After painting several freight cars recently, it was time to decal. I want to display a few of these cars at the upcoming RPM-East prototype modeler meet. I often field questions about decal application, so let’s review some tools and processes.
I use a minimum of tools to apply decals.
A short straightedge and a new single-edge razor blade make quick work of preparing specific letters, numbers and lines of text. Often, a decal sheet has very little space between lines and a thin razor blade works much better for me than an X-Acto blade.
I keep a pair of small hairstylist scissors to trim around larger decals. These can be found at a beauty supply shop. Cuticle scissors with a curved pointed end can be a decent substitute and they are good for snipping etched metal parts from frets.
Fine tweezers are a vital tool to pick up small numbers and letters to apply to your models. Most modelers have a few pair of tweezers, but a pair with fine points helps the decal work roll along.
I keep several toothpicks at the workbench for a number of duties. When installing decals, there is always a need to carefully nudge something into position. A wood toothpick works great. A tool with a sharp point could damage the decal or accidentally mar the painted surface. Keep a classic wood toothpick or two at hand when decaling.
A small brush is used to apply decal setting solution after the decals are in place. I try to use this brush only for decal work so the bristles do not become contaminated with paint or other liquids. Brushes are cheap and last a long time when properly cared for.
Before cutting into a decal sheet, you need to compile a few important points of data for the model. As seen above, I use Post-It Notes to jot down the lettering details for my models. The reporting marks, car number, build date, builder, light weight, reweigh location and reweigh date are all determined before the blade hits the decal sheet. Often, a car number or two can be easily pulled from the number jumble on the sheet. Of course, you could end up with the same car number as the one on another model at the same display table. I try to pick a couple clusters of digits that fall into the prototype number series. It takes a few extra minutes and lining up the decals, but it’s worth it for me in the end. These notes are kept close to the work area for easy reference.
Prototype photos offer the best guidance for decal work. I always try to have a photo or a prototype car lettering diagram at hand when the decals are being applied.
I decal the car ends first then work on a car side. After the side is decaled, snap a photo with your smart phone to use as reference when you decal the other side. This minimizes handling of the model to check what you did before.
A small, clear bowl is used to soak the decals. A drop of dish detergent and some distilled water are used for the decal bath. Decals are made by a variety of companies. Do not expect every decal set to behave the same. Some take longer for the backing to soak off while others can have a very delicate thin film that can tear easily. You will get the feel of the product as you apply the first couple of decals. Work carefully and do not try to rush. Keep a paper towel handy to blot away excess water. A number of decal setting solutions are available that work to snuggle the decal film over the details.
The work isn’t difficult but smaller decals can be tedious to apply, especially if you need to change a digit on a reweigh date. I tend to cut out only what I need for half of a car side before slicing more from the decal sheet. Once the car side is decaled, take a break. Check occasionally to see if the decal film is snuggling onto the model. Apply more decal setting solution if needed. Allow the work to dry overnight before starting on the other side.
Eventually the model is fully decaled. I spray a gloss coat of Future floor finish, now known as Pledge® Floor Care Multi Surface Finish, to seal the work. This is applied using an airbrush and no thinner is necessary. Clean up is a snap with 91% Isopropyl alcohol.
A few freight cars will move into this completed lettering phase before being weathered. It’s great to watch these fresh cars in action on the layout in the days after decaling.
Thanks for dropping by and reading the blog. Share a comment in the section below. Please follow the instructions so your comment can be posted. All comments are reviewed and approved before they appear. To subscribe to this blog, enter your info for a comment and check the last box to notify of new posts by email. And by all means, please share the blog link with other model railroaders.