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How to prepare and apply clear background aircraft decals

Clear background aircraft decals and roundels

  • The decals are not precut to exact shape. You will need to neatly cut out the decal with an X-Acto blade. The very tip of the blade will be doing all the hard work so make sure it is in perfect condition. A used / worn blade tip will make it significantly more difficult to cut out the decal. Do yourself a favor and use a new X-Acto blade. 

  • You will want to cut out the decal close to the printed design. Leave only a small margin of clear material. The more excess clear material you leave the more difficult placement will be.

  • I have found the No. 9RX X-Acto blade / knife to work very well for cutting out the tank company numbers:

  • The angled chisel knife head allows you to pushdown and cutout a tight square or rectangle around the design.


  • ALWAYS DRY Test Fit the decal before you place it in water.  You will want to make sure you do not need to trim off additional excess clear material.

The decal must be applied on top of a gloss clear coat. Failure to follow this step will result in decal failure. Click here for more info:


  • Place the decal in a small container of water. I use a bottlecap and eyedropper to fill it. It also makes it much easier to find if you leave the decal in the water too long and it separates from the carrier sheet.

  • DO NOT leave the decal in the water for more than 60 seconds.

  • Place the decal on a wet paper towel for an additional 30 to 60 seconds.  This will give the starch binder time to release the print sheet matrix from the carrier sheet. To better understand the component pieces of decals see the “Transfer Paper & Printers” tab.

  • Wet the model are where the decal is going to go. This will make it easier to apply and maneuver the decal to its final position.

  • Do not pull the decal off the carrier sheet.  Place the carrier sheet on the model, then pull the carrier sheet out from underneath the decal. For tiny roundels, you can use a rounded tip or plastic toothpick or a small paint brush. A common mistake is removing the decal from the carrier sheet while it is in the water and then trying to lay it out over the model.  Doing this will make applying the decal to the model much harder than it needs to be.

Better to use a Q-tip than a finger. Hold the deal and then pull the carrier paper out from underneath. 


The smaller the decal, you are better off placing the carrier paper on the model and then brush the decal onto the model

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  • If you push/pull the decal too much you will stretch it and probably fracture the print matrix - See "Why Gloss Coat?" tab for more info.

  • I do strongly recommend using a decal set solution for best results.  It will help with placement and long-term adhesion. 

  • Once the decal is in its final location, use a new clean dry brush to soak up / brush off the excess water.  

  • Make sure you do not have any air pockets.

  • Now apply the decal Set Solution.  I use Micro Set, Vallejo & Testors set solutions. See "Decal Setting Solution" tab. 

  • Do not touch the decal again until the solution has done its thing.  Just leave it alone.  it is supposed to look like that.  Once it is done, all the crinkles and bubbles will disappear.

  • Once the decal has set and dried (minimum 6 hours), apply topcoat clear sealer and you are done.  If you clear coat too soon you can cause “silvering" and or “spotting" on the decal. See "Why clear topcoat?" tab.  You do need to topcoat the decal. 

  • With all that said, this is not a complicated or hard process.  Just follow the steps and don’t rush.  You will love the results. 

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