Thursday, 29 May 2014

Applying WW2 decals

First a brief overview of what is out there.

The decals I particularly like are by Scale Specialties. Here is their website but you can often get them from 10mm manufactures and on ebay too (which saves me having to import from the USA):

They are good because they are great quality, the right scale and come in large sheets with plenty of individual decals (and I go through a lot of Allied stars in particular so being able to get a lot on a single sheet is a real bonus). They also do things I can't find elsewhere such as regimental numbers and bridge plates for British tanks.

The "Decal Details" range also have some useful decal sheets. Again many manufacturers carry these.

They are for aircraft / armour and often have a range of sizes on the sheets and you may get some that are not of use. The sheets I use are:
  • RU-100, Russian stars. Half have a yellow outline and half are just plain red stars. I only use the latter and some are too big and some are too small so there is a fair amount of wastage but red star decals are surprisingly difficult to find. Also, it you keep the unwanted bits tidy then someone will usually buy them on ebay!
  • RU-108, Russian tank numbers. These come in red and white. I go through the white ones quite rapidly but the red ones are only of use on whitewashed tanks. One thing to note is that the decals are actually in strips so you need to cut between each number so that they come off as single decals when put in water.
  • GR 100, German crosses. Some of the larger ones are too big for even a Tiger 2, but actually if you use captured Russian tanks painted as Germans then they used very large crosses to make sure they were properly identified and the larger crosses on this sheet are perfect (I will do a post at some point on my various captured tank repaints).
  • NR-104, red tank numbers with white outline. These are not actually listed on the site now so not sure if they are still available. But really good if you want to do a lot of German tanks with red numbers and white border (but also useful for Canadian and some British 'funnies'). Like RU-108 they are in strips so you need to cut between the individual numbers.
Pithead and Pendraken also carry some decals where I can't tell who the manufacturer is. Examples are minor nation markings and Russian tank slogans. Some of these are not individual decals - if you put the whole thing in water you would just get one big decal! So whatever you cut out is the decal and so if you don't want a big border then you need to cut close to the actual image (this was difficult for Russian and US white slogans as very difficult to see clearly and also small!). I also have a sheet of Sd Kfz 250/251 decals which includes crosses, numbers and registration plates - I think I got this on ebay but can't remember. This is also essentially a single huge decal so again cutting out around very small things.

For the Germans I have a lot of Panzer Korps kits and they each come with a decal sheet. So a lot of my basic need for German crosses is met from these and they include some tank numbers too - and a tip if you don't mind getting fiddly, you can cut out the individual number in a 3-digit decal (e.g. 123) to make up different 3- or 2-digit numbers (e.g. 213, 312, 21, 22, 23 etc.). This approach is useful given I have a lot of the same decal sheets.

To round off this section, a couple of things to watch out for when you  buy or use decals:
  • are the decals actually suitable for your vehicles or are the really for a larger or smaller scale? Occasionally I have bought decals advertised as 10mm and they have turned out to be 6mm or 15mm. It can sometimes be obvious when you look at the picture on the web but not always. I have managed to get a refund when this happened.
  • Some decal sheets don't all come off as individual decals and you need to cut between or sometimes all around individual images - not a real problem, although can be fiddly, but you do need to be aware before you stick them in water! Hold the decal up to the light and move about to try and see where the borders of the decals are if you are not sure how they will come off.

Applying the decals


  • shallow dish for the water (I actually use the inside of an old jam jar lid);
  • brush to lift out and apply the decals (I use a long bristled size 0, but size 1 or 2 would be better for large Allied stars or longer slogans);
  • fixing and settling solution (I use Micro Set and Micro Sol - names are a bit misleading, but more below);
  • suitable paint wash to dull the decal;
  • matt varnish.
All the decals described above are the water slide variety and I am sure most of you are well familiar with those (if not you just put them in water and they slide off - but as they are small use very shallow water or the surface tension makes it a pain to get them out!). But note the comments above about whether the decals are individual pieces or need to be cut around before you add them to the water. I have also found that some of the squadron markings and the bridge plates (small yellow circle with a number in it) from the Scale Specialties NW Europe British set can end up joined so from experience you will find which ones need to be cut between the individual images to avoid trying to pull them apart later.

Micro Set and Micro Sol, or the equivalent from another manufacturer, as essential for getting a good effect with decals. Micro Set is put on the vehicle before the decal and helps fix it in place (it is also apparently a decal remover - but doesn't work once I have varnished them). Micro Sol essentially melts the decal into the vehicle. For 10mm vehicles the decals are so small that I have found that Micro Set is not really needed and the decal can just be put straight on to the vehicle. I have used it occasionally with a bumpy vertical surface though. Micro Sol is the really essential part of the whole process to make sure your decals stay put and look part of the vehicle.

The steps for applying decals:

After lifting the decal out of the water, and trying to remove some of the excess water, place the decal where it needs to go on the vehicle. I use a brush as the decals are small and it is a bit fiddly getting in the right place and then pushing them round to get them level.

Leave to dry for a bit - not essential but prevents them moving again and having to be re-positioned when applying the Micro Sol.

Using a brush apply some Micros Sol to the whole surface of the decal. This needs to be done several times and the first time I tend to avoid putting on too much to stop the decal moving. Leave for 20 minutes or so then apply some more - second and subsequent times you can happily put a lot on to help the process of fusing the decal into the model. I tend to do this 4 or 5 times but you will be able to tell once the decal is well fused to the model.

Just a note on putting decals on uneven surfaces. This is often the case for Allied stars on half-track or truck bonnets or the rear of AFVs where the engine grill is. When the decal is applied it won't always sit that well but this is not a problem. Apply a lot of Micro Sol (i.e. load up the brush) and just be careful to push back into position if this make it move. Because there is a lot of the solvent the decal gets soft very quickly and is easy to tear or crease. This just means leaving longer between applications - probably about an hour. Here is an example of how well this works:

So, don't be shy with the Micro Sol. It doesn't do anything to the rest of the model so you don't have to apply precisely and once the first application has fixed the decal in place you can happily drown it! Other than what it does to the decal it just evaporates.

Once the decal is fixed and dry I use a wash to dull it down. I use Games Workshop Agrax Earthshade. However, as I use this to wash all my vehicles as part of the painting process, this means a light coat over and around the decal does not then create a patch of a different colour. If you don't do this then I would suggest a very light cover and stick to the area of the decal (although I highly recommend a wash as part of the painting to bring out the detail and make the vehicle look used).

I then use a mat varnish to finish off the decal (an artist acrylic varnish applied with a brush is how I do it - Windsor & Newton Acrylic Matt Varnish is properly matt). I usually then spray the whole vehicle with Army Painter Anti-Shine (more a light wafting from 30cm several times than 'spraying' as such if you want a really matt effect).

You will be able to see from my later posts what sorts of decals I apply to the various nations and types of vehicles.

Any question just leave a comment and I can add further explanation if needed.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for putting this up. Its probably old hat for hard core model builders, but for someone like me that does not have experience applying decals, its eye-opening. I have so many models that could benefit from added decals.