Masks vs. Decals – the analysis, is a short article, about how decals alter the appearance of a scale model, while masks can improve it. With that said, we must clarify the idea of the scale model. It is all about realism. Scaled down, made in an art form, any miniature is after the realism. Well, some are not, but those are usually different form of art. In scale modeling, people are fighting over sizes, panel lines, measurements and what not. And it all comes down to this: how accurate the replica in scale is.
However, even the best and most accurate dimension-wise models are useless without the proper colors and markings. And those are subjects basis for even nastier feuds. Of course, the goal is still the same. Perfection in all dimensions and appearance that will cheat the eye to believe, that this is the real thing. Now, much has been written about colors. Acrylics versus enamels, this brand over that one and so on. With that said, the markings are still under consideration.
Tamiya for example, are ill-famous for their thick decals. They don’t adhere to the surface nicely. Usually, they can ruin the whole project. And of course, weathering those can be a struggle. That goes for aftermarket decals as well. And this is where masking in scale modeling comes in.
Masks are not only for canopies, they can be used for everything.
Masks vs. Decals is not an actual challenge. It is a self explanatory subject. Why? Well, masks vs. decals would’ve been a discussion in case most of the application out there in the real world were made with decals. They aren’t. Let me show you why:
What you can see above is an AH-1Z helicopter. Real life bird. Painted with masks. Now see how neatly it looks on that picture. And let me share with you why you cannot get better than masks in modeling. What you see below is a close up of the markings.
Is the question Masks vs. Decals here stands? I don’t think so. You can clearly see the overspray spot and that it perfectly matches the color of the markings. How close can you get by doing this painting over decals? Pretty close some of you might say.
That may be the case. But if you use masks, you will be 100% accurate.
But again, that is not the sole reason.
Now, on the picture below, you can see that there is a leveling in between the layers of paint:
Decals are one unified surface. A film, that holds the transparent part and the markings – all in one. But what you see above and what you can achieve on a model are different things. Not that you will need that supreme form of accuracy in 48th scale. For example, with that AH-1Z that is a good point, since one of the best kits of the Viper is exactly in quarter scale. But even if those were vinyl stickers on the real thing, in order to be more accurate, in scale your only option is to go for the masks.
What about paint layering? Well masks vs. decals gives masks advantage here again. It is true, that mostly, such things are visible on armor vehicles. Rarely on aircraft. But take a moment to inspect the picture below:
Looking close enough, you can see that there is paint leveling from the previous markings. The best way to get there is not with decals. Well, it might be, if you cut out the transparent film. But where is the point in doing that, when you can do that solely by using a paint mask set for the markings? And be as thick as you might want to be.
Best advantage of the masks set is the weathering option that they provide.
Chipping is visible not only on armored vehicles. Weathering and missing paint flakes can be seen on every extensively used vehicle. No matter is it a helicopter, train, tank or plane. Let me clear that out for you:
This can be done with decals. And with tons of risks following. Especially when it comes down to the clear film and the possible wash troubles that will follow with the final weathering. So, masks vs. decals here? Masks win. Why? Well, you can do this with hairspray, salt method, masking fluid and what not. In all those possible variants, you will get this exact effect. No clear film to worry about, no color discrepancy, no nothing. Pure and simple. Give it a try with masks, see where that will lead you. Be my guest.
Weathering over painted insignia is far easier. It always was, always will be.
Finally, the paint that goes under the masks. Yes, many complain about that. I even had to gear up with my airbrush and travel 50 miles once, just to prove a point. Thin layer of paint, drying with the airbrush and air only for a 2-3 seconds and another thin layer. And no underlying paint, no defects no nothing.
But for those who cannot cope with that, here it goes:
Well, it happens to the best of us. It happens to me more often that I want to admit. Obviously the sailor who painted this won’t be awarded at the next IPMS at his local chapter.
It happens. So what?
Apparently, it happens in real life too. As you can see from the picture above. Overspray and underlying paint is unavoidable. And what if it happens? Well, you can get better realism, that’s what.
True, scaled down, those will be mostly invisible. The last picture especially. The edges on technical signs as NO STEP or NO PUSH too. But not the chipping, not the edges and paint layering and not the accuracy of the appearance and colors. All of those will be perfectly into scale. And only if you go for the masks.
Scaled down, the thickness of the elements of the scale model are the bigger issue here. You don’t believe that the trailing edge of an aircraft in 48th scale correspond to the real thing, do you? And on the flying toys, sharp edges are most common thing visible. The thickness of the clear parts too. Imagine the weight of a canopy that thick if you scale up your plastic part.
Insignia? Yeah, but not that much. This might be slightly different compared to reality, but it is 10 or 15%. The elements mentioned above are awfully out of scale. With which of those you will be closer to reality? I trust the masks will suffice.
So what was the question again? Masks vs. Decals?