How to create decals for models

Sometimes you just have to do it yourself

When I built the 2021 Helio Castro-Neves Autonation Indy winning model I chose to use decals for the pink areas. When I wrote that article, I promised to show you how to create decals for models. I’m using that 1/43 scale Autonation car as the example for this article. 

Making templates

While Indycals can supply all of the sponsor decals for this car, you must add the large pink areas. You can mask and paint the areas or create decals. It’s not as hard as it sounds to create decals for models. It does however require a computer, some computer programs, a scanner and masking tape.

create decals for modelsIf you are still with me, let’s create. After cutting thin straight strips of Tamiya masking tape, lay it around the perimeter of the area you are creating. Smooth it down into place and then fill in the rest of the area with more tape. At right you can see what that looks like when done. These three areas are for top and side of sidepods and the side of the nose. Gently lift up each rough template and place on a white card or white plastic. Smooth tape into place.

At this point scan any and all rough templates and create an image at 100% the size you want as the final size. Bring this image into CorelDraw or Adobe Illustrator and trace your images. Put a 1 point outline on these tracings. (See below)

If your model is symmetrical side to side, take the one side you already created, copy, paste and flop it over in your drawing program. Create all of the areas you need this way.

Color it up!
create decals for models

At this point it’s time to add the color you want printed. You need to create in the CMYK space. In this case the color was 100% magenta. Remove the outlines unless you want them printed (I didn’t).

I remarked in the article about building the Autonation model from the Brickyard kit that if I did that model again, I would back up these pink decals with an extra layer of white. This prevents bleed-through from the color underneath the decal. If you are sending your decals to a printer, use your templates to create another set of decals filled only with white. The CMYK fill % for white is 0 for all four of the colors. You can place these white pieces on the same art page the others are, but make sure you tell the printer that there are white decals in your artwork. They will be invisible to the printer otherwise and they might miss this detail.

If you are printing the decals with an inkjet printer or similar, they won’t print white. Normal inkjets do not print white. So create a separate set of the white areas using your outlined images. Print them at 100% to any printer and print onto paper. Lay the paper print on a solid white decal sheet. Tape both down so the decal sheet and/or the printed sheet can’t move. Use the outlines in the art to cut through both the paper and decal sheet to create the white area perfectly. Take your time and this will come out right.

But before going to the printer, proof your decals!

create model decalsProof first, print later

Again using the outlined paper artwork, lay them over a large piece of Tamiya masking tape and cut out carefully and accurately. Lay the tape on the unpainted model where it belongs PRECISELY. Now you’ll know if your decals work the way you want them to. Modify the art if they don’t quite work. Better to find that out now rather than after the decals are printed. The photo shows the proofed tape templates in place on the model.

Check and recheck your decals for size and color before sending out for printing or printing yourself.

Want to do more?

So you say you want to create the whole thing including sponsor decals. Not a problem.

Find images for the decals you want to create and type or trace duplicates as needed. If using type, don’t forget to turn the type into outlines before sending to your printer. Otherwise the type will not print correctly as the printer probably does not have the font you used. Type created as outlines is art and not type anymore. Fill the outlines with the color you need. Don’t forget: use CMYK color!

Eyes glazed over? Here’s the easy out

So you see that it’s not really that hard to create decals for models. But maybe you don’t have the time or tools to create the decals above. If you would like a correctly sized copy of the art for this Autonation model, email me. I’ll whisk off a set of fully colored decal art including the outlined versions for white backing decals. Or the white outlined pieces can be used to make paint masks. The file sent will be an .ai file. Use Indycals sponsor decals to complete the model.

If you don’t have the Brickyard kit, you may be able to adapt the decal art to another kit.

That seems a little easier, doesn’t it?

More Collecting 101 can be found here.

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