February 26

Applying RC Model Aircraft Decals

No matter what type of model we fly, scale warbird, aerobatic or a simpleCitabria Pro Scratch Build sports model, the final detailing or trim  applied to the model is what really adds the finishing touch. There are several ‘commercially’ available types of decal around, some are better suited to a particular ‘type’ of model but not so suitable for others.

As a newcomer to model flying it is unlikely that you will be considering building a scale masterpiece. The normal progression from a basic trainer will be a sport aerobatic type designed to help you hone your flying skills. Hopefully you will be nurturing a desire to build your own plane either from a kit or from a plan. There is nothing quite like the sense of achievement to be gained from building your own model.

Should you decide to take this route, you will eventually reach a point where you will need to apply covering. To make the plane more easily visible in flight you will need to consider applying suitable rc model aircraft decals.

Although there a number of decal types available, the most suitable for this sort of model are those manufactured from Vinyl. This is the same material used for automobile decals. They are relatively easy to apply and are great for standing up to glow fuel, petrol (gas), and exposure to the sun.

Vinyl model aircraft decals are available as printed or solid colour. They are simply cut out of a carrier sheet and applied to the airframe after covering/painting. It is important to take care not to get dust, hairs etc…under the decal. The smallest imperfections will be magnified into BIG ones!

Applying Your Decals

The best tip I can give when applying these decals is to remove about ½ of the paper backing, and position the decal where it needs to be and burnish the exposed edge down. Gradually pull the backing away whilst slowly burnishing the decal down in smooth strokes using a soft cloth to avoid scratching the surface of the decal. Work from one end of the decal to the other, pushing out any air bubbles as you go.

Don’t be tempted to remove all of the backing in one go, placing into position and starting to burnish from the centre  outward as you will end up with a horrible bubbly mess.Vinyl Grafics

Here is a video that shows how to get the best results.  You will notice that the decal being applied advertises one of the many custom decal manufacturers.

At the end of this post I have gathered together a selection of trusted manufacturers both in the USA and the UK who can make decals specific to your needs.

Patience, good preparation, a steady hand, and warm room will produce the best results. Apply the graphics when the temperature is above 55 degrees F (15 C).

Most vinyl decals comes in one piece, sandwiched between a clear application layer and a waxy backing paper. Both of these are removed during the installation process. The adhesive side of the decal is protected by the backing paper which peels off easily.

On the other hand, the adhesive on the vinyl decal is EXTREMELY sticky, so be very careful when you come to peel it away. The vinyl will stretch if you are too rough with it and that is NOT a good thing.

There are two ways to apply your decals: DRY or WET.

Dry Method

This is fine for smaller decals and takes the following procedure:

Ensuring your hands are spotlessly clean, start by peeling off the backing layer taking great care not to bring it into contact with any unclean surfaces and hold the exposed surface very carefully in your fingertips. Decide which edge is  the first to be positioned (top, bottom, left, right) then place the chosen edge of the decal where you want it.

Slowly lay the rest of decal down on the surface whilst pressing down gently behind the raised portion making sure good contact is being made with the surface. This should eliminate the chance of air bubbles being trapped. Once the decal is completely flat and smoothed down thoroughly, gently peel off clear application tape from decal.

If you have taken good care your decal should be lying totally flat to the surface with no air bubbles in view. If, however, you have a few such bubbles take a new scalpel blade, and with the tip, puncture the centre of the bubbles whilst rubbing them down.

Wet Method

This method is useful for applying medium to large one piece decals. Large decals will need to be flattened out in a warm room before applying. Roll the decal out flat on a large surface and weight it down so that the application tape and backing paper can relax in the heat of the room.

You will need a piece of hard plastic (an old credit card is ideal) or “squeegee”. Mix a weak solution of soapy water in a spray bottle or mister (1 or 2 drops of dish washing liquid per cupful of water is required). Don’t use an excess of soapy water, if you saturate the surface or the sticky vinyl adhesive too much – it won’t stick.

In this instance spray the surface LIGHTLY with the soapy water, remove the backing paper entirely from the decal and spray the adhesive side lightly also.

Lay the decal adhesive side down on the damp surface. The soapy water enables the positioning your decal perfectly on the surface after you have removed the backing paper entirely and helps in the removal of any bubbles.

Starting at any side (top, bottom, left, right) and place the edge of decal where you want it. Slowly lay rest of decal down on the surface. If needed, gently slide the decal to the exactly where you want it. Using your “squeegee”, or plastic, gently smooth out any air or water bubbles on decal, working from the center to outside edges. Do this to avoid trapping air or water bubbles.

Mop up any excess moisture with paper kitchen towel. Finish by peeling the clear application tape very slowly back on itself. Don’t attempt to pull it straight away from the surface. The slow motion and flat angle will allow the vinyl to stay on the surface while removing the tape. The last thing you want to do is pull the vinyl off the surface. Pierce any bubbles with a pin or your sharp scalpel blade and press out the air or water.

If the vinyl decal moves whilst you are attempting to remove the application tape, smooth it back down. You may need to “squeegee” again and mop up any moisture that oozes out from under the decal with kitchen towel and you may need to just give it a few more minutes to dry out then try again. When you are able to remove the clear tape easily with no movement of the vinyl decal you the job is done. .

I advise that you seal decal down. Although fuel proof, normal handling easily damages them due to the ‘soft’ nature of the ink. I always apply a polyurethane clear coat over all vinyl decals to seal them down and protect them from the elements.


Although there are plenty of standardised sheets of rc model aircraft decals available from model suppliers, particularly for warbird types, there are often times when a set of custom decals will help create a unique colour scheme for a scratch built model.

Below I have brought together a list of custom decal manufacturers that some of you may find a useful resource:

Pyramid models – www.pyramidmodels.com/ (UK)

Model Markings – www.modelmarkings.com/ (UK) – Suppliers of the decals for my Citabria Pro (Photo above)

MT Custom Graphics – www.mt-graphics.co.uk/rcgraphics.php (UK)

Decal Designs Aeroworks – www.decaldesigns.co.uk/aeroworks.php (UK)

Flightline Graphics – www.flightlinegraphics.com/

B & E Graphics – www.bandegraphix.com/

Callie Graphics – www.callie-graphics.com/

Pro Mark Graphics – www.pro-mark.com/

Aero Graphix LLC – www.aerographix.biz/

Cal-Grafx Hobby Art – www.cal-grafx.com/

Aeroloft Designs – www.aeroloft.com/

Bad Brad Graphics – www.badbradgraphics.com/

Although not vinyl decals, the following company offers software for your PC that, along with some other hardware you will require, enables you to print your own decals using either a Laser Printer, Photocopier or Ink Jet printer:

Pulsar Professional fx (Make Your Own Dry Rub-Down Transfers) – http://www.pulsarprofx.com/decalpro/

Parting Thoughts

Vinyl Decals are just one of several types of rc model aircraft decals available to us. Others are more suited to use with scale models where markings need to be finer so that surface features can be revealed under them. I will be introducing some of these in a future post so watch out for it.

I hope that you are continuing to find my posts useful. Please feel free to share them with anyone you think could benefit from their content. Also, if you are new to rc model flying, be sure to visit my website www.rookiercflyer.com for everything you need to get started as cheaply and as safely as possible.







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Posted February 26, 2016 by Colin Bedson in category "Modelling Skills

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