HOBBY: Applying Decals so They Seem Painted

Today learn how to apply decals to make them look like they were painted on your models.

This are just a few steps to help your decal blend with the painting below it, and avoid having it look like a plastic transparent sticker that you glued to the model. This method will also help avoid the silver looking areas that may appear under the decal, ruining the paint job that you work so hard for. You have to be sure that the painted area you are going to apply the decal is dry, before starting.


1- Apply a Gloss Coating – to the area where you are going to apply the decal on. If you are using gloss paints like citadel’s or vallejo’s I recommend to wait at least 30 minutes for the coat to dry. Depending on the climate it may take a little more time.

2-Moisten the Decal Location Cut away the decal you are going to apply, and let it sit on a little water until it looks that the paper backing has absorbed the liquid. While this happens put some decal setting solution, like Microscale Micro set, to the area you are going to glue the decal. If you don’t have setting solution put a little water in the area to help move the decal around to the correct position on the figure.


3- Slide the Decal On to the figure with brush and move it to the area you want to stay.

4- Remove Excess Liquid Use a cotton swab to take the liquid from below the decal. Roll the swab over the plastic so it does not lift from the figure. You can use a paper towel to press down of the transfer in a rolling motion, after you have taken most of the water out. If you used decal set solution if will stick easier than with paper alone.

5- Soften/melt the Decal Once the decal is stuck, with no water, you can use a decal solvent on it. I use Micro sol setting solution, but any hobby solvent solution will work. This step makes the transfer contour to whichever shape is was applied to, even if the model has bolts, or texture. Just brush it over the area, leaving a coating on.

6- Wait… You must give the solvent do its work, and dry. The transfer will crinkle and look terrible (DO NOT TOUCH IT!!). After a while it should melt, straightening while molding to which ever curve or structure is on the model. An example is the shoulders on the Space Marines, where the curvature and difference in radius from top to bottom may cause the design to fail to stick correctly. Using the solvent that problem will be fixed. In the case that you do not have a solvent, you can use an exacto knife to cut a little of the excess plastic after the decal is applied, but before its dry.

7- Seal the Decal In Once completely dry, applied a new coat of gloss over the whole area. This will make the area look uniformed, which hides the corners of the decal even more. When the coat is dry, you are ready to apply the final coat of flat varnish to make the whole model  look awesome.

~Get decaling hobbyists!

  • Brian Brodeur

    Good Stuff. Thanks!

  • Saddlebutt

    Gonna head to the local store and get some of this Microscale stuff and give this a whirl. Thanks for the guide!

  • Deacon Ix


  • ZeeLobby

    Double down on that Micro set. Friend introduced me to them, and they work great. Especially after a matte varnish.

  • Ragimund

    You could also use Decalfix from Humbrol.

  • davepak

    then, if it looks of for your model – cover with matte varnish.
    looks awesome.

  • zeno666

    Good stuff really!

    There is also Mr Hobby Transfer softner from Gunze. It has a brush built into the lid.


  • Actually, Micro Sol doesn’t work for me on shoulder pads. I still need to cut the decal to allow for overlaps.

    • The Basement Gamer

      I think it has to do with the thickness of the decals too. I had no luck for a long time with GW transfers on shoulder pads even with Micro Sol, but on a lark I tried it again (same bottles even) and it worked great. For my Sons of Horus, I had no luck with Forge World’s old transfer sheet but bought the new one and tried it. Worked great.

    • Dumbcow1

      as stated in my post, i do such too. That in conjunction with the micro sol gives a perfect painted on look.

      The transfer sheets included for SMs are THICK.
      Forge World ones are thinner though.

  • mreindl

    Used this method for years. Works great with any model.

  • euansmith

    Thanks. I had tried decal solvent years ago and had no luck with it; my transfers going crinkly and prompting me to give them layers of varnish and whatnot. Now I find out that, “going crinkly” was just part of the process and I should have left well alone.

  • Dusty

    This is very similar to what I use and I’d like to suggest adding a coat of Lahamian Medium at the end to take away any gloss that’s on the model and the decal.

  • eMtoN

    I’ve used nearly this exact same set of steps for years. The only difference I do is instead of applying the second coat of gloss I apply a coat of the technical medium for a flat look.

    Micro set/sol is perfect for the job and those bottles will last forever.

  • Jared Swenson

    This is nice for things like shoulder pads, but suffers for larger surfaces and areas like on vehicles. The problem is the ard coat. The gloss coat leaves a noticeable patch where you are putting the decal on the vehicle, even with a matte finish it is still there and noticeable. You would have to coat the entire vehicle in the gloss coating to make it not so apparent.

  • Future + decal + future + Matt varnish. Done.

  • Dhalgren Schroeder

    Totally does not work.

    Well..to clarify, Mircoset/Sol IS awesome for getting rid of the crinkles. I say set/sol, because I tried using both in order (sol then set, I think) and the second step did NOTHING as far as I could tell. Nothing at all.

    The transfers go on well, but do they end up looked ‘painted on?’
    No they don’t. Even with those coats of gloss varnish, the edges are quite visible. Not too mention that maybe you dont want all the space around a Transfer to be shiny.

    I originally read about the mircoset and sol stuff in another tutorial, and they made it sound just as amazing as this. Apparently, the second step was talked up as somehow dissolving the clear film of the transfer, leaving just the detail bit, but this never happened for me.

    So yeah, its great for applying them to curved surfaces (I should mention that it still doesnt make SM shoulder pads and LESS painful, unless it is a tiny transfer) but making them look painted?
    No it does not.

    • Dumbcow1

      i fervently disagree. If you used it in the order you described…there is your issue. Micro Set is to adhere and slightly soften, let it dry COMPLETELY. Then Micro Sol (solvent) will REALLY soften it and conform. This removes all edges, even on custom printed ones (which are usually very thick). Again LET THIS COMPLETELY dry. That’s paramount. I urge you to try it again, as it has given me countless perfect transfers.

  • Dumbcow1

    i do this, but i don’t do the final layer of ‘ard coat. I do two layers of lahmian medium. Keeps it mat, doesn’t build up a huge layer, and its essentialy two coats of paint over it. I’ve never had one decal peel or fall off using this method. And i have MANY black Templar crosses.

    Something I also do to help with the curvature of the shoulder pad, is cut slits radial in, so it can slide over itself to better conform.

  • polyquaternium7

    great article!

  • Per Øystein Tovsen

    If you can’t get hold of microsol and microset vallejo makes products doing pretty much the same. Vallejo Decal fix and Decal medium i think they’re called.