That’s not me speaking, but a comment from a fellow modeller on a message board. While there is obviously some truth in the sentiment, it set me thinking – do all kit decals suck?
Hmmm. Good question, really, and everyone’s experience is going to be unique. I have probably over 500 sheets of aftermarket decals in my collection, so you would think my answer would have been wholehearted agreement, but the fact is I have not used all that many of them. The Hobby Boss Fw 190 D-9 which I completed recently in Hans Ulrich Rudel’s markings constitutes my first AM scheme in a long while, and my Airfix Mustang continues the trend.
Kit decals recently almost hung me out to dry, to be sure. I built Hasegawa’s excellent 1:32nd scale Fw 190 A-8 in Hans Dortenmann’s markings for the D-Day period, and as with all German aircraft, with their infinitely variable lack of standard, once you have committed to a paint scheme you really need to follow through with the right markings, and in this instance the kit decals, despite looking fine, refused to separate from the backing, and encouragement caused them to break up. They were somewhat out of register also. Obtaining insignia, stencil data and individual markings from AM sheets would have cost me around $60, which is more than I gave for the kit, and I was ready to put the model back on the shelf until a fellow modeller came to the rescue, having the same kit and planning to use AM for it. I shall forever be in his debt! More about that build later when I do a retrospective review, but the anecdote has more or less established that even the biggest firms can have crappy decals at times.
Many folks have very little good to say about Tamiya’s decals, though for myself I have yet to have a seriously negative experience with them. Indeed, I have been lucky enough to pick up both Tamiya and Hasegawa editions containing Cartograf-printed decals, and you can’t ask for better than that. Sometimes AM is not the be-all and end-all, though. I have Eagle Strike’s RAF Roundels set and while they function fine, they grip so tight to the surface they display every imperfection so they look like pebble-dash paving. When I did my Spitfire at the beginning of this year, I used Hasegawa’s decals preferentially – they were that bit thicker and came up with a smooth finish. Likewise, I used Aztek’s Hinomarus on an Arii Raiden I built about two years ago, and though they went down nicely they did not snug into all the surface detail, so my hopes of accenting all the rivets and lines crossing the insignia was thwarted, no matter how much solution I used. And again, on my recent Mustang, I used EagleStrike’s markings, and this time they refused to draw into the surface at all – where the upper wing insignia crossed an aileron jack I had to cut the decal to get it to settle.
I remember a Spitfre from an Eastern European firm I built as a kid, I had never seen decals disintegrate when wetted before – there was no carrier film! Recently I expected Zvezda’s decals to be a real fight on their T-72, but they were actually a breeze. I remember Airfix decals from the 70s that might have been thickish and the wrong colours but they never failed to free off from the paper and could be guided into place with a junior modeller’s forefinger, then actually stick down to a matt surface. That sounds like decals created with a specific marketplace and skill-level in mind!
Twenty, twenty-five, years ago, Monogram still made some of the best-loved kits on the market and I remember mentioning to a hobby shop proprietor that while I loved the mouldings, the decals were probably the poorest I had ever seen and would always replace them with AMs. His reply has always stuck in my mind: ‘That’s what all serious modellers do.”
What about Academy and Hobbycraft? Grey-box edition for the latter, forget it, black-box edition, they raised their game. I guess they took criticisms onboard! The Korean guys? Well, I’ve had kits where the decals simply did not work, end of story, and others where they worked, but grudgingly. The memory of that has kept me from being anything but wary ever since, and when I compare it to the faultless application and cooperative nature of the Superscales I used on Rudel’s bird not long ago, I can see why that chap on the forum would have said what he said. Do we really need the kind of heartache we get from substandard decals?
We can certainly do without it, but the fact remains, not every kit decal sheet is that bad. Of the kits in my display case, those with AMs or other combinations of decals to get the subject and effect I wanted are in fact outnumbered by those featuring kit-supplied markings by several to one. So I guess you could say that it’s all about the individual experience as to how down you are on what you get right out of the box. There is no denying that sometimes they are very poor indeed, but, at least in my own experience, this has been more the exception than the rule. That said, as this was written I was laying the decals onto a Tamiya Corsair (see a few posts back) and they almost made a liar of me, with their shatter-prone nature. They were very thin and featured true whites, and reacted to solvents well enough, but that did not make them usable. I switched to an old Aeromaster sheet, which behaved very well and allowed me to finish the project with some minimal reworking, so hey, what do I know? Maybe enough kit decals really do suck to make the header line a truism after all!