The online magazine on the history and operation of vintage scale model trains in American OO gauge

Monday, June 23, 2008

On (Vintage) Decals and American OO

When I was starting out in OO I used Walthers and Champ HO scale decals. One thing I liked about the Walthers decals was that the dimensional data was probably just a bit overscale, at least it looked OK on OO models. And the Champ sets have a nice, classic look.

I have made much use of alphabet sets also. These Davis E-7s are being decaled with parts from two different Walthers sets that match perfectly for color.

While I have been excited to find a Micro Scale decal set that includes an Orient tank car is produced today, I am also glad that I purchased quite a few decals in the past (new and “used,” from two different estates) as the Walthers line of decals has been discontinued and the Champion line is selling only from existing stock [UPDATE: And formally went out of the decal business in 2010]. Although eventually I may have to look into some custom decals, I will be good for a few years with what I have on hand.

UPDATE 2012: I did break down a couple years ago and purchase a run of custom Orient decals from Rail Graphics which have saved me a ton of time; they can be seen on many of the more recently completed projects in this website. And I continue to use vintage HO (and sometimes O) decals (mostly Champion) quite often on projects. I would offer a few brief notes of advice on using these older decals, which are not difficult to use today.

1. The surface to be decaled should be glossy. If gloss paint is not used on the model prep the surface with Testors Glosscote.

2. You may need to soak the decals a while, much longer than the package would indicate, to get the adhesive to release. Some old decals will take 15 or more minutes to release from the backing paper!

3. The good news being hardly ever have I ran into a set of decals that could not actually still be used, with care and patience.

4. Decal setting solution is a must. In the photo above bottles of these may be seen from Micro Scale and Champion. Poke (when the decal is dry!) the "bubbles" with a sharp knife and add more solution. It will probably take many rounds of this spread over days to get the vintage decals to settle over details. Why this is relates I believe to the thickness of vintage decals; they need a stronger setting solution than do modern decals. Or, put another way, modern decal setting solution is weaker than the comparable vintage products, so it takes more repeated applications to get the same effect. But be careful! Setting solution may also attack the ink used to print the decals. Avoid putting setting solution on the lettering, use capillary action to your advantage and put the solution around the edges of the decal as much as possible.

5. The last step for me is an overspray with Testors Dullcote.

A sharp set of decals really make vintage items pop! To do a good job is time consuming but well worth the effort, and don't shy away from vintage decal sets, they usually are still usable with good surface prep and some patience.

UPDATE 2013: See also this article for tips on using pre-war Scale-Craft decals. Also, from a reader of that article,
I have used the Microscale “liquid decal film” product with success on old decals.  It adds a “top coat” so that they do not crumble when wetted, and once the dullcoat is applied it is invisible.
I will be trying this, I have some older Scale-Craft decals in particular that visually look like they will break up and will need an extra top coat.

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