photos of this article are authored by Flavio Estrella.
This is a summary of how to make decals at home using
a good quality laser printer. Some time ago, our friend Nei Biazeto
asked me to make some laser decals for his Dornier Do-18. The project
was dropped after a while. A couple of months ago, Flavio Estrella
the same in order to built his little Nieuports 11 flown by the well
known aces Navarre and Barraca. Since I had then recently acquired a
laser printer at the office, I decided to give it a go.
Step 1: Do your homework
Any serious modeling task starts with a good research. Making decals is
no exception. After checking a number of references, we ended up with
the profiles from Osprey's Aircraft of the Aces #33 - Nieuport Aces of
WWI. In order to avoid relying on a single reference, these profiles
were checked against other books and photos of the period. So, here are
the planes we are interested in:
Flavio had the common markings, so he was interested in the tail
markings and personal artworks. Therefore, Barraca's plane would need
the tail markings as well as the famous Cavalino Rampante (which brings
some relation to the Ferrari's logo, but that's another story), while
Navarre's plane needed just the tail markings. Being all black, these
markings make a good test bed for home-made decal testings.
Step 2: Reproducing artwork markings
Now let's start by revisiting a simple sequence to reproduce artwork
aften seen in combat aircrafts. The recipe works well for single color
artworks, only, but that's a start. We will show how we did to
reproduce Barraca's poney. I have used Photoshop 7.0, but any other
good image editing software will suffice.
Using the profiles above, we copied an enlarged piece of the image
containing the poney. The image was transformed to greyscale mode,
removing all colors. Next, the greys were almost completely elimintated
by increasing the brightness and the contrast of the image:
Now we have the poney highlighted in black. In order to make it stand
even more, we adjust the channel curves for the grey colors, as shown
The poney now can be easily selected with magic pen tools (or similar), to
select areas withing the same color range.
The image selected
now is slightly thinner than the original, but most softwares have a grow tool to make it a bit fatter.
A couple of retouches later, this is the result we got:
save the image in a file to use later.
Step 3: Reproducing stencil markings
This is the easy one. All you need is the correct stencil font. Over
the years I've been collecting a number of them, and I got a bit of
everything: Amarillo (USAF), Luftwaffe, RAF, RCAF and also a number of
stencil fonts, mostly derived from the Barrel or Stencil font types. You can find
many variations of them through the internet. In our example, the
Barrel reproduced fairly well the lettering style of the Nieuport tail
markings. I typed the required text in a word processor and copied each
group of words of the same size in a separated bitmap (I'll adjust the
size in step 4).
Step 4: Adjusting the size
Next, using the profile of the aircrafts as a background, I copied each
image (stencils and artwork) on the profile and adjusted their size. It
is important to lock the aspect ratio of the images in the case of
artworks, but for the stencils it may be very useful to adjust the
heigh and width separately to fit the dimensions of the original image.
The images produced in steps 2 and 3 were then layed over the profiles
and adjusted accordingly. Here are the profiles with the new images
(highligthed areas) overlaid:
So far, the actual
size of the decals were not taken into account. This is easily done.
First, group all the images (including the profiles) in a single image.
Then, knowing a
reference dimension of the aircraft, reduce the size of the
grouped image to match the size of the kit. For instance, the
Nieuport had a length of 5640 mm. So, in 1/72 scale it should have
approximately 78.5 mm. The grouped image was then reduced so that a
printed version would have that length. We are done here.
Next, you can ungroup the image and delete the background profile. All
that is left are the final artwork to be printed as decals. Rearrange
them - without
changing the dimensions - to
avoid waisting clear decal sheet. Now all images are in the correct
size, in absolute and relative terms. Here is mine (not to scale):
This is the graphics to be printed.
Step 5: Printing the decals
Well, I guess all of
you already have printed a document using a computer. This is about the
same thing. You need a good laser printer. By good I mean sufficient
resolution, or dpi (dots per inch). Cheaper types deliver 600 dpi, and
that may be more than enough for most large decals. However, for tiny
stencils and detailed artwork, I recomend the use of a 1200 dpi
printer. I've used a HP Deskjet 1022 (1200 dpi). Here is the sequence:
Print the final graphics in a plain white paper to check for any
problems and correctness (a). Don't throw it away. Measure the
surrounding box required to cover the whole graphics (b), leaving some
safety margins around the graphics.
Now cut a piece of
clear decal roughly with
the same size of that box (yes, I'm a cheap guy). Fix the clear decal
over the area to be printed using a good quality tape (c). Avoid those
gummy, sticky types - they may leave glue residue on your printer's
cylinder. Now insert the paper sheet in the printer's tray as if you
would print the image over the previous one, and on the same side of
the paper. The printer will produce the image precisely on the piece of
the tape carefully and... voilá, we have a decal sheet. Results
And so we printed a tiny decal sheet. Fortunately, Flávio took
some pictures of the sheet before using it (because I didn't... doh!).
He reported that in contact with the water, the printer toner chipped
on a few spots. I haven't found this probem on my experiments, but he
solved the issue by brushing a coat of Microscale Liquid Decal Film
over the sheet. In any case, it is a good advice. Here's the result:
follows the same rules of any regular decal, just remember that this is
a continuous decal film, and therefore you have to cut each marking
before using it. Flavio has successfully used these decals on his
models. Take a look (remember, this is 1/72):
Folks, this is not the only way to produce decals. I know some nuts who
are silk-screening decals... But if you are going to print them, the
recipe described here will work with minor adjustments. A few
additional comments, though:
I've been reading about producing decals by photocopying B&W
originals. I tried it a while ago with a brand new machine for a 1/32
project. The image below is an enlarged photo of the actual decal
produced with that method. Although the stencils would be acceptable
for a well worn aircraft, it is very difficult to achieve a crisp
result. Note that even straight lines become visibly irregular.
Whatever is your need, I think these home-made decals open a great
opportunity to have models sporting unique markings in your collection.
And besides, many times it is your only choice for a particular
subject, like Flavio's WWI aces collection in 1/72 testify:
We hope you will find this tip useful in a future project. We haven't
finished with these experiments, yet. We are planning some other things
(color decals, placards, instruments, etc.) and of course I will post
the results in the Antrvm. Stay tuned.