Power Decaling
by Lee Rouse


The basis for the following article was a posting I came across on the rec.models.railroading newsgroup. I found it useful in learning some basics on how to handle the decal solvent Hobsco Solvaset. If you have ever tried this stuff, you know how strong a setting solution it is. Used correctly, it can make just about any decal (yes, even those much maligned Tamiya ones), snuggle down tighter than a tick on a hound dog's back. If handled incorrectly, it can turn your decal into one bit gooey mess. Read on, and learn! The posting is italicized, while my comments are not.

If you're trying to make the film vanish, give up. You can't. No matter what you do. Decal film is a lump on the surface that is many times thicker than the paint it sits on.

If on the other hand you CAN see the film under normal viewing conditions, then try this:
When you are ready to apply the decal, overspray the model with several light coats of Floquil Crystal Cote to which 10-15% retarder has been added. Let the model sit for 24 hours. Float the decals off the paper in a cup of tepid water to which a few drops of clear ammonia has been added. The ammonia destroys the water's surface tension and makes it "wetter". Two or three drops are all you need. More is not better here.
You can also use Future for a gloss coat. While I have come across newsgroups postings that suggest Solvaset may dissolve the Future, this has not happened to me. My guess is that whoever had this problem didn't let the Future cure. I would give it 12 hours to dry and cure before decaling.

Gently place the decal paper side down on the water such that it floats and wait. In a minute or two the paper will drop off and sink. Let the decal float for a few more seconds while the glue washes off. In most cases, you don't really need to wash the glue off. Solvaset seems to work just as well if you skip this step.

Using tweezers, retrieve the paper and use it to lift the decal out of the water. Place the decal in the desired position on the model by sliding it off the paper and use a paper towel to wick the excess water away from it. If you need to move the decal around, brush a little clear water on and around the decal. Then move it gently with a Q-tip, toothpick or brush. Be gentle! Some decals are less forgiving than others and will shatter if handled roughly.

Now is when you want to melt the decal film and feather it into the paint surface. This is what a decal solvent does. It destroys the edge of the film such that there is not a step up, but rather a slope. This makes it virtually impossible to see the film because there is no longer an edge to catch the light or cast a shadow. It also causes the film to conform to the surface of the substrate which makes it even more difficult to see.

Use a fine quality sable or similar brush to blot the remaining water off the decal and, while it is still damp, gently apply a sparing amount of Hobsco Solvaset. Here is where your technique comes into play. Make sure you get the Solvaset to completely wick in under the decal. That's why you want to work while the decal is still damp. When he says "apply a sparing amount", he means it. I found that out the hard way. When applying the star and bar emblem on a wing of my Tamiya Thunderjet, I left a little puddle, maybe 1/8'' diameter, sitting on a portion of the decal. It disfigured that area terribly, and no amount of additional setting solution would smooth it out.

Be careful with the Solvaset. It is the strongest decal solvent I know of and it works very quickly. Once applied, you must not touch the decal again until it is completely dry or you will ruin it. Solvaset will handle even the old Walther's and Champ decal films. Again, this is good advice. You may be tempted to try and smooth out the decal after the Solvaset starts to work. Believe me, within minutes, the decal will look terrible and have more wrinkles in it than a mummified prune. However, it you touch it, you will find a gooey blob that once was the decal stuck to your finger.

Let the decal dry and check for trapped air. If you already know how to apply decals this won't be a problem, but beginners may have to work a little to get the "hang" of it. Use a needle to puncture the decal film and apply more solvent if needed. After a day to dry completely, overspray with clear coat of your choice. Be patient. Once the decal has dried out it will likely look beautiful, with all raised or recessed detailing beneath it clearly standing out. For really stubborn decals, you can apply a second coat, but this is rarely needed.

If you do all this and can still see the film then you are looking too hard.

There are better finishes than Dullcoat, but if you like it, then stick with it. If you want to try something else hoping to get a better finish then try Floquil clear flat, Gunze-Sangyo matte coat or Krylon Matte finish. To use the Krylon you need an airbrush. Carefully drill a tiny hole in the side of the can right at the top rim and let all the propellant escape. After the pressure falls to zero open the hole and pour the contents out into a suitable paint container. Apply with your airbrush just like any other paint. This will work with any spray paint. You don't have to work with the spray bomb, you can get the paint out. It will effervesce for a while so let it sit open for an hour or two.

As will all setting solutions, you should use a very diluted mix of warm clean water and dishwashing liquid to wash off any dried solution before you airbrush on a top coat.

I have tried the above technique with both Academy and Tamiya decals. It worked beautifully. I even tried this stuff on some very old Monogram decals. You know, the ones that are so glossy you can see yourself in them, and that have a thick milky glue adhesive which comes off when you slide the decal onto the model. Well, this was the only decal that Solvaset wouldn't work on. If fact, the Solvaset just beaded up on the decal. Hopefully no one would be forced into a position where they would have to use decals this old and crappy!