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Why you should use gloss clear coat & decal setting solution


Part 1: Why you need to use GLOSS clear coat.

  • Don't care which one. Just use one!

  • You need to use a gloss coat under any and all decals. Don't care if they are 1mm aircraft roundels or 10" long deck.

  • "Why? I have never used gloss coat under decals before."   Yup, I know. But that's why they turn out like this: 


All of the above are caused by not using a gloss clear coat under the decal....  

  • Flat paints dry with a textured surface full of micro ridges.  The micro ridges are in part what cause the flat sheen appearance.

  • Gloss paints dry with a flat smooth surface


  • Is most often caused by the air trapped under the decal in the micro ridges. Sometimes this effect is immediate. Other times it can take weeks to manifest. 

  • Silvering can also be caused by not using decal setting solution, even on gloss surfaces - see part 2.

  • Silvering can also occur in paint sheens. When I am painting complex camo schemes with acrylics, I often use a clear coat to seal the paint between color layers.  I also clear coat before adding darker washes.  When doing this, you want to use a gloss clear sealer.  This is especially important if your final coat will be a semi or gloss coat.  If you use a flat or dull coat you can end up with a white haze / frost in your final clear coat.  


Chipping / Fracturing:

  • Although this can be caused by oversoaking the decal, in most cases it is occurs by applying the decal over a flat paint or a flat clear coat. Think of the micro ridges in flat sheen paints, like sandpaper.  

  • The chipping is caused by overworking the decal carrier sheet - See the "Transfer Paper" tab - when trying to place the decal.  It is significantly harder to move the decal around on a surface with a flat sheen.  As you try pushing and pulling  the decal into its final position, you will feel the resistance of the ridges.  That resistance will start to fracture the carrier sheet causing fissures.  This can lead to small chips actually breaking off.

  • This will often result in the decal stretching to a point that it no longer fits correctly.  A clear indicator in the above pic of this effect is that the deck number 9 is now almost over the leading edge of the flight deck.  The decal has been stretched during application. The white speckles is the result of chipping caused overworking the decal and fracturing the matrix.             

Edging / Curling:

  • Although this can also be caused by oversoaking the decal, in most cases, it is caused by applying the decal over a flat paint and or a flat clear coat. 

  • The micro ridges not only trap air beneath the decal but it also gives the transfer sheet significantly less surface area to adhere to.  Placing a decal over a flat sheen and not using a setting solution is a recipe for disaster.  Often I read posts about decals actually falling of the models weeks after being applied.  The formula for the disappearing decal = flat sheen paint + no setting solution + no top coat over the decal.

Part 2: Why you need to use setting solution.

  • In this case I do care which one you use. Or, should I say, I care which one you don't want to use.

  • "Why...? I have never used setting solution before..."  Uh huh... see part 1.  


Before we go any further, I want to address the difference between decal setting solutions & decal softening solutions. There are very few instances where you would need to use decal softener with the decals I produce. Therefor, I will leave instructional tips on how to use softener to others.


Tamiya "Strong" and Walthers are both very strong. They are designed for very thick decals. The may damage thin decals. 

  • You only need to use a softener when a decal is going on a 4 way conical surface.      

  • This decal on the shoulder of a space marine is a good example of when you will want to use a decal softener.

  • If you do not use a softener, you will end up with wrinkles in the decals.

  • You do not need to use a softener unless you are doing something like this. 

* The only decals you should use softener (Micro Sol) on is the deck bow of the HMS Furious, Courageous & Glorious.  


Ok... Now back to decal setting solution. To understand why setting solution is necessary it is important to understand how it works and what it does.

  1. It chemically interacts with the decal carrier sheet. That reaction dissolves the print matrix into the gloss coat and thermal bonds them together.​

  2. The thermal bonding also reshapes the decals into seams or crevasses. 

"How and how not" to use decal setting solution:

  • The gloss coat needs to be both completely dry and fully cured. This means a dry time of at least 24 hours before applying decals. I recommend a dry time of 72 hours.  

  • Water has a neutralizing effect on setting solution. Wisk off any remaining water droplets from the initial application with a dry brush.  Do not use cotton swaps or cloths.  

  • Do not listen to tutorials that instruct you to use swabs to press / work out air bubbles and or to shape the decal into seams and crevasses. Use a paint brush to squeegee the air bubbles and whisk of the excess water.  


  • Do not let the decal dry for more than 10 or 15 minutes before applying the setting solution. This is counter productive. You want to use it after the water has been removed but not after all the moisture has evaporated. 


  • The decal setting solution goes on top of the decal, not underneath. Here again there are lots of videos out there by decal "experts" telling you to use it both underneath and on top.  Trust me. It goes on top.


  • Using it underneath can cause time delayed green / teal discoloring or spotting of the decal.


  • After you apply the solution put the mini down and leave it alone. Let the solution do its thermal thing. If you continue to touch the decal even with a brush you will destroy the decal.


  • DO NOT PANIC!  It is supposed shrivel and bubble like that. Remember it is dissolving the decal print matrix into the gloss coat. Just don't touch it until it has done its thing.


  • Let the decal dry for at least 24 hours.


  • Final step is top clear coat the decal and or the entire mini - see "Why clear topcoat" tab. 


  • Decals are not hard. They do require some patience but you will love the results.

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