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Making Your Own Decals...

9871 Views 24 Replies 17 Participants Last post by  Erik M
The approach you take in making decals depends on the equipment available to you and the colour of the car you want to relivery. I'll try to show an overview of how I go about it. I have an HP Colour Laser printer, but you could use the same technique with an inkjet. I'm also going to assume that anyone reading this how-to has a working knowledge of an image editing application. I like to use Photoshop since that's what I use at work (I'm a video tape editor). I know it's not a realistic expectation but to include step-by-step what to do in Photoshop would take an even longer explanation than what I present here. Generally, there are three types of cars that would get reliveried: silver, multicoloured, or metallic coloured cars, cars of a solid colour, and white cars.

Silver cars are tough to relivery unless you have an Alps printer. These printers allow you to print white as a colour on clear decal film. They use a technique called dye sublimation which deposits material onto the film. There are Alps cartridges for the aforementioned white, as well as silver and gold metallics. If you don't have access to an Alps you can use off the shelf decals. The Monogram decals are a great starting point for metallic coloured cars. They have contingency sponsors as well as numbers and rondels. Pattos in Australia has hundreds of decal sets as well.

For a car that's a solid colour, I'll first photograph the car from different angles and make 1:1 printouts with the image partly ghosted out. I'll draw on that in pencil to get ideas.

The other thing you'll need to do is match the base colour of your printouts to the colour of your car. To do that, I printed out the Tamiya colour chart on decal paper to see how the colours reproduce.

It's a bummer to waste a sheet of paper on this, but it is a really important step. You need to know how colours will reproduce on your particular setup. It's best to do this with a sample of white decals with the white paper background. The blue papered decal paper won't help you calibrate your colours as everything will have a blue cast (from the backing paper - decals printed on blue backed decal film are fine). When you make printouts onto decal paper, tell your printer that you're printing transparencies. This setting in my printer's control panel seems to work best for me.

With your colour chart printout in hand, compare the colour on the chips to the colour of your car. Then use the colour picker in Photoshop to choose the colour closest to that of your car. The McLaren was a combo of Orange and Camel Yellow. You can use the transparent layer function in Photoshop to blend colours and print test shots on plain paper.

Once I've done my sketches and matched the base colour of the car I'll load the car images as a background in Photoshop and start pushing pixels.

Photoshop lets you turn layers on and off. I turn the background layer off when I'm ready to print and add my base colour as a background. I might also spend some time to rearrange all the decals in such a way as to more efficiently use each sheet of decal paper.

When you're working with paint or decals and ready to apply them, make sure your hands, work area and tools are really clean and free from oils.

Once I print the decals out, I spray the output with a layer of Krylon clear which is available at art supply stores. I'll let it dry for about fifteen minutes and apply another coat. I usually do 3 thin coats of the stuff applying each before the previous is totall dry. I like to get the acrylic soaking into the laser decal media and paper. The ink on the decal paper is really fragile, so anything I can do to bind it better is good. I've also had good results with Tamiya clear and Testors decal sealant.

I let my final coat of clear dry for an hour or so. When cutting the decals apart, cut with the blade of the scissor that you can see on the outside of each graphic being cut out. This will keep the pigment at the edge of the decal from flaking.

Once the decals are cut out, I dip them in water for 30 seconds (less for smaller decals), then set them on a paper towel to soak up excess water. While that's happening, I dab the area of the car about to receive a decal with Decal-Set. This helps the decal wrap around curved surfaces. By now the decal will have separated from the backing paper. I'll position the decal carefully with either tongs, a paintbrush or my finger, slide the backing paper out, and blot up any excess water. Once the decals dry I'll dab some Decal-Sol on to help them suck down into panel seams.

Once the car has dried I'll clean up any water stains and fingerprints and then brush on a three coats of Future acrylic floor polish with a sponge brush. This is done with the body off the chassis. I'll dab any accumulations of polish along the rocker panels. Future dries in about 15 minutes.

Here's another example of a car that has a solid colour paint scheme. You can see how I had to match the body colour with the printed background on white decal film.

Notice how the graphics are printed on the same colour as the area of the car they are going to be applied to.

The white lines are invisible when viewing the car on the track. It's interesting how photography exaggerates the smallest flaws. Decal Set helped Fernao's name settle down on that complex curve around the driver compartment. Decal Sol helped any bubbles lie flat.

White cars are the easiest to do custom liveries for since the white of the decal paper matches a pure white car quite well. I'll often print a test shot on plain paper and cut the graphics out to see how they fit on the actual model they are destined for.

I had to shrink the size of the Martini logos, as well as paint in the stripes for the final version of the Montini's decals.

Some alternate liveries for my McLaren above on that sheet as well. I try to fill each printout so I don't waste any decal paper as it's a little pricey at $4 a sheet for the Bare Metal Foil stuff. I'll lay everything out before I get started. It's best to cut all the decals out and have everything you're going to need at the ready before you get started.

Check out the Future-istic shine on the Montini:

The the pigment on the area around the hood pins on the Montini kept flaking off the decal paper. Rather than pull off the decal, I just laid another exactly over top the first. The colours get really saturated when you do this. The third layer of decal finally held fast.

The most important thing about this whole process is patience - especially when applying your home made decals. Since you're printing your own, if you mess one up when you're applying it, you can always cut another from your printout.

I hope this explanation of my approach helps readers create their own custom liveries.

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Van, very nice write-up!

I have a relatively cheap ($200 or so HP inkjet) and I do my own decals too when I need them. It is a great way to obtain decals that are tough to obtain commercially or when you want to do custom decals or just plain DIY. Your article, though, is a great reference for anyone wanting to try it. Thanks for the input!
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Really well done tutorial!
The test printout with the transparent real car in the background is a really good idea. Controlling of the length and width is even easier with it!
I would just print black typo on clear decal foil.
Putting the pics on top of the pages after fitting test, cut just the stripe and reuse the rest of the expensive paper the next project (remember, your paper has not the same height any more

The ones who don't have access to photoshop can use the free gimp software. It has all functions needed for this.
Also other programs with layer technique are working. Vector programs like Illustrator, Freehand or Flash and Corel draw are perfect.

Your cars are looking excellent, Dr Vanski

This is a fantasy Martini livery I did in the same way
(clear coat still missing, white bodies are easy

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Thank-you for the kind words you guys.

Nice Martini-Porsche Knacki!
I wanted to bring some Euro class to a NASCAR proxy race I was entering so thought I would have some fun with a NASCAR. The Martini livery is my favourite. I sent these cars off for the GPR with Pattos decals. He uses an Alps printer for his decals.

Illustrator or Corel Draw are better suited to this kind of work. I use Photoshop because that's what I know how to use. I work with 300 dpi files to keep the artwork sharp.

I've wasted a lot of expensive decal paper trying to do custom liveries on proxy and club race cars. I hope I can prevent a few of my slot-buddies from making the same mistakes and leave more slot $$$ for new cars and parts.

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Thanks, but is still far away from your quality. Photos can bring out tiny things but also can hide a lot
It was my first try: too much ink, too much water, too old printer, too long stripes.
With your advices, next will be better

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Excellent piece Dr V

Definitely one to file away for future reference.


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great piece ,it answered many questions I had,thanks.
I assume you are using white decal paper on the McLaren.
Can you please tell me what brand?
Thanks in advance
That's a hugely comprehensive guide to the art. Personally I find decal making the best part and only buy commercial ones when I need to, usually to get the white finish so envied by all decal makers. I generally use Corel 10 which has a print preview feature. If you eye the decals in and size them in relation to each other then you can then resize the whole sheet until you get it to the correct size. Printing off a copy on ordinary paper usually tells you straight away what size you need.

I made all the decals on this repaint, not to your super standard but certainly good enough for my purpose.

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Hi DV,

Agreed, an excellent report on the more common way to do decals, and the way many other people can do a good DIY at home.
I'd like to add a little to this, specifically on the colour coding of the background colours.
What I cosntantly found, (And also, wasted heaps of paper), was you can NEVER get the same colour as the background of a car from "guessing" the red on the car is the same as the default red on your art package. things like Base Coats and tints of Red will make the decal paper's Red" look very out when applied to the body.

What I do so as to not waste a heap of paper, is print about 6 boxes, about 1 x 1 cm in size, with the first box being standard red, and the others, all slight changes in the brightness or contrast/tint of the same Red. I also put a white number in each box, like, 1 to 6 or whatever.. That way, when you put them on the body, you'll remember which box is the closest red to the actual final colour of the body. Then you simply change the background colour of the decal you're designing to that shade of red..

Also, those small white lines you see around the cut decals, I spray the same colour the body was sprayed with into a small cup or container, and use a REALLY small brush, and paint the side of the decal where the white line is with the paint from the tin. This helps to remove those little white lines around the decals.. When you clear coat, they look almost invisible.

As I'm building a number of Classic Cars for customers locally, I naturally keep the decals on file, but I also prepare the body the same way for the next build, so that I don't have to repeat the colour matching process each and every time.

I've also found that the White paper is slightly transparent/translucent, and let's the background colour "bleed through", so in the case of white roundels etc, I often print a duplicate decal the same size, but leave it plain white. I apply this to the car, and once dried, I paint over the decal with white enamel, which makes for a completely white background. Then, when you put down the proper white decal, there's no colour bleed from the body.

PS: I use an HP Photojet printer with Deskjet type paper. Note the paper commonly available is not compatible with both Lasers and Deskjets, so be sure to order the correct media for your printer.


Big Al
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QUOTE (alexis in greece @ 9 Jul 2007, 06:59) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>DV
great piece ,it answered many questions I had,thanks.
I assume you are using white decal paper on the McLaren.
Can you please tell me what brand?
Thanks in advance
AlexisHi Alexis,

I used white Bare Metal Foil laser paper for the McLaren.

Chris, your car looks much better than it's sponsor would indicate.
Well done. I really enjoy making decals too. It's nice to have a car at the club that nobody else has.

I like your idea of printing your own colour calibration charts Big Al. Very cool! Thanks for the tip on the white lines.

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How do you get the 1:1 photo of the 1:32 cars?????
How far is the camera from the 1:32 car when you take the pictures?

You method seems very easy to use though.
I used to measure each space for the decal and then made the decal in Publisher.
This is one of the cars I made for Le Mans Club Denmark:

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QUOTE ( @ 9 Jul 2007, 08:57) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>How do you get the 1:1 photo of the 1:32 cars?????
How far is the camera from the 1:32 car when you take the pictures?

You method seems very easy to use though.
I used to measure each space for the decal and then made the decal in Publisher.
This is one of the cars I made for Le Mans Club Denmark:

Hi Slotrace,

Nice job on your car!

I photograph my car from what ever distance works best for the photograph. I then measure the car (length, width) and resize the photo while checking it's length or width against the rulers in Photoshop. That way I end up with a 1:1 photo of the car and can start working on the livery. I used to include a ruler in the photograph but realized that I just need to measure the overall dimensions of the car to get the right size.

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QUOTE How do you get the 1:1 photo of the 1:32 cars?????
How far is the camera from the 1:32 car when you take the pictures?

I am simply scanning the body. This produce a very close to scale picture.
Anyway some final measurements and some distorting might be necessary.

At least you can always scale later. Most of the programs are offering guide lines which are helping you with it. (I don't know publisher)
DV is taking them right away with the picture (very clever, didn't see your mini- "holoport" at the first view

But this is up to the doctor to answer.

The doc was faster

Here are some pics of a scanned body. That time I placed it in flash and put or create the vector logos on top

This are virtual pictures
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QUOTE (Knacki @ 9 Jul 2007, 10:55) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>I am simply scanning the body. This produce a very close to scale picture...That's very clever! I'm going to try scanning the body for my next project.
Reading the title of this thread I sooo wanted it to be a piece involving plain paper, fibre-tipped pens and sticky tape.

Good work, although it leaves me with a tinge of disappointment that no crayons were used.
Can you print out onto plain paper to check the colours or do you have to use the decal paper?
Decal paper will give you the most accurate colour rendition. Plane paper will get you close though.
It might be a fun summer project to scan different racing sponsor logos from 60's publications and do coloured vector versions of them. I have several kit and slot cars where those would come in handy...I'll inform you people of my progress!
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