Basic Decal Instructions

Decaling in a Modeling Context

In the world of miniature painting, decals have been met with scorn over the years. In other modeling hobbies, decals have been the only way to accurately represent signage or iconography on automobiles, trucks, railroad and military craft. So much so, that in contests, a hand painted logo of a modern race car would receive lower points during judging than a model that has used the appropriate decal. I consider decals to be in the realm of modeling and is an excellent tool to create multiple repetitive designs on miniatures.

Waterslide decals are printed designs on a film that is normally clear. The decals are pretreated with an adhesive that softens in water, allowing you to slide the decal film off of the backing paper and onto your model.

Materials and Tools Required

  • X-acto Knife
  • Fresh blades
  • Soft rag or bathroom tissue
  • Soft 1/4" wide brush
  • Tweezers
  • Q-Tips

Materials and Tools Recommended

  • Microscale Micro Set (blue label)
  • Microscale Micro Sol (red label)
  • Testors Glosscote #1261
  • Testors Dulcote #1260
  • Soft 1/4" wide brush
  • Cup of lukewarm water
  • Non porous surface (Piece of glass or plastic)

All of Ginfritter’s Gnomish Workshop decals are waterslide transfer. Due to their small size and ability to conform to complex surfaces (read: they are thin) they are best handled and slid into position with fine tweezers or the flat of an X-Acto blade and a paint brush. Exposure to direct sunlight for long periods is not advised but products such as Krylon Krystal Klear has UV protection. It is safe to venture that most other commercial decals are not lightfast and should also be kept out of direct sunlight.

Prepare The Figure

Decide where you plan on applying decals on your painted figure. Apply a gloss sealer to these areas. Apply a gloss coat the entire figure, or use a brush-on clear gloss (such as Microscale Clear Gloss) to paint on selected areas at this stage. Let the gloss coat dry completely before proceeding to the next step. The purpose of the gloss coat is to give a smooth base for the decal to rest on. If the surface is not smooth the decal can look clody or gray, even on the clear areas. This is called silvering. Silvering is caused by tiny pockets of air trapped underneath the decal. By applying the decal over the smooth gloss finish, there is very little room for air to get trapped and the silvering effect is avoided.

Prepare The Decal

Using a sharp hobby knife, cut out the decal you wish to use. If you are using decals from a large single sheet of decal film (such as decals you print yourself), you will need to carefully trim as close to the decal graphic as possible to avoid excess trim film on your figure.

Applying The Decal

Use the tweezers or the flat of a blade of an X-Acto knife to dip the decal in a shallow dish filled with warm water, and then let it sit for about one minute on a non-porous surface (such as your painting palette). While the decal is softening, I like to use the old brush to apply some water to the area where I am going to apply the decal so that the area is moist. After a minute has passed (or until the decal slides freely on the backing sheet), use the tweezers or the blade of an X-Acto knife to lift the decal on the backing sheet. Make certain to grab only the backing sheet from the decal - the decal film will have become soft and squeezing it directly with the tweezers can easily result in tearing or some other form of mutilation. I prefer using an X-Acto blade to remove the decal from the backing, it is a broad flat surface that I can slide the decal onto and the decal will not curl up as much.

Using the old paint brush or a flat of an X-Acto blade, gently slide the decal off the backing sheet and onto the prepared area of your figure. Continue to use the brush to gently maneuver the decal until it is positioned to your satisfaction. Once the decal is properly placed, gently draw excess water away with a dry brush. If you discover you have made an error and need to reposition the decal, simply use the brush to apply more water to the area and gently lift at the edge of the decal with the brush until the decal is loosened, then repeat the instructions above on Applying the Decal.

Finish The Figure

Your decal is now applied, but you should let the miniature sit overnight to thoroughly dry and set before doing anything more work to the figure. If you think your decal requires some highlighting or shading to blend into the rest of your figure, you can paint directly over the decal once it has set. At this point, you can finish the figure as normal. Note that if you don't let the decal dry completely before sealing the sealer over the decal could become cloudy.