Custom Waterslide Decals for Woodworkers in 9 Easy Steps!
This was originally posted on Lumberjocks and has been updated twice. I continue to get email questions about this process. I just returned from our vacation home in Sisters, Oregon for a pre-holiday get-away with the family. Some of my first decals were made for this home. Seeing these guest signs made me think of posting a video tutorial update.
I have found this process very useful for making small signs and plaques. I also have made some small signature and commemorative decals for woodworking projects.
This Waterlide Decal Tutorial is available as a PDF download (see sidebar)
- Clear or White 8.5×11 waterslide decal paper
- Deft Gloss Clear Lacquer
- Speedball Rubber Brayer (Rubber Roller)
- Paper Towels
- Bowl with clean water
- Color or Black & White Graphic Image
I use a Mac so I will share the details of how I do things, however, you can do this on any computer with whatever application you feel most comfortable. For most of my decal work I use a combination of Microsoft Word and Adobe Photoshop Elements. I have also used my digital scanner and camera to import a particular image or graphical element. In this example I made a decal commemorating Dan Rickards, the landscape artist that painted the front of a cherry blanket chest. I usually print a draft copy on white paper and trim to size to test the fit on the finished piece. When I am happy with the layout I make a final print on glossy photo paper or bright white heavy bond paper.
QUICK TIP Decal sheets are 8.5×11. Try to make more than one decal during each printing run to minimize waste of the decal sheets. I just use the computer application to layout a number of images allowing room for final trimming. Mistakes do happen, so often it helps to make a duplicate image on each sheet.
2. Copy Decal Design On Decal Paper
Take final print and a small supply of decal paper to your favorite print shop. I use Kinkos for all my printing needs. If your intended decal is color you will need to use a color laser copier, otherwise use the black and white laser copy machine. Pay attention to orientation of the original and the print side of the decal sheet. This varies from machine to machine. I always use the “bypass tray” because the decal sheet is heavy and there is a risk of jamming the feed rollers.
QUICK TIP The decal sheet supplier I use provides a thin tissue protection sheet on each decal sheet. Be sure to remove this sheet before printing your decal.
3. Seal the Decal
Spray 2 or 3 thin coats of Deft Gloss Clear Lacquer on the printed decal sheet. This protects the image, and more importantly, provides a bit of extra stiffness to the finished decal, making the waterslide application easier.
4. Soak the decal in clean water for a few minutes.
5. Lightly wet the surface where you intend to apply the decal.
Wetting the surface makes it easier to gently adjust the final position of the decal. For wood projects, I apply decals after the first coat of clear finish. The idea is that subsequent layers of finish will protect the applied decal. The decal ends up being buried in the layers of finish. The edges are barely perceptible after the last coat of finish.
6. Slide the Decal on to the Project
Gently slide approximately 1/3 of the decal off the edge of the paper backing and position on your work piece. Gently hold that edge while slowly sliding the backing paper from the decal.
7. Check Final Position of Decal
At this point your decal is on your work piece floating on a thin film of water. Make any last minute position adjustments before using a brayer roller to gently squeeze water from under the decal. Be gentle – decals are fragile!
8. Blot Excess Water
Use paper towel to gently blot any remaining water from the decal surface and your work piece.
9. Allow The Decal to Dry
Allow the decal to thoroughly dry overnight before applying the remaining coats of finish.
Gentle and slow are key operative words for this process. As always, practice makes perfect when using a new technique!