Decal Making Process

Revised August 27th 2000
Go to the link at the bottom to view samples from the ALPS printer

There are several ways to make your own decals.

Method 1 - Colour Photo Copier

One way is to get your image copied onto clear decal film by using a colour copier or colour laser printer. Be aware that you have to make sure you have decal paper that will take the heat generated by these machine. If the decal paper is not made to handle the heat you can cause extensive damages.

It is for this reason that a lot of colour copier places will not allow you to use their machines.

The down side to this process is the cost per sheet and it does not produce white. The white problem can be worked around by printing onto white decal film.

I have seen a friend take a photograph down to a photo copy place and have them print this onto a decal sheet. The photo place can also enlarge or reduce the image as needed.

Method 2 - Inkjet

There is now a clear and white decal film made for an inkjet printer. I have not tried it so I can not comment on how well it works. Past problem associated with using inkjet printers is that the ink beads up on the surface of the decal film and does not dry properly. This decal sheet is from Micro Mark and they have somehow solved this problem. As of the above date I have seen 10 sheets of 8.5"x5.5" sheets cost $22CDN. They also sell an aerosol can sealer that has to be used according to them to seal in the decals before they can be used

I have also heard of a technique where you spray a matte clear coat onto the decal film and then run it through an inkjet printer.

In either of these methods the colours will have to be sealed in by spraying some sort of layer on top.

MicroMark Web Page:

SuperCal (Manufacturers of one type of paper for Inkjets):

Method 3 - Blood Sweat and Tears

Buy clear decal film and paint what you want onto the decal. You can also use dry transfers on the clear decal film. Once you are finished you seal the entire area and you are finished. Compared to the other processes here this is the hardest and most labour intensive to get accurate.

Method 4 - Alps Printer

The third method is what I am using now to make decals for myself and a friend.

The printer I am using is an ALPS MD-1000. There are several other models by this manufacturer at different costs. The ALPs printers are not longer sold in North America and Europe any more but you can used ones on eBay or other auction sites. OKI Europe does sell a MD-5000 clone. These printers are actually made in Japan and I believe they are still being sold there.

Alps Web Page:

Alps elist:

Subscribe to elist: http://www.

The above are places where you can get more information on the ALPS printer how it works and questions on how to make decals.

Although there are several different models they all produce the same quality decals. Other models have different features that are not used to make decals.

Pros: can make decals, Can print white, gold foil, silver foil, and gloss coat as well as all colours. Very realistic photograph printouts. Colours will not fade. 600X600 resolution better than some 1200x1200 inkjet printouts. Printouts not affected by water.

Cons: Slow printer, noisy printer. Cost per page is high compared to an inkjet. Not an everyday printer. Some colours not solid (ie green) but I am working on this. A bit of testing will be needed to get the best results.

One study I saw placed the cost at $0.47US per page. This cost does not include the paper. Decal paper can cost from $0.60US to $3.00US depending on where you get it.

The printer uses ribbons that heat up a wax and transfer it to the paper. Other printers by this manufacturer use a dye sublimation process that is not used to make decals but is supposed to produce even better photo realistic pictures. Cartridge colours are blue, yellow, cyan, white, black, gloss, silver and gold and cost from $9CDN to $16CDN. There is a multi colour cartridge but I hear it is expensive to go this method. My printer can hold 4 cartridges at a time. Other models may hold more.

The better resolution of this printer type is the direct result of the wax pigment not spreading out like ink does. The wax sits on top of the paper while ink is absorbed into the paper. Diagrams and a better description can be seen on the ALPS web site.

Computer System & Programs

Printing anything out it is the same as any other printer. You can print from any program be it a word processor or a graphics program. This printer can be used on a PC or a Mac using a parallel port or USB port. For a Mac, make sure you have the proper cables.

I have a PC PII 350mhz w/ 128meg, 8 & 20 gig HD and a Relysis flatbed scanner. Graphics programs I use are Corel Paint 2.0, Corel Draw 8.0 and Print Artist 5.0.

It is suggested that you use a graphics program that draws in vectors. This is supposed to be more accurate and allow better scaling.

The Printing Process

Before I can print I need 1 to 5 images if they are bitmaps

The first image is the areas that I want printed white (if any)

The second image is all the coloured areas. If there is a gold or silver this is also another image

Before printing on decal paper I have already tested the size and colours that I need to get the desired image.

Corel Draw 8.0 allows me to put things on layers and turn colours on and off. Great for this process

Items you can vary are;

Paper size (A4, 8.5x11, custom size)

Paper type (cardboard, laser paper, photographic paper etc)

Image type: Graphics, monotone, photograph etc.

Properties: brightness, contrast, hues etc.

Place the paper into the printer. Load the white cartridge into printer. The white image is loaded into the graphics program and the "Overlay" function is chosen when printing out. What this does is print the white then keeps the paper in the printer for the next step.

Load in the colour image into the graphic program. Take out the white cartridge and load in blac, blue, yellow and cyan. After checking all your settings print out the image.

The decal now has to be sealed to keep the image from being damaged.

I brushed on Micro Film to seal the decal in. On a large decal I tried airbrushing the Micro Film using Rubbing Alcohol as a thinner. Unfortunately this produced a powdered finish. I brushed Micro Film over this and it turned out OK.

I now use Future Floor wax for covering large areas. I may try the Micro Film again with some other thinner. Maybe I just had a bad day.

Note 1: If you have only a small decal to print you can tape a small piece (ie 3"x3") onto a 8.5X11 paper and run it through. This will save on decal paper.

Note 2: I typed in a font at 2 point and printed it out and I could still read it clearly. (this is around 0.018" high)

Note 3: printing out items that were scanned in produces nice results but they should be cleaned up with a graphic program.


Is the printer worth it? For my purposes I say yes. Can you justify the cost of this printer for making only decals? That is up to you.

It took me several months to decide to get the printer. I was on the elist for those several months gathering information and asking questions. I have never regretted my decision

I have now done quite a few decals for friends and have offered to do more for a modest fee. This offsets the cost of the printer and ribbons. I would ask for the artwork on a disk and the basic dimensions of the graphics. After doing about 15 sheets of 8.5"X5.5" I have finished one white cartridge. This may be due to the fact that I am printing two layers of white undercoats.

I found the thing that took the longest was making the graphics. If you have a printer or are thinking about getting one check out the elist. A lot of very helpful people here who can answer almost all of your questions.

No more excuses for not starting those custom projects.

Custom Decal Makers - Aug 27 2001

Quite often I get questions about people who can do custom decals for them. I personally do not do decals for others but here is a list of people who will.

W. Robert Franklin


Tom Baker - Tango Papa Decals
Web Page:


Mary de la Lande
Brunel Models
a Division of Brunel Digital Services Pty Ltd




Click Me to see sample pictures of what the printer can do

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