Ive got a side project modifying a fender. The mechanical mods are no prob. But I want to make a custom decal to replace the "Fender" logo on the headstock. I can do the graphics no problem, but how do I actually make the decal? Is there "decal" paper? Or does anyone know of a service I can send the graphics to and they will print?
Yes, there is decal paper, of the waterslide type. You can buy 8.5"X11" sheets of two different types, depending on whether you are using an inkjet or laser printer.
Google "waterslide decal paper" or something like that, you'll find a number of suppliers.
I have made up several sheets of my own logos, enough for literally hundreds more guitars than I will ever make.
I've written several tutorials on doing this but it's been awhile and I can't locate any at the moment. But basically, what you do is create your logo using any graphics software you like, then make up a sheet of them and print it out onto the decal paper.
To "seal" the printing, you then apply several coats of clear spray acrylic (from a rattlecan), letting each coat dry thoroughly before recoating. I use 3 thin coats.
To avoid problems of finish incompatibility, use the same brand/type of clear finish to spray the decal sheet that you're going to use to finish the headstock. I avoid lacquers for this as they tend to smear or lift your printing. I use a clear acrylic enamel.
Test the finish on a decal first (you'll have many to spare . . )
Now, before you apply the decal, you'll want to sand down the face of the headstock to bare wood to remove the previous lettering and the finish. I mask the rest of the headstock so that I am only stripping the face, not the sides or back. After it's done, re-mask the sides and back of the headstock, as well as the fingerboard and the rest of the neck to prevent overspray.
Apply a single coat of your spray finish and let it dry/cure (at least overnight) before you apply your decal. You don't want to be applying the decal to bare wood, it won't look right once you finish over it. You may want to do two coats before the decal if the wood has really absorbed the first coat.
Then, you cut out your decal, soak it in a shallow dish of warm water, and apply it. Use a razor knife to cut the decal, don't use scissors, as you need a tidy edge, which will be easier to "bury" as discussed below.
Use a bit of tissue to blot up excess moisture and to press out any air bubbles. Let it dry.
Now comes the hard part- burying the decal underneath multiple coats of clear, so the edges of the decal "disappear". This will take somewhere north of 10 coats, and probably more like 15. Apply 3-4 coats, very thinly, before any sanding. After you get a few coats built up, use some ultra-fine sandpaper (like 400 grit oxide paper) to sand out the coats a bit- but be very careful, don't overdo it, or you'll get down into the decal, and have to strip it off and start over.
Done right, you won't be able to see the decal.
I've done this on painted headstocks, although it looks better on woodgrain:
I made a Danny Gatton signature decal for a DG "tribute" Tele. I used the aforementioned inkjet waterslide paper, but I got boss man at work to print it on his laser jet and this worked out fine. I wanted the laser because you only have to sneeze on an inkjet for it to run. That's good advice regarding the razor blade. I wish I'd known that when I did mine. A reasonable alternative is to cut around the decal in such a manner that tends to burr the edge of the decal down instead of up. This can tend to be counter-intuitive and the direction depends upon whether you use left or right handed scissors. Another point, printers don't print white, so a white background on your master gives a transparent result. This is not immediately obvious and was part of my learning curve as I struggled with layers trying to lose the white background. As ever, eBay is your friend for the transfer material. It does have a shelf life, but I well exceeded that with no probs. One more thing, convincing gold and silver metallics are problematic with decals......
As with everything, results may vary based on materials and process. I've done inkjet waterslide decals and I never had one go South on me. This is an inkjet waterslide decal:
Laserjet works fine as well, but finding a good Laserjet color printer that allows for enhanced resolution and saturation can be tricky, not to mention expensive.
Stay with me here, as I go back to varnish-fix screen printed decals, and am a firm believer in that your results will directly reflect the method used...
Inkjet printing is best accomplished from a graphics app that allows for accurate vector based output. Even the less expensive inkjet printers, while they still rasterize the output, can be tweaked to output at 4800 dpi, which does a pretty respectable job of outputting a vector based image. Make sure to set the saturation as high as it will go before you hit PRINT. Granted, this will take forever to print, but the results will make it worth the wait.
The first thing to consider is your decal paper. If you buy it cheap it will potentially not take the inkjet or laserjet output cleanly. Of all the inkjet decal paper I've tried, the clear from Papilio is about the best for the money.
And forget all that crap you read on the Internet about using a "hobby acrylic" aerosol clear to fix the printed image. Again, go big or stay home. The proper way to fix an inkjet decal is this something like this stuff:
Fixative for inkjet water decal paper. (Click me, I'm a link.)
Once you've allowed your outputted inkjet decal sheet to dry overnight you just put a few drops to one side of the printed image and use a small fine sponge (normally included) to wipe the fixative across it. Allow this to dry a few days before handling and cutting. Once these are cut out and applied you can apply and put any type of finish over them from lacquer to epoxy and it won't crack.
Oh yeah, application. You can just soak the decal, wet the surface you plan on applying it to and achieve a good result. You can also tear it trying to center or adjust it. I would recommend:
[/url] Decal Mounting Fluid. (Click me, I'm a link.)
It's something like a soapy emulsion, but it dries clear and leaves no residue. It allows your decal to move freely as you're centering it.
Finally, a squeegee. You really can't get all of the air out cleanly with your fingers, and without the mounting fluid and a squeegee you also run the risk of creasing or tearing the decal.
Rubber Decal Squeegee. (Click me, I'm a link.)
OK, I know what you're thinking...all of this stuff adds up. Well, yes it does. But remember, if printed correctly, fixed correctly, applied correctly and over coated correctly this is a decal that will last for decades.
I don't know how the rest of you feel about it, but when I put my name on something I don't want it to look like I used crayons and my thumbs.
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