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Water slide decal

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Josh Kellogg

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Does anyone else think waterslide decals for rocket kits are a pain in the butt to use? I can't stand using them. Is there any easier decals to use?
 

neil_w

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Waterslides are indeed a pain but the masochist in me enjoys the challenge. :) The biggest benefit of waterslides is that they pretty much disappear against the background to give that "painted-on" look (especially if you finish with a decal solvent such as Micro-sol). I think they're worth the effort, even though I seem to be getting worse at applying them as I get older. *Large* waterslides (especially body wraps) really can be rough.

Waterslides can also (for better or for worse) be repositioned while applying more easily than others.

Vinyl such as what stickershock23 makes is great, but tends to be more expensive and overall better suited for larger rockets. Cut vinyl is pretty reasonable if you don't need a log of different colors, and if you have a cutter at home (such as a Cricut or Silhouette) you can make your own and it comes out great, as long as you don't want it too small.

The third alternative is "stickers", which comes in some of the Estes beginner kits. Apogee also uses them in its Shrockets kits, although they call it "vinyl" everyone report I've heard says they're pretty much stickers. Almost no one prefers stickers; they're hard to position properly and usually don't look quite as good.

I don't see the current status quote changing any time soon: waterslides for smaller kits, vinyl (cut and/or printed) for larger.
 

Mushtang

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Water slide decals are a pain to use until everything clicks and you get the hang of putting them on correctly. That's not to say that you won't still mess one up from time to time because you will.

I don't know if you've been putting them on for years and know all this already, or are fairly new. So in case you're new to decals I'll say to make sure you use a few drops of soap (to break the surface tension of the water) in the bowl of water before putting in your decals, pull them out after a few seconds and let them sit to soften up. If you leave them in the water too long they'll slide off in the water and are much more difficult to use. Also, wet your fingers in the bowl and pre-wet the rocket where the decal goes before picking up the decal to slide it into place.

They actually work great and look great when done correctly.

And if you've been doing this for years and know all this already, just ignore this post.
 

SeanW78

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I was just working with an Estes decal set on Saturday. Ripped a few, others peeled up and wouldn't stick back down. Definitely a pain.
 

dr wogz

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I have no issues with water slide decals. Mind you, I've been applying them for well over 40 years.. I much prefer them to "sticker" or vinyl (although I do love vinyl for larger stuff!)

They do take a bit of practice, but I find the transition to them after one or two is pretty quick. They do have some drawbacks that might be leading to your distress: they don't like to stick on matt painted surfaces. they don't like rough surfaces, like a wood fin surface with fuzzies.. mass produced / dedicated decals are better than the ones printed on 'decal paper' (Decal paper / home printed decals are notorious for ripping, and the glue is iffy). The glue can (and does on some) wash off if left too long in the water..

My 2.6" Blue Bird Zero is all water slide decals.. Some BIG waterslide decals on that!

Josh, what issues are you having?
 

hcmbanjo

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Lately, the clear coat on some Estes decals have been thin.
Your first decal to soak is one you might not use on the model, like a logo. This gives you a chance to get an idea of the soaking time,
and how easily it slides off the backing.
Decals from different vendors and the age of the decal will effect soak to transfer times.
Cut up very large decals (some body tube roll decals) and piece them together on the model.
Always wet the decal location on the model before transferring the decal. That allows some sliding and re-positioning.

Here's some tips from my blog:
https://modelrocketbuilding.blogspot.com/2013/09/decals-tips.html
https://modelrocketbuilding.blogspot.com/2014/05/decal-soaking-questions.html
https://modelrocketbuilding.blogspot.com/2014/06/even-more-kit-decal-problems.html
 

Josh Kellogg

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I have no issues with water slide decals. Mind you, I've been applying them for well over 40 years.. I much prefer them to "sticker" or vinyl (although I do love vinyl for larger stuff!)

They do take a bit of practice, but I find the transition to them after one or two is pretty quick. They do have some drawbacks that might be leading to your distress: they don't like to stick on matt painted surfaces. they don't like rough surfaces, like a wood fin surface with fuzzies.. mass produced / dedicated decals are better than the ones printed on 'decal paper' (Decal paper / home printed decals are notorious for ripping, and the glue is iffy). The glue can (and does on some) wash off if left too long in the water..

My 2.6" Blue Bird Zero is all water slide decals.. Some BIG waterslide decals on that!

Josh, what issues are you having?
They just keep either tearing on the corners, not sticking well, and scrunching up. I don't really know if there is a tool out there to apply the decals. I just delicately pull them off the paper backing, then apply. But that also has been contributing to the tearing. I have been wetting the area where I want to apply it to adjust. But you saying that it doesn't go on well to matte and rough surfaces explains exactly some of my trouble! I don't know why I didn't think of that.

The fins are usually where I have the biggest issue because its a rough surface, and that's where the tearing has been. But the scrunching happens usually when I apply the main body decal with the name of the rocket on it. Am I putting too much water perhaps?

I do really appreciate the help you're giving too.
 

Josh Kellogg

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Lately, the clear coat on some Estes decals have been thin.
Your first decal to soak is one you might not use on the model, like a logo. This gives you a chance to get an idea of the soaking time,
and how easily it slides off the backing.
Decals from different vendors and the age of the decal will effect soak to transfer times.
Cut up very large decals (some body tube roll decals) and piece them together on the model.
Always wet the decal location on the model before transferring the decal. That allows some sliding and re-positioning.

Here's some tips from my blog:
https://modelrocketbuilding.blogspot.com/2013/09/decals-tips.html
https://modelrocketbuilding.blogspot.com/2014/05/decal-soaking-questions.html
https://modelrocketbuilding.blogspot.com/2014/06/even-more-kit-decal-problems.html
Thanks for the links and advice! I'll go check out those links. Any idea as to why they are getting thinner.
 

Josh Kellogg

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Water slide decals are a pain to use until everything clicks and you get the hang of putting them on correctly. That's not to say that you won't still mess one up from time to time because you will.

I don't know if you've been putting them on for years and know all this already, or are fairly new. So in case you're new to decals I'll say to make sure you use a few drops of soap (to break the surface tension of the water) in the bowl of water before putting in your decals, pull them out after a few seconds and let them sit to soften up. If you leave them in the water too long they'll slide off in the water and are much more difficult to use. Also, wet your fingers in the bowl and pre-wet the rocket where the decal goes before picking up the decal to slide it into place.

They actually work great and look great when done correctly.

And if you've been doing this for years and know all this already, just ignore this post.
I'm new to it. I'll try the soap technique! It makes a lot of sense. And also, is it better to have warm water or does the temp of the water not matter?
 

Mushtang

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I just delicately pull them off the paper backing, then apply.
This is the source of your frustrations. At no point should you ever be pulling a decal from the backing like a sticker.

First, and very importantly, paint your rocket with gloss paint. If you're going to use decals never matte paint or anything other than gloss. If you want a matte finish you can cover the final rocket with a matte clear coat after you put on the decals and it will look the same.

Get a cereal bowl with a couple inches of water (warm may feel better but I don't think it makes a difference to the decal application) in the bottom and add two drops of dish soap. Not enough soap to get it bubbly. 2 drops is plenty.

Cut a decal from your sheet leaving very little, less than 1/8" border, around the printed part. Maybe try a test piece to see the timing every time you get a different kit, not all decals take the same amount of time.

Put the decal into the water and push it under and let it stay submerged for about 15 seconds. Then take it out and set it aside to continue to soak. After a couple of minutes put your fingers back into the water to get them wet (from this point always handle with wet fingers!!) and pick up the decal and see if it EASILY slides around on the backing paper. If it doesn't then let it sit for another minute. It should slide off the backing like a cooked egg off a non-stick pan.

With the decal still ON the backing paper, use your wet fingers to wet the area of your rocket that you're going to apply the decal to.

Hold the decal nearly exactly where it will end up and gently SLIDE the decal to the side. While holding one edge of the decal to the rocket slowly pull the backing paper out sideways in a sliding motion. They're called Water Slide decals for a reason.

You should have the decal on the rocket almost where it goes, but not exactly. With wet fingers slide it into place and then very gently press it into place in the middle and gently roll your finger towards the edge of the decal. This will push water out from under the decal and let it stay in place.

Use a napkin to carefully blot all the water off your rocket and let the decal fully dry for a few hours. After the decals are fully dry you should cover the rocket in a few coats of clear paint to protect the decals from coming off in time.
 
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SecondRow

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Agree 99.99% with Mushtang’s assessment and technique (I don’t put soap in the water, but whatever). Follow it and you shouldn’t have any problems.

You should not be pulling the decals off the backing paper. Slide the backing paper away from decal after you’ve put it on the rocket to avoid the decal from folding onto itself.
 

neil_w

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Excellent description from Mushtang.

Here is a nice short (~4 minute) video that shows a pretty refined waterslide technique:

I can vouch for using a Q-tip to "roll out" the water bubbles underneath, works great.

Here's a longer one, with some details that are more plastic-model-specific, but still great:
 

dr wogz

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You guys beat me to it! :D

+1 to Mushtang's comments. I use only one drop of soap. I also use warm / hot water. a shallow bowl as well. Tweezers to help fish out the decal. You'll notice they quickly curl up when dropped in the water, then slowly uncurl. this is the indication that they are getting "wet" and are ready to apply.. I will then place the wet decal on a piece of paper towel to 'soften up' (Also easier to pick up, and doesn't turn your work area into a swamp!)

I use the Q-tip as well. And have plenty of paper towel hand! I find a corner of paper towel just touched to the edge of the placed decal will suck up all excess water. After some practice, you can 'blot' the decal without it moving.

Micro Set & Micro Sol do help, but aren't absolutely required. and, for the price of the bottles, not a bad investment..
 

Josh Kellogg

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This is the source of your frustrations. At no point should you ever be pulling a decal from the backing like a sticker.

First, and very importantly, paint your rocket with gloss paint. If you're going to use decals never matte paint or anything other than gloss. If you want a matte finish you can cover the final rocket with a matte clear coat after you put on the decals and it will look the same.

Get a cereal bowl with a couple inches of water (warm may feel better but I don't think it makes a difference to the decal application) in the bottom and add two drops of dish soap. Not enough soap to get it bubbly. 2 drops is plenty.

Cut a decal from your sheet leaving very little, less than 1/8" border, around the printed part. Maybe try a test piece to see the timing every time you get a different kit, not all decals take the same amount of time.

Put the decal into the water and push it under and let it stay submerged for about 15 seconds. Then take it out and set it aside to continue to soak. After a couple of minutes put your fingers back into the water to get them wet (from this point always handle with wet fingers!!) and pick up the decal and see if it EASILY slides around on the backing paper. If it doesn't then let it sit for another minute. It should slide off the backing like a cooked egg off a non-stick pan.

With the decal still ON the backing paper, use your wet fingers to wet the area of your rocket that you're going to apply the decal to.

Hold the decal nearly exactly where it will end up and gently SLIDE the decal to the side. While holding one edge of the decal to the rocket slowly pull the backing paper out sideways in a sliding motion. They're called Water Slide decals for a reason.

You should have the decal on the rocket almost where it goes, but not exactly. With wet fingers slide it into place and then very gently press it into place in the middle and gently roll your finger towards the edge of the decal. This will push water out from under the decal and let it stay in place.

Use a napkin to carefully blot all the water off your rocket and let the decal fully dry for a few hours. After the decals are fully dry you should cover the rocket in a few coats of clear paint to protect the decals from coming off in time.

Dude you are a freaking life saver. I did that with a magician rocket I painted, and it worked like a charm, and is perfect! Thank you for the help!
 

Josh Kellogg

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Excellent description from Mushtang.

Here is a nice short (~4 minute) video that shows a pretty refined waterslide technique:

I can vouch for using a Q-tip to "roll out" the water bubbles underneath, works great.

Here's a longer one, with some details that are more plastic-model-specific, but still great:

Thanks for the links! I used q-tips to lightly set the areas i wanted the sticker on and it worked great! I used the tricks you showed along with another guys input and it worked amazing!
 

cbwho

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Lately, the clear coat on some Estes decals have been thin.
Your first decal to soak is one you might not use on the model, like a logo. This gives you a chance to get an idea of the soaking time,
and how easily it slides off the backing.
Decals from different vendors and the age of the decal will effect soak to transfer times.
Cut up very large decals (some body tube roll decals) and piece them together on the model.
Always wet the decal location on the model before transferring the decal. That allows some sliding and re-positioning.

Here's some tips from my blog:
https://modelrocketbuilding.blogspot.com/2013/09/decals-tips.html
https://modelrocketbuilding.blogspot.com/2014/05/decal-soaking-questions.html
https://modelrocketbuilding.blogspot.com/2014/06/even-more-kit-decal-problems.html
Do you seal the rocket first?
For example, can you apply water decals directly to unpainted white body tubes?
 

Sooner Boomer

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Waterslide decals may be a pain, but you can make your own, without a printer, unlike vinyl stickers.
 

hcmbanjo

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Do you seal the rocket first?
For example, can you apply water decals directly to unpainted white body tubes?
I wouldn't apply decals to an unpainted body tube.
Water could soak into the Kraft paper tube.
After painting (which seals the surface) you can apply water slide decals.

Stickers on pre-colored body tubes are fine - no water.
 

nosecone

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I enjoy the challenge but I had a disaster doing my Citation Patriot.
 
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