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Everything you never wanted to know about decal paper & printers

All our products are printed on waterslide decal paper.  Or as the rest of the planet calls them; water slide “Transfer” paper.  They are not photo paper or vinyl stickers.

Water slide decal paper are made up of several layers.

  • The carrier layer / film. This is the layer the image is printed on (transparent or white)

  • The glucose adhesive layer

  • The dextrose release layer

  • The backing stock layer (blue or white)


The glucose film layer gives the decals their adhesive properties that bond the carrier sheet graphic to the model.  This is one of the reasons why it is so important to not over soak the decal. This layer will wash away.

The dextrose layer when mixed with water gives the decal carrier sheet the ability to slide off the paper and onto the surface of your model.

The carrier layer of film on which the decal images are printed is available in either a clear/transparent backing or a solid white background.

There are several types of water slide decal paper. For purposes here, I will just explain the importance of understanding the differences between papers made for use in laser printers verses inkjet printers. You cannot use paper designed for laser printers in inkjet printers and vice versa.  The paper layers described above are of significantly different compositions.

An inkjet printer propels tiny droplets of ink onto the decal paper during printing and requires drying time.

Laser printers use a special laser to produce an electrically charged image on a drum, which is then rolled through powdered toner. The toner then fuses onto the paper using heat.  Requires no drying time as the heat of the laser will bond the toner to the decal.

  • If you run a sheet of laser paper through and inkjet the print ink will not adhere to the image carrier layer. It will pool up and run and general make a mess of your printer head.   

  • If you try to run a sheet of inkjet paper through a laser printer you will destroy the printer fuser.  Inkjet paper can not handle the heat required to fuse the powder tonner to the image carrier layer.


A quick note here, you maybe accustom to decal sheets in model kits where each image is printed on its own individual transfer layer.  That is a product of either Offset or Screen printing. We use direct digital print on decal paper that has a single image transfer layer which covers the entire sheet. Each decal needs to be individual cut out.


White verses clear carrier film layer papers.

Why are some decals “transfers” printed on white background and others are printed on transparent?

There are several reasons for this. But the major reason is that there are very few printers that can print white. They are both expensive and take a significant amount of technical knowledge / skill to operate.  White is important because of the translucent / opacity of all other colors except possibly pure black. If you print a red star for example, and the red does not have a white undercoat the color be washed out when applied to the model by the color painted on the model. It the white that solves for this transparency / opacity effect. The white undercoat allows the true solid color to appear even over dark painted surfaces. 

As mentioned, there are few and they are expensive to purchase then operate, printers that can print the color white.  Easy solve is to print the image on white carrier layer paper. Downside becomes readily apparent if you have ever tried to cut out a perfect circle:    

cutout 1.png

Verses the same roundel printed  on a transparent image carrier layer paper with a white undercoat.

cutout 2.png

What then becomes especially important, even for a printer that can print true white color, as an undercoat on transparent carrier paper is a term called registration.  The problem hear is that even of those few printers that can print white, they need to be able to print the white first and then the other colors. Some white tonner printers can only print white last. Of that small group of printers that can print white first, the less expensive of those are usually not particularly good at registration of the multiple color layers. 


There are only 2 or 3 printers on the market that do registration at exceedingly small scales well.  Best in class for registration is the ALPS printer.  It is even better than the $15K Oki C942. The problem is that the last new ALPS printer rolled off the assembly line over 30+ years ago.  The consumable resin ink / tonner cartridges are becoming very scarce and very, very, expensive.

One of the significant pluses for the Oki, that it is second only to the ALPS in registration and it is still being produced and support.  There are many other benefits the Oki brings to the table. It can produce a 10-fold great range of colors and shades than the alps.  It is significantly more reliable, easier, and faster to operate than the ALPS.  It also delivers a higher level of color sublimation of colors.

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