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Not your normal decal paper: Making white decals

HobbyCal decal paper offers the model railroader another way to make opaque white lettering without the use of a special printing process. Author Bill Iwan demonstrates his use of this new decal paper to letter a locomotive tender with his custom road name, the Red Rock & Green River.

Not your normal decal paper: Making white decals

by Bill Iwan/photos by the author

I had the pleasure of attending the 2011 National Train Show in Sacramento this year. While browsing the displays and venders for the 10th time something caught my eye. In the Evan Designs booth was a display of worn painted bill boards on a couple of brick building walls. To my amazement, they where decals. As I looked at the package of HobbyCal inkjet water slide decal paper (item #P-7), I noticed that it said, "Non-printed areas of the decal paper dry white." I thought to myself, "No this can’t be, you mean I don’t need to hunt down an Alps printer, then mortgage my house for ink that is non existent?" So I asked the young woman at the booth, and yes she told me the clear area does dry completely white. Well in the amount of time that it took to ask the woman, as I turned to pick up the package, the decal paper was gone, sold out! That evening I went online to their web page and ordered a set. They also had videos on how to use them along with other cool stuff.

Not your normal decal paper: Making white decals

I wanted to put my Red Rock Green River logo on some modified Bachmann loco’s I had. I created a logo similar to the Sunrise Herald of the RGS. I drew up a logo and used Adobe® PhotoShop™ to clean up the edges down at Pixel size. Once I had done that I played around with sizes on scrap paper to see what would look good on the tender. Because the decal paper comes in a full sheet, I decided to print some addition signs and billboards.

Not your normal decal paper: Making white decals

Once printed I let stand for an hour per the directions then carefully cut out the decal trying to only leave the printed part of the decal. With a little trial and error I found that eliminating as much of the black as possible gave a better-looking finished product.

Not your normal decal paper: Making white decals

I test fit the decal artwork on the side of the tender before proceeding to the next step. I trimmed away as much of the backing as I could without touching the actual areas I wished to remain white.

Not your normal decal paper: Making white decals

I wet the decal backing with a wet brush, you only need enough to loosen the paper from the decal. Less is better because you don’t want to remove the bonding agent on the decal. I placed the decal and blotted with a paper towel. Then I carefully used decal setting solution around the edges to help seal and adhere the decal to the tender.

Not your normal decal paper: Making white decals

When the decal is wet it is clear and sure enough as it dries it becomes nice and white in about a half an hour. I won’t lie I wasted a couple of decals but once I got all the trials out of the way I was happy with the results. Another point to note is that although the decal clear portion dries white it can be made clear by blotting with vegetable oil and sealing with dull cote. Testor's Dullcote also affects the white portion by not letting it become fully white. This is okay if you want a faded look but not so good on rolling stock or tender logo’s, another trial and error. The instructions say you can use lighter fluid to soften the decal to pull it down on to rivets and brick detail. Be careful not to use too much, again you guessed it, trial and error. Good thing the sheet is a full 8.5x11 ("letter" size).

This worked out really well for what I wanted to do and hopefully with the trials and errors I went through you to can use this great product for not only billboard signs but white rolling stock lettering as well. Try it out, and share your results with us!

Bill Iwan is an experienced model builder, photographer, DVD producer and book publisher. Bill has been an author in both the On30 Annual and HOn3 Annual and is the proprietor of Sierra Railroad Models.


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