How to Seal Model Airplane Decals

Written by doug munson
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How to Seal Model Airplane Decals
Decals help your model get real. Protect them. (Cocarde et avion de guerre image by J-F Perigois from

The decal was first devised by Simon François Ravenet in 1750 for duplicating coloured patterns onto dishware by adhering them to tissue paper, then basically heat-transferring them onto the ceramics. This process underwent slow development for over 180 years until the birth of a new screen printing process and the perfecting of water-mount decals in 1936. Since then, water-mount decals have been standard fare for all manner of model kits: plastic, balsa or foam. They provide realistic detail to the pride and joy of many a modelling enthusiast.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Model aeroplane (finished/painted)
  • Decals
  • Bowl of distilled water
  • Scissors
  • X-acto knife
  • Clean rag (old T-shirt)
  • Paper towels
  • Setting solution
  • Clear lacquer/isopropyl alcohol mix
  • Paint brushes, 1-inch flat tip, small round tip, and airbrush
  • Clear butyrate dope
  • Dust mask

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  1. 1

    Buff all surfaces of your model plane with a clean cloth or old T-shirt (also clean) once your painted surfaces have dried thoroughly.

  2. 2

    Cut the desired decal you wish to place from the sheet, immerse in shallow bowl of water (distilled if available). Let it soak for 10 to 20 seconds, then test with a wet finger to see how it slides on the backing paper, then place it on the desired surface.

  3. 3

    Dab away excess moisture with a damp paper towel.

  4. 4

    Apply a light coat of setting solution with a small brush to set the decal (helps the decal look like it is part of the paint job).

  5. 5

    Repeat Steps 2 through 4 until all decals are placed, then let dry for 24 hours.

  6. 6

    Tape off any surfaces you don't want to cover (such as the canopy) and brush (1 inch) or airbrush a 50/50 clear lacquer and alcohol solution (Future floor wax is a good one) to seal all surfaces of the model aeroplane you've painted.

  7. 7

    Brush or airbrush a coat of clear butyrate dope if your model aeroplane is going to be powered by a glow fuel or gasoline powered engine, then let it dry for 24 hours. This will seal and protect your decals as well as your paint finish.

Tips and warnings

  • Trim excess plastic film from the decal image with the X-acto knife if you desire extra realism.
  • Wearing a dust mask while applying butyrate dope is a good safety practice.

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