In this tutorial we’ll cover the application of decals / waterslide transfers using Microset & Microsol for the ‘painted on’ look.
What are Microset and Microsol?
Micro Set slightly softens the decal film to make it more flexible so that it will conform better to the model’s surface. Better adhesion of the decal to the model prevents tiny air bubbles from forming and results in an invisible carrier film for the so-called ‘painted on look.’
Mirco Sol setting solution is for the most difficult irregular surfaces to be found on models. It completely softens the Microscale Decal, allowing it to drape down onto the surface of the model, comforming perfectly to surface irregularities without distortion.
More information can be found on the manufacturer’s website, Microscale Industries.
As described above, Microsol is mainly for complex surfaces and isn’t always required for small or simple decals, but it can be useful when working with curved surfaces, like the Space Marine shoulder pad in our example here.
First apply gloss varnish to the area where the decal will be positioned. This step is crucial, and if you encounter problems such as a visible border or air bubbles, it’s most likely that the surface was not smooth enough – so make sure you get a good glossy finish to begin with!
Allow to dry completely.
Cut the decal out from the sheet with a hobby knife and, gripping with a pair of reverse action tweezers, dip it into water for a few seconds and set aside. The exact length of time the decal needs to be submerged in water depends on various factors, including the age of the sheet. 10 seconds is normally enough, but if it doesn’t slide off easily just put it back in for a few more seconds.
While the decal is soaking and lifting from it’s backing, brush some Microset on to the area where the decal will be applied.
Slide the decal off it’s backing on to the model and position using a paintbrush. Brush some more Microset over the top, and then leave for a few moments to soften.
Using a moistened (but not wet!) cotton bud (Q-Tip), very gently press the decal down on to the the surface, removing the excess fluid and flattening / smoothing the decal as you go. Tamiya cotton buds are good for this because they are very tightly wound, and there is less chance that cotton fibres will come off and stick to the decal.
If there are stubborn creases or air bubbles that won’t flatten, carefully prick them with a pin or the point of your hobby knife and apply Microsol to the decal. You can repeat this as many times as required until the decal is completely flat, allowing it to dry fully between each coat.
When you’re happy that the decal is completely flat, apply another coat of gloss varnish to seal it. At this point the film border should be completely invisible.
If I’m going to be using shading washes on the model I normally do so after applying the decals, to blend them in and provide a matte finish. If you’re not using shading washes after applying the decals, you can use Lahmian Medium or a matte varnish to give you the desired finish.
And there you have it – a decal that looks painted on!
Yes it does say on the bottle to use water, and that is the only way in which my method differs. The fact is the water only serves to dilute the Microset, and the Microset lifts the decal just fine, so the softening process is started immediately this way.
So you only apply microsol if you bubble or crease? Or is the cotton bud moistened with microsol?
I find that in most cases (especially if the surface is adequately gloss coated beforehand), Microset is enough. Microsol is most useful for very uneven surfaces e.g. the folds of a cloak. I do indeed moisten the cotton bud with Microset (or Microsol if using).
Hey! I’m wondering if you just apply the gloss coat with a brush to the areas which your applying decals? I ask because I’ve heard numerous people claim paint doesn’t take to a gloss coated area aswel as if it didn’t have one.
Yes normally I apply it with a wet brush just where the decal will be. The only exception is when I want the whole model to be gloss coated (e.g. vehicles before oil washes), in which case I’ll airbrush the gloss varnish.
I almost always spray the final matte coat.
So ive got 2 vehicle body’s that came pre colored ( im assuming the plastic was colored when they were molded) and I want to make sure the decal applying process works. The decals are pretty old too. How would I do this and get the best results? Also I want to protect the decals from chipping or falling off, how would I go about doing that? Thanks
Do you mean they are pre-painted, or you want to apply decals to bare plastic? I’ve never attempted the latter, but I suppose the process would be the same as with a painted surface…
I would make sure the surface is clean first – wash with some isopropyl alcohol or just soap and water. Then I would still apply a gloss coat to the area and follow the steps above. To protect it after application just use another gloss coat. When everything is dry you can apply a satin or matte varnish over the whole model to remove the shininess of the gloss coated areas.
As for the age of the decals, this isn’t usually a problem. You may have to soak them in Microset longer to lift the decal from the backing. Try 10 seconds and if they don’t budge try another 5 or 10 and repeat till it lifts. If the decal film is discoloured with age that may be visible after application if you’re applying to a light coloured area. Not a lot you can do about that besides cutting very close to the decal to remove as much clear area as possible.
Actually, there is a method to remove the yellowing that occurs with old decals. It isn’t perfect, but it does help. Basically, you hang the decals out in the sun, and there are different ways of doing this, either inside a window that faces south or which every direction gets the most sun per day. The basic rule is, the longer you allow the sun to bleach the decals, the more of the yellow that goes away. It is not just theory, but a fact. You may never return it to new condition, but you can at least minimize the amount of yellowing that happens with age,. Another hint, if you do plan to use this method of dunking the decals into the microset solution, I would decant some into a very small paint tray instead of dunking into the bottle. I am not certain, but it would stand to reason that multiple dunks into the bottle will ultimately contaminant the bottle with the glue agents on the decal sheet, this may or may not have a negative effect on the decals, but just to be certain, it is easy to pour into an appropriate sized tray. Rather error on the side of causion than pollute the microset with differing types of glue released from multiple kits and decal sheets.
Thanks for the tips, Anthony
Hi Anthony, thanks for your comments and your insight! That is a good tip about decanting the setting solution rather than dunking. The other reason this is a good idea, is that it’s possible for the decal to slip off the backing and into the bottle! This is unlikely, but some decals come off their sheets much more quickly than others, so better to be safe than sorry, as you say.
There is another method to restoring old decals which I discovered only recently. This product, Micro Liquid Decal Film, can be applied over old decal sheets to restore them. It can also be used to protect custom printed decals.
I watched a YouTube video this afternoon and the user applied the set to the decal area, he then wet the decal face first with microset and then the back; i tried it and while it did work, i found that decal was actually too soft and was much more difficult to adjust as the edges had curled under during the slide off the paper, even using more water it was hard to get that curled under part back out and flat; i’ll just continue to use the warm water in a small bowl, i normally hold it under for 15 seconds and then put the decal onto a small side plate to further soak. I then apply micros on the model where the decal goes and use tweezers to hold the backing while i slide the decal off. I give the finally positioned decal a gentle roll with a cotton bud (Q tip) to squeeze out excess water etc and this will also remove air pockets. After a few mins i apply microSOL and let it dry, i know i can use microSOL more than once to help the decal conform to the shape of the surface its on. Once i’m happy with that i leave it a few hours (overnight) before i varnish with Micro flat, or Satin or Gloss.
The Micro Industries products are actually pretty good but i find the Micro Flat a little hit & miss tbh. For my models, most have a matt finish so i over coat the micro satin with a matt varnish.
What is the best way to clean the brushes after applying MicroSet or MicroSol? Water, soapy water, isopropyl alcohol, acrylic thinner, etc.?
Hi Dan, just water is fine 🙂
Any suggestions for removing 50 year old water set decals? Restoring a 1965 Raleigh bicycle with some damaged decals. Will micro sol soften these up? Don’t want to damage the original paint underneath the decal.
Hmm, I don’t have experience with anything like that. Both Microset and Microsol will soften decals, and will not damage paint, but whether or not they would be able to remove the decals depends on whether they’ve been varnished / top-coated. If you’re talking about transfers that have been put on the bike by someone ‘after market’ and they haven’t been varnished over, it may work. But if they were applied by the manufacturer they will almost certainly have had some kind of varnish or lacquer applied over the top, which would make them impervious to Microset / Sol.
Even if they haven’t been top-coated, these solutions may struggle with them due to the age. You may have to use something stronger, plus some abrasion (e.g. fine grit sand paper).
In the blood angels guide it says to apply gloss varnish to the whole model. Do I do this a second time after I’ve applied the transfer? I only have a spray on tamiya gloss varnish and was thinking of using that but problem wouldn’t have great precision plus the air might move the decal of I do a second coat on just the shoulder.
If you’re following the Blood Angels guide presumably you have an airbrush, and I’d recommend you consider these products to give you more control / accuracy / flexibility:
If you can’t get an airbrush or brush-on varnish for whatever reason, the spray can should be fine, and all over the model is okay. At this point the decals should be fully dry and adhered to the model, but you can always work in light bursts with the can, starting and ending the spray off the model.
Hope that helps!
What brand of matt and gloss varnishes do you recommend for brushing on. Thanks
I use the Vallejo Premium varnishes
I have a perfectly gloss painted surface and I want to apply water slide decals – can I do without MicroSet? I just did a test and warm water for 10 seconds was enough to get the decals onto a surface (I tried on plastic though) – my question really is – will the decals set and stick properly without any MicroSet? I would wait 8 hours before I touch the decals again and remove any decal adhesive left over.
Yes, it’s not essential. Whether you need Microset (or whether it’s useful) depends mainly on two things: the decal itself and the surface it’s being applied to. What Microset does is soften the decal to help it conform to non-flat surfaces. If the decal has a thick or rigid carrier film, or is old, Microset can be useful. But if the decal is good quality and in good condition, and the surface is smooth / flat / not too irregular, softening may not be necessary.