Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

How to position a decal

581 views
15 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    September, 2017
  • 85 posts
How to position a decal
Posted by Union Pacific 428 on Wednesday, August 14, 2019 8:32 AM

Hi all, 

I have recently plunged into the world of decaling models. I have been following the techniques outlined in the episode on decaling in the “Airbrushing With Aaron” series on MRVP. 

The problem I keep having is that once I put my wet Microscale decal down on my Microset, I cannot get it to move without tearing. It sticks to the model as soon as I put it down, giving me no chance to adjust it. What should I do? 

  • Member since
    August, 2006
  • From: Franconia, NH
  • 2,811 posts
Posted by dstarr on Wednesday, August 14, 2019 8:46 AM

Position the decal BEFORE applying decal setting solutions.  Those solutions soften the decal film to allow it to snuggle down over rivets and scribed siding and other three dimensional details.  Once you soften the decal film, the decal will tear when you try to reposition it.  Every time.  

   Do this.  Take the wet decal and slide it off the paper backing and onto the model in as close to the right position as you can.  While the decal is still wet, tease it into position using a small paintbrush, or perhaps a sharp needle. Try the paintbrush first.  Double check the position.  Then blot up excess water with a Kleenex and let the decal dry for 5 or 10 minutes, dry enough to stay in place when you apply the setting solution.  The setting solution will tend to float the decal off the surface and let it swish around.  You don't want that.   Let the decal setting solution dry, over night or a little longer before giving the model a coat of DullCote to make the decal film blend in with the paint. 

  • Member since
    January, 2017
  • From: Southern Florida Gulf Coast
  • 4,922 posts
Posted by SeeYou190 on Wednesday, August 14, 2019 9:09 AM

I ue Microscale's "Microset" on the car first, then set the decal on top of the Microset, and slide the decal into position while it floats on the Microset. I wick the excess microset away with a paper towel and allow it to dry.

.

Then I use "Microsol" to snuggle the decal down into place. Do not touch the decal once the Microsol starts working.

.

For tough decals or complcated surfaces, "Daco Strong" is the best decal setting solution I have ever used.

.

-Kevin

.

Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • From: Nordonia Hills, OH
  • 1,747 posts
Posted by dti406 on Wednesday, August 14, 2019 9:45 AM

Are you decaling over a gloss finish, if not you will get the problem you described.

 

I am with Kevin on his method although I use dilute Sovaset (Since I used up the last of my Champ Decal-Set) in place of the Micro Set and I use a lot of it so I can move the decal around to where I want it, then soak up the excess with a tissue. Follow up with Microsol or full strength Sovaset after it has dried to get it to snuggle down over rivits etc.

Rick Jesionowski

Rule 1: This is my railroad.

Rule 2: I make the rules.

Rule 3: Illuminating discussion of prototype history, equipment and operating practices is always welcome, but in the event of visitor-perceived anacronisms, detail descrepancies or operating errors, consult RULE 1!

  • Member since
    January, 2004
  • From: Canada, eh?
  • 9,426 posts
Posted by doctorwayne on Wednesday, August 14, 2019 11:29 AM

Here's my procedure for applying decals:

Use distilled water for soaking the decal - it's available in gallon jugs at any supermarket, and not at all expensive.  This eliminates any dissolved minerals which might otherwise be present in tap water, and a gallon will do a lot of decals.



When you're cutting the lettering from the decal sheet, use a sharp blade and don't cut too closely to the lettering or image.  Once the lettering is free of the main sheet, place it on a hard surface (I prefer a sheet of glass), and use a sharp blade to trim as closely as possible to the image or letter, using a straight-down chopping motion.  If necessary, do this work under magnification (eyeglasses, Optivisor, or loupe).
The reason for the two-part cutting is that slicing the image, even with a sharp blade, raises the edges along the cut line, and when you apply that decal to the model, the setting solution is often insufficient to to make those edges settle completely flat onto the surface.
The chopping motion pushes the edges of the cut down, making the applied decal easier to set.

Another tip to make the decal appear painted-on, rather than as a decal, is to snick-off the corners of decal film at any rounded letters or numerals at the corners of the piece of decal.  It's surprisingly effective.

Before applying decals, spray (I prefer Testors Glosscote, thinned with lacquer thinner and applied with an airbrush, but it's also available in a spray can) the entire area which is to be lettered, not just the particular areas where the lettering will be applied.
  Allow that to dry completely, usually at least a full day, and longer won't hurt.

Do not rush the soaking process for the decal, but allow it to release from the backing paper on its own.  If it's big enough to handle with tweezers (not something small, such as a single digit for dimensional data), dip the released film into water, submerging it completely, then, as you withdraw it from the water, drag the back-side of it over the lip of the container holding the water - this helps to remove any residue left from the backing paper.  Depending on the particular decal, you may want to repeat this a couple of times.

Most decals applied using only water can be re-wet and moved an almost infinite number of times.  



Use references on the model (rivet lines, panel lines, doors, ladders, and other details) as guides to position the lettering correctly and level.  Where those details aren't available, I like to cut strips of masking tape as guidelines, and when lettering with individual letters or numerals, often use a pencil on the tape to denote the beginning and end of each word, so that the spacing is correct.

Likewise, individual letter spacing is not usually uniform, but rather depends on the particular letters and their sequence within the words.  Google "kerning" for more info.


Once the decals have been applied on the gloss surface and have been set and have fully-dried, overspray them with another coat of clear gloss.  This step may seem unnecessary, but the gloss of the decal seldom matches exactly the gloss of the surface to which it has been applied.  This overspray ensures that the entire surface has a uniform finish.
If you're using an airbrush for applying the clear finish, it will dry (to-the-touch, at least) very rapidly, and you can then apply the flat (or semi-gloss, if you're modelling a fairly new car) almost immediately.



Airbrushing gives you the option of mixing that final clear coat to whatever sheen or flatness you wish for that particular model.

The car can then be weathered as you wish, but unless you're weathering using oils or chalk, I'd recommend no flat overspray on the weathering, as it usually makes the weathering effects too uniform.

Wayne

  • Member since
    December, 2008
  • From: In the heart of Georgia
  • 3,118 posts
Posted by Doughless on Wednesday, August 14, 2019 12:41 PM

SeeYou190

I ue Microscale's "Microset" on the car first, then set the decal on top of the Microset, and slide the decal into position while it floats on the Microset. I wick the excess microset away with a paper towel and allow it to dry.

.

Then I use "Microsol" to snuggle the decal down into place. Do not touch the decal once the Microsol starts working.

.

For tough decals or complcated surfaces, "Daco Strong" is the best decal setting solution I have ever used.

.

-Kevin

 

In the little amount of decaled, mainly block font letters for freelanced locos, I've done it the same way as Kevin.

I position the decal while it sits on a pool, then wick away the excess with a corner of a paper towel.  It's still possible to slightly tilt the decal very shortly after the wicking, but not much longer after it.

 Edit:  I didn't read the response close enough.  I use water to float the decal.  I was concentrating on the wicking part of the procedure.  After wicking the water away, I use microset.  It can be difficult to slide the decal after the water is wicked.

- Douglas

  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • From: Boise, Idaho
  • 989 posts
Posted by E-L man tom on Wednesday, August 14, 2019 8:34 PM

Might I also add, to position or "tease" the decal into it's proper place, I try to use a toothpick where possible; it reduces the risk of cutting or tearing the decal, as a hobby knife may do.

Tom Modeling the free-lanced Toledo Erie Central switching layout.
  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • From: Bradford, Ontario
  • 9,884 posts
Posted by hon30critter on Wednesday, August 14, 2019 9:39 PM

I have to agree with doctorwayne's approach. I use water to position the decal, not any of the commercial decal solutions. I tried using the decal solutions to float decals into place but, as others have found, the solutions weaken the decal film.

My method is to start with a gloss surface. Then I soak the decal until it moves freely on the decal paper. Then slide the decal onto the model as close as possible to the desired location. Then I use a small paint brush to push the decal into place. If the decal is reluctant to move I dip the brush in water and apply the water to the edge of the decal. The water will flow under the decal causing it to float and allowing it to be moved easily. As doctorwayne says, water can be applied several times if necessary to get the position correct. Viewing the decal from several angles will help to get it straight by the way. The next step is to wick away any excess water with a paper towel and then let the decal dry. I only use the decal setting solutions the following day.

One situation where this method works exceptionally well for me is when I am applying pinstripes. Getting a long pinstripe perfectly straight can be a challenge. When I was working on my McKeen Motor Car, which some of you are familiar with, I almost gave up trying to apply the pinstripes to the body. I was using a decal setting solution to try to position them and they kept breaking. As a last resort, I tried plain water and, lo and behold, the stripes were easy to adjust.

I am not the purist that doctorwayne is so I don't use distilled water, but I have never had a problem with decal contamination.

Here is the car. The camera revealed that I didn't get the stripe over the arch quite right, but the naked eye doesn't notice the flaw:

Another stripe:

Dave

  • Member since
    January, 2017
  • From: Southern Florida Gulf Coast
  • 4,922 posts
Posted by SeeYou190 on Thursday, August 15, 2019 6:01 AM

hon30critter
I am not the purist that doctorwayne is so I don't use distilled water, but I have never had a problem with decal contamination.

.

I think the necessity for distilled water is a local concern.

.

Here in Florida the tap water is very "hard" with lots of disolved minerals, so I need to use distilled water for decal application.

.

-Kevin

.

Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

  • Member since
    September, 2017
  • 85 posts
Posted by Union Pacific 428 on Thursday, August 15, 2019 8:50 AM

Thank you everyone for your replies. Yes, I’m decaling on a gloss surface. I have been using microset, but I’ll try water. I think I didn’t have enough liquid on the model to float the decal and that’s why it wasn’t working.  

  • Member since
    August, 2015
  • 214 posts
Posted by Autonerd on Thursday, August 15, 2019 6:20 PM

UP428, are you washing the surfaces before you hit them with Microset? I have a paper towel with water and a little soap on it -- I rub this on the spot to be decaled then wipe away any suds. It should get rid of any mold-release crap, and it also breaks the surface tension of the water so it (and the microset) don't bead. I'm thinking that might be part of your problem... if your fluids are beading up then my guess is that you're putting the decals right on the plastic, and not allowing them to "float" into position on the microset/water.

BTW I use the same procedure outlined above... after the wipe-down, microset, decal, then once everything is in place, microsol. I don't wick away anything unless I've really made a mess, it'll dry eventually (and you can clean it). 

oh, and I don't let the decal float off... 15-60 seconds in water, then let it sit for a minute while the glue disolves, and then it usually slides right off the paper. I use an X-Acto knife or a paintbrush to position it. (And sometimes my fingernails. Shhh!)

I have had problems with very old decals (i.e. from 15-year-old new-in-box Walthers cars) breaking... not a whole lot you can do about that. Are you buynig your details from your dealership? Perhaps they're old? I'd suggest asking the hobby shop to order you fresh decals.

HTH

Aaron

  • Member since
    December, 2015
  • 5,445 posts
Posted by BigDaddy on Thursday, August 15, 2019 6:32 PM

Only thing I can add is I use a small cheapo paint brush to apply the microset and to and more if I need to nudge the decal one way or the other.

Henry

COB Potomac & Northern

By the Chesapeake Bay

  • Member since
    September, 2017
  • 85 posts
Posted by Union Pacific 428 on Thursday, August 15, 2019 7:59 PM

I have not washed the surface, but I’ll give that a try as well and see if I can get the decals to float. Thanks.

  • Member since
    December, 2001
  • 2,853 posts
Posted by chutton01 on Friday, August 16, 2019 9:28 AM

Autonerd
I have had problems with very old decals (i.e. from 15-year-old new-in-box Walthers cars) breaking... not a whole lot you can do about that. Are you buynig your details from your dealership? Perhaps they're old? I'd suggest asking the hobby shop to order you fresh decals.

There might be something you can do if you suspect the decals you plan to use might be old or poor quality.
Take a decal item (duplicate logo, extra lettering, unneed line etc.) from the sheet in question, and apply using your preferred decaling method to a scrap of gloss-painted plastic. Does the decal item crack, bleed, tear, blow-out, etc. during the process?  Then try coating the remainder of the sheet with Microscale Liquid Decal Film (brush on evenly, let dry for a while - I usually wait a day or so).  This liquid film has saved numerous decals for me over the years.
You might also be able to coat the decal with Kyrlon Clear Acrylic, but I have had much less success recoving decals using that method (OTOH, the acrylic spray makes a good ink sealant if you are printing your own decals).

  • Member since
    September, 2017
  • 85 posts
Posted by Union Pacific 428 on Saturday, August 17, 2019 7:56 AM

Success! I tried positioning a decal with plenty of water instead of setting solution and it worked great. No tears and I was able to slide it around as needed. Thanks again everyone for all your help. Happy Saturday. 

  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • From: Bradford, Ontario
  • 9,884 posts
Posted by hon30critter on Saturday, August 17, 2019 10:07 PM

Union Pacific 428
Success! I tried positioning a decal with plenty of water instead of setting solution and it worked great.

Ah ha! Another convert to using water instead of decal solutions to position decals!

To me, it only makes sense. Decal solutions soften, or more to the point, weaken the decal film. Using them to position a decal isn't logical (please allow me to paraphrase Spock here). When you are positioning a decal you need it to be as strong as possible. Water doesn't weaken the decal. Setting solutions do.

Definitely, after the decal is in place, use the setting solutions to fit them snuggly to the surface. I have used three and four applications in a couple of cases with great results.

Dave

Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

Users Online

There are no community member online

Search the Community

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Model Railroader Newsletter See all
Sign up for our FREE e-newsletter and get model railroad news in your inbox!