Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tutorial: How to apply water slide decals


Water slide decals are my favorite type of decals to work with. So much so that I base some of my kit purchasing decisions on the availability of the kit's water slide decals! 

In my mind there are really two types of water slide decals available for Gundam kits; Bandai decals, and everything else. I'm not suggesting that Bandai water slides are better than every other decal available, but in general I have found that I have an easier time using Bandai's decals than say Samuel decals or other third party manufacturers.

Can you name all of the kits represented in these decal sets? (hint: most of them are in my backlog)

These are third party decals. Depending on the manufacturer some of the decals are precut, and some are not. Typically what I have noticed is that third party decals tend to be thinner and rip easier, but they also tend to have less noticeable borders once applied.

Where to buy:

I have typically had very good luck purchasing the decals I want decals through Tatsu Hobby and Gentei Kits.

Some decal sets are more difficult to find than others, so it might take some digging to find older or more popular decal sets. Version Katoki decal sets can be difficult to track down between runs, and many ebay sellers are guilty of charge exorbitant prices during print runs.


Water slide decals are activated by (you guessed it) water. So it's important to store them away from liquid. I keep my decals in a little tackle box on a shelf away from liquids. You'll often have extra decals leftover on your sheets when you're done with a kit. Make sure you keep those, it never hurts to have a few spares to detail up another kit!



Mr. Mark Setter (optional)
Mr. Mark Softer (optional)
Cotton buds
Paper towel
X-acto Knife
Spudger or something to push the decals around with (I used a beam saber)


I tape my decal sheets to by cutting mat. It's not a necessary step, but I find that it's easier to cut them out this way.

Mr. Mark Setter and Softer are optional tools for this tutorial, but they make life a hell of a lot easier. The last thing you want is your decals sliding off of your kit when you handle it before topcoating!

I lost track of my spudger. As a stand in I'm using the fat end of the beam saber from the MG Exia. It works well enough! Water ever you decide to use; make sure that it won't scratch the underlying paint/plastic.

Okay enough prep; here's the process I use.

Cut out the decal you need.

Grab the decal with your tweezers. Pro tip when you grab the decal, make sure you're only getting the backing paper. Decals typically have a thin clear border surrounding the printed 'picture'; If you catch the border you won't be able to slide the decal onto the plastic.

Now dunk your decal, and try not to let go of it. It's not fun trying to fish them out, especially when the decal slides off the backing! Typically i'll let it activate for 10-15 seconds, but I'm sure this will vary with the hardness or temperature of the water or even the age or type of the decal.

While I'm letting the decal soak with one hand I use the other to apply Mr. Mark Setter to the part. I don't use Mr. Mark setter for every decal, but I've found it can really help when a decal has a small surface area.

You'll only need a little bit on the plastic part.

Now it's time to apply the decal to the kit. You'll do this by sliding the decal off of the backing.

If it's on the part you'll need to reposition it with your spudger. Once you're happy with the location you'll use a Q-tip to roll over the newly applied decal to squeeze the water out from under it.

Once you're done apply the Mr. Mark Softer.

I'm not really sure what Mr. Mark Softer is, but it's smell reminds me of the stuff I had to put on a planters wart when I was a kid.So I'm guessing it's a really weak type of acid. Mark Softer 'melts' the decal to the part and helps to hide the borders. The overall effect is that the decal looks 'painted' onto the kit. 

Word of warning, if you leave the Mark Softer on too long it will effect the underlying paint. If you decal moves while applying the Mark Softer, you have about 5 seconds to readjust it before the decal will start to fall apart while moving it.

To apply the mark softer just lightly brush the solution over the decal. After a few seconds remove any excess that pools up on the paint. After this step don't touch the part for a while; I typically let them sit over night to cure 100% before I touch anything!

After the decals have had a chance to cure, you can topcoat your model like normal!

Decaling can be an EXTREMELY tedious effort, so its best done either in short sprints, or while watching TV or listening to music. I will typically turn Pandora radio on and decal for about an hour or two before I wear out. I find decals to be one of the key elements that separate good models from awesome models.

If you haven't had the chance to use water slides yet I hope this tutorial will encourage you to give it a try. And if you've already had some experience I hope this tutorial may have provided you with some additional tips!

As always leave a comment below; I love hearing for you guys!

And a big thanks to reader TimmyJ2814 for suggesting the tutorial!