Why This Post?
Because when it comes to applying decals too many gamers constantly offer bad advice to other gamers, especially on TMP. So I decided to create this page to help other gamers apply decals to their models and figures, as well as to remind myself how it's done. It's really quite easy, but there are some pitfalls that novices always fall into.
My Street Creds
Before I got into miniature gaming, I used to be a model railroader since the age of 12. I became so good at detailing, painting, and decaling locomotives and freight cars that I turned it into a nice business that helped put me through college. Several hobby shops in Eastern Pennsylvania used to sell my models so fast that often I could not keep up with demand. I also used to take private commissions and sell my models at many train shows in PA, NJ, and MD. Over the years, I've gotten to know the owner of Microscale Industries as well as many model railroad manufacturers, helping them create accurate decals and models. So I've literally painted and decaled 100's of models in my life--none of which I ever owned!
Using Setting Solutions
Always, always, always apply decals on a glossy surface using a decal setting solution. Even if you are like me and use flat acrylic paints on military models and figures, spray your figures with a coat of gloss varnish made for acrylic paint. Notice that I did not say semi-gloss varnish or Future floor wax or glue or any of those other nutty methods gamers talk about on TMP. I said gloss varnish made for acrylic paint--don't be cheap!
Why? Decals need a smooth, glossy surface to avoid nasty air bubbles and to allow the setting solutions to bond the decal into the paint, literally turning the decal into paint instead of just gluing it to the surface. Besides, the gloss varnish will nicely protect the model or figure from handling, alays a plus. And don't worry, you'll be applying a few thin layers of Testors Dullcote to the entire model or figure when finished, killing the gloss completely. Tip: always apply spray varnishes in multiple thin coats, not one soaking coat--another novice mistake that can lead to unforeseen problems years in the future.
3 Types of Setting Solutions
When it comes to decal setting solutions, you have three choices: Walther's Solvaset, Microscale's Micro-Set, and Microscale's Micro-Sol.
Micro-Set by Microscale Industries
Micro-Set actually is a weak acetic acid, something along the lines of vinegar without the nasty smell, so to speak. It is the weakest of the three solutions but should be your go-to solution for floating and setting the decals onto the model. Basically, it's a pre-softener for the decal.
Here is the blub from Microscale's website: "Micro-Set prepares the surface with special wetting agents that cuts the oils in new paint and converts the adhesive on the back of the decal to a stronger and more lasting one. And finally, Micro-Set slightly softens the decals film to make it more flexible so that it can conform better to the model's surface. Better adhesion by the decal to the model prevents tiny air bells from occurring and results in an invisible carrier film or the so called 'painted on look'."
Solvaset by Walthers
Solvaset is solvent based and is another version of Micro-Set, so to speak. Walthers made this for the thicker decals of the 1960's and 1970's. As a result, it is stonger than Micro-Set. I used to use Solvaset quite a bit back in the day because I used to used some thick decals as well as thinner decals. Today, all decals are thin. If I were to use this, I would dilute it with water at least 25%. However, if you can get Micro-Set then go with that instead because it's not as harsh as Solvaset and is more forgiving.
Micro-Sol by Microscale Industries
Micro-Sol is also solvent-based, hence the 'sol' in both products. However, Micro-Sol is a bit weaker than Solvaset. In fact, you may not even need to use Micro-Sol unless the decal will go over rivets or other irregular surfaces. This product literally softens a decal so much that it appears to become paint on the model, conforming to those nasty rivets and such. Now, if a solution can soften a decal that much do you see how mishandling Micro-Sol could ruin a decal and model? Yep, so be careful using it or Solvaset. Only use it once the decal is set or mainly dry (the Micro-Set has been whisked away with the corner of a paper towel). Micro-Sol allows the air under the decal to escape so the decal and paint can bond. Watch how it's done in the videos. And remember, it takes only seconds for Micro-Sol to begin working. Leave it alone! Don't touch the decal until it's dry--even if the decal wrinkles. Wrinkling is normal. It will flatten out. If you have some stubborn bubbles or the decal just hasn't adhered to the rivets, you can always apply some more Micro-Sol until the problem is fixed. Add small amounts at a time so as not to destroy the decal.
Tip: You can gently prick any stubborn air bubbles using the sharp tip of a fresh Xacto blade--the Micro-Sol will blend the decal film together like magic, providing you didn't butcher the decal when popping the bubbles. Micro-Set can also do this, but if it doesn't work then bring out the Micro-Sol.
Basic Instructions for Applying Microscale Waterslide Decals:
These instructions come from Microscale's FAQ, which you can read at their website.
1. The object to be decaled must have a clean and relatively smooth glossy surface.
2. Cut out the Decal lettering and dip in clean water (preferably Distilled water) anywhere from 10 to 20 seconds. Note: Some lettering might take a longer soaking time than other sheets. Set the Decal on a damp paper towel for a short period of time or until the Decal slides freely on the backing paper.
3. Place Decal where desired on object. It might be of help if a layer of Micro-Set is brushed on the object first and then place the Decal. This process will allow the Decal to avoid the Silvering effect that can happen with just the water. Work as fast as you can in placing the lettering as the Micro-Set starts the wrinkling of the Decal and setting it to the object.
4. Blot gently around the edges of the Decal with a paper towel or tissue to remove excess water and allow to dry completely. Add more Micro-Set as necessary over the top of the Decal very carefully. This process will make the Decal lettering a part of the model.
5. When placing a Decal on slightly irregular surfaces, use Micro-Sol. This is the stronger of the two products and aids in soften the Decal to fill the contour, rivets and crevices on the object. The setting solution also improves adhesion by eliminating the tiny bubbles that can be trapped under the Decal film.
6. When the Decals are completely dry, it is necessary to wash off the Decal glue and water spots from the object with a damp paper towel or you may brush the water on and then dab it dry. Do not wipe the Decal lettering. Drying time may vary, but allow several hours or overnight to before proceeding.
7. It is recommended that a clear protective coating be applied to the entire surface of the object. The over spraying of the Decals will protect them from handling and seal the painted surface.
How To Apply Decals: Videos
Though there are many modeling videos online, I like these two videos on applying decals. The first one is shorter, giving a nice overview of the process. The second video is longer, going into some more detail. Just notice that in the second video the fellow says to use Micro-Sol to set the decal, when he actually uses a bottle of Micro-Set (the blue bottle in his hand). He corrects this gaff later in the video.