Friday, May 14, 2010

Decal Softener Title Fight!

In the blue corner, we have the man himself; the ruler of the ring; the bulldog of boxing - Revell Decal Soft. In the red, the lion with the left hook; the crusher of contenders, Mr. Hobby Mr. Mark Softer (and no, that's not a typo).

In painting up my Guardsmen, I've been starting to apply decals. I want to have a squad number and army symbol on the shoulderpads of my troops, and I want some consistency with these. I'm not confident enough with freehand to be able to repeat it 60-odd times, so decals are my best bet.

As I'm sure many of you know, this isn't straightforward when applying decals to irregular surfaces - the decals won't conform to surfaces without some extra effort*. Decal softeners are the go here, which is the focus of this article. Using the softeners, decal application is quick and easy, and produces some great results. I think squad markings really add a lot to a force!

I'd done my research and Micro-sol was a highly-recommended product when using decals. However, it turned out to be hard to track down in my local hobby stores. The place I looked at first stocked Revell Decal Soft, so I thought I'd grab it and give it a go.

The results were less than satisfactory. Although the decals did soften a little, even after multiple applications I never quite got them to sit completely flat. In the end, I decided to go looking for another product. In that hunt, I found this:

I hadn't heard a thing about this product, but it was a fair bit cheaper than the Revell so I grabbed a bottle. As it turns out, it's great! I can notice the decals softening straight away, and they conform very well to the surface. If you follow the usual tips, it will look like your decals are painted on.

So the procedure for my decal application is:

1. Paint the area of application with a gloss varnish. This gives a nice smooth surface for the decal to adhere to.
2. Apply the decal as usual: cut out the decal, float it in some water until the backing paper falls away, then pop the decal on the model using some tweezers. I find it helps to apply some decal softener to the surface first, but this isn't necessary.
3. Brush some decal softener over the decal and position the decal where you want it. This needs to be done quite quickly, as once the plastic of the decal starts to soften it will break apart if you try to move it. I use a cotton-tip to remove the excess fluid and flatten the decal.
4. Wait for the decal to dry. It will start to crinkle up a bit, but don't worry - that's normal. Just leave it to dry out. You might find you need another application of the softener, so do that if necessary. Sometimes this second application is a good time to use a cotton-tip again to flatten out wrinkles if they haven't entirely disappeared.
5. Once the decal has set, coat with another layer of gloss varnish - this will seal it in. If you've done all of this, it should hopefully be indistinguishable from the rest of the model.

If you've looked into decal application at all, you might have heard people talking about decal setters as well. These are designed to make the decal adhere to the surface better, after which the decal softener is applied. I haven't used a decal setter, but in my experience I haven't needed it.

Here's an example of an applied decal using the above method (a couple of crinkles are evident here under the bright light, but they don't show up once the matte varnish is applied):

This gets coated with a matte varnish later, and looks like this (with weathering having been applied):

So with a first-round knockout, the winner is Mr. Hobby Mr. Mark Softer!

* DISCLAIMER: The effort required may vary. I'll point out that I have been using Games Workshop decals. From what I've heard, softening products affect decals differently depending on their thickness and the paper used, so keep that in mind.


CylonDave said...

Good tips!

Frag_Dad said...

Thanks - I hope you find them helpful!

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