Final Planes Post: The Decal Monster

I’ve been painting planes a long time.  Lots of planes-well, I guess it’s all relative, but probably 150 or so. Painting is painting.  You do some research on paint schemes or camouflage and you paint yet.  Yes the planes are small, so you include as much detail as you want to add.

And then you add the markings. There is no easy way to say this, so I’ll just be honest: Marking 1/300 planes with tiny decals is a time consuming pain in the ass. But if you want to finish off your miniatures you have to do it.

I understand there are other types of markings out there, but I use the traditional waterslide decals we all used when we were building our model airplanes back in the day.  Those are the kind you cut off a sheet of markings, put in water and hopefully slid them off on to the model where you wanted them.  Same general idea with 1/300 planes, they’re just much smaller.

There are a couple of different suppliers of markings for your teeny-tiny planes.  Dom’s Decals is located in Britain, and he seems to have lots of different nationalities covered.  1/600 too if you’re looking for those. I haven’t ordered from him, but I hear they are good.  I’ve used the markings from I-94 for years, and I am generally quite pleased with the quality and range of decals and the service is very good. .

A couple of quick things about decals.  They are generally cheap. $3.00 can put decals on about six planes, maybe more. The newer they are, the easier they are to work with.  I’m not a pack rat, so generally I don’t keep paint or other such ephemera around forever. But for whatever reason, probably because they don’t take up much space, I keep decals forever.  Older decals take longer to “soak ‘n slide,” and they are also more brittle, meaning they tear more easily.

I recommend a few different items to have to help you with your decals

  • embroidery or floss scissors OR a super sharp #1 Exacto knife, preferably with a new blade
  • a small bowl of clean water
  • pair of tweezers with bent nose if possible
  • decal setting solution
  • paper towel or something to blot with
  • size 1 paint brush handle OR fairly small fingers.

I am going to relate a story in which everything is a bit of a struggle, and ends with fairly mixed results, and another in which everything goes fairly according to plan.

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Glimpse of the Betty with the large fuselage Hinomaru marking. These were older, but went on fairly easy and in one piece.

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Same plane with smaller Hinomaru for the wing.  Again, aging decal came a bit to pieces as I was putting them on the miniature.

To be clear, I have had twenty planes to paint and apply markings to.  I’m going to focus on the Scotia Bettys, a medium bomber of good size in this scale.  I have some aged markings.  I wanted to use the hinomaru with border because it shows up well against the dark green color. I have no idea where the decals came from or who made them, but I’ve used them before.  Let me take you through my steps:

  1. I use floss scissors to cut out the decal.  You can use an Exacto knife.  The key is to get as close to the decal as possible without actually damaging the transfer.
  2. Drop the decal in the water.  You can hold it with tweezers, but that seems like a poor use of time.
  3. After about ten seconds, your decal should be ready to slide off on to your surface.  UNLESS your decal is really old like my old hinomarus and then it will take MUCH longer.
  4. Prepare your surface by putting some setting solution.  This is a mild adhesive that also softens the decal.
  5. Slide the decal where you want it, which is almost a sloppy version of herding cats.  Use your brush handle or small fingers (like mine) to make it go where you want.  If it sticks where you don’t want it, wet it again, push it with the handle or finger while using extremely gentle, pleading language.  That always works for me. Profanity always results in a torn decal.
  6. Blot with paper towel, tissue, t-shirt or other absorbent material
  7. Paint on another helping of setting solution.
  8. When all markings are applied, spray with a thin coat of Dullcoat. This is a solvent and will dissolve your decals if you are not judicious.  DO NOT hand paint decals with Dullcoat. Trust me: It would be bad.

I had to put marking on my Betty bombers.  While the planes were pretty easy to paint, the markings were pretty difficult. The problem I ran into was the age and quality of the Japanese markings I’d been hanging on to. It took a long time to pry the transfers loose from their backing paper. And some of the decals just came to pieces.   The white border of the red meatball, in some cases, kind of dissolved and so did at least one of the smaller wing markings.  If I was to do this again I would order some different markings. The larger fuselage markings seemed to work just fine.

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Lots more to do with the Spitfires.  But with fresher decals the entire job was much easier.  The fuselage roundels were two parters with the yellow surrounds going on first followed by the tri-color markings.  Be sure to set the yellow down first, add setting, spray with Dullcoat, let dry thoroughly before attempting the tri-color. As you can see they aren’t perfect, but this picture is much larger than the actual plane.

I had more success with the British markings for my Spitfire Mk. V’s.  The decals were hot off the press and that is good for a couple of reasons. First, I-94 has re-done the WWII British markings. The colors are more easily seen against a dark background.  There is a great variety of sizes for roundels, and many more choices of tail flashes. But the chief advantage is the speed the transfers are ready to “soak ‘n slide.” Ten seconds tops. They were very easy to work with.

Some I-94 marking some in two pieces.  The two British packs each contain separate decals for the red, white and blue roundel with the encircling yellow stripe. The same is true of early American marking with the red dot.  There is a bit of a trick to doing these.  In the case of the Brits, do all your other marking-wing roundels, tail flashes, and the yellow background circle.  Use your decal setter and then spray with Dullcoat.  Don’t try to layer the second decal on top of the first roundel without spraying and allowing to dry. You run the risk of dislodging the first decal and having to start over again.

I’ll do one more look at my planes when they are all completed.

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It may not be Boeing . . .

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Bettys and Spitfires waiting for their markings.

One more look at the planes under construction in the Smyth production line. In the back are the Spitfires and Bettys.  They are finished now except for decals. More about this later.

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The Smyth production line with Whirlwinds in front and Beauforts in the second row.  Still a bit to go on those ten planes.

Those in front are the Beauforts and Whirlwinds. The Bristol Beaufort was designed with a view of becoming the standard torpedo bomber for RAF Coastal Command. Unfortunately, it’s performance wasn’t quite up to snuff, and it was replaced by the more robust and pugnacious Beaufighter. However, the Aussies really did like the Beaufort, and it was produced under license to become the standard torpedo bomber for the RNAF.

The Whirlwind just looks so cool.  A bit like an under-nourished Mosquito, but not as successful.  Only a handful of these were produced, but were on hand for the Channel Dash.

All the British planes are dressed in the late 1941 gray and green camo.  The Beauforts and Whirlwinds are beginning to get their black-lined detailing. A bit more left to do.

I order my water-slide decals from I-94 Enterprises, Dave Winfree’s fine company out of Illinois.  Unfortunately I had a pile of RAF decals, but I was wrong, so I had to hurry off an order today. I might be stuck for a few days while I wait.

I’ve had a ton of success ordering from I-94.  Dave also includes some nice directions on his site for applying decals. This time I’m going to follow them closely.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

The paper is on deadline the rest of the week so I’ll be busy at least until the weekend–no work or posts likely until then.

Music to paint by

The first time I ever heard of the Small Faces was in a teen magazine when I was a kid.  I don’t think they made a great translation to the United States from the U.K.  The song you’re most likely to be familiar with is “Itchycoo Park” which was just a little controversial with its references to drug use. Such was the world of 1967.

Ogden's Nut Gone Flake

But in 1968, the Small Faces released Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake. It’s great record.  A combination of hard rock and psychedelia that goes well with the music coming out of Britain in 1968.  Side A is pretty standard rock fare, but Side B is the interesting story of “Happiness Stan,” a tale told in the third person by guest narrator Stanley Unwin.  The second side also has “Rollin’ Thunder” a great rock and roll song.

Ogden’s is not an easy get.  A first pressing in its unique round cover is worth some serious cash.  Mine is a 1973 repressing, and not in perfect condition.  I consider myself fortunate to find it for twenty ish bucks. But if you’re serious about “getting” the music coming out of England with Wheels of Fire by Cream, Beggars Banquet by the Stones or Then Play On by Fleetwood Mac, you shouldn’t overlook this one.