Thursday, January 1, 2015

Micro-tutorial: Custom Decal schemes


One of the top comments in a survey thread I made a month ago was to create small 'bite sized' tutorials. This is the second I that series of tutorials; you can see the first tutorial on custom color schemes here.

With the recent success of Gundam Build Fighters more and more people have become interested in custom mobile suits, paint jobs and kit bashing. In this micro tutorial I am going to offer some basic tips and tricks for newcomers that are interested in creating their own custom decal schemes. 


I classify decals into two major groups: primary and secondary. 


Primary decals tend to be larger, more complex or colorful than secondary decals. Primary decals are typically ace pilot or unit insignia, unit or ms numbers, force designations, rank, manufactures or ship assignments. Primary decals are typically prominently placed on large flat surfaces such as shoulders, shields, skirts or other flat areas. Primary decals tend to be detailed and interesting enough to stand on their own, and typically have a canonical meaning to them within the Gundam multiverse.


Secondary decals is the term I use to describe the numerous small warning markings found on many kits. Secondary decals are typically placed around verniers, details and edges. They typically can't stand on their own, and are instead used together to enhance the underlying kit. Katoki decal schemes typically incorporate many secondary decals into their designs.

Acquiring decals

If you don't have a big pile of decal sheets don't worry. As you build and acquire decals sheets that are either bundled with kits like the new Katoki models or p-Bandai kits or on their own you will find that you have plenty of extra decals left over. Almost every sheet of water slides is going to have a few duplicate or spare decals. I strongly recommend storing any leftover decals in a cool dry place for use on other kits.

Bandai doesn't tend to reprint decals as frequently as many of their kits. I highly recommend picking up decal sets for kits you know you want to build, even if you don't plan on building them right away. Because chances are, you will always be able to buy the kit, but you might not be able to buy the decals anymore!

3rd party decals are another avenue that many builders explore either due to the rarity of certain decal sets or due to Bandai never releasing decal sets. I am personally not a fan of 3rd party decals because of their lack of quality control and detail. Compare these two Celestial Being decals; both are the same size but the 3rd party decal (left) looks sloppy compared to the very neat printing on the Bandai design (right).

Applying Decals

I've covered applying decals in a few different tutorials. You can find them here:

Decal Tutorial

Quick tips video

Design tips:

Here are a few general tips for creating a good decal design. 

Leave space between decals:

Even on a decal heavy kit like the Sinanju or Unicorn Ver Ka. the decals have space to breath.

Don't hide prominent decals:

Use the high visible spaces on your kit to show off your primary decals.

Use examples:

If you're not confident in your ability to create your own designs from scratch refer to decal layouts from other kits. Check scanned manuals on

Utilize kit details:

Does your kit feature verniers, ammo containers, antennas, hatches, power pipes, maneuvering flaps or moving frame components? Use these details to reinforce the placement of decals or to highlight the detail itself.

Tell a story:

Many decal designs have a significance within Gundam Lore, use it to your advantage and craft a story about your kit or pilot. 

Here's an example from the Zogok:

The pilot is a Sargent, the suit was manufactured by MIP and attached to the Green Siren unit.

Make it personal:

Many gunpla builders do small things with certain custom decals, unit numbers or other markings for personal reasons; I do it, and I'm sure many others do too. 

Know when to stop:

Ever hear the adage "too much of a good thing"? That applies to decals too. Your goal in creating a decal scheme should be to use the decals to enhance the look of a kit; not to overwhelm it. 

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