Printing Your Own Decals

Shorty on my recent experiences with printing my own decals, on Testors inkjet decal paper.

So recently (November 2006) I've been working on my own decals, for both my Iron Belt SD40-2 & some other various locomotives. However I ran into an interesting issue with the Testors decal film I had picked up. The black ink from my Lexmark Z705 printer did not set. For whatever reason it may be, it would bleed once I sprayed the Testors decal film bonder on. Others colors set much better, and are holding to the film perfectly, but the black did not. On my 2nd run, I'm using an HP F355 all-in-one printer.

During the print process, I discovered that printing small text DOES NOT work well on inkjet printers, and I'd assume that if you can afford a screen printer, use that instead. I've also learned that, to get a good quality print, set the printer to print in either "photo mode" or "maximum DPI". The edges will turn out more crisp and fill in much better. Mine came out at 600DPI, then 1200DPI. the 600 cracked within minutes, where as the 1200DPI still looks great (on hour of drying time in now). For this run, I went with about 20 hours of dry time, just to be sure it sets. The ink set fine, however it still managed to bleed out on the 2nd pass of the bonder.

I've also learned that using the bonder, you must make some very very fine coats, and many at that, to get the ink to bond right. The 4th try, I did just this. However the 2nd pass, it bled out.

Usage list:

  • MS Paint to make a 5" x 8" sheet
  • IRfanView to print to "Maximum DPI", "Photo Quality", or "1200DPI"
  • Allow PLENTY of time to dry, (overnight)
  • Shake the Bonder can well
  • VERY VERY fine coats
  • 4-5 coats depending on the surface area of your decals
  • 15-30 seconds of soak time for clear, 10-15 for white
  • 30-45 seconds of "rest time" on a paper tower after soaking
  • CAREFUL sliding of the decal, if its snug, soak it again!
  • After its dried on the subject, coat it generously with Solvaset (or similar product)

I'll report back with the results, and when I print the replacement for the original decals I'll add that too. I hope that this very short tip can help you plan for use of inkjet decal paper.

Since this article was originally written in 2006, I switched to a much higher quality Epson R280 photo printer.  I found that the ink and print quality were much more conductive of printing your own decals.  1200DPI printed from Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator worked fine, and minimal (1 hour dry time) on the ink.

The R280 is long since retired, and ink nearly impossible to acquire so as of 2020, I no longer have an at home printer.  I'll begin my search again for a suitable replacement!

©2006/2020, Josh Baakko,