APPLYING WATER SLIDE DECALS
Many pre-built models now come with customising decals. Fortunately, the decals are usually excellent, high quality and delicate with good adhesive. I thought it might be helpful to new modellers / collectors to have some tips on how to apply water soluble decals.
Essential Tools: Small sharp scissors; shallow gently sloping saucer; warm water; 2 sheets of toilet tissue per model; a No 3 size artists paint brush; good lighting.
Optional Tools: Clear gloss varnish; decal adhesive; matt varnish.
When any decal is applied onto a mat surfaces, air will be trapped beneath the decal. This imparts an unsightly sheen across the decal, and especially the transparent area surrounding them. Unattractive larger air bubbles may also be visible.
To prevent trapped air, it is necessary to pre-treat any mat surface with gloss varnish, then, after placing the decals, post-treating with mat varnish. The use of decal adhesive (which also helps to soften decals), further reduces the risk of trapped air.
Examine the transfers and identify each area of the model where a decal is to be applied and extending comfortably beyond the limits of each decal, apply a thin coat of clear acrylic gloss varnish to the model. Advanced modellers and purists may elect to pre-gloss varnish the entire model's surface area to ensure maximum uniformity of final overall finish.
When the gloss varnish is dry, cut all the decals out and holding each one at a shallow angle against a good light source, examine them for any large excess areas of clear decla film extending beyond the printed body of the decal. If there is, cut it off now! If you forget, it’s possible, albeit risky, to do so when you begin to slide the decal off the saturated backing paper - this is when any excess unwanted decal film becomes shockingly obvious!
B) APPLYING THE DECALS
1. Start by selecting a decal that’s the least critical / easiest to apply; for example, under a wing, where it may rarely be seen; or on an upper wing where a large, easy to handle decal is to be placed.
2. Half-fill the saucer with warm water. Keep continually topped up with warm water during the decal operation.
3. Lay the selected pre-cut decal into the saucer, and, using the small sable brush, push the decal under the water, immersing it completely to ensure uniform saturation with time.
4. Dip the paint brush in water and moisten / pre-wash the area of the model where you’re going to apply the decal. (Alternatively, for maximum effect, use decal adhesive, but avoid getting it onto unglossed mat areas, which it can stain / discolour.)
5. After the decal has been immersed for 20 to 30 seconds (depends on the water temperature), when the backing paper is fully saturated (it changes to a slightly darker tone), using the brush, lift the decal (still on its backing paper) out of the water. The decal should be really mobile on the backing paper but not so saturated that it floats off.
6. Holding one corner of the backing paper in your left hand (assuming you're right handed), lift off any excess water using the brush 'dry' -- first touch the brush onto tissue paper (or the back of your hand) to remove excess moisture, then lightly touch the brush to the decal to 'soak up' any excessive water; repeat as as necessary.
7. Using your free hand, and holding the paint brush at a slight angle, lay the brush onto the decal and 'push' it off the backing paper. The uopper non-sticky side of the decal will adhere to the brush! This is the preferred way to handle and apply small transfers. And it's the ideal way for applying and aligning small transfers in awkward spaces, for example, insignia at the root of the tail plane. With larger decals you might prefer to gently slide them half way over the edge of the backing paper with your finger before lifting them off using the brush. Although it's also possible to apply larger decals conventionally -- i.e. by simply sliding the decal half off the backing paper then laying it directly onto the model, holding it in place with one hand then sliding away the backing paper -- this is really only advisable with the largest of mini decals.
CAUTION! Do not lean heavily on the decal at any point in the initial transfer or subsequent manipulation. Only ever use the paint brush for manipulating the decals: never use fingers; they apply too much pressure and can distort the decals!
8. If you haven't applied any pressure to the decal, ideally it should be almost 'floating' on the model. If there's too much moisture and the decal’s too mobile, use a 'dry' brush to lift off excess moisture.
9. Now that the decal’s still mobile but not adrift on a sea of water, holding the brush normal with the surface you're applying the decal to, manipulate the decal into its proper place by gently pushing and 'nudging' around the edges of the decal using the paint brush. If it all gets too dry, add moisture (more decla fixative) using the brush. If it gets too wet, lift off excess moisture using the ‘dry’ brush. If the decal gets hopelessly out of alignment and won't move, don't stress; gently work away under one edge of the decal with the brush until the brush slips under it, then carefully lift off the decal and start again. (This is where decal adhesive can be of further benefit.)
10. When you're fully satisfied that the decal’s where it needs to be (hold the model at arms length and visually check), gently place dry tissue over the decal, being careful to lay it down vertically without any lateral movement that could shift the decal, then apply gentle vertical pressure with one finger. (Don’t rub or scrub or wiggle; simple downward pressure only.) Peel back the tissue and check the decal hasn't drifted. If it has, lay on more water and lift the decal off using the brush method described above. When you’re satisfied that the decal’s secured in its proper place, replace the tissue over the decal carefully and begin applying firm pressure to the remainder of the decal, working from the centre out to displace all air. (With long thin decals it may be easier to work from one end to the other.)
C) POST TREATMENT
Using the paint brush dipped in warm water, gently wash off any surface decal adhesive. When completely dry, apply a light single coat of mat varnish to the decals and surrounding areas that were gloss varnished during pre-treatment. Viola! Perfection.
There are more advanced methods of applying decals which require the use of specialist decal solvents and adhesives, but these are not readily available to every collector and require more time and attention to detail. One of these days I hope to make up an information sheet on these advanced solvent methods.
D) 'FULL FILM' DECALS
In addition to the common type of decals in which the ink is laid beneath a closely cropped, tailor made protective film, there are now many custom decals being produced on 'full film' sheets. Unlike conventional decals, these are not pre-tailored to the decal size and shape, and, furthermore, the ink design is printed directly onto the upper surface of the transparent film. Decals produced on these full film sheets provide immense flexibility and can be printed in limited produxction runs making them comparatively inexpensive. There are several ponts to note in the use of these. As the ink is printed directly onto the upper surafce of the film and not sealed in any way, the upper surface of the decals should not be handled. Careless finger presssure when handling can distort / smear the printed decal. Also, as they are printed on full film sheets, the excess film surrounding each decal must be removed. This should be done using very sharp fine scissors (or a craft knife, clear straight edge and cutting board). To avoid handling and fingering the required decal during this operation, make your scissor cuts as close to the decal as possible when removing it from the master sheet. This prevents the need of handling during subsequent trimming of any excess decal film. After saturaion, to avoid finger pressure, full film decals should always be handled and applied using a small brush as described in B-7 above.
Mehusla of 1/144 Direct