How to apply waterslide transfers (decals)

You can use Micro Set and Micro Sol or you can skip them when it comes to applying waterslide transfers (decals). This post will look at both ways. With Games Workshop releasing a handful of new transfers for a couple more chapters, I finally decided to share how I go about adding decals to my models. This post will look at how I apply the standard GW decal to a model without using Micro Set/Sol and then trying to use them for the first time.

Games Workshop gives us their approach and there's nothing wrong with it. In fact, it may be a bit better than what I'm doing here, but I haven't found a need to do it exactly as they suggest. Just like everything else in this hobby, there are a hundred ways to do something.

I use one of two ways
I'm going to look at two methods to get your decals applied in the post. The first one is with water alone and nothing fancy at all. The second method uses Micro Sol and Micro Set to get the decal applied.

As far as tools, you're going to need a few things to get the best results.
Water. You'll need a small, clean cup of water.
I like lukewarm temperature. Some folks say cold, but I use room temperature or ever so slightly warmer.
Tweezers (optional) You can use your X-Acto blade
X-Acto blade (with a brand new blade!)
Decals or transfers
A clean paintbrush
Micro Sol and Micro Set (optional)

Getting started
Obviously your model will need to be painted. I paint up to the point of having all my highlighting and shading done, but no battle damage or anything else (powders) just yet. Once I'm at this stage, I'll add my decals and then add all the damage and weathering on top of it so the decal blends in with the rest of the model.

Cutting out the decal
When it comes to cutting out your decal, cut as close as you can to the outer edge of the image. Follow the outside shape as best as you can. I leave about 1 millimeter around the image myself. It does you no good to do this with anything other than a brand new blade. You want the cleanest, sharpest edge you can get.

Soaking the decal
Once you have it cut out, you can either pick it up carefully by a corner or edge with your tweezers or stick the very tip of your X-Acto blade through a spot along the outside edge where you have a sliver of free space. Sometimes your decal will fall off your blade, but it's not that hard to fish it out of your water if it does.
I let my decal soak for about 30 seconds.

Applying it to the model
Once my decal has soaked long enough, I take my paintbrush and apply a bit of water to the surface of my model where I'm going to set my decal. I don't want a huge puddle on there, but enough that I can move my decal around with relative ease. Since I'm holding the decal with one hand, I take my paintbrush in my other and gently push (slide) the decal off the paper and onto the model.

If you get a fold or even a small tear, don't worry, you have a few minutes to get the decal sorted. Worse case scenario, you can always start over with a new decal. If your water starts to dry up or it's hard to move the decal around, adding a tiny bit of water will help the decal float on the surface until you get it positioned correctly.

What happens when you have wrinkles
Wrinkles come from trying to apply a flat decal to a curved surface (like a shoulderpad) and since the decal only has so much give and take, you end up with small wrinkles as the decal attempts to conform to the surface underneath.

The way to get rid of them is to make very tiny relief cuts. You don't need to press very hard at all, all you're trying to do it cut the decal and let it fall in place over the curved surface.

Once you have it where you want it, a small piece of tissue paper or even a dry paintbrush can be used to wick up any remaining water from the surface. Be careful though, you don't want to move or damage the decal during this part, you just want to remove the excess water.

NOTE: Some folks prep the surface they will be applying their decal to by giving it a quick coat of gloss varnish or 'Ard Coat. I don't usually do that and I've never had any issues yet. It can't hurt though I suppose.

Sealing the decal in place
You may want to seal the decal in place at this point to prevent it from getting damaged once you start adding battle damage and such. A quick coat of varnish over the decal and you should be all set. Again, I don't always do this and as long as your careful working on and around the decal, you should be fine. I haven't had any issues yet.

Adding battle damage and weathering
Now you can add all of the environmental effects you want over your decal. Just remember to be careful when working around it so you don't destroy it. Especially if you haven't sealed it in place yet.

But what about using Micro Sol and Micro Set?
Yes, the second part of this tutorial and how to avoid having to cut relief cuts into your decals. In theory that is.
You'll need both the Micro Set and Micro Sol. I picked mine up from my FLGS (Game Vault) for just under $6. Supposedly a single bottle lasts you forever too.
I gave this guy the benefit of the doubt and gave his shoulderpad a quick pass with gloss varnish in order to make the surface as smooth as possible. Probably not necessary, but I wanted to see this stuff really work.

The process is the same as before. Cut your decal out and soak it in water.
The first difference is you apply Micro Set to the surface of your model instead of water to help position it. Add more as needed to get the decal where you want it. Once you have your decal in place, wait a few minutes for the decal to soften and then wick away the excess Micro Set.

NOTE: I did not wait as long as I should have during the MicroSet stage. I went right from MicroSet to MicroSol and didn't give the MicroSet time to soften the decal as much as it could have. I learned this when I did the process a second time after making my own decals and gave the MicroSet about three minutes to do its job (this will be a future post!).

Then it's Micro Sol time. Apply this stuff to your decal while being careful not to move it around. At first it won't appear to do anything, then your decal will get super wrinkly and then slowly the wrinkles will disappear at the Micro Sol dries.

One application of Micro Sol should do the trick and get your decal to conform. You may need to repeat the Micro Sol step if all the wrinkles don't come out the first time. I ended up making three passes with the Micro Sol letting each one dry first. I also cut some tiny relief cuts and ended up using my fingertip to press the decal down into place.

The end result is that I slightly damaged the decal, but you can tell the Micro Set/Sol process gets a much more conforming look in the end compared to water alone. I think with some fine tuning on my part, I should be able to get spot on results.

And that's what I need because the next step is making my own decals to add to my Novamarines. It's easier than you think and knowing how to apply them to get the best results should really up my game.

Make sure to check out these posts as they might help:
How to make your own custom decals
7 things to remember when using decals
Don't do decals, try freehand

Ron, From the WarpIf you've got any questions about something in this post, shoot me a comment and I'll be glad to answer. Make sure to share your hobby tips and thoughts in the comments below!