Thursday, June 14, 2018

Beware of Commercial Decals

Once again I bought decals only to find out the font used and letter spacing was slightly (quite in fact) wrong. Set is Microscale 87-1532 and while most of it is quite good, I was shocked to find out the CP Rail name was not accurate at all. I'm always surprised when I see basic errors like that and I decided to do what any people with common sense do: do it myself.

The Multimark CP Rail scheme used the famous Helvetica font family which is generally considered as one of the most iconic modern typeface. Canadian National also used it when it modernized its corporate image in 1960 and many other corporate entities did so.

While Microscale got the font right, I quickly discovered they used it without comparing it with an actual CP Rail car or using any shop diagram. The thing is the guy who developed the Multimark corporate image had a knack for tweaking everything ever slightly. In fact, the italic font isn't the one usually associated with Helvetica, but it's a tad more slanted. Not only that, but the C, P and R letters are slightly more elongated than standard Helvetica. Finally, the "Rail" word letters are weirdly spaced giving a strange look. And no, it's not some fancy interpretation by shop workers. Looking at dozen of pictures it was clear it was the official way to paint the logo. In fact, most scale train manufacturers didn't get that one right. But to their credit, a version with a more standard spacing did exist and was common.

Why does it bothers me? Well, when I draw decal artworks myself, I also scale a picture in Illustrator and try to match as closely my lettering to the prototype. It's the only way to get decent results if you don't have access to original drawings. But as much as I consider this step crucial, it is evident most manufacturers only try to get as close and they can and call it a day.

Before you call me a crazy man with too much time on his hands, just look at this comparison and you will understand how major the discrepancies are. It's not only a matter of fonts and you can see how the real CP Rail logo is much wider than the Microscale version. This has a serious impact when trying to place lettering on a scale model.

So, now I have enough lettering to repaint two Intermountain Cylindrical Hopper in Multimark lettering without the Pac-Man logo. And since I don't like to waste decal paper, I made some neat artwork for J.M. Huber hoppers.


  1. Obviously it was easier to select "Helvetica" as the font - and ignore things like kerning (which Google Blogspot spell check thinks isn't even a word!).
    Have to ask... speaking of decals ... any thoughts on the old GT/CV steam locomotive lettering???


    1. Marty, exactly my thought which is further complicated by the Helvetica Font family is quite extensive. In the case of Intermountain, they used a font bolder than what CP used.

      Funny you remind me the GT/CV decals. I'm reading a lot on turn of the century steam locomotives recently and thought I should bring back this project to life. Send me an email at matlac(at), I could prepare you a file according to your need.

      Best regards!