This section deals with decals. Once upon a time, some people called these transfers, or even stickers. Decal is now the common parlance and this is what I’ll be using here.
Generally, the decals provide all of those bits of a models decoration that would at least be difficult to paint. We might manage to paint stripes and roundels, but painting those essential stencils and serial numbers that adorn most subjects is beyond most of us.

What do all the terms used that refer to decals mean?

What does it mean when a decal is said to be "out of register"?

What is "silvering"?

What are the basics of applying decals?

What's the best way to apply tiny decals?

Can I apply a decal on top of another decal?

Help! My roundels are out of register!

How do I trim decals?

How do I apply lozenge pattern camouflage decals?

How can I fix old yellowed decals?

Can I use decals to frame a canopy?

How do I make my own decals?

Common Terms

Decal sheet: This is the coloured piece of paper containing the decals and the…
Backing sheet: This is the paper that the decal is stuck to, when you receive the decal sheet.
Decal: This is the coloured bit that you’ll want to move from the backing sheet, onto your model.
Decal film: This is a transparent film, applied over the decal to protect it. Usually, this decal film will just cover the decal, perhaps with some overlap at the edges. In some cases, however, the decal film covers the whole decal sheet. It is the decal film that produces that unsightly ‘silvering’.
Protective paper: This refers to that piece of what looks like greaseproof paper, usually floating around in the box. This is another means of trying to protect the decals.

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Register/Out of register:

When decals are printed, one colour is printed first and then the second colour is printed on top of that. If the paper or machinery moves during this process, then the second colour will not be placed exactly where it needs to be.
For example, an RAF roundel is printed onto a white disc, beginning with the blue outer ring. If anything moves, then there will be a white outline around a part of that ring. The red central dot is then applied and, if anything moves, then the dot will appear off-centre. This decal would then be described as being out of register and is best consigned to the waste bin.
To reduce the chance of this happening, many decal manufacturers will print the central dots of roundels as separate items. That way, if the dot appears off-centre, it is the fault of the modeller and not the decal maker!
Some decal manufacturers, such as Cartograph, are capable of producing very finely printed decals, in perfect register. Fortunately for the modeller, many model manufacturers are buying their decals from the likes of Cartograph. This may increase the cost of the model, but it saves the modeller having to source alternatives from elsewhere.

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This is another bane of modellers and is guaranteed to spoil the final look of your model. When a decal is applied to a model, there is a chance of tiny air bubbles becoming trapped underneath it. This is then seen as a silvery area, around the decal, as it shows up under the decal film.
One method of reducing silvering is to reduce the amount of decal film, by carefully cutting out the decal as close to the edge as you are able. However, try not to cut into the decal itself, as some may leak their colours, once water can penetrate between the decal film and the decal.
Another method of reducing silvering is ensuring that your surface is as smooth as possible. A gloss finish is a smoother surface than a matt one, with the matt finish being able to hold lots and lots of tiny air bubbles. This is why we recommend a Klear coat to your model, before decaling. Alternatively, you could just use glossy paints.

Decal setting solutions, such as MicroSol and MicroSet, also help against silvering. The MicroSet acts to assist the adhesive on the back of the decal, spreading it evenly beneath the decal and helping to repel any air. MicroSol effectively softens the decal, making it conform tightly to the model surface and, again, expelling any trapped air.
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Decalling I

Handling decals can be one of those basic skills some of us take for granted, but it's always worth a recap...In real life, insignia and lettering looks painted on. With care, this can be achieved.

You start off with your kit prepared for decalling;
The paint is well dry, for example, (don't laugh, you'd be surprised at how many impatient modellers try to apply decals onto tacky paint).
An overall gloss coat of varnish, or Johnsons "Klear" acrylic floor polish, is a very good idea. This will be better for applying the decal and will avoid that silvering.

You will need;
A bowl of warm of luke-warm water.

Decal setting and moulding solutions. These are not essential, but are nice to have and they actually do the job they're supposed to. Humbrol Decal Cote 1 will help you slide the decal into position and will help it adhere to the surface, while reducing any tiny air bubbles under the decal. Humbrol Decal Cote 2 will also help remove any tiny air bubbles and will also help the decal mould itself to the surface of your kit, even if there's some raised detail. There are other decal solutions available. For the sake of this explanation, I'll be referring to MicroSet and Microsol.
Be aware that some decals will actually melt or dissolve if you use a decal-setting solution on them. Most major manufacturers decals are okay, including Airfix, Revell, Tamiya and the like, but some of those made by after-market companies require careful treatment. Decals made by after-market companies usually come with warnings if they aren't compatible with setting solutions.

A sharp pair of scissors. Those you find next to the tweezers in chemists and supermarkets are ideal, especially the ones with sharp points.

A pair of tweezers. I find slant-edged tweezers are the best.

A small, tidy paint brush.

A piece of clean kitchen roll.

It's worth stating the obvious, that a tidy modelling space is also helpful. Lock the doors, take the phone of the hook, shut the cat out and put on some music of your choice...preferably something long.

Read the instruction sheet thoroughly, so that you are aware of exactly what decals you will need and where you'll need to put them. You might want to remove the decals you aren't going to be using and put them into your "spare decals" envelope.
If you're dealing with a lot of decals, as you progress, it might be worth ticking off the decals on the instruction sheet as you apply them. This helps you work in a systematic way and helps you avoid missing some out.

It is also advisable to wash your model with liquid detergent. During the build and painting process, you will have put your greasy fingertips all over it. Although not obvious, this can seriously affect decal adhesion.

Select the decal you want to apply and cut it out as close to its edge as you can. Try not to be tempted to soak all your decals at once. One at a time may be time-consuming, it is the best way.

Apply some Klear or MicroSet, with your brush, onto the spot where you're going to apply the decal.

Place the decal in your bowl of water. You'll now have about 10-20 seconds before the adhesive holding the decal to the backing sheet starts to dissolve. You'll need to remove the decal from the water before this happens completely, as it is this adhesive that sticks your decal to the model.

Remove the decal from the water, using the tweezers and place it as near as you can to where you want to stick it.

Move it off the paper, using your damp brush, and into position. If you use your finger, it is likely that the adhesive on the decal will stick to your finger.

Remove any excess water with a corner of your kitchen roll. (Be careful when touching the don't want it to get sucked up with the water onto your towel!)

Having wiped your brush, move the decal into its final position.

*When things Go Wrong…
Sometimes, the decal might stick to where you don't want it to stick. Just add water with your brush until it starts to slide around again. Sometimes the decal might fold over itself. This sometimes happens with thin stripes or larger decals. If you can't straighten it out using your brush, stick it back into your bowl of water and tease it out with your tweezers and brush. Chances are, enough adhesive will remain on the decal for you to glue the decal onto your kit.

Having placed one decal, dab it dry with your kitchen roll. I sometimes gently press onto a decal with a just-damp piece of kitchen roll, pressing it onto any surface detail and helping to reduce any air trapped underneath.

*When things Go Wrong…
If you've still got a very large air bubble trapped underneath, prick it with a pin.

Repeat with your other decals, taking your time!

When all your decals are in place and have been left at least a couple of hours to dry, apply a coat of varnish over them. This seals the decal in, so it won't peel off in later life, and helps blend it onto your kit. The varnish you use will depend upon the overall finish you want for your kit; matt, satin or gloss. Many modellers now use a finishing coat of Johnsons "Klear" acrylic floor polish, but if you want a matt finish, or even a satin finish, this isn't necessary, as your Mattcote etc., will effectively seal your decals.

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Decalling II – Applying Tiny decals

The following demo comes from an Airfix 1/72 SEPECAT Jaguar.

Make sure you have all you need to hand;

Using the tweezers, dip your decal into the warm water.
NOTE: Usually, you could do one decal at a time...but I know what I'm doing, so I'm living dangerously. The other thing I haven't bothered to do, is to cut out each decal, as close to the edge as possible.

After only a few seconds, (usually a much shorter period of time than is suggested by your instruction sheet), the decal paper will darken and become completely soaked through. Remove the decal from the water.
If you don't, the decals will all float off the sheet and will be a beggar to catch.
Don't forget, the water will continue to dissolve the adhesive holding the decal to the paper, even though the decal is out of the water.

After a couple of minutes, you can then seal in and protect your newly applied decal, with some Klear, or your chosen matt or satin finish..

Finally, I always tick off the decals I've applied on the instruction sheet. This means that I don't miss any and, if I have to go and do something else, I know exactly where I left off.

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Applying decals on top of decals

Decals are usually pretty good at sticking to other decals, as the bottom decal will present a nice, smooth finish for the top decal.
However, it is advisable to make sure that the first decal is properly in place and has dried onto the model, before you try sticking another on top.
You do not need to apply a protective coat over the first decal, as this will produce a tiny step on the surface, when you apply the second decal.

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Repairing Off-Register Roundels

I've noticed many seemingly well-built models in various Galleries let down by out-of-register decals. This seems particularly obvious with RAF roundels, where you have a white outline around a part of the roundel, that should not be there.

There is a way to fix this problem... First off, you'll need a tool called a Compass cutter;

You could use this to trim any unwanted white from your roundels, but more often than not, you'll still miss bits as, usually, the problem doesn't fully reveal itself until you've applied your decal to a darker surface. So...

1 - Apply all your decals has normal.

2 - Apply at least one coat of Klear all over your model. (Whatever transparent coating you use, applying it all over your model prevents a patchy appearance later on).

3 - Having measured the diameter of your roundel, use your compass cutter to cut out a mask from a piece of good quality, modelling masking tape. (If your tape isn't wide enough, then overlap a couple of pieces on a piece of shiny cardboard, or plastic card. Make sure you make a large enough overlap, so that when you remove the cut mask from the card, it'll hold together).

4 - Carefully apply your mask over your wonky decal.

5 - Re-paint your camo over the mask and let it dry.

6 - Remove the mask and you should have lost that white border.

7 - Apply your favourite overcoat; Klear or Glosscote, Satincote or Mattcote.

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Trimming decals

Sometimes, decals are too big and overlap the edge of a model. This is often seen with the fin flash of WWI biplanes. Of course, you could paint the red, white and blue, but assuming you want to use the supplied decal…
The decal is easiest to cut, when it is dry and on the backing paper. However, it is often later, when the decal is attached, that you notice the problem.
Using MicroSet/MicroSol or Klear should make the decal conform to the shape it’s on. When it is all dry, then is the moment to slice of any excess, with a new blade.
Note that if you’ve used Klear, the excess decal will be quite crispy, so care should be taken, to avoid cracking the whole decal and having little bits fall off. If this happens, you’ll need to touch-up with paint, assuming you can find the right shade.

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Applying Lozenge Decals

Lozenge patterns, for WWI biplanes, are available as decals…usually being sold in sheets of wide strips. Assuming I’m wanting to cover the upper surface of a wing, to avoid excessive wastage, I make paper templates of the wing shape. When I make the template, I make note of where things like struts go.
I then use this to draw around, in pencil, on the back of the decal sheet.
Once cut out, this will be quite a large decal, so extra care is required in making sure that there is no trapped air beneath it. Use of a damp kitchen towel can help you with this, taking care not to stretch the decal. Some decals are quite elastic when wet, whilst others will tear if looked at in the wrong way!
Once the decal has dried, a protective coat is applied, before any holes are drilled for struts and/or rigging.
Any excess decal is carefully trimmed off.

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Rescuing Old Decals

Old kits come with old decals. Often, they are in perfect register, but ruined by having very yellow decal film.
You can manage this by cutting off as much excess film as you can, but it is likely some yellow will remain.
Place the decal sheet into a sealed polythene bag. This will help protect the sheet and lessen any more drying out.
Tape the bag, with the decal facing outwards, to the sunniest window in the house.

It may take weeks, but the sun will bleach that yellow away, without fading the decals themselves.

Once they are bleached, they will also be quite dry and potentially crispy. To protect them further, you need to obtain some Liquid Decal Film. A coat of this on to your decals should hold them together.
Note, however, that applying more decal film, you will have to carefully cut out your decal from the sheet, before use.

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Save Those Decal Scraps! Canopy Framing Possibilities.

Many decal sheets come with a black border to them. In many cases, this black line is actually a decal in its own right and is worth cutting out and keeping.
You can use it as is, for canopy frames, or for those times that you need thin black lines.
Alternatively, you can paint it a colour of your choice and apply a coat of Klear and/or Decal Film over it. You can then cut this out and use it for canopy framing, for example.

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How To Make Your Own Decals

Basic steps:
• Make your design
• Print out on decal paper
• Seal the printout if using an inkjet
• Cut out and use as normal decals

Equipment required:
1. Water slide decal paper, there are various brands: Testors, Experts-Choice, Crafty Computer Paper.
2. You will need to get the correct type of paper for the type of printer you have i.e Inkjet paper for inkjet printer, laser paper if you have a laser printer.
Decal paper comes in two main types: clear - the decal film is transparent which is printed on, and white - the decal film is white.
There are also other colours available, i.e blue
3. A colour printer, inkjet or laser.
4. If you are printing using an inkjet you will need a clear varnish, like Klear/Future, Microscale Decal film, Halfords Clear Lacquer aerosol, Tamiya aerosol, to seal the inkjet ink on the decal paper.
5. For graphics and artwork, image manipulation software like Paint*, Gimp*, Paintshop, Photoshop, or vector drawing software Inkscape* Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw.

The vector drawings have the advantage that you can scale your work up or down without pixelation.
For lettering, serials, codes : Word processor software like Openoffice Word processor*, Word, Word pad*, and the necessary fonts.
Alternatively use vector drawing software.
*free software

Make your design:
Make your design by creating it from scratch, scanning old decals or aircraft profiles, or find some online sources,
like Richard J Caruana decal art for Model Airplane International:
If you are doing lettering or codes a couple of sources of fonts:
USN/USMC font by Novokits
Download from DepositFiles

Copy and paste your image into the graphics software, position on the page and use the rulers to check sizes. Working in inches can make things easier.
Print out on to normal paper, cut out, and see how it fits on the model, as it may need further adjustment in the software programs.

Print out on decal paper:
With an inkjet printer, you may have to try different paper type settings to achieve an acceptable printout.
The paper setting tells the printer how much ink to squirt, and normal paper absorbs the ink, (most normal paper has a percentage of cotton as well as wood pulp)
rather than just sitting on the surface like glossy or decal paper. So glossy and decal paper requires less ink to be squirted out.
To save on decal paper, (only with inkjet printers, not with a laser), print the graphic on a sheet of paper, then cut out a piece of decal paper slightly larger and tape it over the print, then feed it back through.

Seal the printout if using an inkjet:
Let the ink dry, a minimum of a few hours, normally leave over night.
Then seal using a spray on clear varnish. Do not brush on water based clear coats! You can however brush on Humbrol Clear Cote.
Don't cut out decals and then seal, as the varnish will stick the edge of the decal to the backing paper, making it impossible to release form the backing paper.

Cut out and use as normal decals:
When you are trimming close to a printed inkjet decal, try to trim close, but not into the colour portion, as it may cause the colour to bleed at the edges.

Solid colours on clear decal paper:
Solid colour printed on clear decal paper will not be 'solid", they will tend to be translucent, so printing a nice solid colour will look fine on the backing paper but once on the kit,
it will not look the same, it will be muted by the background colours. There are a couple of solutions to this:
• put another identical decal on top, effectively doubling it up, the colour will be denser but the hue will change as well.
• paint white where the decal is to be applied.
• apply a plain white decal trimmed to the exact size of the clear decal to the model, and then applying the clear decal on top.
• don't use clear decal paper, but print on to white decal paper, seal and then trim to the edges, of the printed area.

It is probably best to only use solid dark primary colours on clear decal paper, i.e black, dark blue, any other colours are best printed on to white decal paper and then trimmed closely.

Dealing with white:
Laser and inkjet printers cannot print white, or metallic colours. There is one type of printer, dye sublimation or "dye-sub", such as the "Alps" that can print white or metallic colours.
These are expensive to buy and can be hard to source. The Alps dye-sub has been out of production for a long time and supplies are very difficult, and in some cases almost impossible, to find.
So to print a white serial, or white image, you can try and match the colours on the model in your graphics program and then add your white lettering, print on to white decal paper.
There will be a bit of trial and error getting the colour match close, and you may still find you will have to touch up with a fine brush and paint.

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