Decals, transfer or stencils? Nowadays we have different possibilities when we want to put the Balkan cross in a Panzer IV, or the allied start in a Sherman. However, decals for vehicles are dominating the Wargames, thanks to games such as Flames of War or Bolt Action. But in large scales we can find other options, like transfer or stencils, and we can also use them for our 15mm models.
Decals and transfer are too similar -a printed film above a paper-, but the application is different. Using decals, we wet the paper in first place, and when the decal is separated from the paper, we can put it on the surface. But when we are using transfers, first we put the transfer on the surface, and then we wet it until the paper detaches. At the end, the result is just the same. Anyway, it’s too important to try to reduce the “transparent film” as much as we can. That’s, we should trim the decal, preserving only the symbol we are interested in. Therefore, we reduce the unwanted edge of the decal, which usually acquires a white color. We should also notice that we can use different softener product, such as Micro Sol and Micro Set, which help us to adapt perfectly the decal on any surface. For more information, you can see this post. And remember to apply a satin varnish layer before start working the weathering effects!
In my opinion, the best decals we can use are from Battlefront and from Dom’s Decals. I have to say that Battlefront’s ones are a bit expensive –and sometimes hard to find-, but they nicely work. On the other hand, Dom’s Decals has an enormous variety, and the price is so nice. But meanwhile Battelfront’s decals are “pre-cut”, Dom’s Decals need to be trimmed. On the other hand, Skytrex has also some decals and transfer, and the quality is very nice.
And finally, the most interesting option for me: stencils. I have to say that one year ago I completely rejected to use stencils in 15mm models. I thought it would be almost impossible to manage them on very small surfaces like the ones we can find at this scale. But when a friend borrowed me one, I discovered a new world of possibilities!. Of course, the size of our models still being a problem. However, the stencils for this scale (well, there are not stencils for exactly 1/100 scale) are also small, and therefore, we have enough space to put them.
I’ve been using stencils of 1/72 and 1/76 scale from Scale Link. They provide sheets classified by different armies and symbol types (ex. Numbers of German Tanks, allied stars, etc), with plenty of different stencils in each one. Thus, we have to cut the stencil we need and independently work it. One of the most important points is to put properly the stencil, that’s in a straight line and not crocked. I usually use masking tape not only to fix the stencil, but to create at least one reference line. Therefore, first I put a fragment of masking tape to create a correct base, and then, I start fixing the stencil with new masking tape fragments. Beware and not mask the stencil!. Another important point is to be sure that the stencil is properly fixed. The stencil should be completely close to the surface, without hollows. If there are hollows, when we airbrush the paint, the symbol edges will result diffused, and not sharp. Of course!, if you want this blur effect you can explode this point. Once we have controlled both points, alignment and fixation, we can apply the paint. I usually use and airbrush and the paints a bit diluted, but no so much, because if the paints are too diluted, we can generate “spider legs” below the stencil. In fact, we should apply a very small layer of paint!. Finally, when the paint is dry we can remove carefully the masks and the stencil!. Remember to varnish before continuing with the weathering effects!.
I prefer to use stencils because the result is more real. In fact, we follow the same method which is used in reality). Actually, I use them always I can. But they have some limitation, at least in this small scale: as far as I’m concerned, we cannot properly apply them when the surface is too irregular, and we cannot work –at least easily- symbols with different colors, such as the white-black Balkan cross (the alignment required would be crazy!). What do you think?
On the other hand, in case you are interested, I’ve just published an article about how to do snow in the last issue of The Weathering Magazine, by Ammo of Mig Jimenez. In addition, inside you can find plenty of articles with guides and tips about how to recreate different snow effects in our models. It’s a must!. The head picture of this post is the diorama I explain in the article of this issue.
In addition, in the last issue of Wargames: Soldiers&Strategy you can find another complete painting article using an E-100 tank from Heer46. The article involves how to do camouflages using Blu-tack and many weathering effects for 15mm vehicles.