Thursday, April 7, 2016

Homemade Decals for Spanish Grenadiers

So I was all set to paint up a box of 1/72 Hat Spanish Grenadiers thinking, white on white - okay not my favourite thing to do but they should go quickly, when I turned them around and noticed the banner-like thing hanging off their bearskins. Hmmm, I thought to myself, I wonder what colour that was? A quick Google and –

Yikes! How did others paint them? Again, a quick Google (not too many to be found) and I find various attempts from the basic to the sublime. But me, I'm thinking life is too short for this, yet I don't want to slough this off.
I wonder if my handy little decal-making system will come to the rescue. I'm pretty new to Napoleonics but I have used this to make homemade tac signs for some WWII armour I've built, so I gave it a try.

Here's the step by step:

1. Get the reference

A bit more Googling along with some good success on Pinterest found me four designs I could go with. I found each regiment had their own specific colours and embroidered designs for the flame (for lack of a better word). Steve Balagan's site was invaluable for tracking down the associated uniform colours.
Here is an example of one of those Pinterest references:

2. Create the master sheet

I then took the reference, erased the extra bits in photoshop, scaled it down to 3/8" (but a highish resolution, 300 dpi) which matched the length of the grenadier's flames, and then duplicated it so that I ganged up a dozen or so of the four regimental flames, giving me a few extras in case of the inevitable screw ups. I printed this out on a good quality colour photocopier (at a print shop - home printers may work as well, but I can't guarantee it!) on a simple uncoated bond paper.
Flames for four Spanish regiments found on the Internet. And yes, I know the first should be Fijo de Ceuta!!

3. Coat the paper with matte medium.

Using Golden Matte Medium (an acrylic product found in art stores - there are doubtless other makes that would work equally as well) I brush a layer over the images. I let this thoroughly dry and then apply three or four more coats, letting it dry between each one. Don't rush it, although I found 15 minutes to half an hour between coats was fine.

4. Flip it over and rub off the paper.

Interestingly enough, this works because the colour adheres to the matte medium rather than the paper. Some people use a soft wet brush and go at it gently, but I just wet my finger and rub away at the paper, which comes off layer after layer until eventually all you are left with is the colour that is adhered to the matte medium. Because the image is small the transfer is unlikely to rip. It's important to note that the white in the image was the paper itself so there will now be no white in the transfer, giving it a washed out appearance. This is the main way in which these differ from normal transfers - that and the way they are applied.
Here is the paper flipped over and rubbed off. The image has transferred to the transparent layer of matte medium.

Here is the paper seen from the top. The Princessa flames have not yet been rubbed off.

Here are the same close up. You can see that with the loss of the white paper the decal looks dull, but once it is underpainted (in this case on the figure) it pops back.

5. Cut out the transfer

With a sharp scalpel I cut out the decal as close as possible to the image. When I'm applying these decals to coloured backgrounds I paint the back of the decal white before cutting it out. But in this case they are going on a white background, the flame on the back of the bearskin which I have already painted white.

6. Apply decal

I apply the decal by putting a layer of matte medium on the area to be applied (this dries clear - in fact I use the medium as my first protective coat when I finish painting the figure), then, while it is still wet, pick up the decal (I use the tip of the same brush that has the medium) and place it in position. I then apply a coat of medium over the decal, making sure it is lying flat to the figure. I usually add a second coat when the first is dry to insure good adhesion. It's important to remember that the matte medium is really just another acrylic medium, so in essence you are applying layers of transparent paint to hold other layers of transparent paint in position!

And here are some photos of the results:
Eight stands of grenadiers from the front.
Eight stands from the rear with their identifying flames.
A close up of the Fijo de Ceuta Regiment with Zamora in background.
A close up of the Guadalajara Regiment with Princessa in background. The Princessa (a bit blurry here) probably turned out the least successfully because the yellow on light purple was less contrasting, but you can see how the Guadalajara flame has renewed its punch now that it is on a white background.