Decals – Clear Coats, Insurance, and Thick Carrier Film

A few years ago, I wrote about how Decals are Magic, and I still stand by that sentiment. Due to the variety of printers and substances and setting solutions, there is something in the way of alchemy about them. Some setting solutions work great on some decals, but not on others, and so on.

But revisiting that post in light of the #Flankoff disaster (a disaster of my own making for seeing early warning signs and pressing ahead anyway), I think there are a few additional points worth making…

You don’t need a gloss coat to apply decals…

It’s taken as gospel by a wide swath of the modeling community that you absolutely need a gloss coat to apply decals. That otherwise you will get the dreaded silvering. This is not true at all. It’s entirely possible to lay decals down over flat paint, and it’s entirely possible to get silvering even when a gloss coat is in place.

The key isn’t a gloss coat, it’s a smooth surface. With the lacquers that are increasingly in use today – Mr. Paint, Gunze Mr. Color and so on, if you’re doing it right, you should have a nice, smooth, semi-gloss surface to work with anyway. So a clear gloss coat is not necessary.

…but a clear coat may be good for preventing other complications

The thing about insurance is that you don’t need it until you need it. And by then it’s generally too late.

While a clear coat is not in any way mandatory for applying decals, going without opens you up to some interesting potential problems.

I’ve gone without clear coats on two different jets, and both times I’ve regretted doing so. Not because of silvering, but because of other shit that happened, that probably wouldn’t have happened if I’d had a clear in place beforehand.

First up, my Tamiya F-14A Tomcat.

My issues with this kit where minimal. The combination of Furball and Afterburner decals performed wonderfully for the most part.

But I ran into problems in a few places with my decal setting solution degrading the paint. Making the whole area a bit “sloshy”. This didn’t happen everywhere, though, and my best guess, based on comparing what was different about the areas, is that the solution wasn’t degrading the Mr. Paint, but the Badger Stynylrez I’d used as a primer on some areas of the airframe.

After a quick coat of Tamiya X-22, the issue went away entirely.

Second, the Great Wall Hobby Su-35 of #Flankoff fame.

Now. These decals had a whole other problem – thickness – that we’ll get to in a minute.

But. After the decals were down, I sprayed a coat of Gunze C181 semi-gloss clear. And then went to work trying (in vain) to sand the decal film back. And…what already stood out, stood out more.

This one is a bit of a mystery. But at a guess…lacquer clears can very, very subtly fuck with the colors they’re applied over. I’ve had it go completely bad a time or two, with clear coats almost eating away at the top layers of paint, but it’s been years. Still, a bit of, I don’t know, shifting seems to happen. And that shifting isn’t going to occur UNDER A DECAL. When you take that, and add some sanding effort over what’s ultimately some very thin layers of paint, I’m not totally surprised in retrospect.

Would applying a clear before the decals have prevented this shift? Maybe. It’s hard to be sure without a 1:1 control of these decals, this paint, etc.

But I did run into a similar conundrum with the Trumpeter Dauntless I built a while back. Trumpeter’s representation of the Hamilton Standard prop logos was laughable, so I stole some from one of Tamiya’s Corsairs. Knowing that Tamiya has a penchant for thick decals, and that I’d likely have to sand, I gave the prop a very durable gloss coat, applied the decals, gave it another heavy gloss coat, and got to sanding. With no discoloring of the carrier film.

Another example I’ve faced recently…on my Patriot. Where the decal setting solutions fucked with the paint.

Taken together…while yeah, a clear coat isn’t required for decals…I’ve had enough complications pop up around the decals that I’m going to go back to clear coating as a measure of insurance.

Thick decals vex the shit out of me

There are decals that are good and decals that are…less good. But as long as they’re thin, I can usually work with them.

With the Great Wall Su-35, though, I encountered something I haven’t faced in years. Thick decals. The last time I faced anything like it was with a Tamiya Fw 190A-3, where successive layers of clear coat did nothing to hide the visible ridges of the carrier film.

Well, that’s not quite true. There were the decals I printed for the F-14 using Testors decal paper.

Despite taking care to keep the top sealing layer of decal film thin, I didn’t realize that the backing film on the Testors shit was so thick. Fortunately I found another sheet with the right VF-24 markings and was able to rip and replace these without too much trouble.

With the Su-35, though, it wasn’t a case of a decal or two. It was dozens of them. All over the airframe. All of them thick.

Now…two of the three things that fucked the Su-35 are my fault. After cocking my head at the decals, I KEPT APPLYING MORE OF THEM. And after I hoped a clear coat would fix what might be just a sheen difference, and it didn’t, I KEPT SPRAYING.

If I hadn’t done those two things, removing the decals would have been easy enough with X-20A and elbow grease. Then I could have gone aftermarket and carried on.

But those two moments of stupid don’t change the face that the Great Wall decals are thick.

I’m quite confident in my ability to work with decals, to get them sucked into surface detail and have them not silver and all that jazz. Even understanding that there’s some alchemy in which setting solutions work with which decals.

But I have yet to find a safe method of dealing with thick carrier film. There’s the flood it with clear, sand it back option, but that’s only really doable on flat expanses like a prop face, and not what I’d consider a good solution for an aircraft with dozens of little stencils that would need that treatment all over it.

I guess for now the best solution is…if you find the decals are thick, STOP USING THEM and grab some alternates.

It’s Called a Flightpose. Jesus.

When you run a Facebook page with more than 13,000 followers, you get some…tedious questions.

I generally try to be understanding. Facebook’s algorithm can mean that only a few thousand people see any given post, and maybe they missed the paints being used, or what effect I’m after or whatever. Fair enough.

But there’s one question that pops up endlessly. Well, variations on the question, but yeah.

“What stand is that?”

“Where do you get that stand?”

“Is that a stand I can buy?”

I can get why people are interested. It’s a (mostly) cool stand. It’s one of the most commonly used items on my bench.

But here’s the thing. I’ve been using this stand for at least five years. This is not a thing that I just picked up a few weeks ago.

Questions about it with every post officially got old around four and a half years ago. And so over time I just…stopped answering.

So just like that other near-constant question, I’ve decided to do a quick post as an answer.

The stand is made by Flightpose. And you can buy them HERE.

Double Trouble

Image result for doublemint twins

Recently, SMCGer Jon Bryon shared an interesting post about increasing his productivity at the bench. It’s a thought-provoking read, but one part in particular has stuck with me:

Build in batches

Now, that doesn’t mean just have multiple WIPs going on at once. I means building the same subject, and frequently the same kit, in multiple.

I would scoff at the notion, but I’ve done it before, and the two times that come to mind, I’ve not only finished, but very much enjoyed the journey.

The first time around, it was P-47s. The Tamiya and Revellogram 1/48 Razorbacks, to be precise. Long enough ago that I wince a bit at them now, but they were a lot of fun at the time.

The second time was with a pair of 1/32 Bf 109s. This was back when Revell first dropped their 109G-6, and I tackled it together with a Revell ProModeller (Hasegawa mold) 109G-4.

Thinking ahead to what I want to tackle next, after the Su-35 is further along, I’m finding a lot of appeal in taking on another batch build.

The thing is…I’m not sure of the subject. I’m spoiled for choice.

Twin Mustangs

Back in 2011, Tamiya released their superlative 1/32 P-51D. It’s been seven years…and I still have yet to build one. But what about two of them?

One of them I’d build as a Swiss P-51. Most of these were done up in bare metal with dark blue anti-glare panels, but I also have markings for one that was apparently done in a drab green over light blue, with the same dark blue anti-glare, and the fun addition of red and silver neutrality stripes on the wings. Hmm.

The other I’d do as some sort of PTO Mustang. Perhaps a P-51K…

Or a photo-recon F-6D:

Super Bugs

On vacation recently, I happened to catch two EA-18G Growlers landing at NAS North Island in San Diego. This led to me throwing down for some big Trumpeter Super Bugs – the EA-18 and a two-seater F/A-18F.

At first, the Growler especially seems to be one of those aircraft that stays clean. But if you dig a bit deeper, you can find some really interesting examples:

The F/A-18F is very similar – lots of visual interest once you start digging.

Double Eagle

Another contender – Great Wall’s F-15 – particularly the F-15C and the D-Mold F-15K boxing.

For the C, I have a certain unexplainable affinity for the 44th Fighter Squadron based out of Okinawa.

For the K, well, I’d planned to build it as an E, but it appears that GWH is finally getting off their Mudhen ass, so there’s a decent chance I’d opt to do the K as a ROKAF Slam Eagle.

Choices, Choices

There are a few others floating around – like Trumpeter Skyraiders and Tamiya Corsairs…but they aren’t grabbing me the same way.

Of course, that may well change by the time I’m ready to dive in…





Refreshing the Bench

A modeler’s bench is constantly shifting and evolving, almost like a living thing. Or at least that’s the case with mine. From the time I came back to the hobby with a cheap folding table from Costco, I’ve been tinkering and rejiggering.

For the past few years, though, my bench has been *fairly* static. I’ve made a few organizational tweaks – moved some paints here, some supplies there. Swapped out the fluorescent shop lights for LEDs. But the big stuff, I’ve left mostly alone.

November 2011

June 2018 (man smartphone cameras have come a LONG way)

With a sabbatical from work, however, I’ve had the opportunity to undertake some significant adjustments. A mid-life upgrade (MLU), if you will.

What wasn’t working?

Overall, I quite like my two-bench setup. Two big 66×24 shop benches arranged in an L shape around a weird corner of the garage. A large tool cabinet that holds tools, works in progress, and my selection of “pot” paints – Tamiya, Gunze and AK Real Color. Two bright shop lights. Even a monitor to help me keep tabs of framing issues while shooting videos.

But nothing is perfect, and I wanted to address four main annoyances. Continue reading

Are Price and Quality Related?

We’ve been having a pretty fun discussion over in the Scale Modelers Critique Group over the past few days about the relation (or not) of price and quality. Driven to an extent by Revell’s 1/32 P-51 and how it compares to Tamiya’s far pricier kit.

Price is a Dumb Metric

I’ve been on record, many times, with the opinion that price should not be a factor in considering how well one kit will go together versus another.

In the broader retail world there absolutely is a correlation between price and quality, sure. A nice pair of jeans will generally last a lot longer than a cheap pair from Old Navy or something. A nicer cordless drill will use a better battery and a motor made out of higher quality materials than some bargain unit you buy after stomping a few heads on Black Friday.

But in modeling the correlation becomes a lot looser. Because there are so many factors impacting price. You have the number and complexity of parts, which directly impacts tooling costs. You have regional pricing differences that often see the cost of, say, a Revell and a Hasegawa kit of the same subject flip-flop in price depending on where you buy them.

You have brand power – where a Tamiya or Wingnut Wings or whoever can charge more because of the strength of their reputation.

You also have age. Older kits are cheaper. Generally. Not always.

And in some instances, you have market pressure. Usually somewhere like eBay. But market pressure can also be a factor of subject, of the existence of competition, of the availability of a kit, and other factors.

But at the end of the day, the cost to tool parts that fit, or parts that are shape-accurate, is negligible over ones that don’t and aren’t.

You want evidence that price is a shitty metric? Look at the 1/32 109s from Revell, Hasegawa, and Trumpeter. As kits, they’re all more or less equal. Each succeeds in some areas where the others disappoint, and each disappoints in other areas, with amazingly little overlap.

The Tedious Car Analogy

The real inspiration for this post, though, isn’t exactly the whole price/quality debate, but one small part of it. And that’s this analogy:

“You shouldn’t expect a [insert luxury car brand] for a [insert economy car brand} price”

It’s a bad analogy. And I wanted to break it down. And since it’s TL;DR for the format of a Facebook comment, hey, blog post!

What Really Separates Luxury Cars?

The reason that luxury cars cost more than mainstream or economy cars is almost entirely in the luxury aspect. It’s fancier seats wrapped in fancier materials. It’s nicer cabins and more amenities. It’s thicker glass and insulation that deadens sound and vibration. Sometimes – if we’re talking about performance luxury – it may extend to larger brakes or fancier suspension or a more complicated engine.

And for the most part…that’s it. An Audi is a Volkswagen in nice clothes. An Acura is a dudded up Honda. Same for Lexus:Toyota, Cadillac:Chevy, Infiniti:Nissan and you get the idea.

Here Comes the Fallacy!

Here’s the problem with the analogy.

A car’s job is to car. Through some means – usually by burning petrochemicals to create small, contained explosions – it harnesses energy. This energy is transferred to a transmission, and by driveshaft to one or two axles, and ultimately to the wheels. The wheels turn, and the car goes. There are brakes to stop them from turning. And complicated linkage (usually) connected ultimately to a steering wheel. The driver and passengers travel in comfort inside of a contained area that is typically climate controlled and, these days, doesn’t leak when it rains.

This is the basic function of every car, from the cheapest shitbox to whatever the fuck Bugatti is putting on the road.

Now let’s look at model kits. A model’s job is to go from a collection of pieces – usually polystyrene plastic arranged on a frame (sprue) – to a miniature representation of the real thing. It’s two reasons for existing are to 1) fit together and 2) look reasonably like the thing it is representing. Everything else – just like a fucking heated steering wheel – is icing on the cake. Because we need more metaphors.

Even the Cheapest Car…

Let’s say I go out and buy the cheapest new car I can find – which I believe is the Nissan Versa at around $13,000. Nobody is going to confuse it with a Jaguar or a Mercedes. It’s not going to have a heated steering wheel. Hell, it probably won’t even have power seats. It won’t be as fast or as flashy. It would probably lose in a slalom.


I fully fucking expect that Nissan Versa to car. I expect the engine to fire up when I turn the ignition. I expect the doors to close (and not leak!). I expect it to go when I put it in gear, and to take me where I need to go in a reliable fashion.

See Where I’m Going Yet?

Imagine this scenario. You buy a Nissan Versa. You go to drive to work and the door won’t stay shut, so you roll the window down and zip tie that fucker to the B pillar. Along the way, you realize that someone fucked up the wiring, so when you hit the brakes, instead of the brake lights lighting, the high beams flash. You can turn the wheel twice as far to the left as the right. And when you turn it right to full lock, the tire hits the fender. You try to take extra care when turning, but the passenger side mirror is thick and cloudy and you can’t see shit in it.

Would you then get out, shrug and say “well, I shouldn’t expect a Mercedes for Nissan Versa money”?


If you posted about your experience, would it be reasonable for someone else to reply “this guy in Germany drove his Versa to work so you can’t say it’s a shitty car”.


But this shit passes for reasonable discourse in the modeling world every single day.

What Should We Expect (Demand?) From a Kit…Regardless of Price?

I get it, kind of. Revell’s pricing, at least with their new tool 1/32 kits, seems to defy certain laws of economics. I can’t imagine any other company releasing a 1/32 P-51 for anything less than, oh, $70. But they do. Or they have. And not just with the P-51. You’ve also got their Ju 88, He 111, Bf 109Gs, Fw 190, Ar 196 and Spitfire in recent years. It remains to be seen if the trend will continue under the new ownership, but at least as of this writing, the pricing seems very lowball for new tooled kits.

With a price that makes no damn sense, it’s certainly tempting to take sloppiness in stride. Especially because the modeling community as a whole seems to have very low standards – unless it has to do with some minute accuracy niggle.

Now…at $30, I certainly do not expect Tamiya levels of detail and engineering showmanship out of Revell’s Mustang. I expect a lower parts count and fewer posable or exposable details. I expect the overall detail level to be lower, and things like cockpit and gearbay and blast tube details to be more accurate-ish than accurate. I expect the decals and instructions to both be a bit…wanting.

And…I don’t expect the kind of engineering and fit that makes you sit back at your bench in amazement. Just like I wouldn’t expect a Nissan Versa to bring a big, shit-eating grin to my face bombing down some twisty country road the way a Jaguar XE would. But I do expect a dull, competent, workmanlike fit. Similar, in point of fact, to what Revell mostly pulled off with their Bf 109G-6.


I don’t have Revell’s P-51, and so I can’t speak directly to its fit or lack thereof. Nor do I plan on buying the current boxing. If other variants are forthcoming, however – like a later D with the filleted tail or a P-51B/C, I will certainly pick one up and give it a go. As much as I love Tamiya’s big uberkits, I would certainly appreciate a more simplified option as well. If it fits.






A Reply, Because LSP Threads Keep Disappearing

Over the past few days, someone over on LSP has been making ad hominem attacks on me. Nothing new there. You create anything on the internet and you’re going to attract detractors, especially if they involve opinions, or, apparently, expletives.

But…I had a few minutes this morning while enjoying my coffee and figured I’d respond, only to turn around a minute later and find the thread gone.

This evening, I saw another thread asking where the first thread had gone, and again, the same attacks and assumptions, albeit in summarized form. By the time I found five minutes to respond and hit post, however, the thread had been locked.

As a Sisyphean farce in miniature, I find it pretty amusing. But since I already had one reply swallowed by the forum black hole today, I see no reason to let the other go to waste, so I’m posting it below.


1 – I’m completely fine with opening the other thread up. It’s frankly rather annoying to reply and then turn around and the thread is gone.

2 – Offended? LOL nope. It’s entirely possible to object to things without being offended.

3 – The accusations (made again in this thread) of dishonesty and personal vendettas are pretty serious things to sling at someone. I’m not sure how a build review, with every single issue captured on video for all the world to see, can be dishonest. I’m not sure how subjective opinions drawn from said build experience can be dishonest. How can one even have a dishonest opinion? Don’t arrive at the same conclusions as I do? That’s fine. It’s a multi-faceted hobby, and in addition to everything that goes into a model build, we all have our own likes, dislikes and preferences to boot.

4 – The personal vendetta thing is nothing but personal assumption. Yes, I hold a very skeptical view of Kitty Hawk. One born from experience with a number of their kits. Sloppy, unforced errors happen to really annoy me. Because they could be fixed with another few days of QA.

Kitty Hawk has the ability to put out really good kits. The AH-1Z is an example of that. The wings of the Su-17 are an example of that. Probably about 50% of the Su-35 is an example of that. But then they go and kneecap themselves by forgetting to cut notches for the gear doors, putting sprue gates right on the junction of a connecting tab or whatever.

Calling them on those is not a vendetta. It’s a wish that they would do a better job. Because they show at times that they can, and because they put out rather interesting subjects that I would love to not have to avoid.

5 – Yes, my blog and youtube channel are safe zones for expletives. No, that does not make them x-rated. Nor is it clickbaity. It’s a release and a choice. Made by me, for me. It may rub some people the wrong way. But…tough.

6 – Come to think of it, I do take offense to one thing said about me in the original thread – that I swear at my compressor. I absolutely do not. I tell it to shut up.

Have a great weekend.

Su-35 Battle Royale, Part 1: Antebellum

It’s been a little over a  year since my last build review – of Kitty Hawk’s maddening Su-17 Fitter. Why haven’t I returned to the well sooner? A few reasons.

  • One. These reviews take a lot of time and effort – especially shooting and editing and publishing the videos.
  • Two. I wanted to use my bench time for actually building kits. Or, let’s be honest about 2017, starting and then abandoning builds.
  • Three. There honestly just haven’t been many kits that I’ve been interested in reviewing.
  • Four. While these reviews have stirred up some excellent discussions, they also stir up petty bullshit from a small minority. And as Neal Stephenson so wonderfully wrote in Cryptonomicon, “arguing with anonymous strangers on the internet is a sucker’s game because they almost always turn out to be – or to be indistinguisahble from – self-righteous sixteen-year-olds possessing infinite amounts free time.” It’s…a bit tiresome.

A Contender

Last year, Kitty Hawk released a 1/48 Su-35, and I was absolutely not interested in it, or in any other Kitty Hawk kit after the extremely sour taste the Fitter left in my mouth.

But then Great Wall Hobby announced that they, too, were going to be releasing an Su-35.

A plan began to form. A versus build, stacking two kits of the same subject against each other.

All I had to do was wait for the Great Wall kit to release. This week, the kit finally hit US shores. Orders were placed, and now here we are.  Continue reading