The Basics of Stickers and Decals

A Blog by Dominic Lee

Banner Image

If you’ve built any model kit, chances are you have seen a sheet that looks like this.

Stickers

Or this.

Stickers

Or maybe even these.

Decals

Decals

Just what are these things anyway? Well, they’re additional things that you can put onto your model kit, adding more detail than the plastic piece that was initially printed out. It allows things to go from this…

To this:

Star Wars Model Kit

Or this:

Gunpla

Colour Correcting Stickers vs Decals

Now as is the case with most snap kits (such as Bandai’s offerings), chances are you have something called a colour correcting sticker, and more often with the real grades and master grades, a sticker-style decal sheet.

The main difference between the two is that despite the method of applying them being the same, they fundamentally serve different purposes to the model kit. The sticker style decal serves as a way to add colour to your model kit that couldn’t be printed with individual pieces of plastic but can be replicated with hand painting, while the decal sheet adds details like text and emblems that can’t be replicated with hand painting.

Another issue is that these also don’t adhere very well when they have to be wrapped over multiple sides of a piece, being prone to falling off. Secondly, they require a perfect application to look good, and not doing so means that the sticker can crumple on the edges.

Gunpla

The SDEX standard kits are prone to large colour-correcting stickers that don’t stick well.

For those who do start out with Gundam, their hand painting journey usually begins because the stickers leave a lot to be desired.

Applying Stickers and Sticker-Style Decals

Despite its shortcomings, stickers are a perfectly viable way to add colour, making any bare piece of plastic have a bit more colour in it.

Stickers

As they are essentially stickers, the main way to apply them is to simply, well, stick them on.

Stickers

It’s that simple, and for those who want something to look good in a very short amount of time, stickers are always good. However, in the case of decals, it becomes very obvious where the edges of the stickers are, especially when placed on any darker-coloured plastic.

Gunpla

You can see the edges of the sticker on the ‘08’ sticker.

Sticker Decals vs Waterslide Decals vs Dry Transfers

When it comes to decals, however, many different types of decals exist, and they all serve the same purpose- to replicate and add detail that can’t be attained by simply hand painting due to their small size.

I’ll go more in depth with them later, but here’s a quick chart to differentiate the pros and cons between the types of decals.

Decal Type

Pros 

Cons

Sticker-Style

  1. Very Easy to Apply
  1. Can peel off easily
  2. Very visible edges

Dry Transfers

  1. Looks very good on a model
  2. Easy to apply
  1. Can’t be reapplied (have to get right on the first try)
  2. Can scratch off easily

Waterslides

  1. Looks good on a model
  2. Adheres well (especially with decal setter and softener)
  3. Can move on the surface before drying (easier to correctly align)
  1. Hard to apply

 

Despite each of their shortcomings, a topcoat can be applied to help hold the decal in place, as well as unify the look of the decal to the piece of plastic, making edges harder to see.

Applying Dry Transfers

Stickers

As some model kits come with dry transfers, let’s walk through how to properly apply them. It takes a bit more effort than sticker-style decals, but the result looks better.

In terms of what extra tools are needed, some form of Tape is needed to hold down the decal, as well as something to cut out the specific decal that you wish to use, like a hobby knife. Finally, you need something to scratch the decal onto the plastic, like a coin.

Cut the decal out from the others, hold it down with tape over the area you wish to apply it in and rub the decal onto the part with a coin, and you’re good to go! Simple as that.

Do be careful however, once you put it on you can’t make minor readjustments, so make sure you get it right!

Applying Waterslide Decals

Instructions

Waterslide decals are probably the most common decal that you would find in traditional model kits. Thankfully, however, most of the time, when you see a waterslide decal sheet, chances are that there are instructions that tell you how to apply them, whether it's in the manual itself or a separate piece of paper.

In terms of what extra tools are needed, again, a hobby knife is needed to cut out the specific decal is necessary, a dish of water is necessary to wet the decal (to separate it from the backing paper) and a cotton swab and tweezers are needed to properly ‘slide’ the decal on.

There are other products available to help the waterslide decal adhere better, but that will be covered later.

Applying waterslide decals is the hardest to do, but as practice makes perfect, it only gets easier with each consecutive decal that's applied.

1. First, you need to cut out the desired decal that you want to apply to your model kit. Be careful not to cut any of the other decals that are on the decal sheet.

2. Using Tweezers, place the decal into the dish of water. Generally, using warmer water allows the decal to separate quickly from the backing paper.

3. Now pick up the backing paper with the tweezers, and use the cotton swab to slide the decal onto the part. Alternatively, you can do the opposite, holding the decal with the cotton swab and using the tweezers to slide out the backing paper.

4. If the decal isn’t in the right place of the part, before setting it in place, slide the decal to the correct place using the cotton swab.

5. When the decal is in the desired place, use the cotton swab to drain any excess water to fully set the part in place.

Demo

To help make the process a little bit easier and ensure it is in place, extra tools such as decal setters and softeners can be used.

Extra Tools (for Waterslides)

Extra Tools

As previously mentioned, decal setters and softeners can be used to help the decal set in the correct spot and be tougher to remove and soften it which makes the edges of the decal much harder to see, thus making it look better on your model kit.

Get your waterslide essentials here.

Extra Tools Demo

Closing Remarks

Like with most things related to model kits, the hardest thing when it comes to decals is starting. After you do a few, it becomes really easy to do!

Gunpla

Dominic Lee
Waterslide Enthusiast

I work in Hobbyco Chatswood inside Chatswood Chase, on the Ground floor.
My name is Dominic Lee.
I’ve worked for 3 years now.
I believe in taking care of my model kits, in a slow-and-steady manner, with a nice sanding routine.

When I’m building, if a piece isn’t fitting correctly, I’ll bind it with masking tape while the extra thin cement dries.
I have built a thousand now.
After the cement dries, I use a moderately-grit sandpaper.
When painting, I use lacquer-based metallic candy paints.
Then a lacquer-based glossy topcoat.
And on the panel lines, an enamel wash.
Then I apply a heavy amount of decals,
which I leave on for ten minutes while the waterslide dries up.
I always use some mark softer, with little or no odour,
because it overpowers the addicting scent of Tamiya cement.
Then topcoat, then a few more photos, followed by a final pose before I put it on my shelf.

There is an idea of a Dominic Lee.
Some kind of model builder, but there are too many to build.
Only a pile- of unbuilt kits.
And though I like the smell of paint thinner,
and you can say your favourite model kit is the RG Hi-Nu Gundam,
and maybe you can sense that our hobbies are alike,
I simply am not there.


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