Decals: Markings make the model
It’s one thing to build a P-51 Mustang. But as soon as you put national insignia, squadron numbers, or nose art on the plane, you establish its identity. In this way, decals bring the model to life.
Applying decals is a high-stakes game: The model is mostly finished, otherwise, and you may only have one set of decals — so the pressure is on to avoid damaging the decals and spoiling a model right at the end of the project. There is no hiding these mistakes.
Here’s what you can do to get decals right the first time:
• Prepare the surface: Decals adhere better to gloss or semigloss finishes. Your model may have a flat finish, but you can coat decal areas with clear gloss, apply the decals, then return after they are dry and apply a clear coat with the desired sheen.
• Trim excess carrier film: Some decal images have an excess of carrier film outside the image area. Trimming it off reduces the chances of it being visible on the model later.
• Use warm water: Dipping the decal in warm water makes it more pliable, which is good for manipulating it and getting it to settle into surface details. Dip the decal, then set it paper-side down on a paper towel and let it soak for a minute or so to loosen the decal.
• Apply decal-setting solution to the model surface: It will prepare the surface to receive the decal and aid in positioning it. It will also soften the decal, so position it as quickly as you can.
• Easy does it: Pull excess carrier film away from the wet decal, pick up the decal, and use a wet brush or cotton swab to slide one edge of the decal onto the surface. It doesn’t have to be in exact position, but try to get close. Hold the end of the decal on the model and slide the paper out from under it. Use the brush or swab to push or pull the decal into position. Don’t touch it with your fingers; it will probably stick to them. If the decal gets stuck out of position, add more water around the edges to refloat it and put it where it belongs.
• Use a cotton swab to draw up excess water/solution. Gently roll the swab over the decal to remove air or water trapped under the decal. Later, you can clean up with more water and another clean swab to remove water marks.
• Give the decal about 10 minutes to set, then gently brush on decal solvent. It’s a solution that will soften the decal, allowing it to tightly conform to surface details. The decal may start looking wrinkled: Don’t touch it! You can’t do anything with the decal in this state except ruin it; the wrinkles will disappear. After about an hour, take another look. Is there a bubble under the decal? Do clear areas look like there’s air under the film? If so, use a pin or the tip of a hobby knife to prick tiny holes in the decal and apply more solvent. If the decals are “silvering,” there is air under the decal preventing a perfect bond to the surface. Repeat with the pin or knife tip and more solvent. This may take several rounds if the model surface is irregular. (Note: If you use solvent, try it off the model with a decal from the same sheet; some solvents will attack certain decals.)
• Finish coat: When the decals have dried, finish the model with an overall coat of clear. Whether it’s a flat, semigloss, or gloss clear, the finish will erase the edges of the decals and make them look as if they are painted on. Then you’ll know you’ve done it right!