Homemade Decals

We all remember those decals that come with model airplane kits we built when we were kids. I’m talking about the ones that you soak in water until they float off the backing paper, then you slide them into place on the model airplane and let it dry. It is possible to make those yourself.

On my page (TODO: Not yet written) on PCB fabrication, I described my limited success with the toner-transfer PCB products. But I have found the water-based products quite useful for making decals. You need the toner-transfer paper that works with water. Pulsar’s Toner Transfer System or Tekniks’ Press-N-Peel Wet. The Press-N-Peel Blue kind won’t work.

The water-based toner-transfer paper is coated with a thin layer of some water-soluble stuff. You print your decal imagery directly onto the coated side of the paper, just like you would if you were going to make a PCB with it. If you were to just soak it in water now, then when the soluble layer dissolved, all your imagery would break up and float away in the water in a million pieces. We need to hold it all together while moving it into the place on the surface.

To solve that, I use a few lights coats of a spray lacquer. Multiple light coats, with time to dry between coats, will prevent drips and runs. After the lacquer has dried, you can drop the decal into the water. When the soluble coating is dissolved, the lacquer will float off, and take the toner imagery with it, all in one piece. It’s very fragile, so the best way to apply it is to put the piece to be decorated into the water too, and float the decal over to it in the water. If you need to lift the decal out of the water, you probably want extra coats of lacquer to make it stronger.

With typical laser printers, this technique only lets you get black lettering on a clear background. Using the metallic special effect foils such as GBC Foil (I found it at Staples Business Depot), you can get other colours. Only metallic colours, unfortunately, but maybe other colours will come on the market.

I have used this technique to make front-panels for the Position Transducer and EMG Amplifier projects.

4 responses to “Homemade Decals”

  1. Good comments and info, but if you want the real thing then there is always an alternative, and some would argue a better way of application of decals

  2. Try water down Elmer’s glue and a Flat paint brush as an inexpensive release agent – don’t forget to wet the entire paper before you begin to apply the Glue so it’ll dry evenly before lacquer is then sprayed on to, [you can also use transparent primer instead of lacquer if you opt for manual retouching afterward] Now you’re ready to feed it in to a Xerox copier with treated surface facing up – after copy has successfully been made you might want to seal it with lacquer as in first step / if you’d rather transfer it on dry surface [like: wood porcelain or canvas] then you’d want to add a light-yet-even coat of spray adhesive on your home made decal, paste it on to Surface then slightly wet the paper as in temporary tattoo method. Practice and Have fun !!

  3. Hi. I’m building a collection of 1/32 scale WW1 aircraft and do encounter kits with inferior decals, decals that will not stick, they crack and fall apart in water. I do all the appropriate decal fixing procedures but still the decals just will not do as they are supposed to. I have read a lot about making decals but am having problems finding decal paper,is it freely available and who makes it?
    Your assistance would be greatly appreciated.

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