Wednesday, 14 September 2011

1/600th Aircraft - Home Made Decals

1/600th is a good scale to get into in terms of model availability and period. I started off with Korean war aircraft (I was brought up on Sabres and MiGs) but silver wasn't quite my thing and I didn't wan't to do any of the Commonwealth forces which left me with the USN and its Semi Gloss Blue paint.

I grabbed some of Dom's Decals (National Insignia) to start me off. Once you start adding decals it is hard to stop. I had stars n bars but wanted NAVY in white as well as single letter for Carrier Ids. Mark Tutton at Starfighter decals kindly sent me some of these (NAVY) and I steadily grew the interest in what I wanted. i-94 Enterprises did single letters (in the USAF style and not USN) which would proxy.

When I stepped across into Vietnam era naval aircraft I wanted to carry on as these are some of the most attractive paint jobs ever applied. No one did 1/600 decals for what I wanted to do so home made decals were the only way ahead.

Do a google search and you will find a range of sites detailing the exact hows to do but in essence:

You will find two types of paper. Clear or White. Some are for inkjet and some for laser printers. Why are there two types you ask ?

There are only a couple of printers in the world that print white. ALPS is one and outside of that you are in the realm of screen printers etc and out of the realm of the hobbyist. As you can't print white you have a problem in that traditional printers rely on the white of the paper to give you the colour depth needed. Clear decal paper is just that so to get a good colour image your background colour (on the model) has to be light to create the colour otherwise you are limited to dark colours. White decal paper lets you do proper colour but isnt transparent so you have to match a background with your model. This isn't a problem on simple schemes but is a problem with complex camo.

My decals are done using an inkjet printing out at 600 dpi treating the decal paper as if it was photo paper.

USN Navy aircraft have a lot of white surfaces which is good and most of the Vietnam markings was black anyway. For colour bands I use the white paper but put a thick black edge around the colour. This means you can cut close to the colour and leave just a thin black line like on the Crusaders on the CVW-16 Project

You can download both the USN Font and USAF font for a variety of platforms on the net. I am a PC user and purchased both from TLai Enterprises. From here I used visio to give me a 1/600 scaled page so I could see the scale sizes. I have the USAF marking guide in PDF which was useful in gauging the size of USN markings from photos. Apart from that size was directed by the detail on the model (on some the detail is so overscale it isn't possible to put the correct size on).

Armed with the Long beach USN Font I found that I could knock up the Bureau Nos and Modex Numbers quite easily and once I had it for one aircraft I could create a new squadron very quickly. There are a number of reference sites which detail the airwing composition, Identifier, Modex, BuNos, Combat and Op losses etc so you can build "real" aircraft very quickly.

Once I had those done and added I was drawn to the tail art. I have most of the Vietnam era USN reference books from Osprey

  • MiG Killers I and II
  • A-4 Skyhawks
  • A-7 Corsair
  • F-8 Crusaders

It was easy enough to convert the tail art into geometric shapes and manipulate on visio. Being able to work on layers and have objects active and inactive also helped. I didn't have a decent graphics package to start with. (I don't have a proprietary one now and use the GIMP application). The reason for GIMP was that it allowed me to shear text (Reverse Italic is a simple analogy) for the slanting letters on Nose and Tail.

Trial and error was the order of the day. I had decals which fitted the "correct" shape which then needed to be adjusted to fit the model limitations (for example on this RA-5C) trying to remain with the look and feel. I freely mixed JPEG, GIF, PNG, WMF and EMF type graphics in getting what I wanted and the inability of print white actually helped as it meant that I could use white shapes to mask off errors or bits I could fix in another way.

Placement on the printed page was also important as you end up with essentially one huge decal and need to cut as close as possible to each individual element you want. By laying out what I wanted across the width of a page I could make one A4 sheet last ages (in fact I have only just finished using my last original sheet from the pack of 4 that I bought (in the UK I could buy individual sheets or packs as I needed. I have just added a pack of 10 clear, I haven't used one white sheet yet.

Because I use a high gloss varnish to seal the decal (it being inkjet and therefore water soluble) I varnish before adding the decal. Add the decal then varnish again and finally use dullcote to bring it all back down to matt. Microsol is a bit too vigorous in my opinion for the paper I am using.

I will add more if people want otherwise enjoy.

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