by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
The ability to print good quality decals at home using a computer and printer offers enormous potential. Modellers need no longer rely on decal companies to produce the subjects they want - they can just print the decals themselves... well, at least that's the theory.
In reality, normal decal paper isn't suitable for standard ink-jet or laser printers (it is fine for use with less common"hot wax" printers). While it's possible to spray matt-varnish onto decal paper to make it more "friendly", the real answer is to use dedicated ink-jet decal paper.
Crafty Computer Paper, a UK-based company, markets two different decal systems for ink-jet and laser printers - waterslip and dry-rubdown and has kindly supplied samples of each.
Water-slip Decal SystemThe water-slip pack is supplied with clear or white decal paper. Printing is quite straightforward; simply print as if the decal sheet was normal paper and allow the image to dry thoroughly - this takes some time, so cover the print to protect it from dust.
The quality will depend on two things:
1. The resolution of your original artwork, and
2. The print-quality your printer is capable of.
Once the ink is dry, the image needs to be spray-varnished, because the inks are water-soluble. This is probably the most crucial stage in the process. It's definitely worth printing extra copies of the artwork, because my first effort was a disaster! The instructions say that either acrylic or solvent-based varnishes are suitable. I began with Klear (Future)... maybe I flooded it too quickly but the image dissolved. A second attempt with Humbrol Clearcoat was trouble-free. Either way, I think the secret is to mist on the first coat and allow it to dry before further coats.
Once dry, the decal must be cut out and can then be applied in the normal fashion. I applied the test decal onto bare plastic with a drop of Microset - it snuggled down perfectly into the engraved detail.
The Water-slip system costs £5.99
Dry Rub-on Decal SystemCrafty Computer Paper 's dry transfer pack consists of 3 different elements - the dry-transfer film itself, and both clear and white backing sheets. The resulting decal is a kind of hybrid gummed-label
The first stage is to flip the artwork horizontally and print it onto the rough side of the clear film supplied. Once this is dry, the artwork is stuck face-down onto either the clear or white backing paper. In the samples, the clear paper was marred by black specks - a problem which could limit its usefulness.
Having rubbed out any air bubbles, you must cut out the design and peel of the backing paper, exposing a gummed surface. Extreme care is needed applying the decal, because you can't reposition it. Finally, you peel off the transparent top sheet to reveal the finished decal.
The decal is quite thick, but is extremely robust. While it may not be suitable for "standard" decal applications, it could be ideal for road signs, placards and instrument panels.
The Rub-on Decal system costs £8.99
ConclusionThe crucial thing to remember with either system is that inkjet printing is translucent, so a white background is vital for anything but the darkest colours. This means the artwork must be cut out very precisely to avoid the white showing, but that's the only downside to a process that opens up a huge a range of modelling possibilities.
In both cases the instructions are straightforward and easy to follow.
Of the two systems, the traditional "water-slip" paper is the most useful for everyday modelling, but the thickness of the dry system, which seems to limit its uses, could actually prove a virtue in some instances.