solder button
site map button Intro to DCC
How to Make Your Own Decals

Decals are fairly easy to do. Here's how to do it.  You can have someone mass produce them for you or buy a printer capable of printing on decals. 

I got samples from 3 of the custom decal advertisers in MR. I had a decal expert friend evaluate them. All were outstanding quality in his opinion. 

A person has 3 choices: 

1) Select a standard decal layout from a list of size combinations that they offer and provide the text and a copy of your desired herald. 

2) Ask for something that is not from their standard offerings and pay the hourly design rate. 

3) Design the decal yourself and provide camera ready artwork. This will get you a 15% discount from the standard offerings of option 1 from one of the custom decal makers. This option also allows you to cram the decal sheet getting perhaps more things than you would if you selected option 1 or 2. Obviously, I did some cramming. So I suggest that the person lay out their own artwork. This gets you the most for your buck. 

To layout your own artwork, use any graphics package you want. I used Power Point. Not the easiest way perhaps, but the most sophisticated package I own. ONE OF THESE DAYS I will buy a real drawing package like Corel Draw. Possibly, PC Paintbrush could be used. You will need to provide the artwork either 2x or 4x actual size. 2x is easy to do using Power Point and 8.5x14 paper if you desire a finished decal size of 2x6. Some suppliers require a .5" border all the way around, so you would draw your decals to fill an area of 3x11. 

I suggest that a person first layout out their decals ideas actual size, cut them out, and see how they look on the car. Then double the point size of the characters and generate your 2x artwork. Call Chip to find out what character heights (in inches) railroads typically used for their various numbers. 

Avoid straight lines in your artwork. My friend is right, they are hard to get on straight. When they are not straight, they are very obvious! 

Your artwork must be camera ready. Even with 600 dpi, I'm not sure a inkjet qualifies. Call and ask. I never have any trouble spotting an inkjet output. It has a subtle pattern like dot matrix printers only much finer, needless to say. So use a laser printer for absolutely crisp artwork. 

You may be able to send them a disk. 

I created my artwork to allow me a variety of letter schemes on my cars. I have enough options built into the sheet I sent you to layout a car about 4 basic ways with a total of about 12 minor variations. The real railroads kept changing their minds about how they would letter their cars. Why rack out your brain trying to pick "the one?" Then I decal'ed a couple of cars. Each side is different. I wonder if anyone will ever notice that a few cars are layed out differently on their opposing sides! 

Some of the suppliers allow you to change colors a bit. So I could have gotten some flat white, gold, or whatever. There is a small charge for this. I didn't take advantage of this. I can always reorder. Most keep the negatives they makes from your artwork. This saves effort and lowers your reorder cost a bit. 

That's all there is to it. 

I need to get a good screen capture program.  Scanning doesn't do the decals justice. 

And Now for Some 20/20 Hindsight:

I created four groups of 0 through 9 to get any number I could ever want.  But not being a decal expert, I started with a 3 and then numbers that had adjacent sequences such as 3456, 3567, 3678, and 3012.  I was quickly out adjacent sequences.  I should have created four unique groups like 0-9, 9-0, 0246813579, and 9753186420.  I could have made four times as many cars before resorting to individual or paired numbers.  Every little bit helps!  To get the same two numbers for both sides of the car, take the second set of numbers from another sheet of decals. 

Printing Your Own Decals:

Since originally writing this page several years ago, a few printers are now on the market that allow you to print your own decals.  Normal ink jet printers don't print on decal paper.  Even if they did, white isn't available.  Micro-Mark sells special decal paper for ink jets and laser printers.  But you still don't have a way of getting white lettering - which is what most of us want. 

Printers that have become popular with modelers are made by a Alps.  Their least expensive model works great.  It prints white, gold, and silver in addition to the usual colors.  It uses ribbons that are similar to the plastic (mylar?) ribbons that were popular with the high quality printing from an IBM Selectric. 

If printing white, you need to create the desired image in black.  Then tell the printer to print black as white.  Their manual describes this.  You will find that you probably need to make two passes with the white in order to keep the car's color to keep from showing through.  This is easy to do with their overlay function.  I have also found that when printing images, putting a white background behind it is frequently necessary. 

The printers are no longer for retail sale in the US. You can get them on auction sites. Many on-line stores still carry the ribbons.

I have some decals I made for my outdoor G-scale deck girder bridge. They still look great since installation in August of '99. 

Their ribbons are not cheap; especially the specialty colors like white, gold, and silver.  If you need a lot of the same thing, you may want to consider sending it to one of the companies that will make decals for you.  Perhaps you get everything made except numbers.  They you could print sheets having unique car reporting marks.  No more cutting out individual numbers! 

If you need some railroad fonts, check out this page  Benn Coifman's Railroad Fonts.

Copyright by Allan Gartner 1996 - 2004 © All rights reserved. You may print this for your own, personal, non-commercial use. Non-commercial, non-personal reproduction may be requested by visiting . All users, commercial and non-commercial, may link only to this site at

Thanks to all who contribute to this site and the Q&A forum!