Making signage for your railroad

Posted by Bob Keller
on Monday, November 25, 2019

The decal film by Testors may be the most widely available film model railroaders may have access to for making your own signage.

In my last blog post I wrote about decaling to create “modern” equipment for the long-gone New York Central. This time I wanted to show some other methods of decorating your layout with signage, along with a few some do’s and some don’ts.

I tried printing signs with photo paper, but in the long run, that hasn't paid off. My tip: Use decals.

If you are making text signs, your only design concerns are for font and size if you want a clear decal. If you are making signs with a commercial angle to them with, say a color backdrop, source material is key. The better, more clear an image the better.

I use the Testors Custom Decal System for inkjet printers. The kit comes with decal sheets and a bonding aerosol. The latter is to bond, or seal the lettering/images to the decal film. 

You will need Microscale Industries’ Micro Set to soften decals for going over rivets and seams. Micro Sol sets the decal in place.

I have been using an older HP printer and have never had a problem with creating the decals I wanted. The problem arises with the bonding. While usually successful, I have had a few instances where I applied too little or too much, and the decals either fragment or blister when applied to the target. Depending on where the blister is, you might be able to work it out. But if it is in the middle of a graphic element, it may distort it and you need to fire off another decal.

I wanted some contemporary delivery trucks for less-than-carload lots (yeah, I know). There is a good variety of unlettered trucks in the marketplace.

I numbered my truck fleet on the tops of the cargo box.

 A few years ago I wanted some modern delivery trucks for the New York Central, so I bought three small box trucks from Diecast Direct. I used the same deca lettering that I used for my locomotives, I just adjusted the font size down a bit to fit the trucks.

The flat surfaces were great for placement of the decals. The only problem I had was on truck 82 (the third small box truck). Unknown to me, I moved the truck when the decal was still wet and misaligned the work “System” as you can see from the photo.

I am dickering with a new, color NYCS logo for the large box truck.

I initially tried yellow for the lettering but that looked pretty murky to my eye.

The smart way to make decals is to max out the available printing space for multiples in case of human error. That is how the loading dock got its own sign.

Mixing of colors can be pretty effective, such as the decals for my Interociter Electronics distribution center. Interociter is an electronics supply firm that featured briefly in the science fiction movie This Island Earth. I ran two of the same sign at the same time. I mounted both on sheet styrene and placed them on the front and back of the structure.

First try: Photo paper printing. Second try: Decals. The photo paper didn't fare to well in my basement.

Decals were mounted of plastic sheets and remained true to color.

Discoloring can be seen on this sign.
I have shown the brewery I built a few times before. I initially made the signs using photo grade paper on an absolutely terrible Kodak printer. This was a major failure – mostly on my part. The signs looked fine for a year or two. Even with a de-humidifier, my basement is a little more humid than was good for the paper. Not being bonded/sealed, like the decals, to my surprise they began to discolor and the ink even started to bleed.

I used photo paper printed signage for my CS Tower (Cynosure Division of the New York Central) only to find it bleeding a year or so later.

Do I need a caption for this one? Perhaps HP ink on photo paper would have worked better than the Kodak ink, but I wasn't temped to try again.

I also encountered this with some signage I made for a control tower. I scanned a striped NYC design pattern from a book cover and printed the sign with photo paper. As you can see, it also bled and began to turn green in spots.

I re-worked the project for decals. Using a then-new HP printer they came out much better and I mounted them on Styrene.

The square Schoenling and Hudepohl logos were made from scanning beer bottle labels I bought on eBay. I came up with the large banner on top from scanning an image from a book I have on Cincinnati breweries.

I have bought several more plain delivery trucks and am drawing up ideas for their large blank sides.

Just some food for thought for personalizing your businesses, vehicles, and rolling stock!


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