Beginner’s Guide to Water Slip Decals

White vs. Clear Background

Being involved in several diecast message boards on the web has me clarifying the same issue over and over regarding decals.

There are a number of people that sell their custom decal service which I applaud. However, with only a limited number printers that can produce a good spot color, I am curious just how well their decals turn out.

Going back to basics. First, anyone can produce their own decals. This is not an issue. The problem occurs when we use our ink jet or laser jet printer and use clear decal paper. Our consumer and even commercial grade printers do allow us to use a spot color. When this happens, our decals will wash out all color against a dark colored model. The only way around this is to print our decals on white vinyl or even a white mailing label, cut out the decal and apply it to the model  of choice. The trouble with these decals is the paper is think. Plus the biggest draw back, you can see white between letters and details in artwork where we really want to see the color of the vehicle.

The ALPS printer on the other hand is a consumer grade printer that was popular in the model world for a number years. The company that produced these printers quit manufacturing them about 15 years ago. Only remanufactured and used machines exist today. To add salt to the wound of the decal market, the ink is supposedly not going to be produced after 2015. It is still available overseas until it runs out.

There are other methods to print a spot color, then color like the ALPS. One is screen printing. Ideal but screen printers I have visited with want to run 50-100 sheets of the same thing, not a 4″x6″ sheet of decals for one or two models.

A commercial grade printer called a Roland has the ability to produce a spot color on clear paper. As of this writing, clear water slip paper has just become available. I am unaware of any results with these printers. That being said, I have seen the Roland first hand print absolutely phenomenal decals on white paper that is equivalent to the thickness of a bumper sticker. A detailed piece of art the size of pencil eraser (on the end of a #2 pencil) prints with amazing clarity. At an entry level price of $5,000 I expect good printing.

I have mentioned spot color several times in this post and not clarified it. While applying a peal and stick decal to a John Deere combine to make it an S670 I found the perfect way to illustrate what a spot color is.

Photo 1 – Peal and stick S670 decal on clear paper Photo 2 – Back side of the decal showing the spot color Photo 3 – On the combine
2015-12-05 16.35.49 2015-12-05 16.36.02 2015-12-05 16.36.51

Photo 1 shows the top color of an S670 peal and stick decal on clear paper. It looks normal like something we could print at home with our ink jet printer. The secret sauce is revealed in photo 2. See the layer of white? This is the white spot color underneath the yellow and black. This is what our desk top printers cannot create. What happens is the printer lays down the spot color first without ejecting the paper. The paper is fed back through the machine placing the yellow and black, in this case, over the white so the white cannot be seen. The spot color is what allows the yellow and black to be seen on the John Deere green combine. 

Without that magic spot color, the yellow would be translucent on the green. I cannot iterate enough that all this trouble with the correct printers and the hassle can be avoided by using one of the work around I mentioned above. For DIY decal videos go to check out the Diecast Lab to learn how you can do some of the decals yourself. Also, Go to the Rockin H Resources Page to see a list of vendors that will use the correct printers to create great decals with almost invisible lines.

I hope this clears up the decal debate and arms you with the knowledge to get exactly what you are looking for in the way decals. Tell me what your biggest challenge is with decals. We can help each other solve our troubles together.