How to Make a Color Decal with a White Background

I’ve had some questions about how I made the decal for my latest build.

You can print your own decals if you have a color inkjet printer. All you need is the Testors waterslide decal kit, which includes paper and a little spray can with an ink bonding agent in it. Get the clear decal paper.

The only problem with the inkjet decals is that you can’t use white in your design, unless you plan on applying the decal over a white background. You can get the opaque decal sheets, but that only works if your design isn’t intricate and has no transparent bits.

I first tried spraying a solid white to see how it would look, but I didn’t care for it at all:2014-10-09 07-44-14-1

To solve the problem of no-white-ink, I took a simple approach that involved  a magnifying loupe, white Elmer’s glue, white acrylic enamel paint, a small, pointed-tip paintbrush; tweezers, a paper towel, a cotton swab, and a small dish of water.

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I soaked my printed decal and removed it from its backing paper. I let the decal dry out, then I turned it over onto its face. With the assistance of the magnifying loupe and the small paint brush, I was able to paint in the white areas reasonably well. This is pretty intricate work and not easy to do perfectly.

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Here is the painted decal:

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After the paint had dried, I diluted a small amount of Elmer’s glue and applied it to the headstock of the guitar with a cotton swab.

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Place the decal over the glue and carefully rub out any bubbles. 2014-10-12 13-49-38


Once everything was dry, I applied the clear coats. I sprayed probably 16 coats, sanding between applications with a 400-grit paper until the raised edges of the decal completely disappeared.

Be prepared to ruin several decals before you get this right! Here are some of the problems I encountered:

  1. Bad printing settings. You may need to create a custom paper size in your computer’s print settings in order accommodate the half-sheet decal paper. I also had to select the “photo paper” option to get the best ink coverage. I didn’t use the antiquated Testors decal app to create and print my decal, I just converted my existing graphics to a PDF and let the PDF reader do the printing.
  2. Defective decal paper. One of the sheets I used was too thick and wouldn’t separate easily from it’s backing paper, no matter how long I soaked it. I finally gave up and tried another piece from a different package. This made a big difference: The new sheet was thin and slid easily from its backing paper after only a few seconds in the water. Hopefully you don’t run into this problem, like I did. Waterslide decals should be fairly easy to work with.
  3. The amount of ink bonder needed to get a durable decal. If you spray too much bonding agent, it produces a pink shadow around the decal and makes the colors run, while too little will result in a decal that easily smudges while it’s being applied.


12th-Fret Inlay

Here are some pictures of the inlay work on my most recent guitar project.

I used Inkscape to come up with the design:



While the design looks good, I found it exceptionally challenging to cut this from mother of pearl. I broke half a dozen saw blades, and it was almost impossible to achieve the precision of the drawing at the small scale needed.

Still, I was fairly happy with how the inlay came out:



Here it is inlaid, and the gap has been filled with wood filler:

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This is the same design I used on the other two guitars in the series. The first one was cut from a cracked piece of curly maple that was originally slated for a violin. That was not too hard. My second attempt was also cut from MoP, but it didn’t come out quite as clean as this one.

I cut small triangles from scrap pieces for the remainder of the fret dots. No two came out exactly the same, but I arranged them in an order that I though made the most sense. Here is the result:

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Custom #3 in the Box Elder Series



(Click for larger size)
(Click for larger size)

For this build, the customer had brought me a chunk of knotted box elder burl roughly shaped to a Gibson Firebird V body. I ran the piece through the thickness planer and filled it with epoxy to stabilize it, and I fine-tuned the contours. Electronics cavities are free-hand routed.

I built up the neck from a piece of flame birch and used a rosewood fingerboard with mother of pearl inlays, hand cut. The control covers and pick guard are carved from scrap pieces of box elder burl. The fittings are chrome and black, and I put D’Addario super lights on it.

The finish is of nitrocellulose lacquer, red fade over amber.

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