Today I would like to talk about making decals look good! All it takes is a few simple steps to make them look great. On the flip side it is very easy to make decals look really bad (trust me on experience here folks) and nothing is worse then seeing a nicely painted model have a crappy looking decal on it. So without further ado here are the dos and don'ts of decals.
1. Cut out your decals and do not worry about cutting them too close to the image because it won't matter once you apply them and you don't want to accidentally cut the image. I will use these Flames of War German tanks to illustrate along the way.
2. Apply decals only after the model is 90% finished or completely finished. If you apply them too early it is easy to get paint on the decal of rub it off with your finger when painting the model. Also, make sure the paint is fully dry before you apply the decal!
3. Brush on a heavy coat of GW Ard Coat or a similar gloss varnish. Apply it to the area you want the decal and make sure it covers a much larger area then the decal will. Do not use a spray varnish to prep the decal because it is too imprecise and too much can go wrong from repeated varnishing (trust me because I speak from experience on this one). What this does is to give the decal a flat surface to lay on. When you see a decal that sticks out from a model it is because it is not on a flat surface and light reflects under it and causes it to look unnatural.
4. Use warm water and place the decals in the water. Now there are two ways to apply them on the model after they are sitting in the water. One, let them sit in the water for just a little time and pick up the paper and use a brush to slide them on to the model. This method works best for long decals like long serial numbers or a long tank name. Two, leave the decal in the water until they separate from the paper and then use a brush to pick up the decal and then place it on the model. This works best on small decals or if it needs to go in a hard to reach place. I use both methods but it is best to experiment on your own and see what you prefer.
5. After the decal is on the model be careful not to touch it because that will mess it up! After the water has dried a little bit put a large helping of solvaset on the model. This is a decal setter and what it does is to melt the decal just a little bit causing it to sit on the model better. Again as mentioned above the key to good looking decals is to prevent any space between the decal and the model and decal setter helps with this. Again, make sure not to touch the model after the decal setter has been applied because you will leave your finger print on it if you do (again speaking from experience here)!
This is the brand I use and you can find it at a hobby lobby, hobby town or other hobby chains.
6. After everything is dry apply another coat of gloss varnish again putting it all around the decal and not just right on top of it. This seals it and prevents damage to the decal. It also will make the decal blend in with its surroundings and look more like it is painted on.
7. After the second coat of gloss varnish is dry the model needs to get a matte varnish. Now this is where I prefer to use a spray, but be careful with spray varnish. I have had it ruin models before. Make sure not to spray it on if it has just been rain or snowing or is extremely hot or freezing. I have found temperature extremes and lots of moisture in the air cause problems. Living in Wyoming this is often a problem from me and I usually spray outside and then set it inside on my porch or in a garage to let it dry in a better atmosphere. Also, I have found old cans of varnish that have already been used often give me problems. What I like to do is get a new can and wait till I have a lot of models to varnish and use up most of the can. Lastly, use an old junky model to test it on first and let it dry to make sure it is not frosty or creating other problems. Now that I have scared you to death about varnishes I highly recommend using them for several reasons. One, they protect the model. Two, they help blend the colors together (it will actually melt the paint just a little bit when applied causing blending). Three, it takes away a glossy look from washes or the decal application I discussed above. Below are the tanks I showed earlier with there decals and mat varnish.
8. Just an FYI for this method to work that I have discussed above you must use a matte varnish over the gloss varnish to make the decal look right. If you do not want to spray it then I recommend using a brush on mat varnish. Lastly, if you want to add a final step to make the decal blend with the model try weathering the decal just a bit. If you tank has chipping you applied with a metal tone on the edges try putting just a little chipping on the decal itself. This will really make it look like it is painted on!
9. With these simply steps you can create great looking decals and although this sounds like a lengthy process it only takes about 30 minutes from start to finish to put a couple of side decals on like those shown above. It you are planning on many decals like the German aircraft below it can take much longer (these particular planes took me over an hour per plan and had about 15 decals per plan).
In the end it is worth the effort to make decals look great, because a good one can add so much to the model and a bad one can really distract from a model. I hope these steps will help you improve your decals and if you have any questions please feel free to ask them in the comments below. Until, next time thanks for reading!