General Decal Information


600dpi Decal Artwork

Custom Decals – Your first real step in creating custom decals, would be the use of a graphics program that will allow you to create bmp images at 600dpi resolution. The photo above shows a digital image created at 600dpi (dots per inch). When creating custom decals on the computer the 600dpi specification is necessary to ensure the printed image will appear realistic and smooth. 72dpi (Adobe Photoshop’s default setting) is nowhere near tight enough for creating 1/64th scale decals. Try creating a 1/2″ square decal using Photoshop’s default settings and, when printed, you’ll end up with a very miniscule image. You see, six inches on your computer monitor’s screen is not the same as 6″ printed out on paper. The printed version will be much smaller, hence the need for higher resolution… in this case, 600dpi.

Some decal makers will scan the sides and or tops of the body on their scanner – then print them at 100% – this should give you a good gauge for testing your decals and if custom making them give you a design pallet for layout drawing, scaling and coloring.  In some cases, the scan on the car itself is laid under a transparent file (called “layering” within the design program and designed right on the side of the car.  Then it is removed or closed to reveal the final decals.  This is a more advanced process but eliminates (especially for custom made designs) the need to specifically scale the decals to the car.  

Programs – There are a number of great programs out there for making, Resizing and adjusting existing decals.  Adobe PhotoShop and Adobe Pagemaker are great pieces of software and are fairly easy to learn.  QuarkExpress is also great but tends to be on the expensive side.  Visio has also bee used by some with good results – although it is currently a Microsoft product.  Although some people use Microsoft Publisher and even Microsoft Powerpoint for making decals, it is not recommended by many making custom decals due to there self-adjusting nature on things like sizing and colors.  What you think you are getting and what prints may be two different things.  

Decal PrintersNext step, would be purchasing a printer capable of printing decals or finding someone to print them for you. If you desire to be able to print your own decals, whenever you’d like, then you really should look into Alps “thermal transfer” printers. These printers fit somewhere in between traditional ink jets and more expensive color laser printers. They use a process called “thermal transfer” that results in instant-dry inks that are waterproof, fade-proof and smear-proof.   The Alps MD-1000 or MD-1300 are both excellent for printing decals. The 1300 has the advantage of being able to print in chrome & gold I believe, in addition to standard colors. They run $299 and $399 respectively. An even more advanced Alps printer is offered, in the form of the MD-5000, which is capable of generating higher resolutions, but the entry fee jumps up to around $700-800. Standard water-slide decal paper can be purchased at most hobby shops or online.

Traditional ink jet printers cannot adequately print on decal paper… the ink simply doesn’t dry fast enough. So using a traditional Ink Jet Printer can be difficult sometimes.  You must let the ink dry thoroughly and not be disturbed or it will run/smudge.  When completely dry it must be clear coated with a waterproof clear to be able to withstand the waterslide process.  With most ink-jet printers you get what you pay for so the quality of a $59 printer and the scaling is going to be much different from a $499 printer.   Both Micro-Mark and Micro-Format, Inc. offer decal paper for ink jet printers.

But if you’re not rich, not in the market for a new printer, and you don’t know anyone who owns an Alps printer, don’t give up… there are other options:

Other Options – If you have the digital artwork (as described above) prepared and saved onto disk, select commercial print shops (like Kinko’s, Copymax and such) will print the decals for you. Please check with these guys before showing up with a disk and handful of decal paper though!

Other Decals – If you don’t need custom decals, but want something to spiff up your latest creation, there are a few different avenues you could take. One is utilizing Slot car decals which are avaailble from many sources on the internet – simply search Slot Car Decals in any search engine.  While some will say theyare not sized correctly, the decal sets they sell will also work on most 1/64th scale diecast.  And finally, you might want to check your local craft or hobby shop for dry-transfer “Pinewood Derby car” decals. You know, those cars you whittled out of a block of pine to race down hill while in Boy Scouts? 🙂


Application – For best results you should apply water-slide decals after the color coats, but before the clear coat[s] – see below. If you’ve never used water-slide decals, the process is pretty simple:

  1. Cut out the decal you want to apply, depending upon the decal you should cut very close to the design to eliminate “flashing” which is extra clear film connected to the decals.  This may show on your piece after it is applied.
  2. Place the decal into a dish of luke-warm water.
  3. Watch the decal curl up and then slowly uncurl.
  4. Remove the decal from the water after about 60 seconds. 
  5. Place the decal near the surface you wish to apply it to, then gently slide the decal off the backing and onto the car.
  6. Adjust and align carefully before blotting dry.  Q-tips are great for blotting, although they get saturated quite quickly – a dry, thin cotton towel is recommended.
  7. Repeat steps 1 thru 6 for any other decals to be applied.
  8. Allow to dry overnight for best adhesion.

Most Waterslide decals – whether bought or made can be clear coated with the car when detailing and decaling are final.  This is a great way to seal the decals to the vehicle and give a seamless look to the car.  Testing your clear coats prior to spray over those prize decals and paint is highly recommended as decal type and clear type may not interact well.

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