I’ve been in a decal state of mind lately. In part because I’m neck deep in the decal stage on my F-104, and in part because of some, let’s say heated discussion about the quality or lack thereof of certain decals.
Perhaps more than any other aspect of modeling, decals seem prone to disclaimers of your mileage may vary. Tamiya decals may work fine for one person, and terribly for another. One decal sheet may respond very well to Micro-Sol, while another’s decals shatter under the stuff. But try Solvaset or Mr. Mark Softer or some other option, and you get the opposite reaction. Some decals need very warm water to work, others don’t care, and still others fall apart in the increased temperatures. Even on the same decal sheet, major markings may perform wonderfully, while stencils may be prone to silvering despite all attempts at prevention.
This is because decals are magic.
Science vs. Magic
Some years ago, I attended a very interesting panel at CES. One of the panelists – I forget his name now – used science and magic to talk about experience design.
Science is simple. Intuitive. Repeatable with predictable results.
Magic is mysterious. It’s miraculous. And it’s not repeatable with predictable results.
Think about Microsoft Word (and especially the rougher state it was in in 2007/2008). You change the formatting of a paragraph and it randomly breaks something else. God help you if you had an image embedded in your document! Word would just do shit, and you’d have no idea what it did, or why, or how to fix it other than hitting Undo.
Decals are like that. They’re mysterious. They’re unpredictable. You never quite know what you’re going to get.
I mean…modeling is full of processes we have to go through. To use this paint effectively, you use this thinner or that thinner, you spray it around this pressure, and so on.
Except for decals. With decals, you can go through the steps. Smooth paint, smooth gloss coat. Use warm water. And they might still silver. They might still laugh at whatever decal solvent you use. Or they might have the opposite reaction and crack and shatter. Or…they may go down perfectly, snuggle into surface detail, and look painted on.
One time, your trusty Solvaset may save your ass. But on the next build, it may screw you by destroying a large and critical decal. Maybe Micro-Sol or Mr. Mark Softer or AK Decal Adapter will work better? Perhaps? Maybe the decals are just shit. Or maybe it’s too cold. Or…or…
Case in point. I’ve found that AK’s Decal Adapter works extremely well on Italeri’s F-104 decals. But Kevin over at Large Scale Planes found it largely disappointing in a review test. Why? Who the hell knows?
I have a feeling that there’s a lot of chemistry at work in decals that, if we could only have some visibility into it, would make the whole process more transparent. Knowing a decal has X and Y substances in it, okay, so for that you want to use decal solution Z. You get the idea.
Until then, decals will remain magic.