Make Your Own Inkjet Printer Decals

By Michael Benolkin


I don’t know about you, but I’ve been skeptical about the concept of doing my own decals. If it were that easy, companies like Aeromaster and Superscale would have been out of business long ago. In fact, we have more quality decals coming from more sources around the world than any time previously. You can find markings for just about any subject you can think of. But the key words in that last sentence are ‘just about.’

Every now and then, you find yourself with a project that either has no decals (other than what’s perhaps provided in the box) or the markings are not for the subject that you want to build. Consequently, the project usually gets tabled until some future opportunity arises to either obtain the markings you want or your interests have shifted toward those markings that are available. This is where the SuperCal system from Micro Format Inc. saves the day.

The Project

In my case, I wanted to create a desk model of the US Air Forces’ new E-10A, the so-called Multi-Sensor Command & Control Aircraft (MC2A). The airframe is based on the new Boeing 767-400ER and sports a canoe (radome) under the forward fuselage ala JSTARS.

Step One was to locate a 767-400 model. I briefly thought about stretching one of the existing 767 kits but the –400 has a new wing as well as the longer fuselage and that would require quite a bit of surgery, so I declared this as Plan B. A search through eBay revealed a better solution – Flight Miniatures had released a 1/200 scale 767-400 desk model and there was one on auction. Step One was complete – I had an airframe and a scale to work from.

Step Two was to obtain the requisite markings and stenciling for a USAF 767-400 in 1/200 scale. Obviously there are no such decals on the market though some of the existing decals available could be adapted.

This is a key point for any future project that you may have - if the decals exist in another scale, you can scan and resize them to meet your needs; or, if the decals do exist in the correct scale, but they’re old and may disintegrate in water, you can keep the sheet as a master and scan and re-print them as required. This is especially relevant as many decal companies do not offer their full range of decals all of the time. While some subjects may be periodically re-issued, most are one-time productions and you must get them whilst you can. Lastly, you can scan bits and pieces from a variety of existing decal sheets to obtain the markings you need and minimizing any new artwork that might be required. A quick search through Hannant’s website and I found what I was looking for – Avigraphics 1/200 767 stencils. Of course these stencils were not in the color I needed, but these became the start of the project.

Creating The Artwork

When they arrived, I scanned the decals into Paint Shop Pro at 600 dpi (dots per inch) and realized the first challenge – I had to eliminate the light blue background of the decal sheet. As you know, inkjet printers will print blue, but not white – the background must be white for this to work properly. Since the stencils do not use many colors, I decreased the number of colors in the image from 16 million to 16. With some decal artwork, you’ll need to maintain at least 256 colors or you will lose too much of the original coloring. You’ll have to experiment with this on a case-by-case basis.

Using the ‘Edit Palette’ option, I changed all of the background colors (the decal backing) to white. After I touched up the ‘scan noise’ in the image, I cut the doorway graphics out of the image and into a new image. Once again I used the ‘Edit Palette’, but this time I changed the grays into orange and achieved the desired look for my doorways. Once completed, I returned the doorways excerpt and the original image back to 16 million colors and pasted the excerpt back into the original image. Now I had the stencils I needed.

The next challenge was to create a 1/200 air-refueling receptacle in the desired colors. After rummaging through my stash, I happened upon an F-16 receptacle in 1/48 scale. I scanned this in, performed the same clean-up and re-coloring described above, and then resized the artwork to be in scale with the rest of the graphics.

As I was accumulating a number of images, it was time to create a decal master. I created a blank image with a white background that was about twice as large as the 767 stencil sheet. Into this blank I pasted the stencils, air refueling receptacles, and various other tid-bits that I had scanned and altered. It was now time to create the ‘US Air Force’, tail numbers and tailcode stencils. You can purchase the font that will work with your computer to generate the correct Air Force lettering – in this case it is called Amarillo USAF. This is a True Type font that you merely copy into your /windows/font subdirectory and like magic, all of your Windows applications can use this font (see the resources at the end of this article for sources).

I used Paint Shop Pro’s text creator to create the ‘U.S. AIR FORCE’ in a new image using the Amarillo font. I decided to create several sizes, just in case. I repeated the process for the tail numbers and tailcodes. While I was at it, I created some notional names for the aircraft in a script font. Once these were all laid out, these were pasted into the master decal image as well.


Now comes the interesting part – printing the correct size/scale. As those of you know who’ve poked around computers a bit, there are no standards in the PC world for size and color from your scanner to your printer. While the Macs were able to achieve this in their system standards, they managed to all but extinct themselves with other unfortunate business/marketing decisions.

In my case, my HP scanner will image in several preset resolutions. If I still had my HP printer, it would be more compatible with the scanner, however I still prefer the Epson printers and I am presently using an Epson Photo Stylus 870. Do you need a photo printer for printing decals? Not at all, this process should work with any inkjet printer. It just so happens that the Epson prints in resolution steps that are not at all similar to the scanner. Here is where the magic starts.

I know from my scanning exercise how big the stencil sheet was (about 7.5 inches long). I scaled the new image to fit in roughly the same area using the scaling settings in the printer control panel. After a few test prints and size adjustments, I was able to get the stencils to print out at the same size as the original artwork (about 13% of the original scan size). I dropped in a sheet of clear SuperCal decal film into the inkjet printer and out came a nice clear decal sheet. Wow! Do not touch the images until the ink has had a few minutes to dry. The final step is to spray the decal sheet with the clear sealant per the instructions. This was rather easy after all!


Some points to consider before doing this yourself:

  1. Don’t waste space on your blank decal sheet. Fill up the sheet with as much artwork as possible so you’re not wasting your resources. You can see in the final version I created that I still had room to work with.

  2. Be mindful of white/light-colored backgrounds. Unless you have an Alps printer that can print white backgrounds, everything you create here will be based on CYMK (cyan, yellow and magenta) as the basic colors. The SuperCal decal film comes in clear and white backgrounds. I used clear in this project, but you can use the white film as well. The problem with the white background is that all backgrounds will be white and the white will need to be trimmed away where not wanted.

  3. I scanned the original images in at high (600 dpi) resolution. This gave me some clear artwork to start with. By the time you’ve manipulated the image and downsized it again, this may be a waste of time and energy. You can experiment with various combinations of resolution settings in your scanners and printers to see what works best.

  4. I did experiment with printing the decals at different resolutions. Much to my surprise, the Epson printed the 360 dpi decals as clearly as the 720 dpi and 1440 dpi settings.

While these techniques for creating your own decals will be useful for those occasional project challenges, don’t use technique to simply replicate and distribute decals that are currently available. You’ll find that not only will this pose more problems with regards to the white background issue, it is also stealing. All of the original artwork you’re dealing with is someone else’s labor and is copyright protected. Copyright laws do permit you to do what I’ve described above for your own personal uses only.

The SuperCal system works nicely so far. Now that I have decal masters, it is time to send the 767-400 into the paint shop and turn it into an E-10A. Next month we’ll finish up the E-10A and address a new source of aircraft conversions.


Here are some online sources to find just about anything you'll need for virtually any unusual project (including this one):

You can obtain JASC's outstanding Paint Shop Pro from your local computer store or directly from their website at

To obtain the USAF Amarillo and/or the USN Long Beach True Type fonts, visit

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