft cloth or bathroom tissue or Q-tips to carefully blot up the excess moisture
and press down the decal to the surface being careful to start at one cormer and
working over the entire surface of the decal. Try to avoid pressing down on the
entire decal at once as you could accidentally lift up the whole decal. I then
apply a thin film of Microset over the decal carefully blotting up any excess.
If the surface is flat or the decal does not have to conform to any more surface
details or irregularities, I let it dry as is.
If the decal has to conform to any surface details or to a compound curved
surface you will need to go to the stronger stuff to soften the decal to allow
it to "snuggle" down. The type of solution to use comes with
experience, but I always try the weaker stuff like Microsol first before going
to the ultimate Solvaset. Microsol works with most compound curves and most
surface details like Zimmerit and recessed panel lines etc. High details like
hinges, hood pins, or really big compound curves require the use of Solvaset.
Application of the two solutions is different because of the difference in
I apply Microsol with a wide brush after I have placed the decal and blotted out
the excess setting solution and water outlined above. I let the MicroSol work a
bit to soften the decal first. I then use the Q-tips or the tip of the soft rag
or paper towel to GENTLY press down on the decal to begin the process of
conforming the decal to the surface. I sometimes apply a little more Microsol
with a Q-tip or brush to help the process along. In most cases if the surface
has some Microsol on it, time and gravity will let the decal snuggle down. I
normally monitor the process over the next few minutes and use the Q-tip or
brush to snuggle it down.
On those really stubborn areas I use Solvaset. CAUTION IS IMPORTANT HERE.
Solvaset is very strong and works fast. Solvaset was developed primarily for the
railroad guys to apply decals to the sides of railroad box cars that have a lot
of surface detail that required the decal to look as if it were painted on. Next
time you are in the hobby shop check out some cars to see what I mean. Normally
I just apply the Solvaset over the area and just let it do its thing. The decal
will sometimes wrinkle and look like hell, but it will eventually fix itself.
You can "nudge" the decal to conform to really tuff areas with a Q-tip
dipped in Solvaset, but this takes practice. The nice thing about Solvaset is
that if it does not work totally the first time you can apply more after the
decal has dried.
Bubbles I Got
Sometimes you will get trapped air that will cause a bubble or wrinkle in the
decal when it is dry. This is easily fixed by carefully slicing into the bubble
with an X-acto knife (new) and then applying a little Solvaset or Microsol and
pressing down with the Q-tip. Presto bubble and wrinke gone.
Sometimes you get a kit with old decals in them. Before you try to apply them
you will need to pretreat them. Three things can happen to decals with age.
Yellowing, degradation in the decal film, and degradation in the decal adhesive.
If the decal has yellowed, I just leave them in the sun on a window sill for a
day which in most cases will bleach out the decal. Next I apply one or two coats
of Microscale Clear Decal Film to the entire sheet. This stuff is great at
preserving old decals and keeps them from cracking upon application. I use a
wide soft brush and lay it on in even strokes and let it dry before applying
another coat. I normally let it dry overnight before attempting to apply. Once
you do this you will need to cut the decal close to the outline as the clear
coat is now a continuous surface. Finally sometimes on really old decals the
adhesive is so old that it will not stick to the surface of the model. In this
instance, you need to replace the adhesive. This is done by making a diluted
solution of white glue and water (75% glue 25% water) I brush this on just
before and sometimes after application of the decal. After the decal has set a
bit you can then apply any and all to the setting solution to allow the decal to
snuggle down. It will look milky at first, but it will dry clear.
I have a Devastator model. This kit was over 20 years old when I got it off
e-bay and the decals had lost their adhesive potency. I used all the above
methods and was able to have the decals conform to the corrugated wing surfaces
with no problem. The decals look as if they are painted on.
I have had to sometimes sand off old decals on models that I have refinished
because this technique works so well. If you follow the above steps you will be
asked by someone sometime, WOW! How did you paint those markings on?
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