Making plastic model kits, like many other hobbies, have recently evolved quite a bit. The same kit finished years ago and a model that was only recently completed, when compared side by side, are looking - to put it mildly - quite different.
Of course that's mainly due to the accumulated experience in the hobby that translates to the final effect of the miniature but there are other factors in play coming from the evolution of the hobby - namely progress in all kinds of modelling consumables.
A line of products that were made out of the need to vastly improve the look of a model kit surely are DECAL SOLUTIONS.
Proper application of waterslide decals is often that finishing touch which will define the look of our model kit. This alone makes it a very important step in our build. Surely aviation modellers know about the model kits being adorned not only with national roundels but often with fantastically painted noses, scantily clad ladies on the fuselage or shark mouths which have to be applied correctly to make those miniatures stand out from the crowd.
Applying decals can be an obstacle course - no matter how long you have been a modeller you can't help some things: poor quality of the decals, mishaps in preparing the surface, decal thickness or stiffness or contrary - very fragile film. Decals can tear, don't stick to the model or create a visible step between the model and the film's edge. Without proper softening solutions a big problem is the tendency of the decals to not conform to the natural shapes and contours of the surface we apply them on.
To make life easier decal softening solutions were made and their task is to soften the decals, improve their adherence to the model's surface and integrate them as much as possible with the kit. All those things should translate into a realistic effect similar to painting the markings and graphics on the miniature.
You often ask us: „which decal solution would you recommend?”
And here - before we get to our overview - we can form a conclusion: there is no universal one, perfect for every decal. Sheer amount of model kit manufacturers, let alone aftermarket sets, results in a vastness of decals which have their own properties depending on the print, technology, quality etc. That's why it's best to have more than one brand of decal solutions at hand. Then if we'll have a very stubborn sheet, resistant to our main solution - there is a chance that our backup one less/more aggressive will react with it and do the job. But let's get to the point...
Offer of decal solutions expanded in recent years and even though their task is similar, we can divide them into several types. As I always choose quality in both tools and consumables that I use in my workshop, I will start with the products that both in my and our customer's opinion are worth having and are proven in most cases.
Microscale and Mr Hobby solutions are two step systems - designed to be used in pairs. Initially we have to pay more, but we get more in return. Either of those systems used on quality decals guarantees a successful decal application. Using them evens the decals, makes them fill the recessed panel lines and nicely wrap around the raised details. Don't be terrified by the wrinkled look of a marking after application of those solutions! After the time needed for them to dry completely it will return to its normal look!
Before applying the marking, we have to use the "setting solution" on the model kit's surface that enhances the decal's adherence, eliminates the silvering effect and softens them a bit. After placing the decal we apply the "softening solution" on top of the marking that will make the final softening and conform the decal to the model's surface.
TAMIYA Mark Fit offers us a single step solution to use both as a decal softer and setter. Depending on what type of decal we're dealing with, its stiffness and thickness we can choose one of the three available variants: basic, Strong and Super Strong – for the most stubborn and resistant decals. Worth noting is that the TAMIYA solutions are cheaper than their competitors and that's one more reason to stock up on it, even as an auxiliary product.
Similar solution with this price tag is well known and having its fans HUMBROL Decalfix.
AMMO MIG also have such products in their range and although they are available for relatively short time, in the category of two stepsoftening and setting solutions fare reasonably well. I haven't had the chance to test them yet so I'm relying on the opinions of customers who put their trust in the brand of Mig Jimenez. So far there were no complaints.
We should mention AK Interactive's Decal Adapter Solution, which despite higher price offers a 100ml of fluid (compared to the usual 30-40ml of other such products) giving a supply for many, many model and a Vallejo Decal Fix in their flagship 17ml bottle.
They are said to be gentle for decals and at the same time - might not give the desired effect on thicker markings like those printed by Tamiya or Hasegawa.
Our overview is closed by the cheapest (but by no means the worst!) available products, which are solutions made by Polish WAMOD and Chematic companies. Wamod has a two step solution: softener and setting one. I myself have used the latter when Microscale didn't manage to soft and set a Techmod decal. And it did well. PLEASE NOTE! I would recommend WAMOD solutions for the thicker and more resistant decals. They tend to be quite aggressive and might damage other decals whether due to their "power" or a misapplication.
About the Chematic solution we can say that it exists and has a brush in the cap. Its purchase might be a good idea for younger modellers and those fresh in the hobby.
Wrapping our overview, the highest price tags command products from Microscale, Mr. Hobby, AK Interactive, Humbrol. Middle price tag belongs to Tamiya, Ammo Mig i Vallejo, and our price comparison is closed by WAMOD and Chematic.
We can group the decal solutions by those to be used in two steps e.g.:
Microscale, Mr. Hobby, Ammo Mig, WAMOD, Vallejo, Chematic
or in a one step: TAMIYA, AK Interactive, Humbrol,
If a solution has a brush in the cap - it makes application easier, right after opening it. You will find this feature in TAMIYA, Mr. Hobby, Ammo Mig, Humbrol and Chematic products. In other cases we have to prepare a brush for their application.
As you can see - there is plenty to choose from and every modeller will find a product suitable for their needs - be it a tight budget or constant strive for perfection. Of course you can have your own, even quite different experience with aforementioned solutions - then share your thoughts under the article! After all, exchanging our experience is a vital part of this hobby!
To sum up this entry I will repeat the phrase I wrote earlier - there is no single, universal, perfect decal solution product for each and every available decal sheet, but I hope this overview wil make selecting the one best suited for your purposes much easier!
Remember that buying a decal solution is only half the battle! You also need to use it properly and how to do it - in a second part of our decal guide!