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Tips and instructions on how to apply decals better and make them less visible in the final result.

Many people wonder how they can make the "edge" of a waterslide decal less visible. Just now i again got a question about this by mail, which made me decide to write the answer as an informative article on the site. These methods and points of interest fall under the advanced category and are therefore not necessary for everyone. However it might be interesting to read through, just in case you want to get the best out of your decals (in the future).

The edge of a waterslide decal is visible because a decal (however thin) is applied onto a surface. Because the decal adds extra thickness to that area, it remains just a little more visible. However, there are some points of interest and tools that can help make a decal less visible, or when applied perfectly almost invisible even.

The cutting of a decal

Although it does not have any connection with the thickness of the decals itselves, cutting does deserve some attention. For example, decals that are cut, with too much pressure can have a slightly curly edge. Sometimes this kind of curled edge is extremely visible, but often this is present but hardly noticeable. However, this (very light) curling can make the decal more visible and often so that the decal becomes like a kind of standing bowl. The edges are then slightly more visible / thicker than the center of the decal. This curling is caused by using a too thick or too blunt knife or bad scissors, or using too much pressure when cutting. My personal preference is for cut decals with a knife instead of using scissors. The cut made becomes much thinner with a knife and exerts less stress on the already fragile film. Therefore, cut your decals on a cutting mat with a razor-sharp, thin blade, preferably a scalpel. Replace your blade regularly or in fact excessively (best even after each sheet) so you always have a razor-sharp knife. Use little to no pressure while cutting (often on the weight of the knife) first cut through the fragile film layer, then you can cut again for the carrier/backing, which has less influence on the result. In principle, you can usually cut the decal in one stroke, but try to get just through the carrier and not also 5mm deep into the cutting mat. Instead of a scalpel (some people find it scary) you can also use a good quality cut-off knife like the 9mm blades from Olfa or Stanley. Preferably cut the end after each blade after 2 or 3 sheets, so that you have a fresh, sharp knife again.

Thickness of variants (Only for Laser waterslide decals)

In addition to the standard decals (13 Micron) there is one thinner variant of approximately 8 Micron. The thin version can be processed quite well once you can handle the standard thickness decals well. By choosing a thinner decal, you can eliminate a little of the thickness of the decal itself.

Ink encapsulating coating (Only for Inkjet waterslide decals)

The part above about the thickness variants only affects Laser waterslide decals. This is because inkjet decals are very thin by default (about 3 to 5 microns), howeve they become considerably thicker after applying the sealing coat of lacquer/varnish. I am talking about the coating that is applied after printing to protect the ink when releasing the decal. This coating is important, if it is not used, the ink would dissolve immediately when it touches water. When using an Acryl based varnished sprayed over with using average method, the decal is approximately 17-20 microns thick. Somewhat can be saved on the varnish with which a few microns can be won, but be careful because the coating must form a closed layer. For the best and thinnest possible finishing (when done well) I have another article on the website specifically about the application of clear lacquer. You can find this article here, and it might be able to help you get some thinner decals. In addition, a decal is nicer and falls better when you use the decals fairly quickly after finishing (before hardening). This does involve risks, because the paint is softer and can therefore show your fingerprints faster. The lacquer is also slightly more flexible, which leaves the decal more flat, but also makes the processing more difficult. In addition, you can choose to use Microscale's Liquid decal film instead of acrylic base clearcoat. This is a very thin flowing varnish that effectively encapsulates the ink without adding too much thickness to the decal. However, this varnish will be applied in very thin layers at a time and with an airbrush or a paint spray. However, this varnish is so thin that processing the decal with only a few layers is too difficult, because it can then quickly tear or stretch. As a result, it may be necessary to apply quite a few (6 to 10) layers so that the decal becomes more manageable. A big advantage of the liquid decal film is that the liquids discussed below also affect the inkjet decals.

Using Microscale liquids

After the above, there is quite a lot to be gained in applying the decals using Microscale's liquids. It is important to mention that these liquids do not affect decals coated with acrylic based or water-based varnish/lacquer. When using inkjet waterslide decals, you should encapsulate the ink with Testor's bonder spray or Microscale's Liquid decal film (see the above section). Laser waterslide decal paper is susceptible to these liquids, provided that they are not coated with clear lacquer/varnish. Microscale has two different fluids that are very useful, namely:

- Micro-set: A liquid that increases the adhesion and makes the decal (temporarily) slightly softening.
- Mirco-sol: A liquid that also increases the adhesion but makes the decal (temporarily) extremely soft.

The main advantage of using one of these liquids is softening the decal. This flattens the decal better on the surface which reduces visibility, in addition it also smooths the edges slightly. To apply simply put the liquid onto the surface and place the decal in it directly (when wet), which is the standard method. For an excellent result working with these fluids requires an additional step which is not entirely without risk. To do this, quickly after application you push the decal with a brush soaked in the Micro-sol and brush the edges out. In this way you can very carefully stretch the edges slightly, making them even thinner. Pay attention, however, that once the decal has hit the liquid, it quickly becomes extremely vulnerable and can even reache an almost jelly-like state. This means that if you are not careful enough and not fast enough, you can easily damage the decal. However this is a trick that you will need to practise, but is a well known trick with model builders. The liquid itself can already give a considerable improvement in the standard processing, the risky "post-processing" is not necessary but gives an even better result. You do not need both liquids 1 of the 2 is fine, the choice is yours. I would however recommend using them as they are ment to: first apply the decal with micro-set and than finish it off with micro-sol. Micro-set is somewhat less aggressive and allows more room to fiddle with the decal after application,in return this gives a slightly lesser degree of perfection. Micro-sol is actually quite aggressive and may require some practice, but can ultimately give a very nice result.

There are also other liquids such as the Vallejo decal fix and Vallejo decal medium which have similar effects to the liquids of Microscale. Microscale, however, has more than proven itself and is extremely effective, so I use this in this article as an example. Also with the Vallejo liquids the processing or actually the end result can be improved considerably.

Finishing coatin

Finally, more "perfection" can be achieved while coating the object with the decal on it. When you coat the object with the decal on it as a whole, the decal may still be thicker than the rest of the surface. Always provide a sufficiently thick layer coating for this finishing coat, which gives you more room to hide away the thickness of the decal. In many cases a thicker coat makes the decal stand out less, but not all applications/demands allow for a thick coating layer. As a result, it may be necessary to adjust the processing of the finishing coat, so that the coat on the decal will build up less thickness than on the rest of the object.

This can be done in 2 ways:

1- After spraying a layer of clear coat over the entire object (with decal), lightly sand over the decal and in particular the edges to reduce the thickness and then paint the whole again. Use this step where necessary for several layers of coating, until the desired result is achieved.

2- First finish the surface around the decal, and then take one or two layers over the decal with it. This also ensures that some thickness is built up around the decal first, so that the thickness of the decal is compensated for. It may be necessary after the first layer covering both the decal and everything around it, to scuff the coat on top of the decal slightly, after which you apply a layer of lacquer.  

Carefully and lightly sanding the edges of the decal in between of coats gives an even better end result, if this is still necessary after all tips mentioned above. Use a very fine sandpaper for sanding and always sand wet so that the chance of sanding through is as small as possible. Sandpaper with a grain of 1000 and higher is preferred, with careful use down to 600 grit is still possible. Everything more coarse than this is an absolute no-go. This means that the chances of sanding through the decal or coating layer are far too great. The coarse sandpapers also leave too large scratches which are not easily covered by a new layer of coat.

With the above mentioned liquids, tricks and methods of coating will (if applied correctly) give a (near) perfect result. For the best finish possible polish the finishing coating but this has no influence on the thickness of the decal and whether or not it is visible or not.