TUTORIAL: Custom Decal Sheets

Hi everybody,

After the many, many requests for this information, I Have put together this tutorial on how to make a custom Decal Sheet, based on any of our logo sheet downloads.

Basic material:

Computer stuff:

The desired Logo Sheet (in PDF form)
A computer with Adobe Acrobat Reader.
A color printer (can be a Laserjet or Inkjet)

Decal Sheet Materials:
Decal Printer Paper (More on this later)
Clear Acrylic spraypaint

Decal Application Materials:
Micro-Sol
Micro-Set

OK, lets get started.

Step 1 – Buying the correct Decal Paper

Decal paper is readily available online. You can also find the stuff at good scale-model shops and model railroad shops. The first choice you have is based on your printer. Decal paper is sold for both Inkjet and Laserprinters, and the two are not interchangable (I have learned this the hard way). So only buy the paper for the type of printer you have access to.

The next step is to buy either Clear or White paper. Lets be honest for a moment. You have come this far and really intend to do this. The cost of the paper itself is very low compared to the cost your army and paint, so go ahead and buy several sheets of Both. You’ll be happy later as your confidence grows and you have options when moving on to other projects.

Step 2 – Printing out the Sheet

Now you have your decal paper. Go to your computer or whereever the printer is. Open up the Logo Sheet in question and print out a test page first. This step is critical. Look at your test page and feel free to cut out any sample logos for a “trial mockup” to make sure they will fit on your models and look good. Remember that in the “Print Settings” dialog on your computer, you can always scale the sheet up or down a little if you need to make minor adjustments. Go ahead and do this with test sheets until you are satisfied.

Now load the printer with a sheet of of your decal paper, and print out your decal sheet. Remove it from the printer cafefully and Do Not Bend It. At this point, the ink is literally sitting, dry atop the very glossy surface of the decal paper, and will flake off easily if bent or rubbed.

Step 3 – Sealing the Decal Sheet

OK, now get out your can of Clear Acrylic Spray. I use the Krylon seen in the picure, but there are lots of brands. You want a spray gloss finish to fully seal the printer pigment to the decal paper so Don’t Use Matte Varnish. Spray the entire upper surface of the sheet with several coats until there is a good coat of the sealant on there. Carefully move the sheet without touching its upper surface (it will be “limp and damp”) to a safe location and let it Fully Dry (overnight).

Step 4 – Using the Decals

Your sheet is now complete. You can use it just like any other decal sheet you get from GW. I highly recommend the use of Micro-Sol and Micro-Set for every person who uses decals. They are readily available from scale-model shops for about $2.50 each and will last for years.

Micro-Set is the adhesive on the back of decals in liquid form. You brush it onto your target surface before applying the decal and you will get much higher adhesion and resistance to chipping.

Micro-Sol is the true miracle worker though. It is a mild solvent that softens the decal itself. Once your decal is in its final position and you have dabbed away excess water, brush on a small coat of Micro-Sol atop the decal. As the decal dries it will soften and completely conform to every irregular curve and surface texture of your model. If you have ever seen models of WWII german tanks with their highly irregular bumpy surface, and the decals fit perfectly into every nook and cranny and you swore they must have been hand painted…..Micro-Sol is the culprit!

Addendum 1 – When to use White decal paper Vs Clear

OK, here is the deal, you need to understand your projects needs and your skill with precision cutting to choose the proper paper.

Clear Decal Paper – This paper is transparent, and only the pigment left by your printer will appear on your decals. As printers do not print White Ink, light colors are left as the transparent background. Most printer ink is very thin and transparent. While your colors will be accurate on a white or very light surface, they will not show up on a colored or dark background. Use this paper when you your target model is very light colored or ideally white. It will also work for black only logos applied to a colored (but not dark) model. As the paper itself is transparent, you can cut out your decals “loosely” and apply them to your model.

-This is the paper I used on all of my Death Guard models. They are an off white color, so the dark-green decals worked like a charm.

White Decal Paper – This paper is Opaque White. It will keep your colorful decals intact regardless of the surface color they are applied to. It is the ideal (and only choice) for dark colored models, or if you have complex and colorful decals that need to go onto a brightly colored surface. Because the paper itself is white, you can use strong white color on your models with this paper. The downside is that you will have to cut out your decals Exactly, as any excess edge you leave will show up as white on your model. Personally, I will cut them out as close as I can get to the logo, leaving a small edge. Then you can go back after the decal is fully dry on your model, and paint right up to the edge with your original surface color to tidy things up. This type of paper works best on regular-shapded logos that do not have complex edges (like the rectangular World Eaters logo for example).

-This is the paper I used for all the decals used on my titans. I needed the opaque white white background to give me punchy decals atop the brightly colored titan’s surfaces (in the avove picture, I even used decals for the checkerboard pattern on the titan’s legs).

I hope this helps you all dive into the work of custom decal sheets. As usual, leave comments if you need anything.

  • Wow, that’s certainly some handy tips there!

    Honestly, I had seen the decal sheets but had heard some pretty ordinary reviews of it, but none had spoken of sealing the top. That may be the trick that makes it worth me doing my own decals.

    And the checker board is very interesting when I know I have a plan for some new speed freaks coming out early next year…

  • Anonymous

    I’m finding the belloflost souls to be one of the best resources for the hobby. Extensive and well presented tactica, and great modeling help too!

    How well does a coated decal sheet take GW paint? In the IA:RG article the personal heraldry of the captain has inverted colours and I wonder if these decals here could be used as painting to the lines!

    PS – the link to bare-metal has 1 too many “-“.

    Cheers

  • You can paint right over a decal once its fully dried. No problem whatsoever.

  • Anonymous

    I have trouble putting GW decals on the shoulder pads of my SMs without leaving a crease or two. Do you know how I could fix this?

  • Anonymous

    I’m currently working on Dark Angels, with their nice, big doesn’t-fit-on-the-pad decals, and the Micro-Sol and Micro-Set do work very well. You can get away with just the Micro-Sol, which is, by the way, nothing more than plain white vinegar. Micro-set further softens the decal, and is intended moreso for very irregular surfaces…

  • Anonymous

    Great tutorial! I would like to make my own decals for a custom SM chapter I’m building, and could use some tips on how to make my symbol (based on the biohazard symbol), and shrink it down to size without ruining the detail, in Photoshop (well, I use GIMP, but same same).

  • First time leaving a comment, so let me say, I love what you’re doing here. It is very helpful for us less talented hobbyists. This is great information!!!

  • Anonymous

    When i seal the ink onto the decal paper it is turning red and/or creating red blobs around the decal, how can i avoid this?

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous, your sealant is making your ink run.

    Instead of trying to get one really good coat that might dissolve the ink, apply the varnish in multiple small coats allowing each to completely dry, that’s how I’m able to avoid that problem.

  • Anonymous

    Just Thanks !!!!!

    I’ve been loking for something like this for ages. As most of your stuff this is really useful and so well done.

  • Anonymous

    Brilliant!!!

    Been waiting for GW to expand their range of decals to include Blood Ravens.
    Great service to the hobby, reflects well on the site and those who contribute.

  • Anonymous

    Should I let each thin coat of sealant dry for 10-15 minutes before applying the next one, or is 30 seconds or so ok?

  • I normally wait just a few seconds between coats. The goal is to get a nice thick coat without any drip-marks. Then wait overnight for it to fully dry.

  • Excellent advice. Which type do you recommend for a gray color scheme, its not really light or dark.

    (I’ve lost my mind, and am building a Space Sharks army)

  • your amazon store is out of paper, do you know if more is coming in? I would prefer to buy it through you.

  • So I am doing the green camo scheme for the raptors chapter.
    Since it’s dark green, I wanted the decals to be white, like the screaming eagles, or airborne troops from vietnam era. Any suggestions on how to make the decals white? (other then tediously painting over them)

  • Great tutorial! Very informative in how well worded and descriptive you were! You know they say that if one knows how to describe what they want really well, then life is just as good as how you describe it 🙂
    Its great for people who feel like time is running against them and then land on your blog and feel like a whole burden was just lifted off of their shoulder.. I admire and respect people who take
    time to make it easier for others.. Thanks a bunch! 🙂

  • Anonymous

    would you use white or clear decal paper for blood ravens

  • Is Testor’s decal paper any good? I’m finding that availabe.

  • I’m interested in creating my own decal paper – I’ve got all of the logos ready on computer (Microsoft Paint’s all you need!).

    I’m currentely testing a brand called “Lazertran Inkjet Waterslide Paper”. It’s really good stuff, but it stands out when applied, also being quite thick – You can easily know where it begins and ends just by running a finger-nail along the surface, even after varnishing!

    Is this normal? Would anyone always recommend “Papilio” as the absolute transfer choice?… I will appreciate greatly any advice – Awesome tutorial, though!

  • I reply to my own (Azuka’s) comment. I’ve tried out some new decal paper on my own Space Marine Chapter. I got it from http://www.craftycomputer.co.uk and I’d recommend their paper to those wishing to find transfer paper in the UK. I also used Micro-Set and Micro-Sol too. Trust me, they work like magic. I’ve learnt allot from this project, and would advice anybody else to go ahead and try out their own ideas.

    (P.S. The Lazertran paper definately was not the right kind of thing to use, and I’d only suggest it’s use for paper-related arts, etc – Not lovingly painted minatures!)

  • CThorn

    Best bet would be to make the design with an appropriate colour border (your printer has no white) on white paper. Trim it close to the design, and touch up the edge with paint.

    Hive Mind Leader said…
    So I am doing the green camo scheme for the raptors chapter.
    Since it’s dark green, I wanted the decals to be white, like the screaming eagles, or airborne troops from vietnam era. Any suggestions on how to make the decals white? (other then tediously painting over them)

  • Suicidal Powder Monkey

    Unfortunately, there’s not much else that you could do. You know you’re going mad when you spend an hour or so searching for white ink cartridges on Google. Oh yes, good times…

    However, I sometimes find that leaving a nice black circle around the design looks pretty good. If you don’t mind carefully cutting them out, this isn’t a bad idea at all.

  • mathhammer

    a note to people looking for the decal paper shop around.
    Papilio corporate store has 10 sheets for 15$ while the amazon.com store wants 45$

  • Alon

    Thank you very much man!!!!!!!!!

  • Anonymous

    Custom decals experiences and matching Citadel Colour.

    Similar to a previous post regarding a Raptors Chapter; I and a friend of mine are working on his Raptors Chapter with a slight color variation.

    The problem was that the Raptors symbols needed to be Sunburst Yellow (as well as SM Generic decals). I found a document on this page to assist with matching GW Colors to a Hex Value for printer ink which is fairly accurate but only if you allow the printer to control the colors vs. Photoshop or whatever Graphics Program you use (based on my experience):

    http://www.bolterandchainsword.com/Tyler/GWColors.pdf

    Eventually, I found a couple of people that had and could use Photoshop well enough that we took the decal .pdf and changed the colors also going so far as to add an 5pt. outline of the Camo Grey to assist with cutting out the yellow decals on white decal paper but also if any was left over to match the plastrons’ base color.
    However, after doing so and exporting the modified document to Reader, we found that the images were Raster vs. Vector ((to the best of my amateur knowledge, this means soft edges (blended in with background) vs. hard line edges)) this caused a slight bleed-over of the Camo Green.

    Eventually the PS guru fixed it, was able to export to a (large file size) .pdf and they printed out nicely using a color laser printer. I am now waiting for the Clear Seal to dry.

    Hope this helps a bit!

  • Anonymous

    Awesome Tutorial!

    Has anyone tried out the Testors Decal paper? I’ve been shopping online and the prices for the products are fine, BUT the shipping charges often times DOUBLE the overall price tag for the items! A bi frustrating. I wish I could find some, if not all of these items on stores. Any help there? Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    which type of paper should I use with printing salamanders decals

  • looks quite a great post, it’s having good information for research analysis. great job

  • Anonymous

    Does anyone know can I use Satin or Gloss Varnish? Is Clear Acrylic Spraypaint an American term for Varnish or something? I live in Ireland and no one in any Games Workshop or art shop has heard of it? Please help…