What is decal paper? (Most popular types and how to use)

Which decal paper is best for your project

At Mr Decal Paper we've tried and tested dozens of decal papers and answered hundreds of questions from miniature modellers to craft businesses to hobbyists.  One thing we can say for sure,  decal paper is a product for a thousand projects and extremely versatile.

What is decal paper?

Decal Paper is made up of two parts.  A chemical compound known as the film and a paper backing,  known as the release paper.  The film is either clear or white and printable on using a home printer,  either inkjet or laser. Decals can be printed, sealed, cut out, dipped into water and released onto all non porous flat surfaces.

What is the most popular type of decal paper? 

Clear inkjet water slide decal paper is the most commonly used type for creating custom decals.  As a clear film,  it is ideal for use on all white and light coloured surfaces.  This is because the white surface of the subject is literally taking the place of the white paper alike regular printing onto printer paper.

                                       Decal Paper Infographic (Clear waterslide transfer paper)

This results is a near perfect finish when printing and transferring text, designs or photographs onto hard surfaces. 

Popular surfaces for custom transfers can include plastics, (miniature models) metals, (vintage Signs, Modern Signs or Die Cast models) Ceramics, (Decorative Mugs and Plates) Wax, (Candle prints, custom photo's, text or designs) Wood,  (Painted white,  hard wooden, flat surfaces)

Can you use a regular printer for waterslide paper?

Absolutely.  Waterslide decal paper has been especially manufactured for home printing after initially growing in popularity through the miniature modelling community.  It's now purchased and used by thousands of different hobbyists and retail businesses alike. 

Choosing the correct paper type between inkjet and laser is essential though as the chemical formula on the film for and inkjet printer is different from that of a laser printer.

If you've accidently purchased the laser water slide decal paper,  when you print onto it using an inkjet printer,  the ink will just sit on the film without ever drying properly and will appear smudged.

It is a bigger mistake when putting an inkjet water slide decal paper through a laser printer as the heat from the laser printer can melt the inkjet papers film coating and potentially damaging the printer. 

How do you use waterslide decal paper?

Using water slide paper is a fairly simple process for most users with the majority of first time users getting a good result.  The first step is to consider your project and its surface.  Is the surface white or a light colour? 

If yes,  choose the clear waterslide.  Is the surface a dark colour?  If yes,  you'll need to switch to white and do a little test which is to simply print your design / decal out onto a regular piece of white paper,  then ask yourself,  if this was my decal,  if I cut it out and slid it onto my surface,  would I get the result I need?  If yes,  choose the white water slide decal paper. 

If no,  can you change the design to compliment the white waterslide.  Maybe you have clear space on your design that is now white that you didn't want? 

Or maybe you just wanted to print in just white and can not,  due to your printer not carrying white ink or toner.  If so,  stick around, I'll post a video on printing in white later in this article.

With the technicalities over with,  start by printing your decals out onto the decal paper.  Try to fill the sheet if you can but if not,  try printing in the corners so as to be able to reuse the paper.

After printing with an inkjet printer,  you'll need to spray seal the decals with a clear coat spray.  I am often asked which spray works best but to be honest,  the paper is quite forgiving and so a quality branded spray like the Keen Crystal Clear or Clear Coat Spray by Humbrol will work just fine.

what printer should I use for printing decals (Inkjet or Laser)

If you have a laser printer,  your in luck as you can skip the spray sealing.  Laser Printers use toner instead of ink which is heat transferred onto the paper and so it won't run when dipped into water. 

This is a big time and money saving option if you plan to create lots of decals or produce decals as part of your custom product making business.  Companies creating decals for resale,  candle makers and nail art sellers all use the laser printer version of this water slide paper.

How to use decal paper (6 Simple steps)

  1. Print your decals out,  making full use of the sheet if you are able
  2. For Inkjet printers, spray seal your images using clear varnish
  3. For laser printers,  just print and cut your decals out
  4. After cutting your decals out, dip into water
  5. Remove after around 60 seconds,  keeping the backing sheet on
  6. Slide onto your surface and position,  remove any excess water with some cotton wool balls and leave overnight to harden.

Next phase is to cut your decal / decals out ready for dipping into water.  Have your surface clean and ready for sliding onto.  

Dip your decal into water and wait for around 30 to 60 seconds.  With your thumb and forefinger gently try to slide the film coating away from the release paper.  As soon as you can see it loosen up,  take your decal out of the water,  keeping your backing paper on.

Then,  slip the edge onto your surface and place your thumb on the trapped edge which is now touching your surface,  then gently pull the release paper away from under it allowing for the decal film to slide onto your surface.  

You have around 30 seconds to gently position it before the hardening process begins.  During this time,  have a cotton wool ball or decal sponge (I prefer cotton wool) handy to gently start to push the water that's under the decal out of the sides.  The better job you do of this,  the better your chances of the perfect decal.

Leaving water residue under the decal can create bubbles on the decals surface as well as effect the hardening process.  You want your decal to dry hard onto your surface and look great,  so take a little time on this.

Allow to harden over night and then choose whether or not your project required a clear coat spray on the finished work.  Some projects need a little extra protection,  others do not.

To choose from a wide range of decal paper for your project, 

See our decal paper shop

How to print white decals

Printing in white is always tricky for hobbyists as our printers,  either inkjet or laser do not carry white ink.  

There are a couple of ways around this though. 

Take a look at my YouTube video for a little work around:


 See our full range of transfer paper here.



  • Hello
    Im looking to buy some inkjet waterslide transfer paper and have just read the section regarding sealing after printing. Could i confirm, is this sealant the equivalent of a craft seal vanish/ lacquer? Does it have need a specific base live acrylic or something?
    many thanks

    Alex Tring
  • Hi, when using the clear film transfer paper (Clear waterslide decal paper) the plastic surface needs to be a white or light colour shade and ideally a flat surface, not rounded or curved too much. Although the decal paper will bend around ceramic mugs perfectly well, as an example.

    Christopher Tailby
  • Hi, do you know what kind of plastic is used for clear film?

    Thank you



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