Saturday, 7 June 2014

A Galaxy In Flames Tutorial: Applying Decals to Light and Dark Surfaces

Hello, Macca here, today at A Galaxy In Flames, we are going to look at decals. Personally, I love decals, I use them on every model, in every army, and I have done so since about 2012. A lot of people are really thrown off by them because they often are quite obvious, and this forces them to choose to freehand or use things like embossed shoulder pads instead. Well, today I am here to help you resolve this, by taking a step by step approach.

The Setup

So, for the set up, I have a clean cup of water, a bottle of Mark-Fit (a type of decal thinner by Tamiya, more on this later), Decal Fix (from Vallejo), a set of very fine tweezers (these can be picked up from any art hobby store), an old paint brush, a scalpal, and a set of GW decals. I have chosen these decals as they are a) our target audience; and b) they are a bit harder to apply then the newer decals or Forge World ones. I also am choosing to start with a pair of rhino doors. Personally, I find the larger decals more difficult then the small ones to apply, so that's why I have chosen these large surfaces. These doors have been spray undercoated and varnished. This is important as the varnish helps us to bond to the surface more easily.

To Start

As I just mentioned, varnish has been applied to the surface. It is important for us to wait till the varnish has properly dried, as we tend to pick up miniatures to apply decals, and unfortunately the varnish has only surface dried and we leave big fingerprints in our beautiful paint, or worst case, rub it off.

Next, I apply a droplet of decal set on each panel.

I then mix a little bit of water with it until it flows smoothly.

Next, I use the brush to coat the entire panel. You can just target the area you are going to apply the decal to, however I like doing it this way. Ensure you give it a few minutes to dry, you want it to lose the milky sheen.

Decal Set: Decal set is thinned with water, and dries clear. It will leave a slightly matte finish when dried, but otherwise dries clear. Once you wet it when applying the decal, it will actually re-liquify to a small extent. This allows our decal to 'sink' into the surface of it slightly, helping us to eliminate the hard edge of the decal. It also provides a much stronger bonding surface to bond to as it acts almost like a weak glue.

Next, we cut our decals out with a scalpel. We can cut exactly to the profile if we like, but I prefer to leave a tiny bit of 'clear' between the edge of my cut and the decal. The reason we cut them out is a) on Forge World decal sheets, they are often a single decal! If you don't cut it, it doesn't come off; and b) we can target a specific decal without having to soak the sheet. Safety note here, if you're 16 or younger, you might want to have some adult supervision, I can't name a hobbyist who hasn't cut himself badly with a hobby scalpel before.

I am choosing a Black Templar symbol for the black door, and a large aquilla eagle for the light grey door.

Once I have my decals, I then soak them in water with a quick dunk. I then lay the decals down, and gently apply some of my decal thinner.

Decal Thinner: It does exactly what the name implies, it 'thins' the decal chemically, which makes our edges thinner consequently. Thinner edges are easier to hide, and they will sink even easier into our decal set.

When you apply the thinner, you will know when it has done its job as the decal will 'shrivel' ever so slightly. The shriveled and wrinkled decal can now be applied.

The Application

I gently lift the decals with my tweezers, grasping an edge and slowly peeling them upwards and in the direction opposite to the side I first put the tweezers under. This is to stop the decal from tearing.

Note on rolling. Decals can roll up sometimes when we pick them up. If they do this, the side which is opposite to the direction of the curl should then be placed into a bit of water on a flat surface. It will then unfurl back to its original shape.

Next, a light coat of decal thinners is applied and gently brushed over the entire surface.

Once this has dried, we then smooth out the decal gently with a almost dry brush of thinner.

Next, we repeat our decal set step.

Once this has dried, we gloss varnish. The reason we varnish is that we need to seal the decal fully, as if it gets wet at this stage it will peel. Always seal your decals.

A quick note on this. I sprayed the black door a little too heavily, and unfortunately I wrinkled the decal with the seal coat. Damn. Anyway, I continued on, and I sprayed a matte varnish over next.

A gentle sponge was then applied with a little paint in order to slightly damage our decals. The reason we do this is simple: In real life, decals would be painted onto tanks and armour, so they would chip away or wear off whilst the paint beneath would be relatively undamaged.

So here it is, our pair of finished doors. On the left, the grey one came up perfectly, whilst I slightly messed up the larger decal on the right, it still would look effective on the vehicle. From here I would weather and battle damage both doors, and the decal would totally vanish into the panel.

So there we have it, my step-by-step approach to decals. This is a long process, but once you have it down, it only takes a few minutes per decal, and you can have multiple stages going on at once on a unit.

Also, if you are looking for further information, try The Painting Bunker YouTube Channel. This channel has some great little videos if you prefer them to pictures. I highly recommend checking this out at least once, as John's tutorials are simple and easy to follow.

That's all for now, if you like it, please let me know, and keep an eye out for us on our Facebook page. Thanks for reading,



  1. Some interesting new things in this tut Macca - I personally subscribe to the Microsol/Microset process as that was what was around on blogs when I started using decals. I've never heard of the Mark Fit or Decal Fix - will need to look out for them at the local hobby shop.

    1. At the end of the day, they all end up with similar results. I just use these as they are what I have on hand. Any product which does what these do is perfectly acceptable. As an extra note, the decal thinners make the decal a little easier to mold to the shape of the panel, which is very handy on curved surfaces.