Waterslide decal tips and tricks

Last Updated on December 18, 2020 by Dave Farquhar

If you struggle with waterslide decal application, you’re not alone. It took me a long time to learn four waterslide decal tips that make life with decals tolerable.

The one time I remember hurting my Dad’s feelings was when we were building a model. We were applying decals, and we could never get them to stay on the model for long. I observed that when I built a model with my uncle, he didn’t have that problem.

“He’s better at it than I am,” he said. I nodded. “You didn’t have to agree with that, you know,” he added. Finally, two decades later, I know what my uncle knew. Plus three other things.

1. Apply decals to glossy, painted surfaces only. Decals don’t stick to bare plastic or metal, period. And they don’t stick well to flat paint. Brush a little bit of Pledge Floor Care onto the area where the decals will go. Let it dry, then apply decals, let it dry, then spray a dull coat if desired at the very end. Or use my DIY dull coat alternative.

2. The best setting solution is a couple of ounces of very warm water with one drop of dish detergent. This breaks the surface tension of the water. Decals slide onto it easily and then you can move them into place. And the behavior of the detergent helps pull the decal down into place. Don’t waste money on Micro-set–this homemade solution works better.

3. Use decal solvent to get rid of bubbles. When a decal doesn’t conform to the surface completely, stick the bubble with a pin, then apply decal solvent. You can get Micro-sol and Solvaset at hobby shops, but plain old rubbing alcohol works most of the time. And it’s cheaper. Solvent will also take care of minor creases and other similar flaws. Apply it, let it sit and don’t panic if the decal wrinkles. It’ll straighten back out.

4. Apply a clearcoat when finished. This helps hide any visible edge and seals the decals in. Dull is usually more realistic than gloss.

It’s probably been 25 years since that conversation. It took a while to get the courage to try those things again. I still don’t like waterslide decals much, but with these four waterslide decal tips, at least now I know how to get them to look how they’re supposed to look, even if my execution isn’t always perfect.

If this helped you, you might also be interested in my tips for how to assemble a plastic model kit.

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