Written by drbindy
Making custom decals is one of the more rewarding components of customizing, because it can add so much detail, and at a quality and resolution that painting often cannot match, but for a few of the elite customizers. If you use a Testors waterslide decal kit, you have the added benefit of being able to make any image (whether an existing Joe or Cobra logo, or something of your own design) into a usable decal.
The Testors kit can be bought as a combined set, or you can simply buy the parts separately. You will need decal paper and the Testors decal sealant. The other tools you will likely already have in your arsenal.
The decal paper comes in two forms, clear and white-backed. Each will serve a different role for you. White backed is important if you are going to apply the decal to a dark base surface. The white literally provides a white layer behind the printed image which stays with the decal when you apply it. This way, the color of your image stays vibrant no matter how dark the surface is. The primary drawback to the white paper is that if your decal has a lot of jagged edged details, you will have to choose between cutting it down to each little corner, or running the risk of the white showing through. Most often I use the white paper when I have a clean edged image, or when forced into using it due to the dark base paint I apply it to.
Clear paper is extremely cool for highly detailed images where there is no realistic means of cutting around the image completely. These work really well when the image is filled with dark colors and the base figure is in lighter shades. By being clear, it obviously allows for the underlying paint to show through and really highlight the detail of the image:
Once you know the image you want, and which paper to use, you are ready to print. I use the simple Paint program to get my image ready. Because the decal paper runs on the expensive side, I will test print as many times as need be to make sure the image is sized to where I want it before running the final. To do this I take the best quality and resolution image I have and simply reduce the print size in the page set up screen. The decals above were both very large images printed at about 10% of their actual size. Doing this way somehow maintains the resolution, where as manually changing the size within the Paint program severely reduces the quality of the image.
The above image shows the translation from computer images to small scale decals.
The photo immediately below shows test printing on regular paper to get the proper size
Once you are comfortable with the image, it is time to print it to the decal paper. The decal paper is smaller than regular paper so you'll have to make sure you are also testing to make sure your images are properly aligned to match up with the decal sheet. I try to print a few images at a time, across the width of the sheet, at the top. then I cut that section off and put the sheet back in for round two. You want to use up as much paper as possible, because once the sealant has been applied, you won't be able to print any more. The image above shows decals all taken from one sheet. There is an unused portion I saved back for small decals at a later date.
Once printed, and once the ink has dried you can apply the sealant. Hold it about 12 inches or so from the paper, and try to have the paper as flat as possible. Get a steady spray over all printed materials, then let it dry without touching it for at least 6 hours (I usually let it go 12 just to be safe).
After the sealant has dried is when I use the glue (Mod Podge) brush, and bowl of water. Cut out the decal as neatly as you can, and place it so that it soaks in the bowl of water. It only needs to be in for approx. 5 seconds. While I am doing that, I mix together (in a separate container) a small amount of Mod Podge and water (basically to get thinned down glue). I then brush this watered down glue on the the surface where the decal will be applied. The simply press your finger onto the decal (it will stick) to remove it from the water. Simply apply a sliding pressure with your thumb, and the backing will slide right off of the decal (or vice versa):
Dispose of the backing. And if you hopefully have the decal on your finger as in the above picture (with the backing facing outwards) you can now simply press your finger onto the desired location, lightly rock it until the decal adheres to the figure, then slide your finger away. You may need to slightly rotate it into place. Also, be leery of how much glue was beneath the surface of the decal. You may need to lightly apply pressure to get any bubbles out from underneath it.
The Testors instructions do not call for the watered down glue bit. Of course these were designed for model cars, so much of this has been learned and improvised as it applies to figures. The last thing I do is get a brush full of the watered down glue and apply it over the top and around the edges of the decal. Then let it dry. This is another tip not found in the manual by Testors, but I have found that these small steps make for a much more permanent effect (basically the end result is much like a layer of paint, and the glue helps the decal blend in without peeling back).