Thursday, December 3, 2020

Applying Dry Transfers... With a Q-Tips

I didn't post a lot recently not by lack of modelling to show off or ideas to share, but due to a severe case of workload. The kind that leaves your mind numbing and unable to write anything. However, I did work on a few Bachmann diesel kitbashes (mainly my Central Vermont and Maine Central locomotives), a caboose, several kitbashed CP 50ft double door boxcars and a bunch of cheap Accurail and Atlas Trainman hoppers.

I've also built a module for my basement layout... which proved to be a huge mistake. Too large, too overwhelming and not very useful. I'm glad to have tried it because I now know better how the room can be used and I'll revert back to my original idea under the IKEA cabinets. More on that on a next post.

Modelling kept soothed my mind and I thought it was about time to finish my 50ft CP boxcar project started 4 years ago when I entertained modelling CP Tring Subdivision. Let's just say I'm still debating what and which era I'll model but the Quebec South Shore theme is strong, mainly the early 1980s, but also the colorful late MMA-CMQ era.

Most of these cars are decorated with old CDS Lettering dry transfer. To be honest, I hate dry transfer as much as the next guy, but truth to be told, CDS did an amazing job providing so many design back in the days. Dry transfers are a pain to apply, but they cut on a lot of steps and you don't get silvering. The big issue though is making sure you rub them correctly in the exact position. The later point can be dealt without too much problem using Scotch Tape, the former is a little bit tricky. In the following picture, misses are underlined in yellow. From a certain distance, they are hard to notice, but even with a decade of experience, I still have a hard time to get perfect results with most recommended tools.

Dry transfers applied with a dulled pencil (about 4 to 5 passes)

Dry transfers applied with a cotton sawb (about 2 passes)

Over the years, I've tried mechanical pencils, worn pencils, ball-pens, metal point, plastic scraps, blending stumps, burnishers, etc... and always got less than perfect results, particularly when dealing with smaller lettering. Whatever you do, it seems you always miss bits here and there. Worst, after rubbing the transfer a few times, it often no longer want to stick to the surface. Over rivets and irregular surfaces, forget it, pencils are too hard to follow the complex pattern.

Then, it occurred to me a paper shaft from a cotton swab could do the job. It is relatively smooth yet sturdy, has a larger burnishing area, can conform itself to many intricate surfaces and can be reshaped easily. It worked wonders! It is faster, requires less passes, you can easily see where transfers are applied and where they aren't yet, and better, they do a great job with small lettering!

Basically, I cut the cotton buds at one end and then I use a hobby knife to shape the end in a roundish-pointy end and voilà! Now, I have a second life for my cotton swabs I use for weathering effects.


  1. And I see this now...two days after applying my dry transfers to decal film so that I could apply them to a gondola. The pencil had a LOT of misses...

    Nice looking boxcar.