Playing With Decals

Up until this week I have always hand-painted and drawn all of the details on my customs. But a generous donor sent me some waterslide decal paper to play around with. I have spent a few days getting used to the process, and it has given me all sorts of new ideas for customs. Here are a few of my first tests:

Adam & Eve

Adam & Eve

I have at least 30 extra Gollum minimates from a recent ebay auction (Sorry if I outbid anyone reading this!), and it gave me the idea to do Adam and Eve as a test. I removed Gollum’s details with Goof-Off, and found a few hair pieces that would work. I designed the details in Adobe Illustrator and printed them on clear waterslide decal paper. I don’t have one of those special printers that can print white or metallic ink, so their eyes are not white. I can fix that later with a toothpick. I wasted two sheets getting this to print. I discovered I had to tell my printer I was printing a transparency. I made sure to print a few extras, in case I screwed up. And yes, I did screw up every extra piece I printed. The decals on the figures above were the last ones on the sheet.

I had to keep the decals in water for 45 seconds to get a smooth transition onto the minimate. I learned to put the paper right next to the figure, and just slide it over. If I peeled it off with my finger first and then set it on the figure, it got ruined every time. I also used a small brush to get any air bubbles out from under the decal after it was on the figure. 

I also printed my company’s logo on this same sheet:

I put it onto the back of a FCBD minimate. I also ruined one decal in this process as well. They are very fragile. I plan on showing this minimate to my boss and see if they want to get some official ones made for giveaways at conferences and conventions. They make a great desk toy. 🙂

Some of the upcoming customs I had planned were the Hellfire Club. I started designing some decals for them and printing them on white decal paper. Here is the chest piece for Donald Pierce:

I got the decal on perfect, but then I made the mistake of touching it about an hour later to see how it was setting. The decal peeled right off. You have to let it sit at least four hours, if not longer. 

I am definitely a beginner when it comes to decals. Some of the guys over at the Multiverse have been doing it for ages. But so far I really like the results. I won’t be using them for every custom, but I think they are extremely useful for certain characters. If I learn anything else in the process (and I’m sure I will), I will post it here.

EDIT: I forgot to mention to coat the decals with clear coat before using them, otherwise the ink will run!

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10 Responses

  1. TM2 Dinobot says:

    I’ve always wanted to try these, but I don’t have the first clue where to get them or how to start. I also suck at drawing on the computer. 🙁 Do you find that hard?

    Heh, if you can get it done, I’d snag one of your company’s mates. :p

  2. TBT says:

    Great article Luke,
    I think that with decals as part of your armory no custom is beyond your reach!

  3. Jatta Pake says:

    Nice work Luke!

    I have no drawing talent, so I typically use the “trace” method. I find appropriate source art and use it as a bottom layer in Adobe Illustrator. (I was able to buy version 7 online for about $100). I then “trace” the art lines. Finally, I delete the bottom source layer. Wa-la! Fresh art for a decal.

    I purchase my decals from Bare Metal Foil company online.

  4. Minifiend UK says:

    Excellent article might even try this myself now.

  5. karamazov80 says:

    TM2, I bought some decal paper at Office Depot, though it was pricey.

    I still haven’t really spent the time to try this out, but I will one day. Thanks for the article, Luke.

    Maybe Boyd can chime in with a few pointers (pretty sure I read that he uses decals a bit)?

  6. winkerbean says:

    been using them for ages but the only place in the UK i’ve been able to get them is Ebay
    little tip if you want them to set faster try using a hairdryer on low heat

  7. Boyd says:

    Sure, I can give my two cents of decal advice(but Luke did a great job).

    I work with the clear decal paper to do black line art for my Minimates. I first make the artwork in Illustrator, then do a test print on paper to make sure the art will print OK. I can also cut out the pieces and see how they look on the Minimate.

    When the art is ready, I print it out on blank decal paper as black line art. That way the paint supplies the color, and the decal just provides details like wrinkles or faces. This works best with large areas of flat color, but with some planning and careful placement, you can paint pretty intricate designs to place your decal on. (Remember those earlier designs I cut out to see if they fit? You can use those as a guide, either by marking an outline where to paint or by using them to mask an area).

    Luke is right – air bubbles are your enemy. The decal paper I use gives me a short amount of time to adjust after it’s been applied, but it’s hard to work the bubbles out once it’s on. I find it’s best to slide it on as smooth as possible and then put pressure on it to secure it.

    And always print extra decals. Like Luke says, these are delicate once you get them wet, and you probably will go through a few trying to apply one right.

    Hope this helps. I’m no good with trying to tell people how to do anything – that’s why I really admire Luke for putting this site together 🙂

  8. Bob Harris says:

    I finally found decals in Germany – they have the strangest name here, translatet it would be like wet-switching-images!
    I got a question: I read in some threads, that it is advised to put clear coat on it, after putting the decals on the “object”. I don’t mean the coating you mentioned before putting the decal in the water, but after sliding it onto the mate. Do you do this as well or do you consider this as unnecessary?

  9. Luke314pi says:

    Bob, I think its a good idea to put another clear coat on afterwards. I have noticed that the flat clear coat is much flatter on top of a decal than on top of the plastic. If you want it to match the shine of the plastic, I would mix a little bit of glossy clear coat and flat clear coat together.

  10. RYErnest says:

    Nice post u have here 😀 Added to my RSS reader