Friday, November 21, 2014

The Devil is in the Decals

Decals. That finishing touch to a model. Sometimes they curl up and fall off after a few months. They always look like decals, shiny and obvious. But that is not how is has to be!

This article is aimed at those who don't know the mystical and arcane art of applying decals. It's not simple, but it is worth the effort. The end result is decals that look painted on and never peel off.

Know your foe: Water slide decals like to adhere to a very smooth surface. If you did not paint with a gloss or satin finish you will need to transform the surface of the paint. This is easy. Clear glosscoat is available at most hobby shops in spray form. I use Testors ($7). The only danger here is that if the weather is outside nominal use parameters it may fog up and give the model a frosty look. This is easy to avoid, do not spray paint if it is cold or windy out. Use a light coat. One pass only. Then do not touch it for 24 hours. Fingerprints are next to impossible to remove.

Assemble your tools! Now that the glosscoat has set it is time to get down to business.

 You will need: the sharpest hobby knife on hand, a pair of tweezers, (the kind that stay closed are prefered), two old paint brushes, paper towels, a few Q-tips, and a bowl of warm water.

Plus chemicals. I have used Micro Set and Micro Sol for decades. (Get some from Amazon by clicking on the widget on the right--) You will need a bottle of each.

What they do: Micro Set aids greatly in the adhering of the decal to the paint finish. Micro Sol is a weak solvent that softens the decal allowing it to conform closely to the models surface. Don't drink them.

From here on out this is the method that works consistently well for me. Applying decals is like sex or cooking, everyone does it a little bit differently, but the same.

Cut out the decals. I use a new X-acto blade to cut out all the decals I will be using. Make sure to cover the decal sheet with a paper towel so your hand is not touching the sheet. The oils on your skin can cause problems with the film covering the decal. Some people avoid this by using scissors, but a lot of modern decals sheets are too crowded for me and scissors.
Put the decals in a bath of warm water. Cold water takes forever to loosen the glue and makes the decal stiffer. I give the decal 40-60 seconds under water and then pull it out and place it on a damp paper towel.
Giving the decal a few more seconds to soak up the water, I now apply some Micro Set on the spot where the decal is going to go. Don't worry about putting too much on too wide an area, it dries totally clear.

Now the tricky part. Slide the decal off the backing paper and onto the model. I use a damp Q-Tip to hold the decal down and slowly slide the backing paper away under it. This is the moment to move the decal around a bit to get it in position. You can add a bit of water or Micro Set to loosen it and reposition it.
After it is where you want it, very gently dab the decal with a paper towel taking care not to move it. Let it sit for a few minutes. Then apply some Micro Sol to it. After you have put on the Micro Sol do not move the decal! If you try it will disintegrate into mush. One coat is fine if the decal is on a smooth surface. If the decal is on a uneven or bumpy surface put another coat on after five-ish minutes.

I use separate brushes for the Set and Sol. Then I don't use the brushes for anything but the Set and Sol. Yes, I have them labeled. Let everything dry for at least a few hours. Now you have great looking decals on a really super shiny model. That's right, time for Dullcoat! Same drill as for putting on the Glosscoat, just a diffrent can. The Dullcoat also protects the decals very well so you don't have to worry about damage while handling the model.

And there you have it. It is a bit time consuming but the difference in appearance and durability makes the MicroSet/Sol choice an easy one.

The Emperor Protects
Decals now get a 2++ save 


  1. Thanks for this tutorial Marcus. I picked up these bottles awhile ago but haven't actually used them yet. It's great to have a nice step by step guide to use as reference!

    1. You are very welcome. I hope it helps. Try out the techniques on a older model first, so you can get the hang of it without ruining any decals you only have one of.

  2. I use the same exact technique 99% of the time. I sometimes have to go nuts with the Sol on Astartes shoulder pads, though. One thing that's worth mentioning is that the decal will look hella jacked up when you put Microsol on it the first couple times. It gets all wrinkly and it looks like you just ruined. Do not panic. :D Let it dry. No matter how crazy the surface is, if you just wait for the Sol to dry completely in between coats, you CAN get it down into each and every crack and crevice. Promise.

  3. I have never tried to apply decals while having sex. Challenge accepted.

  4. Holy crap those came out nice. 2++ save granted!