How to Make Decals for Model Trains

As you slowly get towards the end of modeling, you will have to come to a decision about some finishing touches. Do you keep the model train clean, paint your own designs, or use decals to decorate. Which begs the question of how to make decals for model trains.

If you want to have a more authentic and realistic feel to your model train then decals are an optimum choice.

In this article, we’ll be teaching you how to make decals for model trains. You will learn about the best type of paper for model decals, how to apply the decals to your trains and layout, and much more!

So let’s dive right in!

What are decals for Model Trains?

Before we start with how to make decals for model trains, you need to know what exactly model decals are. They are essentially stickers used to decorate your model trains and layouts.

They help to add colour, realism, and intricate details to the models.

Once you are done with your paint job, apply one or two thin layers of varnish, to help seal the paint in place before you add decals. You can either choose a matt or gloss finish depending on your preference. 

There are two types of self-adhesive decals, wet and sticker.

Wet self-adhesive decals are not to be confused with water-slide or vinyl decals.

This more uncommon type of decal when wet with water will allow the decal to be placed on your models. The decal adhesive is strong enough that it will bond permanently with the model!

Sticker self-adhesive decals are more commonly found and are typically printed on a vinyl sheet.

All you need to do is cut around the outline if not pre-cut already and peel the back off before placing it onto the model like any old sticker! 

What kind of paper is best for decals? 

Sticker papers are needed to make decals for models.

Once you have decided on a matte or glossy finish, you can move onto the best kind of paper.

While matte sticker papers will allow you to write on the stickers without smudging the ink, they will not be as shiny as glossy stickers. So realistically for just about everything but shiny metallics or advertisements, a matte look is going to blend into the environment better.

The best kind of paper for decals is vinyl paper. We recommended using something like the Inkjet printable Vinyl from Expressions Vinyl.

Despite being one of the most expensive options out there, this matte sheet is waterproof and will hold up nicely against wear and tear.

Another great matte finish vinyl paper is the Koala Printable Vinyl Sticker Paper. These sheets are much cheaper than the Inkjet vinyl papers and will give bright stickers with great color.

On top of being waterproof, they come in a 20 sheet packet so you can easily make multiple stickers in one go.

How do you make your own decals? 

Making your own custom decals for models is a relatively easy task. All you need are the right supplies and you can easily make them at home!

Supplies Needed To Make Model Train Decals: 

  • Design software – if you’re not using pre-made designs
  • Inkjet printer 
  • Printable vinyl sheet – like the printable vinyl sheets above
  • Clear vinyl laminate 
  • Cutting machine – or just a good pair of scissors and patience
  • Cutting mat 
  • Application mat 

You will need to start off by loading up a design software of your choice and setting the page layout according to the dimensions of your page size.

Import pictures, designs, logos, or any image of your choice and arrange them onto the page. Something like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop is a great choice, but you could even get away with Microsoft Word if you dont mind a little more work.

Make sure to add cut lines so that you can easily cut the stickers once you are ready. After you are satisfied with the results, load the printable vinyl sheet into your printer and just hit print. 

This is an optional step, but you can laminate the front of the vinyl sheet to protect them. A clear vinyl laminate will make your decals last longer and even withstand water!

Once you have printed your design, you can peel the backing off of the vinyl laminate and line up the edges with the printed sheet. It is recommended to start from the edge and move inch by inch to avoid any creases or trapping air bubbles.

You can use a scraper or ruler for better results. The laminate can be burnished as well so that it stays in place. 

As for the last few steps, you will need to cut the vinyl. This can be done with the help of a cutting machine or just some scissors and some patience! Place your vinyl sheet on the cutting mat and feed it to the machine to cut. You can tweak the cut settings according to your preference. All you have to do is make sure that the machine is able to properly cut around the edges.

Once the cutting is done, your stickers are ready to be placed on your model. Simply peel the stickers off of the vinyl sheet and stick them wherever you please.

Best way to apply your decals to your model trains and layouts 

As model trains and layouts are smaller in size there are a few things you need to ensure that the model decals stick properly.

You will defnitely require a pair of tweezers for better grips and alignment, paint brushes with soft ends, Q-tips as well as softener liquids to soften and apply the decals, warm water, and some Decal Set to finish.

Prepare the decal by placing the decal into a bowl of warm water using the tweezers. Meanwhile, take a fine paintbrush and apply the decal softener liquid to your model.

When the backing comes off the decal it is ready to be used. Take the decal out of the bowl and tap off any excess water.

With the help of a q-tip and the tweezers carefully place the decal on your model. Don’t be afraid to use your fingers if it’s not in a super tight spot!

Once you are satisfied with the position, apply the decal set over the decal. And that’s it!

You can wait for the decal to dry and pop any bubbles using an Exacto knife, or using the back of the knife, try pushing the bubbles out while its still wet.. 

Learning how to make decals for model trains is a great way to help add some vibrancy, realism and a little something extra to your model train layouts.

Decorating and designing your model train and layout is a fun process in and of itself, but having the ability to decorate on top if it with era-authentic advetisements or logos will really help sell the piece.

Got your own way of adding decals? Let us know in the comments below!

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