A lot of people for one reason or another hate applying decals. This is probably from past bad experiences. Here are a few simple rules that I use that have been successful for me. Hopefully they will help you make a decalling job easier
The following is a list of items that I use during decalling jobs
1. Exacto knife
A new Exacto blade is used to cut off as much clear decal film from around the decal as possible before getting it wet. If your blade isn't sharp there is a chance that you may tear the decal during the cutting process. This only takes a small amount of time and makes the finished product that much better. This is a personal preference but I highly recommend it. Seems that whenever I decide not to do it I regret it the minute the decal goes on the model and I see the ugly clear film. This also helps to prevent silvering.
2. Cutting mat
Use this to cut the decals from the decal sheet or for cutting the clear film from around decals. The self healing ones aren't bad. Stops you from cutting up your table and should last for quite a while. Do not do any gluing on these mats as it tend to ruin the surface (from experience)
3. Cup of water
A bit obvious what this is for. Some people have stated that the water has to be warm or hot. I have not found this necessary. Another fact is that when I do decals by the time I am finished the water will be cold anyway.
The instructions usually say to drop the decal into the water and wait until the carrier paper falls off. I dip the decal into the water until it is thoroughly wet then pull it out and set it aside. This usually makes the decal curl up but don't worry it will flatten out. I wait a few minutes until the decal can slide off the paper. If the decal doesn't easily slide off, then dip it in the water again and wait a few more minutes. You can test this by trying to move the decal on the paper with your finger.
The problem with leaving it in the water until the paper falls off is that the glue that holds the decal also washes off and there is none left to hold it down to the model.
With the above comment it should be noted that sometimes the glue that holds the decals is milky or yellow. This may be due to age or bad glue from the decal manufacturer. In this case you want to get all the glue off the decal. Of course this means there is no glue to hold the decal to the model. This means you will have to go for an aftermarket decal setting solution (see No 5). Just brush this onto the area where the decal is going to sit and slide the decal on.
4. Clean brush
Instead of my finger I use a brush (most of the time) to move and position the decal when it is on the model. This helps prevent the decal from sticking to your finger and pulling off the model. I use a new brush set aside for this purpose. If you use a brush that you have painted with, there is a chance that some remaining paint on the brush will come off and onto your decal. Happened to me once and ruined the decal.
Before applying the decal use the brush to add a touch of water or setting solution to the area the decal is going on. This will make the decal easier to move around on the model so you can position it.
5. Decal setting solutions (Micro Sol, Super Sol, etc.)
The decal setting solutions have several functions. The Micro Sol and similar solutions soften the decals and helps the flat decals to conform to curves or into panel lines. The Micro Set helps hold the decal onto the model, sort of like a glue. I generally use the brush to brush some of the Micro Sol onto the area the decal is going on. Most of the time this wouldn't be needed but I figure by adding this stuff it will help the decal conform to the surface better and prevent silvering.
Use a cloth or paper tower to take away the excess water from the decal area. I gently press the paper tower onto the middle of the decal to squeeze as much water out from under the decals as possible. I then use the brush to try and push more of the water from under the decal. Repeat with paper towel and brush until satisfied that as much water has been pushed out as possible. I generally don't use Kleenex or Q-tips since these tend to leave small fibres all over the place. If there are small droplets (setting solution) all around the decal don't worry about these until the decal is dry. If you try and clean it up now you run the risk of moving the decal. Once dry (overnight) take a slightly damp paper towel and clean up the area. Avoid this area like the plague until dry, you don't want to pull the decal up by putting a finger on it
General Decal Notes
No matter how good you are sometimes air bubbles get trapped underneath the decal. If the decal is still wet use the brush to squeeze the bubble out. For dry decals the way I get these out is to slightly cut the decal with the tip of an Exacto knife right in the middle of the bubble. Wet this area and wait for the glue to soften and then press the air bubble out. Generally I use a brush and some Setting Solution during this process.
Pulling Up Dried Decals
Sometimes after putting a decal on a model you find that is positioned wrong or that something (dust) is trapped underneath. You now have to pull up the decal and at the same time try not to destroy it. What holds the decal down is the glue between the decal and the model. You want to get this glue wet so that it will dissolve and let go of the decal. I try and use a brush to work water under the decal. Start at one corner and slowly work your way through the entire decal. The hardest part is getting one corner to lift up to start the process. If after failing all attempts to lift a corner you may have to use an Exacto blade to start the job. Not something you want to do all the time since you can ruin the decal and part of your model. Note this is very, very slow process since you don't want to damage or tear the decal. I have not tried this on a decal that has been clear coated so I don't know if it will work. I doubt it since I believe the clear will make the decal brittle
Some old decals turn yellow. The only way I can see of saving these are to try and bleach the decal. One way I have done this is to take the decal and tape it to a window facing the sunlight. The UV light in sun will bleach the decal. Check the decal daily until satisfied that the decal is the colour desired. This method doesn't always work as I have had a decal sheet that remained yellow even after a week. Maybe I'll give it another try.
After the decals are on the model it is sometimes desirable to seal the decal in. This keeps the decal from coming off, it also gives the model a consistent gloss or matt finish and it can eliminate raised lines between the paint and the decal.
Silvering occurs below a decal when very small air bubbles get trapped underneath. The reason for this is usually due to the paint surface underneath being too rough (matt). This creates peaks and valleys and this is where the air gets trapped. To prevent this there are several things you can do.
1. You can give the general area where the decal is to be applied a gloss clear coat.
2. If the area is relatively glossy you can make it more glossy by buffing or rubbing it out with some polishing compound
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