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OTHER DECAL TYPES

If you are not familiar with decals in general, here is a quick run down of the three types along with their pro's and con's.

When most people hear the word "decal" (pronounced dee-cal, not DEC'al) ...they normally visualize one of two things. Either it's those terrible peel-off, cheesy looking self-adhesive VINYL stickers (to stick on things that shouldn't ever be decorated in the first place),... or a sheet of WATER-SLIDE decals, normally found inside every plastic model needing to be assembled. The kind that drives you crazy trying to cut them out individually from the decal sheet, then wetting it to release the image in order to transfer the image (without destroying it in the process because it wants to stick to your finger better than to the plastic model!)

There is however, a third kind of decal that most people don't associate as being a decal, but is none the less. Just about everyone has seen those full-size plastic sheets of the alphabet (in a hundred or so different fonts that never look very appealing in the first place). We are talking about the common rub-down transfer letters most commonly seen at office supply stores. This process is called DRY TRANSFER. Each letter has adhesive just under the micro-thin printed letter or image.

There is one other "type" that bears mentioning in passing. Tthe "Iron On" transfer. This is specifically for inkjet printer ONLY because it uses a heat activated adhesive and must never be put thorugh a laser printer or photo copier or else the adhesive will melt when it passed the fuser roller in the printer and you'll have a hefty repair bill. This product will not be discussed since it's totally out of scope of the "decal" catagory.

To recap, we have basically defined the three decal methods:

1) VINYL - least acceptable due to negative physical attributes

2) WATER-SLIDE - very limited performance but easy to fabricate

3) DRY TRANSFER - best overall, but expensive to have specially made


Advantages & Disadvantages of Each Type:

  • The clear VINYL used for these decorative decals are extremely durable and cheap to make by the millions however, they leave nasty outline edges because they are visibly very thick.

  • The WATER-SLIDE images on the other hand are extremely thin and realistic but difficult to apply and takes forever to dry (hours to overnight)

  • The DRY TRANSFER decal ("letters" in this case) are extremely thin and carry their own adhesive for very easy and permanent application. Just burnish over the letter and it's done. There is no downside to this type of decal. It's the best technique of the lot!

These three decal examples above are all of the "mass-produced" variety, however, VINYL, WATER-SLIDE and DRY TRANSFER can be made "1-up" or low quantity production or even as a master prototype design.


Here's a quick overview of how each "type" works...


VINYL decals:

...are made with a standard computer and special output device that resembles a printer. Instead of having a "print head" in the case of an ink-jet or laser printer, it uses a special "knife head" to cut halfway through specially made rolls of vinyl as the film is advanced through the device.

The vinyl is adhesive backed with a paper liner protecting the adhesive until it is ready for application. These "vinyl cutters" have become quite inexpensive and small format sizes available now enabling the individual to make their own custom decals using vinyl rolls as narrow as 8" wide.

One of the most important features of using vinyl decals is that in between the "elements" that makes up the graphic, there will be no "carrier" needed to hold the image together after it gets transferred to the project. (Look at the Swimming Pool image above. All white areas are "open". Each 'individual' element is self standing because it has its own adhesive.) More details and costs associated with this method will follow in the next button down in the menu titled "Paper or Plastic?".


WATER-SLIDE decals:

...have been around since the late 1800's and surprisingly, has not changed over all of these years. This is oldest, cheapest and most common form of "do it yourself" decals. (The term DECAL by the way, came from DECALCOMANIA (which sounds stupid which is why we don't use it anymore.)

This section gets rather "deep" in the subject because there are a lot of variables to understand along with several different ways to use this medium for making decals. It's not important to know any of this! We put it here for those who might want a full understanding of decal papers.

DEXTRIN: "Water-slide" paper (also called Decal or Transfer paper) has a water-soluble coating called Dextrin coated over one side. Dextrin acts as a barrier between the printed image and the fibers of the paper. When the page is put in a bowl of water, the water starts dissolving the Dextrin coating thus releasing the printed image. Ahh... but we have a problem... there is nothing to hold the separate "parts" of the image all together without moving on their own when the Dextrin dissolves and releases the image, which results then in the image breaking up into hundreds of little pieces of toner.

(We are speaking here strictly of water-proof toner based images printed from either a laser printer or copier. Inkjet printers do not use not water-proof inks which will cause another problem if water touches that ink. We will address that unique problem in a moment.)

CARRIER: To prevent the image from falling apart when we wet the paper, a "carrier" has to be applied over the entire image area on the paper. We do this by spraying two or three light coats of clear acrylic which is available from any hardware store. This over-sprayed "carrier" remains with the decal forever! It's an integral part of the decal... and that's the main drawback of this 100+ year old technique! It's time for a change

WATER BATH: Now that the printed image has a carrier (which unfortunately is a permanent part of this type of decal) it is then put into a bowl of water. The water enters the back of the paper to get at the Dextrin coating to dissolve it thus allowing the image to slide off the paper and onto the work piece. Some of the Dextrin stays under the image and is used to reattach the decal as it dries. The decal image is very delicate and can easily rip so extreme care must be taken to lightly squeegee out excess water and allow the Dextrin to setup. When fully dried (several hours to overnight), you have a relatively durable decal.

WATER-SLIDE PAPER "TYPES": There are two decal paper types available by most retail outlets that sell "decal making" products. This one is a bit more expensive because it has a carrier applied over the Dextrin coated paper. This thin mylar cover is available in either clear or white and usable for inkjet and color copiers.
  • Plain water-slide paper (Dextrin coated only)
  • Pre-covered water-slide paper (The latter having (clear or white mylar top coat over Dextrin).

The printers at our disposal output either water-proof toner or non-waterproof inkjet ink. To understand when to use which paper is where things can get quite confusing!

So you can compare our "DecalPRO" system to the run-of-the-mill conventional "acrylic" decal... here's how the rest of the world has been doing it since about 1892!

1) PRINT THE IMAGE and PREP THE SURFACE:
Trim the print leaving a 1” white border around the artwork. Clean the surface you are transferring to with rubbing alcohol and set aside.

2) APPLY THE ACRYLIC SPRAY-ON “CARRIER”:
Lay the print over a piece of paper towel and apply three light coats of acrylic spray evenly over the image, allowing time to dry in between.

3) TRIM THE EDGES and PUT IN A BOWL OF WATER:
Trim all four sides, or cut around the image. Slip the print into a bowl of water. The print will curl up into a tight scroll, then begin to unravel. Remove the print when the un-curling ceases... about 1 minute.

4) TRANSFER THE IMAGE:
Lay the decal face-down over a small piece of wax paper (or “ClearTRF” if you have it). Carefully slide off or peel back the paper. Leave the dissolved glue over the decal. Position the decal image over the intended surface and then press down to make the transfer. Carefully rub out from center to initially “set” the image in place.

5) BURNISHING THE IMAGE:
Peel back the wax paper (or ClearTRF) and wipe the carrier dry with a wet paper towel. Lay a piece of “parchment paper” over the decal and rub out excess water and trapped air bubbles. To speed curing time down to a few minutes, apply low heat from a hot air gun, sweeping back and forth over the decal, otherwise, let the decal sit for at least two hours for the glue to fully set up.

6) “FEATHER” THE ACRYLIC CARRIER:
This will make the hard looking edges of the decal’s acrylic carrier blend seamlessly into the surface. Wet a paper towel with denatured alcohol and lightly rub over the edges. The longer the acrylic has cured, the harder it will become to feather so do it soon after the transfer.

INK OPACITY:

Color toner and color inks are very "thin" pigments and need white paper to show their vibrancy. If we were to put a "yellow square" image onto a black background, the image would literally disappear! This was always a major problem. Using an inkjet printer on this type of "pre-covered" decal paper still requires you to apply several light coats of acrylic spray to seal the ink from water attacking it making the inks 'run'.

INKJET INKS:

Inkjet printers use water-soluble ink. They can not get wet or else they will run. To use an inkjet printer to make a decal, the printed image must be 100% sealed from water. After printing to either of these special "clear" or "white" backed papers, you still must apply a top coat of acrylic and then you have totally sealed the ink and you can proceed to put the paper in the water back to make the transfer. The "white" backed paper would be used when a color decal (color laser or inkjet) is intended for a dark or black background otherwise the image will disappear. The problem with this "white" backed transfer paper is that you can't remove the "white" from inside the decal image so the entire background of the decal is white! For most decals that don't have a hard border, like even a simple line of text as a "headline" can look pretty unprofessional... you might as well use a tape labeler! (Quick DecalPro plug... Our system fixes this problem. You apply "white" to just the black toner decal image! It's a simple trick and DecalPro is the only way to do it, short of sending your artwork out for expensive decal fabrication.)

COLOR LASER PRINTERS:

If you use either the clear or white-backed paper with a color laser or copier, you don't need to overspray the image because it doesn't need to be sealed unlike inkjet ink, however, your transferred toner colors will be very flat and dull looking. All color toner is very dull and lifeless (but not if you the DecalPro method. All color toner comes out extremely glossy! (Sorry, had to put a plug in here). Now, if your objective is to transfer a color decal onto a dark or black background, you would use the white coated paper, however, the same problem exists as above with the inkjet in that you can't remove any of the "white" that is in and around the decal.

WHITE INK:

Now, having said that you can't print "white", we need to backup a few steps. There is a printer that can print white and it's called "ALPS". Unfortunately, this printer has been off the market since the late 1990's due to heavy competition with inexpensive and much faster inkjet printers.

The ALPS was a great printer in its day because it printed plastic, water-proof images from a cassette tape in a rainbow of metallic and solid pigment colors and it could also print white! Amazing, because this was the only printer in the world that could do that - laser printers, copiers and inkjet printers assume the paper is white so only the primary "C M Y K" inks (Cyan, Mag, Yellow & Black) are necessary for printing photographs. The only place to find these printers is good 'ol eBay. These machines have diminished repair support, the color-tape cassettes are harder to find and they aren't real cheap. Since the development of DecalPro there really isn't a need for an ALPS printer! It was great in it's day, but we've advanced far beyond the simple advantage of printing white.


DRY TRANSFER decals...

must be "sent out" to be made because it requires a darkroom working with negatives to expose high-contrast lithographic film and special colorized photosensitive materials by Letraset, a company that has been specializing in making custom, rub-down, dry transfer graphic images for years. A photographic emulsion is mixed in with the color of the film sheet.

When UV light passes through the negative to hit the "color film", those areas not exposed get removed by the developing step, leaving what looks like a set of "printed" images. These images are now pressure sensitive for immediate "dry transfer" to just about any surface. Very impressive and equally expensive!

The average cost for 1 "letter size" page is $75 to $85, not including shipping from the UK! All you have to do is send them your artwork and tell them what Pantone color you want. Oh, and don't forget the long turn around time to boot. These are the BEST of all types of decals, except for the high cost and long wait times. With our DecalPro system, any decal job that takes longer than 5 minutes is too long!

The only other drawback to these "send out" custom decals, besides their exorbitant cost, is that the adhesive around the "clear" areas of the decal also transfers to the target surface... not a good thing. The sticky residue is not removable which detracts from the finished result. (Once again, the DecalPro system far outperforms even these "creme de'la creme" decals!)


...can make white & metallic decals with extreme ease as well as being able to transfer full-color images onto dark or even black backgrounds by applying white UNDER the toner image! (This is a "world's first" by the way)

A couple of well known companies that sell the standard run-of-the-mill decal making supplies will reference being able to make white decals with an ALPS printer which is not the thing you want to be doing. We invite you to check out their sites so you can make a good comparison between our DecalPro system and what MICRO•MARK (www.micromark.com) and BEL (www.beldecal.com) sell just to name a few. Check them out - we'll bet you'll find no comparison between all other "competitors" in this arena. We've created a unique one-of-a-kind capability for making REAL dry-transfer, pressure sensitive, no-carrier, no-residue transfers in mere minutes that rival expensive "send out" decal orders with waiting times as long as a week or two.

Many of these decal fabrication sites can be pretty confusing too because they don't tell you what you really need to know. Our DecalPro site on the other hand, is specifically to educate and sell you on a much better process for making real decals! After all, isn't that what you are looking for? And to make it a nice purchasing experience, we give you the peace of mind that your dollars are not at risk with a full month to "kick the tires" to make sure you're comfortable with our process... or else, we want it back.

Step up to the 21st century for making decals!
• It's Quick
• Inexpensive,
• Provides Professional Results!

Now that you have an appreciation for what's out there and their respective, inherent problems, we're here to blow you away with our revolutionary process called "DecalPro". It's a unique blend of techniques from the three existing decals processes to give you a system that has...

  • the "floating element" capability of using vinyl ...
  • the printing simplicity of a laser printer ...
  • the fantastic rub-down properties of dry transfer!

We hope this has shed some light on the three "types" of decals. If we confused you or you think we were deficient in any areas, please drop us an email at "mail@pulsarprofx.com". Sometimes when you're too close to the subject, you can't see the trees through the forest!