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How to make custom waterslide decals


Most painters have a love/hate relationship with waterslide transfers. They certainly save the time and hassle of painting freehand, but the range that is available is always extremely limited and if you do any custom colour schemes then you are out of luck most of the time. If you need to paint a lot of units quickly but dont want to freehand all the symbols (which are identical on every model anyway!) then there is another option...

Print Your Own

Many people are unaware that there are a lot of products out there which will allow you to print your own transfers. The paper is fairly cheap and can be used in any inkjet printer - if your printer takes ink cartridges it will work. Most papers require you to print out your designs onto the special paper, then seal the designs in with a special varnish or fixer. There is one brand which does not require this and that is the one used in this example - Lazertran. This type of paper allows you to just print your design onto the paper and then it will set without any extra chemicals.

Designing and Printing

some printed custom transfers
some printed custom transfers

Designing your transfers is the hard part. You should use a vector image program to design your transfers such as Inkscape (available free from the downloads section of dakka) as your design will then easily scale to any size, allowing you to start large and detailed and then shrink down the same image to different sizes for tanks, banners and troops yet keeping the sharp, crisp edges that are required. You can use the rulers in most image editing programs to get the size right before you print. If you want some ideas for designs then how about:

  • Full artwork shrunk down to banner size then printed onto a transfer before being put onto one of your troops banners
  • Custom, consistent, complex logos for your army
  • Alternate colour versions of existing transfers
  • Heavily stylized fonts and numbers for banners and identification markings
  • Full, detailed artwork scaled to be used on the flat panels of tanks

There are a few considerations you need to bare in mind whilst printing.

  • First of all, dont use them on your skin! Inkjet printers use a lot of nasty chemicals including cyanide. Do not print any with the intention of making temporary tattoos using standard waterslide decal paper!
  • Always print a test sheet first. Some printers and programs do not use the same size settings and might print slightly too large or slightly too small. Print on regular paper a few times until you get the scale perfect!
  • Leave much more time than recommended for it to set! Lazertran recommend a couple of hours wait before it sets, but I found that some varnishes will smear the printer ink if it is used in any time less than 48 hours. Print then leave it for 2 days.

Application of Custom Transfers

Application of custom transfers is fairly simple. The lazertran paper is white and if applied with a water-based varnish then it will stay white. This might sound like a good thing, but it looks awful on miniatures and looks just like printer paper glued on to your models. You can however make the paper fully transparent by using an oil based varnish. This allows the colour of the model to show through any thin parts of the paper and makes it look a lot better. Cut the transfer paper as close to your design as possible so that you save yourself the trouble of dealing with the edges of the paper too. Here is an example of a transfer that has been applied using oil based varnish but has not had the paper cut close:

You can see along the edges of the transfer where it has not quite blended in to the model as the paper has not achieved 100% transparency. Note that the model is quite dusty as well, and light is hitting it at the worst possible angle to show the quality of the transfer. This can be fixed in two ways. Firstly, when applying the transfer, do it slower and use more oil based varnish, and take great care to avoid air bubbles of any size. Second, use paint to blend the edges together (blood red in this case). If you follow these examples you can end up with a much cleaner transfer like the following:

Please note that the two images above are from a tabletop quality miniature so please excuse the messy paintjob surrounding it. The above photo deliberately shows light hitting the edge of the transfer so that you can see how smoothly a transfer can be applied with a coat of oil-based varnish underneath it and then a coat of varnish on top. The varnish used is:

The "Winsor and Newton Artist's Matt Varnish for Oil Colour" is oil based and makes the paper go transparent. This is applied first, then the transfer is set down. Another coat of this varnish is then put on top to make the top of the paper transparent and catch any areas missed out by the first layer. Once this is completely dry a 50/50 mix of that varnish and the "Winsor and Newton Galeria Acrylic Matt Varnish" is applied. This mix gives an almost identical finish to the standard citadel paint finish and the only way you can tell that varnish has been applied is that it has a much smoother surface than unvarnished parts of the model. In the 'cleaner' transfer picture above, only the immediate area around the transfer has had varnish applied, there are still major parts of the red area that have had no varnish.

These are not the most exciting examples of what is possible so if anybody wants to add their own examples of custom transfers then please feel free! The offical site for lazertran has a few general examples too.

Another opinion

I had issues with lazertran. I found a new transfer paper provider. The good thing about Lazertran for British buyers is that it is from the U.K. Well, another website which sold transfer paper was CraftyComputerPaper (search on google) - Also from the U.K . For you guys in the U.S.A., I'd use Papilio transfer paper. -It sais above that: "Most papers require you to print out your designs onto the special paper, then seal the designs in with a special varnish or fixer.". Seriously - Just go the whole hog! It's worth it, and hardly takes much time. -For you lot who consider yourself Über hard-core, then I'd strongly suggest that you look into MicroSet and MicroSol, both form MicroScaleIndustries.Inc. MicroSet softens the decal and strengthens the bond on the surface. MicroSol is just pure magic, as it is a solvent and literally melts the decal onto the surface for a "painted on look". It also means that you can apply transfers to insanely complicated and irregular surfaces perfectly. -Both of the items mentioned above are easily available to buyers in the U.S.A., however, I've found many sellers in the U.K.

I do apolagise if what I've managed to ramble on about was a bit too brief. But hey, the internet's a big place and there's loads of sites relating to this subject. (For example on belloflostsouls.net)


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