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Weathering – Aging Decals

Aging Decals to Model Faded Signs and Paint

Decals are an easy way to add signs to model buildings and lettering to trains. Many of the buildings and trains we model have been around for many years however, and those bright billboards have lost a lot of their luster. There are many decals available to create a variety of signs, advertising and lettering. But nearly all recreate these signs as new.

Fortunately, you can weather these decals just as you would the rest of the building to show age.

After sanding, the decal signs take a more faded and weathered appearance.
(Compare the two small J.C. Landings signs, to see the difference on the sheet.)
After sanding, the larger sign has been applied to the model.

These techniques work for decals you apply yourself. There are other techniques to use if you want to weather lettering or signs that are already printed on the model.

Sanding the Decal

The aging process begins by sanding the surface of the decal. It is easiest to do this before cutting out the decal. Just use care to only sand the decals on the sheet that you want to age.

Start with a fine grit sandpaper and very light pressure. Different decals may react more quickly to the sanding than others. Continue sanding until you begin to see the decal start to fade. A heavier grit paper can also be used for a more scratched appearance.

You can remove as little or as much of the printing as you’d like, depending on the effect you are trying to create. You can even remove all of the print in places, just be careful not to sand through the bottom of the decal film and into the backing. Holes in the decal will make it much more difficult to apply to the model.

Perfecting the skill will take a little practice, but it is not as difficult as it may seem.

Like most weathering techniques, if you start small and continue adding (or in this case removing) you can gradually achieve the look you are after.

Applying Faded Decals

The faded decals are applied to the walls and carefully worked into the contours of the siding. This makes them appear to have been painted on the walls and weathered over the years.

Applying faded decals is not much different than applying other decals. The same basic steps apply.

One difference however is the strength of the decal itself. The more faded the decal, the more fragile it will be. You will need to be extra careful while sliding the decal off of the backing and positioning it on the model. If a decal does tear, you can usually piece it back together on the model. Follow these steps and tips and you should get pleasing results:

  1. Cut the decal from the sheet, trimming close to the edges.
  2. Soak the decal in water for about 30 seconds or until the decal can slide freely from the backing. Soaking times can vary between different decal sheets.
  3. Slide the decal from the sheet onto the model. Try to position it correctly the first time, adjustments will be more difficult than with full-strength decals.
  4. Apply a very light coat of setting solution to help the decal settle into and around details on the model.
  5. Allow the decal to dry completely before sealing with a clear flat finish and/or applying any additional weathering.

When applying the decal over clapboard siding as seen here, a fingernail works well to help seat the decal around all of the ridges. Apply a little additional setting solution during this step if necessary to avoid tearing the decal. This step is critical to making the decal look as though it was painted, not pasted, on the wall.

You can now finish weathering the walls and assembling the structure. Now your signs will look as old as the building.

Of course, the same techniques will work on decals for cars and locomotives too

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