Are you inflicted with a disease that causes you to buy decals for a yet undefined project? You aren’t along. I suffer from the same behavior. I have boxes of decals kept safely in my bedroom closet preserving my collection. Looking at the stack of boxes the other day caused me to think that I won’t live long enough to build all those models. What is worse, Protocraft just posted a bunch of new decals.
Collecting decals may also be caused by a reaction to the hobby business practice of limited runs. Buy it now or forever wish you had. Couple that with the disappearing supplier problem and you have the natural ingredients for hording.
The bright side of my problem is that those boxes of decals provide lots of modeling opportunities in the future. Decals are an essential piece in the puzzle of scratch building a model or modifying a kit. Relating back to the last blog about old books and how none of the models were lettered. I don’t know if there were decals available in 1941 or that the author didn’t bother painting and lettering the models. It doubtful that I would undertake building a freight car today without having the decals in-hand. I suspect others feel the same way. Years ago, I would piece together lettering from multiple sources. Old Champ decals were printed on a press and had issues with subpar image quality. Using these decals with silk screened lettering really stood out on a model. The difference in intensity of the white ink was hard to look at.
While the fortunes of decal and detail parts sources is up and down in recent years, it appears that Protocraft has filled a large void in the freight car requirement. Walthers, Champ Decals and Greg Komar have exited the field. Microscale has essentially ended production of O scale decal sets with few exceptions. These firms have found a limited demand for decals today. While the founder of Champ died, his daughters weren’t able to find a buyer for the line at an acceptable price.
For the most part, the older decal sets suffered from stock fonts not matched to actual car lettering. Railroad lettering was a unique art and rarely did railroads use the same character style from another road. Rick Leach has told me that each new project requires that most of the lettering be redrawn to photos. It is a slow process of tracing the lettering using a program like Adobe Illustrator. The old suppliers probably traced the heralds but used standard printers type for the dimension data and car numbers. RL Design and Protocraft rely heavily upon photographs to ensure that the lettering is correct. The amazing thing is the stuff actually fits the model assume the model is accurately built.
There are a few other suppliers like San Juan Decal Company, Clover House, Jerry Glow and Rails Unlimited to name a few. RL Design is trimming down their extensive line of decals. Recently, RL licensed some of their artwork to Protocraft to speed up production of new Southern Pacific decals sets. The first sets will be released this fall.
Custom decal making is even more limited a field of suppliers as I have found out recently. There is one source that I have overlooked is Kadee. Yes, the coupler people do print custom decals matching to PMS color charts. I have no idea what their capabilities are but their prices don’t seem bad. Rail Graphics is probably the best standard colors in terms of quality, speed and cost. Chooch Enterprises used them for a number of their kits. I am continuing to work with Highball Graphics to see if the right shade of yellow can be produced for some Soo Line diesels. There are limitations in the range of colors that the Kodak printer can produce.