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How to Make Decals

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When I first wanted to make decals I thought it was some sort of voodoo at work but after researching it (google), it turns out to be pretty simple. Printers don't print white so either avoid white in your decal our you will have to use the white decal paper and match the non white portion to the color of your car. Or you paint the area you want white and conceal the transition with your decal but that makes the colored area look funky. Buy the decal paper for the type of printer your using either ink jet (most common) or laser jet. Buy some decal bonder spray. Most clears will supposedly work as well but I have only used the Testors decal bonder. Lay out your decal sheet in the program of your choice. I use a combination of Paint Shop Pro and MS Paint but I'm sure there are many programs that will work. I save mine as a JPEG file. Print a test sheet. If I am happy with the test sheet I tape the decal paper over the printed area and print it again after changing the settings to other photo paper. A couple of thing to keep in mind: if you print it as a JPEG (I do) then print it from your normal photo viewing/printing program, un-select fit to screen, that can throw off your size. Most drawing programs (word also) have an option for a ruler and a grid, use them. I try to fill up an entire decal sheet every time I print by adding license plates, inspection stickers, under-hood decals, racing decals, gauge panels, pin stripes, etc. Once you've printed your decals let them sit for an hour or 2 for the ink to dry a bit. I've seen people recommend to let it sit longer but an hour works well for me. Give the sheet a couple of mist coats of the decal bonder. After awhile (10 minutes works for me) give it another couple of mist coats. Let dry for at least a few hours, a day  would be better. I have used mine within an hour of spraying them but I prefer to wait a day or so. If you can see finger prints in the clear areas of the decal sheet, its not ready yet. Cut close to the decal with good, sharp scissors.  Unlike kit decals these will not easily slice with a xacto blade on door gaps so plan accordingly. I have not used micro-sol but I have used the Testors decal setting solution and it works fine. Here is a link with info about the testers kit, I haven't used it so I can't speak for the software.  http://www.testors.com/product-catalog/testors-brands/testors/tools/decals/ I think the software is in addition to the kit. Next to detailing engines, making decals has become one of my favorite things to do in this hobby. Good luck, and don't forget to post your work, I'm looking forward to seeing it. If you don't have a printer that will work for you, some people make a disk with their decals and go to a print shop and have them printed for them.

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I print my decals on an Alps printer which can print white and metallic colors so my techniques are different than what you normally use for ink-jet or laser printed decals. I also prefer using vector-based graphics rather than bitmaps (but I understand that this is not everybody's cup of tea).

But I want to make one comment:  DO NOT USE JPG for saving your decal designs!! 

JPG is a lossy format (it compresses the file to save space but that also means that there is a loss of image sharpens and even some color irregularities.  This gets progressively worse when the file is opened, edited  and saved multiple times.  Do yourself a favor and use one of the non-lossy bitmap formats like TIF, PNG, GIF or even the old BMP format.  PNG is probably the most widely used non-lossy format (which uses compression).  That way you can open and manipulate the image 100 times and the image will be as sharp as the first generation image.

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The Testors program is very basic, primarily just premade designs, some blank license plates, letter fonts, and a freeform blank page. They also have an expanded content option from the Sure Thing (which is their supplier) site that greatly expands the available premade content. The freeform blank page is really the best part of the program, great for making signage, plus you can resize images to whatever size you need. I use it with images of plates I have from other sources.

The Testors decal paper is ok, Sure Thing is identical. I find that the best way to do them is to let the ink dry overnight to get a full cure before applying the bonder. Clear lacquer which is what their bonder essentially is) will also work for sealing them.

The decals on this one, except for the contingency decals on the fenders, were all made using the Testors/Sure Thing program and paper.


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Also, an amendment to my tutorial. I buy cans of Walmart clearcoat spraypaint (can't exactly remember the brand right now) and now coat my decal sheets with that before using the Liquid Decal Film. The combination of the two really seals in the decal so that it has no chance whatsoever of fracturing or splintering when applying them on your models. Tamiya or Testors clearcoat can also be used along with Decal Bonder, but these other sprays are cost prohibitive compared to a simple decent acrylic clearcoat.

Do a search on clearcoats here and do your research. Some clearcoats can interfere with other paints and cause all sorts of problems with your model, even if it's just the decal covered.

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 Here's a few thoughts... most of us will be making an occasional decal with a inkjet printer.  I have been using BMF brand decal paper. It comes in 8.5" x 11" sheets. I have a Canon brand inkjet printer. I build light commercial primarily so I produce company logos and lettering.  I will find images on the Internet,  photograph images and create simple graphics like lettering.  I use Microsoft Word to set up my decal sheets.  It's easy to use, and easy to import and resize jpg images.  It comes with a large quantity of lettering fonts and you can download more fonts if needed.  In Word you can scale your images up and down by exact measurements or you can play if you don't know exactly the size you need.  I'll sometimes print a row of the same image, incrementally smaller.  I'll then print a copy on paper, cut the images out and place against my model body to get the right look.  Then I'll go back and print the images I need at the size I need.

I never need a lot of decals at the same time, so I never use a whole sheet of valuable decal paper.  There's no sense in filling up a sheet with images you will never use just to fill the page.  I pretty much print about 1/3 a page per project.  I set up my images in Word at the top of a page.  I will either line them up next to each other or set up a chart (set border to invisible so it doesn't print) and place an image in each box for spacing.  Important note -  print several to many of each image.  Inkjet decals often have misprints, so you want to be able to choose the best one for your project.  And the decal paper is thin so if you mess one up applying it to your model, oh well we have more!

Once you are satisfied, save your project so you don't lose your work. I have a folder with all my old deal sheets in it, so I can go back and print more at any time. I then will do a sample print on regular white paper.  Measure off how far down the page your images go, then cut your decal sheet to match this. I typically use a 1/3rd page.  Then tape the cut decal sheet to the white paper so that it covers the images. I put one piece of tape across the entire top edge (the edge that feeds first) so that it's attached and will go through the printer smoothly.  I don't tape the sides or bottom of the sheet so it can flex with the paper as it prints.  As said above, don't touch your newly printed images!  I generally put mine aside overnight.  The next day I will give it several to many light coats of the "Testors Decal Bonder Spray".  Then I'll wait another day to apply the decals.  

I print on the clear sheets.  As said by others inkjet decals are thin and opaque and don't look good when applied over dark color paints.  I try to plan my color schemes so I put my decals over white or light color areas.  I will print dark color or black lettering to go over colors, and usually over light colors. I just did a commercial Dodge Caravan in silver with red and blue lettering.  That scheme worked well.  If your model body color shows through your decal you can double up the decals (one of the reasons to print many of any design!)  I also have a bunch of small decal sheets in colors that I will use to underlay a clear decal.  I wouldn't print on these directly, but cut them to size, then apply the clear decal over them.  Sometimes that's needed for white to show through your decal since inkjets don't print white,  You will figure it out.

I print a lot of license plates from the Acme License Plate Maker.  All my models get plates!  I don't print these on decal paper.  Since these need to have some thickness to them and are glued onto the model, I print these on white 60lb bond paper.  This is a report cover thickness. You can buy a pack of 250 sheets at Staples for less then $10 and that will last a lifetime. It's also good for printing signs, business cards and other general printing.  The Acme plates get scaled down to 23% in Word, to fit inside the Model Car Garage photo etch license plate frames.  

The same with dashboard gauges.  I have an assortment of printed ones that I've saved from a variety of sources.  When I was building my 1965 Chevy pickup, I went to eBay and found someone selling a 1:1 dash panel. There was a good enough photo there that I reduced to size.  I print these on regular paper since they can be glued into place with canopy glue and then sealed in with a coating of it over the face.

I'm no expert and can always learn more.  I hope I added a few details here...

Edited by Tom Geiger
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