Waterslide Decal Guide
What are Waterslide Decals?
Waterslide decals are printed designs on a (normally clear) film. 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. Decals are a staple of plastic models and miniature wargaming figures. The are an easy way to provide really small details without trying to paint them by hand.
1) Prepare The Figure
2) Prepare The Decal
Use the tweezers 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 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.
3) Apply The Decal
4) Finish The Figure
What are Micro-Set and Micro-Sol?
Micro-Sol is a more solvent style solution (with an acetic acid base) that softens the decal significantly and allows it to sink into crevices and irregularities on more complex or non-smooth surfaces.
Micro-Set and Micro-Sol are made produced by Microscale Industries, but the nearly the same formulas (with nearly the same names) are also sold by Testors, Polly Scale, and other paint and model companies. There is another brand called Solvaset that has been highly recommended to me, but I have yet to try it myself.
I am having trouble applying decals to Space Marine Shoulder pads. Any suggestions?
What if my decals are old and won't stick?
How do I print my own decals?
If you are using an inkjet printer, print your decals directly onto the Custom Decal Paper and then let them dry for a couple of hours minimum. Next, spray the decals very lightly with a matte clear sealer (again, I recommend Testors DullCote) to seal them and to prevent the immersion into the water from making the ink run. Again, allow the decals to dry, preferably overnight this time. The next day, simply apply them as normal decals. Custom printed decals are quite a bit thicker than most commercial decals, so using a setting solution such as Solvaset is highly recommended (indeed, it is almost a must).
If you are using a laser printer, follow the steps above except that you do not need to spray seal the laser printed decals, as they are already water proof.
One thing to remember about printing your own decals - most printers do not print white since it is assumed you will be printing on white paper. White areas of graphics are instead left blank. Most printers also depend on a white print surface for their colors to remain "true", so you may discover that your decals print darker than you intend. You can always paint the area where you intend to apply the decal white to correct for this, or you can by white Custom Decal Paper. The disadvantage of white Custom Decal Paper, is that it is even thicker than the clear Decal Paper, so application may be more troublesome.
All of this may sound difficult, but it is easier than you think. Give it a try and good luck!
Special thanks to Al Ernat and Mike Major for their assistance and suggestions.