This week I’m covering the next part of my step-by-step build of a set of N Scale A-B-A ready-to-run Alco C-855 locomotives. You can find part one of the build here. This step is decals and how to apply them.
There are lots of different ways to apply decals and I’m sure some are easier than others but I’ve found a system that works for me. I originally used to print my own decals; this has the advantage that you can get whatever you want, with the exception of white. You need an Alps printer, or something similar for white. But it also comes with a few disadvantages. I found that with homemade decals the color looks great on the sheet, with the backing paper behind it, but as soon as it’s applied to the model the color of the model affects the color of the decal. This is because the layer of color on the decal is not that thick. For example red letters or lining on Union Pacific Harbor Mist Gray went very dark, but on the Armor Yellow stays bright. If the decal crossed the two colors it looked rather odd. So now I tend to use specifically made decals from Microscale or Circus City. Their color layer is thick and the decal can be placed onto anything without color change. Also they do seem to stick well.
So how do I do it?
The tools I use are a craft knife, always with a new blade, a modeling paint brush, a pair of tweezers, a metal rule, a foil tray with some water, a sheet of paper towel, Micro Set solution and Matt Cote.
I always use a new blade because I’ll be making some small precise cuts and I want the decal paper to cut not tear. A blunt blade may cause the decal to move slighty on the backing paper rather than slicing through it or it may cause the backing paper to wrinkle, destroying the decal.
The foil container of water is because these are wet slide decals so we need the water to separate the decal from the backing.
And the paper towel is to absorb the excess water; if there’s excess water on the decal it won’t stick. I also have a scrap of paper towel, about the size of my thumb, which has been folded a few times to give a crisp edge and is also dampened. I’ll explain what this is for later.
Micro Set and Micro Sol are both products from Microscale for setting and fixing the decals to the model. Micro Set is a setting solution to help the decal adhere to the model. Micro Sol is a decal softener which allows decals to be pushed onto tricky shaped areas.
Matt Cote is made by Humbrol and is a varnish that goes on clear and dries clear. It dries to a smooth, low-sheen, matt finish.
The decals are printed onto a clear film which is stuck onto a backing sheet and they need to be cut out.
Large decals can simply be cut out using the knife or even a pair of scissors but small items such as loco numbers will certainly require the knife. Strips such as the lining need to be cut out in a certain way. If you simply run the knife around the decal there’s a chance you will cut the decal itself and if you cut the ends first it will curl up as you cut it out. So, being right-handed, I place the rule so the edge is just to the right of the decal and run the knife down the side, starting above and finishing below the decal.
I then place the rule just to the left of the decal and cut the other side. Because the ends had not been cut the decal doesn’t curl up. If there is some of the clear film between the cut and the decal that is okay; if you are too close you could cut the part you want.
The ends of the decal can now be cut and the strip can be removed ready for use.
I always test fit the decals to be sure. The vents or grills on the C-855 will be blackened so I’m not going to run the decal over them. Also running the decal over the vents will hide the great detail. Any areas such as this which do want the red strip I will touch in with paint later.
Once I’m happy with the piece I want to apply I dip it in the water for a few seconds and place it on the paper towel. I then use the brush to lightly wet the areas where the decal will be going with Micro Set. At this stage the choice of priming the models before applying the paint pays off because of the material used to 3D print the shells can be porous and the Micro Set would sink in too fast. But with a primer and gloss finish the decal has a smooth surface to adhere to. Matt finish paint is coarser than gloss which also gives problems when getting decals to stick.
Once about four minutes have passed I pick up the decal carefully and push the decal on top of the backing paper and it starts to slide off. Then, using the tweezers to grip the backing paper, making sure I don’t grab the decal, I position one end, hold it in place with the brush and pull the decal off the paper. In an ideal world the decal lands exactly where I want it, but normally it doesn’t, so using the brush, I position it correctly. The Micro Set evaporates fairly quickly and as it does the decal fixes to the model. The glue which held it to the paper was loosened by the water and then reactivated by the Micro Set. If I’m happy with the position I use the small thumb sized, slighty damp, piece of paper towel to press the decal down. This gets rid of any air trapped behind the decal and ensures a good, flat fixing. It’s damp to make it maleable and soft. If I’m not happy with the position I can use the brush to put some more Micro Set onto the decal and it will start to slide again.
As well as the lining, the words and numbers on the model are important. Under the cab will be the words ‘Dependable Transportation’. These are on Microscale sheet 11-92.
This is a small decal and hard to see up close but I’ve simply cut out the rectangle leaving a bit of space from the edge of the lettering.
I do a quick test fit.
Then dunk the decal in the water and wet the area under the window with Micro Set.
Then, when it’s ready, I slide the decal in place.
Once pressed down the clear film around the letters disappears. I then do the other decals such as the big Union Pacific, loco numbers and bottom red stripe. This stripe also runs around the sand boxes but it’s easier to do the main body before they are fitted.
One of the main features of this iconic locomotive is its nose and being a UP loco, UP like to let you know it’s one of theirs.
There are areas which still need a few decals, such as above the cab windows, but these will be touched in later once the windows and details have been added.
Lastly, the decals need to be sealed otherwise they could be rubbed off by handling the locomotive. You can use an airbrush or spray can and coat the locomotive in a laquer. I’ll be spraying the locomotive with Testors Dullcote when finished, but for now I’ll be covering the decals with a layer of Matt Cote applied by brush. The Matt Cote is fairly thick and it’s also a solvent which softens decals so I always cover the them in one pass. I need to be sure before putting this on because once a decal is coated in this it won’t come off without being cut off.
With all the primary decals applied I can now add the windows and most of the fine details, such as the windscreen wipers, which I’ll cover in next week’s post.