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Article by Paul Nortness

Once you have completed your model kit, you need to apply decals. Decals are what give your model a realistic look. Waterslide decals can be difficult to get right, so I will walk you through a tutorial and show you how to apply them.

This is a process that requires patience and time to get right, but like everything in model building you will get better at it the more you do it. To apply decals you will need scissors, tweezers, a clean brush, and clean container with warm water. Also helpful is decal setting solution. Setting solution helps the decal conform to the surface of the model like panel lines, etc. It also thins the decal, giving it a nice brushed on appearance. I will be using MicroSol setting solution for this tutorial but you can use any brand.

model kit decals 1

I will be applying decals to the tails of a 32nd scale F-14A fighter jet. Sometimes, it may be advantageous to paint and apply decals to sub-assemblies prior to attaching them. In the F-14's case, the tails are difficult to mask because of the shape and the surface around the tails so I add them after the rest of the model has been painted. Before I apply decals, I will need to add a coat of Future Floor Wax. This will give me a clean smooth surface for the decal to adhere to which will prevent the decals from "silvering". When decals are applied to a flat finish, the clear film gives off a silver appearance. To apply the Future, I just brush it on. The Future is self leveling, so I don't need to worry about brush strokes.

model kit decals 2

Once I have coated the entire surface, I will leave the tails to dry. Even though it will be dry to the touch within a couple of hours, I wait a full 24 hours before applying decals over the Future.

model kit decals 3

Once the tails have dried, I can begin applying decals. I will be using a sheet from Superscale with markings from VF-32 Swordsmen. The tail markings consist of a yellow stripe on the top and bottom of the tail and a large yellow sword with the tail code "AC" underneath. Because this is a commander's aircraft, it also has 4 swords of different color along the rudder. To start, I will apply the yellow stripe along the bottom. This will give me a good placement marker for the other decals. I cut the decal from the sheet, trimming as close as possible to the decal itself. I like to place the decal on the model to see where it should go before I do anything else.

model kit decals 4

Sometimes the placement may be a tad off because the decals were designed with a different kit in mind, etc. It's always a good idea to check the fit first. Once I am satisfied with the way the decal fits it is time to dip it in water. Decals respond best to lukewarm water. Holding the paper with my tweezers, I completely submerge the decal in the water to the count of 50. After 50 seconds, I let the decal sit on a paper towel for a few seconds while I apply MicroSet. This will help the decal set and will give me some much needed seconds to help move the decal into position. Picking the decal up with my tweezers, I will test a small section of the decal with my finger to make sure it pulls off the back easily. The decal should glide off. If it sticks, I will dip it back into the water for about 10 seconds and then retest it. Now, it's just a matter of sliding the decal onto the surface of the model. If it needs to be repositioned, I will use the tweezers to nudge it into the right place. Once satisfied with the decal's position, brush on MicroSol.

model kit decals 5

MicroSol may cause the decal to "crinkle" in places. It is very important to resist the urge to smooth these crinkles out, just let the solution do its thing. Now, it is time to move on to the next decal. Just repeat the process until you have applied all the decals.

model kit decals 6

Once the decals dry, I can proceed to adding the stripes on the back of the tail. Once the tail is completely decaled, seal them in with a second coat of Future.

There you have it, decals made easy! Decals are nothing to fear. Once you get some practice at it, applying decals to your model kit is actually quite fun. Just remember, the most important thing is patience. Take your time and if you get frustrated just take a deep breath and walk away for awhile.

Have fun and happy modeling!

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