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TUTORIAL: Decal application


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#1 Hinckley

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Posted 05 February 2009 - 09:26 AM

Tutorial: How to apply a custom designed decal to a LEGO torso or other element

Want to apply a custom designed decal to a LEGO torso or other element? This tutorial takes you through the steps I use in order to do so. Everyone I know uses different variations of this method, so please feel free to share your methods as well. I use this method because it works for me. Experiment and find the best process for yourself.

Materials you will need:
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  • Decal
  • LEGO element
  • Cotton swabs
  • Old towel
  • Small bowl
  • Decal Setting Solution
  • Decal Softening Solution
  • Clear Coat
  • Distilled water
  • Scissors (or X-Acto knife)
  • Tweezers
  • Hair Dryer
  • Clean, dry surface
Warning: Make sure you work in a well ventilated area. If you are under the age of 18, don't use the decal solutions without adult supervision. Consult a physician if you get the product in your eyes. Those with strong allergies should avoid using these solutions. Discontinue use and consult a physician if you feel light-headed, dizzy or confused. Avoid prolonged contact with your skin and other pieces of furniture or fabric...

Step 1: Cut the decal out. When designing the decal you should leave a lightly colored area as the background so it is clear where you should be cutting.
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Once you've cut the decal out, place it on the clean, dry surface. (I use a piece of cotton duck canvas because it doesn't create any lint and is easily dusted off.)
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Step 2: Use the tweezers to dip the decal in the distilled water.
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Remove the decal after it is submerged in the water for only a second.
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Set the decal on the clean dry surface and allow the water to soak in for 30 seconds.

Step 3: Dip a cotton swab in the Decal Setting Solution. (I use Badger brand from Micro-Mark.com)
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Apply the setting solution to the LEGO element and let it sit for about 10 seconds.
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Dip a cotton swab in the distilled water and apply a couple of drops to the LEGO element as well right before applying the decal. This will ensure that you will be able to adjust the decal once it is applied. Using just the setting solution makes it difficult to slide around.

Step 4: Place the decal on your finger and hold it next to the surface of the LEGO element it will be applied to. Use your other hand to slide the decal onto the LEGO piece. Some people use a cotton swab to slide it into place.
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Variant: If you need to line up an edge specifically, slide the decal off a bit and hold it over the element. Line up the edge of the decal with the edge of the element and hold the decal to the LEGO piece with your finger. With the decal held in place, slide the backing out from under the decal so it falls in place on the rest of the element.
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Step 5: Use a dry cotton swab to roll out any air bubbles. You may need to hold the decal in place with a finger or additional cotton swab to ensure that you don't slide it out of place.
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If the decal slides too much, hold it along the edges and rub with the cotton swab towards your fingers. This will stop the decal from sliding. If the decal only needs a slight adjustment, i.e. it is just barely hanging over the edge, you can lightly tap the opposite side with a cotton swab until it slides into place.
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Allow the decal to set for about 2 minutes.

Step 6: Dip a cotton swab in the decal softening solution. (I use Badger brand from Micro-Mark.com)
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Apply the softening solution to the decal, especially around round corners and edges. This step is necessary for applying face decals or adding decals to curved elements like canopies, or domes.
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Keep applying softening solution until the decal wraps around the element without folding. You can add a coat every thirty seconds or so. Make sure you don't allow any solution to pool on the decal or it can cause bubbling. Remove any excess solution with a dry cotton swab. Once the decal is set and softened, let it dry for about 10 minutes.

Helpful Tip: When applying a decal to a surface that doesn't require much softening, you can apply setting solution to the surface instead and that will help it bond to the surface of the LEGO element. It is still good to use softening solution on an element like the one pictured because small pieces may still overlap the edges. Even the smallest overhang can cause flaking and chipping later on.

Helpful Tip: Keep the cotton swab you use for each solution across the open jar so as not to mix them up.
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Step 7: Apply a clear coat. (I use Krylon acrylic gloss spray.) I do not recommend brushing clear coat on, I haven't had good luck with it. Hold the spray can about a foot (30 cm) away from the LEGO element and spray evenly. You should only apply a thin layer. Too much clear coat gums up the torso and makes it too thick.
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Immediately apply low heat from the hair dryer to avoid bubbling in the clear coat. Apply the heat for 30 seconds. Don't apply the heat directly. Hold the element with one hand and wave the hair dryer back and forth over it. Holding the dryer directly over the torso will cause the clear coat to form a visible thick ridge along the edge of the element.
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After 10 minutes, apply a second coat.

Let the element dry for a day before using, even though it is dry to the touch in just a few minutes. Allow it to set for a few days before shipping them in the mail. A clear coat that hasn't fully dried will cloud up when it reaches a high altitude. Even after the element is dry you must take care to store it or display it safely. It isn't printed the same way a LEGO element is and will chip and peel if not handled properly. Make sure to avoid keeping it in a bin with other LEGO elements. It should be able to withstand normal level of play, but remember the application process isn't perfect and you should do your best to preserve the custom element you've created.

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#2 LuxorV

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Posted 05 February 2009 - 09:33 AM

Thanks for this new Tutorial, Hinckley :wub: .

You sure are working hard this days!

Addign it to the index :wink:


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#3 I Scream Clone

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Posted 05 February 2009 - 09:33 AM

Well done on a great tutorial Hinckley  :thumbup: Having never tried using decals this is a great way to see all the effort that goes into customizing minifigs. Maybe now I will give it a go one day.

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#4 Shadows

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Posted 05 February 2009 - 09:39 AM

A lot of work but a fine result! :thumbup:

Thanks for sharing this step by step tutorial, now maybe someone will start using all these decals we've made. :laugh:

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#5 WhiteFang

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Posted 05 February 2009 - 10:10 AM

Hinck, this is an eyeopener for me! This is a clear step by step tutorial on how you should apply the decal correctly and the tutorial illustrate the steps clearly. I never knew applying decals involved in so much manual work in such delicate process. I must admit that the amount of work put into customisation can be truly known as one kind of customised art!  :thumbup:

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#6 mania3

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Posted 05 February 2009 - 10:15 AM

This is incredible.  I had no idea this kind of work was required to pull these customized figures off.

#7 L-space

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Posted 05 February 2009 - 11:20 AM

Thanks for the tutorial  :thumbup:
Just in time for the new custom decals Tin7 is making me/ us.
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#8 pr0visorak

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Posted 05 February 2009 - 03:28 PM

Thanks for sharing your expereience! :classic: Does this work with the kamonian decals? :sweet:
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#9 Hinckley

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Posted 05 February 2009 - 05:53 PM

View Postpr0visorak, on Feb 5 2009, 09:28 AM, said:

Thanks for sharing your expereience! :classic: Does this work with the kamonian decals? :sweet:
Kaminoan was my mentor. :sweet:

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#10 optimus-convoy

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Posted 06 February 2009 - 12:55 AM

Thanks much for the tutorial. I've been experimenting with decals recently (to less than stellar results). This should help me greatly. :thumbup:
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#11 The Who

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Posted 27 February 2009 - 12:05 AM

So how do you apply a decal that is printed on standard paper?

Or can you?
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#12 BrickPoor

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Posted 27 February 2009 - 01:41 AM

Excellent tutorial. I know how to apply decals but I still got something out of it, good show.

#13 Hinckley

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Posted 27 February 2009 - 08:07 AM

View Postbooger540, on Feb 26 2009, 06:05 PM, said:

So how do you apply a decal that is printed on standard paper?

Or can you?
You could just glue it and apply the varnish. I'm not sure how good that will look, the edges will probably be white, but it's worth a shot. Try it out on a crummy old torso and see how it looks...

View PostBrickPoor, on Feb 26 2009, 07:41 PM, said:

Excellent tutorial. I know how to apply decals but I still got something out of it, good show.
Thank you very much, I'm glad it was helpful! :sweet: I hope people feel free to add tips to this as well.

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#14 KimT

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Posted 27 February 2009 - 12:47 PM

Thanks Hinckley.
This elaborate and easy-to-follow tutorial has revealed the world of decals to me.
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#15 exxtrooper

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Posted 27 February 2009 - 01:02 PM

Now this is a good tutorial, I have to go to the hobby store today  :sweet: but I have a queation, do I need some kind of special printer to print out my decals?
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#16 Holodoc

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Posted 27 February 2009 - 03:12 PM

Great tutorial, Hinckley! :thumbup:
How could I miss it?

There are some aspects I would like to go further into:
1) What decal or paper did you use?
2) What printer did you use? I assume it was a laser printer.
I only own an ink-jet printer (and I believe so do the most of the members here).
Hence I would like to know if the "dip" in the water isn´t destroying the printing if it´s made with ink... :look:
3) Any german members around who can tell me what (setting- and softening-) solutions to use which are available in Germany?

Thanks!
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#17 CommanderCody77

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Posted 27 February 2009 - 03:27 PM

Thanks! I'll try this
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#18 Hinckley

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Posted 27 February 2009 - 07:25 PM

View Postexxtrooper, on Feb 27 2009, 07:02 AM, said:

Now this is a good tutorial, I have to go to the hobby store today  :sweet: but I have a queation, do I need some kind of special printer to print out my decals?
I use a laser printer, but it's refurbished and on it's last legs, so my decals are getting a little splotchy :cry_sad:

View PostHolodoc, on Feb 27 2009, 09:12 AM, said:

Great tutorial, Hinckley! :thumbup:
How could I miss it until now?

There are some aspects I would like to go further into:
1) What decal or paper did you use?
2) What printer did you use? I assume it was a laser printer.
I only own an ink-jet printer (and I believe so do the most of the members here).
Hence I would like to know if the "dip" in the water isn´t destroying the printing if it´s made with ink... :look:
3) Any german members around who can tell me what (setting- and softening-) solutions to use which are available in Germany?

Thanks!
Thanks, doc! :grin:

I think there's a paper topic around here somewhere. If not we should start one-a paper and printer topic. Good idea.

I get all of my supplies from Micro-Mark and they ship worldwide. I have found their clear waterslide decal paper to be the best. The white is OK, I haven't found any white that is easy to use.

If you print your decals with ink you need to let it dry a little longer (overnight) and make sure you spray it with varnish first before dipping it in the water, or the design will completely dissolve in the water. Some inkjet decal paper kits come with a "special coating" that stops the ink from dissolving, but I think it's just clear coat. :laugh:

So get your softening and setting solutions from Micro-Mark since they are the best around! :grin:

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#19 Sir Wellington

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Posted 10 April 2009 - 12:50 AM

Would just printing it out as a sticker be good and not look bad since I need to use a Napoleon Torso for a school project and I don't have many of the things you listed, plus I have strong allergies and im under 18 so yeah... Would just a sticker look good?
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#20 The Legonater

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Posted 27 March 2010 - 10:55 PM

Wow. I had no idea it was such a complicated process, I was thinking it was just a matter or cut and glue. Thanks Hinckley!

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#21 BobaFett2

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Posted 10 May 2010 - 01:57 AM

I don't get it. I understand most of the instructions, but what are decal setting solution and decal softening solution?

#22 LuxorV

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Posted 10 May 2010 - 07:41 AM

View PostBobaFett2, on May 10 2010, 03:57 AM, said:

I don't get it. I understand most of the instructions, but what are decal setting solution and decal softening solution?
I'm not an expert, since I never used any of these, but fom other work experiances (and the descriptions in this tutorial), I'd say they are 1) a sort of glue for decals, and 2) a solution which 'softens' the material the decal is made of so that it bends and doesn't tend to peel off the part for it's own rigidity (like when you soften a paper with water-based glues to wrap it around rounded objects).


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#23 Praiter Yed

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Posted 17 June 2010 - 10:09 PM

Before reading this tutorial I got myself some 'LazerTran Waterslide Decal Paper for Inkjets' - It's just not working for me. Followed the instructions on pack exactly (making sure no air bubbles etc.). I've tried several times and when I put it on it looks great but after 24 hours it's curling up like a magic fish.

Have I bought the wrong paper? Or does anybody have any advice on how to make this stuff stick?
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#24 LuxorV

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Posted 18 June 2010 - 07:46 AM

View PostPraiter Yed, on 17 June 2010 - 10:09 PM, said:

Before reading this tutorial I got myself some 'LazerTran Waterslide Decal Paper for Inkjets' - It's just not working for me. Followed the instructions on pack exactly (making sure no air bubbles etc.). I've tried several times and when I put it on it looks great but after 24 hours it's curling up like a magic fish.

Have I bought the wrong paper? Or does anybody have any advice on how to make this stuff stick?
I never applied a decal in my life, since I use auto-adesive papaer for that, but I think the secret is in Step 7 of this tutorial:

Quote

Step 7: Apply a clear coat. (I use Krylon acrylic gloss spray.) I do not recommend brushing clear coat on, I haven't had good luck with it. Hold the spray can about a foot (30 cm) away from the LEGO element and spray evenly. You should only apply a thin layer. Too much clear coat gums up the torso and makes it too thick.
I hope this helps :sweet:

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#25 Cat

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Posted 26 June 2010 - 06:55 AM

I don't know why,but im kinda interested about what you where making in the tutorial.Let me guess:Is it Mola Ram from lego indy the original adventures?



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