We live in a pre-packaged age, an age of immediacy. Labour-saving devices are expected, we whine if we don’t get them. The hobby is no different, speed and ease are virtues – I have certainly grumbled enough about kits that presented more of a challenge than I had the stomach for at any particular moment.
The painting mask is one of those modern conveniences, a go-to product that cuts the elbow grease (well, wear on eyesight, patience and dexterity) that old-fashioned masking called for. I posted not too far back on the thought that traditional masking was a dying art; I still do it from time to time, but if a pre-cut set is available for a model I’ll probably buy it, just to streamline the procedure.
But, and this is the big but, what if that process goes wrong?
I recently found myself in that situation, the mask set went on fine but the paint had so little adhesion to the canopy that it simply flaked off as the masks were removed. Much grumbling and cussing ensued, of course, and scratching of head and thinking back. Did I want to remove the paint, clean the transparencies and completely re-mask by hand, then paint again? A Stuka? You’d have to be joking! So… what?
I remembered a technique I read about when I was a kid and had in fact used in the ‘80s, experimentally. Frustrated with daggy-looking canopy struts and realising my dexterity with a brush was not going to improve, I had tried the “decal method.”
The theory is simple enough, paint a piece of decal paper with the inside colour, then the outside colour, cut with a razor knife to the required width and apply as per normal… this was before the day of mask sets or commercial clear film (well, Microscale was doing it, but that hallowed firm had not yet quite become the daily resource for me it would later).
It worked sort of okay at the time, I guess (I remember decal adhesion being a big issue), but I never did it extensively, my most ambitious use of it being the gridded canopy supports of the Revell 1:32nd scale Bell X-1, about twenty years ago, which I finished with pre-printed black decal strips from a Queensland firm call PJ’s, if memory serves. The need for the technique receded into the dusty attic of my memory with the coming of dye-cut masks and I never thought about it again. But faced with the failure of the modern method (I’m unsure why, maybe finger grease got on the canopy as it was being masked and resulted in a barrier to paint adhesion), the old trick resurfaced in my memory.
After moving house I could not find my clear decal film, so mail ordered some from interstate, Microscale’s TF-0 Clear Trimfilm. This is the good stuff, from the big brand. I sprayed RLM 02 for the interior and RLM 70 for the exterior (Model Master Acryls), then brushed Liquid Decal Film overall (it levels perfectly, brush strokes are virtually nonexistent), and used my Chopper II plastic guillotine to cut super-fine strips. Then, with an air of experimentation, I went through the decal process.
Well, blow me down if it didn’t actually work!
Okay, the strips were perhaps a fraction wider than they should have been, but we are talking about fractions of a millimetre, translating into maybe a scale centimetre, and it would take a near-terminal rivet counter to complain about that. I did a test strip on a piece of plastic and it went on fine, then fell off with zero-adhesion, which caused some anxious moments, but MicroSol solution got it to lie down properly and it stuck thereafter. So, emboldened, I tackled the job and in a relatively short time had a completed section.
The strips are absolutely clean and sharp, and create the necessary pattern in a way that is pleasing to the eye. Certainly where straight lines are concerned, the technique seems to be a winner, to the extent that I would consider going with it from scratch, depending on the subject.
Of course, sealing the strips is another matter – spraying my usual satin would diminish the transparency of the canopy, and dipping in Future would create a gloss on the struts that did not match the rest of the aircraft. If they are not sealed it may well be a case of them drying out and simply flaking off in time, so there is a compromise of some sort to be made. I’ll observe them over time and see how they behave: certainly unsealed Trimfilm strips used on another model about seven years ago are in poor shape now and demanding a rework.
The truth is, some strips grabbed tight, others did not, subsequent handling knocked off one or two which had to be replaced, so the process was not without frustration. Also a number of strips broke up after soaking, so at least two coats of Liquid Decal Film are indicated.
Was it perfect? No, nothing is. Does it pass muster? Yes, and that’s probably the biggest factor. We have become very particular about the details of our models, competing with ourselves for ever-greater refinement, and we take poorly when anything gets in the way of that; it’s good to know, however, that some of the traditional fixes still work.