login   |    register

Decal Dilemas

Decals represent markings that are painted on aircraft. For realism these markings need to look painted on. One option is to actually paint them and this approach is relatively easy when simple markings, such as Japanese Hinhomaru, or British or French roundels, are required. But to try and paint stencilling, or nose art and the like would defeat most modellers. There are, of course, ways around this but that may be the subject of another article. What I would like to address in this piece is how I approach the application of the decalling process. I say, “how I”, because we all have our own ways of doing the same thing. This is aimed mainly at those who struggle a little with this important part of modelling. I am certainly not declaring myself as any type of expert (definition of an expert: ex, is something that doesn’t exist anymore, s-pert, is a drip under pressure). I have had some success, however, and would like to pass on what I have learned over many years of attempting this process.

What is a decal?

A decal is a design printed on a sheet of special (?) paper on top of water-soluble glue. A clear coating (the carrier film) is applied over the design to keep it all together. This clear coating can be over the entire sheet or just over each design. Because of this make up, the decal has a certain thickness that will be dealt with during the decalling process. As you probably know, these decals come with the kit and can be of greatly varying quality. There are also many aftermarket decal manufacturers that are mostly very good and offer the modeller a wide variety of options to make his or her model unique. These many different decals will react in a similar fashion to each other, using the techniques I will describe, but some need a little more coaxing than others will. Just a word of warning-some decal solutions are stronger than others. I have heard of some decals being destroyed by the stronger solutions. I personally have never had this problem but you do need to be aware.

What you will need.

  1. Shallow container for water. A saucer is ideal.

  2. Scissors.

  3. Scalpel or hobby knife.

  4. Steel Ruler.

  5. Tweezers.

  6. Setting solutions (I'm using Aero Set/Sol)

  7. Brushes to apply the solutions (one for each so there is no cross-contamination).

  8. Folded paper towel.

  9. Something to support the model. I use a homemade stand but an empty box will do.

Project Photos

About the Author

About Mal Mayfield (Holdfast)

Hi, my name is Mal Mayfield and I have been modelling seriously for about 25 years. My main interest is 1/48 scale second world war. I build all types and all combatants. I have built 1/35 scale "targets" and 1/72 scale modern aircraft, plus a couple of cars. I have also dabbled with figure painting...


That is a really well done and informative article. It's articles like this and modelers like Mal and the rest of you that makes this a great modeling site Wayne
JAN 31, 2004 - 03:07 PM
Nice job with your article. Thanks for taking the time to share with everyone. Very easy to understand.
JAN 31, 2004 - 03:12 PM
What you will need. 1) Shallow container for water. A saucer is ideal. 2) Scissors. 3) Scalpel or hobby knife. 4) Steel Ruler. 5) Tweezers. 6) Setting solutions (I'm using Aero Set/Sol) 7) Brushes to apply the solutions (one for each so there is no cross-contamination). Folded paper towel. 9) Something to support the model. I use a homemade stand but an empty box will do. 10) A Taz mug with some whiskey in case the decals silver or strip No, really .. great article. Zverko
FEB 02, 2004 - 08:10 AM
:-) Thanks guys, and Zverko. Of course the Taz mug is optional and it contains tea (this time anyway) cos the decals won't silver or strip :-) If you follow the rules Mal
FEB 02, 2004 - 08:57 AM
Great job on this feature. it was layed out nicely and the pics showed detail well, looking forward to see the finished Spit. Wingman out.
FEB 02, 2004 - 09:32 AM
Thanks very much for this article. I have only one comment, there are OTHER things to apply decals to than aircraft. I was going to try using Micro Set/Sol on an tank kit this weekend. I'm glad I saw this article first as I probably would have freaked from the "wrinkling" he mentions after applying the Sol. This article has probably saved me a lot of grief.
FEB 02, 2004 - 11:32 AM
so many photos and the article is easy to understand and very helpful...great job..thank you WOLF.
FEB 02, 2004 - 12:07 PM
Having asked a few questions recently about Kleer/Future I have read Mal's previous excellent feature of the same subject and now the decal one....can't wait for the third one to conclude. Great stuff Mal....The Lord of the Rings (roundels). Cheers Peter
FEB 03, 2004 - 01:04 AM
Nice article! Can be very useful in the future!
FEB 03, 2004 - 01:52 AM
:-) Glad to help, I'm trying to get the complete build of this Spitfire on to the aircraft gallery "on the workbench" under Spitfire Mk I. When I can sort out how to keep the pics in the correct order, I'll start adding pics. I aim to bring the build up to date within a couple of weeks, or less. Keep taking a look, and if there's anything you think would make a useful article, just let me know. I'm planning ones on using Blue/White Tack as masks and using Parafilm-M. Mal
FEB 03, 2004 - 09:36 AM