Applying our decals

Applying Waterslide Decals Correctly

Scale Model Tips – How to Apply Decals Correctly

As you come to the end of a scale model build, you often have a few decisions to make – do you go for a polished finish, or a more weathered look? Do you keep the traditional colour scheme, or go for something more artistic and original? And do you use the provided decals, paint your own designs, or keep it clean?

If you are more of a traditionalist, and an array of decals is provided with your model kit, chances are you’ll use them. And for good reason. Decals provide a nice touch of colour, detail, and authenticity to your model, which is especially important for models such as classic planes, or famed Formula 1 racing cars.

Below is an overview of the decal process, so give it a read and get your models looking as incredible as possible!

It is strongly advised that before you use our decals on your model that you do a small test piece with them to ensure that any decal fixing solutions and lacquers you use on top of the decals are compatible with our decals.

Custom Model Decals shall not be responsible for any damage or spoiling of a model by the application of our decals which may possibly be caused by the use of varnishes and lacquers that have not been tested on the decals by the client before they are applied to the model. 


You can download our instructions for applying decals HERE

Essential Decal Tools

Before you apply decals, you’ll need to have your workspace cleared and all the necessary tools on hand. Here is a list of the tools you’ll need:

  • Clear Acrylic Gloss and Matte Varnish if required. Testor’s Glosscote and Dullcote aerosols, Humbrol Matte, Satin & Gloss Acrylic Varnishes & Halfords Clear Lacquer have been successfully used with our decals.
  • Sheet of decals
  • Scale model you will apply decals to
  • Cutting mat
  • Bowl of water
  • Dishwashing liquid / soap
  • Decal solutions x2 – one for beneath the decal, and one for on top once it has been applied. e.g. Vallejo Decal Fix 73.213 & Decal Medium 73.212.
  • Sharp pair of scissors (preferably small)
  • Hobby knife
  • Small paint brushes x2
  • Tweezers
  • A cocktail stick to manoeuvre the decal into place
  • Lint free cloth
  • Paper towels

Model Surface Preparation

Once your final paint job is dry, you will need to apply 1 or 2 thin layers of varnish or Klear to create a gloss or semi-gloss finish before you apply any decals. A matt or flat paint finish may be the best look for your model, but reduces the points of contact for the decal and can leave small pockets of air beneath the decal. Make sure this varnish layer is completely dry before you follow the below decal application steps.

The use of a decal fixative solution is recommended.

Here is a video of how to apply Vallejo Decal Fix and Softener (Medium).

Water-slide Decals

Water-slide or transfer decals are quite common, and are made up of the decal, a water-soluble adhesive, and backing paper. Upon immersion with water, the decal literally slides off the backing paper, allowing you to apply it to the surface of your scale model with relative ease.

How to Apply Water-slide Decals

1.       Cut the first decal from the sheet.

2.       Using the tweezers, pick up the decal and put it on the surface of the water or decal fixing solution – it may curl or sink, but this is fine.

3.       Pluck the decal from the bowl and leave it on a paper towel to drain excess moisture.

4.       Using your first paint brush, paint the first decal solution onto the scale model, on the point where you intend to stick the decal.

5.       Use the paint brush to guide the decal off the backing paper and onto the decal solution you just applied on the model. You can use the brush to position it correctly. To avoid damaging the decal, pull the backing sheet rather than moving the decal too much.

6.       Once you are happy with the position of the decal, dab another paper towel on the decal to soak up any left over water.

7.       While this is often enough to keep the decal in place, if you feel it necessary you can use the second paint brush to apply the second decal solution on top of the decal. This will set it firmly.

8.       Leave the decal to dry.

9.       To seal the decal completely, you can now apply a thin layer of gloss or matte varnish  and allow it to dry.

10.   Repeat the above steps for each new decal.

Tip: If you notice air bubbles beneath your decal once it is dry, use a pin to prick small holes in it. Now paint over the decal with more decal softener before pressing down on it with a moist paper towel.

Once you have applied all your decals, and if you have done it correctly, they should now have the appearance of being painted on. From here, you can either leave the model with a gloss finish, or apply some weathering techniques.

As always, model making is as much about follow instructions as it is about following your own creativity. Decals are a great way to enhance your model even further, so add them where you see fit and make your model stand out!