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DIY Decals

DocRef: JC15a

There are a few "technical constraints" which you need to understand before proceeding.

Firstly, your home printer (whether laser or inkjet) cannot print WHITE nor can it print "metallic" colours... so gold lettering is not possible. Having said this, there are alternative routes which will be explored later in this article.

Why does this matter? Well, the inks used are not opaque and require a white (or light shade of colour) background, otherwise the colour becomes transparent on a dark surface. In normal printing, this function is provided by the paper onto which you are printing but decal paper is usually either transparent or white. When commercial printers make decals, they use transparent paper and make two "passes", the first lays down the image in white and the second overprints the colours. Unless you have several thousand Pounds to spare, you will not be able to do this at home!

You can print on white decal sheet (which tends to be a bit thicker than transparent versions) but you then have to either cut very carefully around the outline of the image (not too difficult with largish, symmetrical shapes but impossible with lettering) or you can try to "colour match" the printed background to the colour of the model (which will allow a "border") but, unless black, that is far from easy!

Having cleared up those points, you can now proceed, on the basis that your model is finished in a light shade (as examples, white, cream, yellow. silver) and your lettering/design is darkish in colour. If the decal design is to be printed in black, you should find it possible to lay it over most background colours with satisfactory results.

Now to the not-so-easy bit....producing the artwork.

You will need a program which can manipulate both text and images..... a "desktop publisher" being the traditional description. For more than 20 years I have used various versions of PagePlus (desktop publisher) in conjunction with PhotoPlus, an image manipulator (both Serif products but now superseded by a product with a different name but the older versions can still be bought at a bargain price from

Other similar products will do a similar job but I have no experience of using them.

Having set up your page, you can import images / logos and manipulate text. The dimensional grid helps you get the size right but the biggest challenge will be finding a font to match your lettering style. All I can say is, you should find a font which embodies the main characteristics of your design, then use the "convert to curves" option and use the "node" tools to stretch, shrink and bend the letters/numbers until you get the desired result. In some simple typeface examples, you will be lucky and find that "Ariel" font can be manipulated (without resorting to the "conversion to curves" and node tools) by simply adjusting the spacing and using the tools which change the font "characteristics" (e.g. stretching and compressing). Since I don't know which software you will be using, I cannot be more specific but at least you know the basic principles used.

When I am satisfied with the result, I save the document in an editable format (you will almost certainly find you need to make adjustments later) which will be the "native" format of the program being used. I then "export" as a PDF file and do a test print on ordinary paper.

If it needs editing, you can go back and make any adjustments; sometimes you may find the printed images are not the same size as you had expected or the colours are different to how they appeared on the screen (very likely). When you are satisfied, export a fresh PDF and go to the final printing on decal paper....don't forget to check that you have selected the 100% size option to prevent the printer reducing the image size if it thinks it may not fit the paper.

The More Difficult Process ... producing white images, colours over a white underlay and metallic colours.

Without a special printer (costing many thousands of Pounds) there is currently only one product which can be employed but the process is complex and has a "learning curve". The product comes from the USA and is "Decal Pro FX" which produces "rub down" transfers. I am not going to describe the process, since a tutorial can be downloaded from the link given above : It is a convoluted process, involving the use of a laser printer or photo-copier, plus a laminator (of a particular specification) and success is not guaranteed ... at time of writing this, I have not yet experimented with my kit!

Availability in the UK can be sporadic ..... my kit was bought from "Crafty Computer Papers" in 2016 but I think they may now have gone out of business. Last time I looked at their site (around April 2017) very many items were "out of stock" and at the time of writing this (July 2017) I have been unable to connect to their website. I have managed to buy (via Amazon) an additional large supply of the white "film" used in the process. be continued with a report when the process has been tested......last update March 1st 2018

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Page last modified on February 28, 2018, at 10:57 PM