types of models & decals, methods of manufacture.
Die-cast, Ready-Made
Refers to a model, usually a vehicle or figure, that has been cast in white metal or an equivalent 'soft' metal using a mold milled from tool steel similar to those used for injection molded plastic kits. The model is pre-assembled at the factory to be sold as a finished and painted unit.

Display Models
Refers to a model that is not sold as a kit, but rather pre-built and painted at the factory, usually to customer order or special commission. This includes civil airliner collector type models, travel agent aircraft models, and ships built for discerning collectors and museums. Aircraft display models can either be die-cast metal, cast resin, injection molded plastic, or fibreglass. Ships are usually fibreglass and acrylic plastic if depicting a subject from the 20th century, or wood if depicting something from an earlier era.

Refers to a model, either in pre-built display or kit form, usually a very large one like a ship hull or airliner for a travel agent, that is fabricated using a composite material of (literally) glass fibres impregnated with a syrup-like resin. Because of its incredible tensile strength, the glass imparts stiffness, while the resin provides flexibility. The shape is laid up by hand in a hollow 'female' mold. Either glass fibre woven 'fabric' or random matting can be employed. The glass is cut to the rough shape required, laid into the mold, and the resin is poured on and then pressed through the fibres using a specially configured steel roller. The process requires a great deal of skill to prevent cavities or air bubbles. Because of very high content of human labour, fibreglass components have a very high cost, even more than resin.

Injection-Molded Polystryrene, Mass Produced
Refers to a kit manufactured by a major company using an industrial-grade mold milled from tool-steel or cast from copper, set up on an automated production line; an individual kit selling usually for a relatively cheap price. The moldings tend to produce the most crisp of all the manufacturing processes, due to the very high pressure of molten plastic injection afforded by the strength of the tooling and the capability of the injection apparatus. Undercuts are not possible unless the mold has at least 3 separate components.

The tooling and start-up costs are huge, but the size of the run justifies the cost. Several companies have computerised their mold-making process, which facilitates finer precision in the engineering of part fit, and allows for greater accuracy of the overall shape; although some companies have yet to fully appreciate and exploit the latter!

Injection-Molded Polystyrene, Short Run
Refers to a kit manufactured by a minor or so-called 'cottage industry' company using hand-made patterns and reinforced cast resin or metal molds, in runs typically of 500-1000, usually for a more expensive price. Undercuts are not possible unless the mold has at least 3 separate components. Molding quality depends on the quality of the pattern.

Kit or detail components manufactured by a minor or so-called 'cottage-industry' company using liquid resin hand-poured into a hand-made silicon rubber mold. The production runs are very small due to the fragility of the mold, and the tendency of the resin to attack the silicone rubber. These are far and away the most expensive kits to buy compared to plastic, due to the high price of the materials used and the labour-intensive nature of the manufacturing process. Because of their flexibility, the silicon rubber molds do allow pronounced undercuts, which means that a greater level of 'completeness' and detail can be achieved on a given single component. This is the process' greatest virtue. The medium allows for a very high level of detail to be achieved, but the quality of actual kits varies widely according to the patience and expertise of the producer. More unusual or esoteric subjects tend to be covered by resin kit producers.

Vacuum-Formed Polystryrene
Refers to a kit manufactured by a minor or so-called 'cottage industry' company, using sheet plastic heat-stretched over hand-formed male patterns or female resin-cast molds, in limited runs. Mold quality has the potential to be quite crisp if female molds are used, but again it depends very much on the quality of the original pattern. This is the most inexpensive way to manufacture a kit; a fact not always reflected in the final retail price!

Laser Printing
The colours generated by a laser printer are a dithered combination of translacent CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black) inks and are laid down in a series of fine lines, resulting in a 'grid-like' effect as opposed to the solid colours laid down by screen printing. Lasers are unable to print opaque, metallic, white, or solid pastel colours. The only advantage of laser printed decals is that they offer a cheaper printing cost to the producer, thereby facilitating the production of unusual subjects in small runs which otherwise may go unseen. With this form of printing, the clear varnish covers the entire sheet, so care has to be exercised when cutting out the images not to create too much of a ridge. Most laser toner inks are not light fast, and if you intend to purchase decals printed in this manner, check thoroughly with the producer first before committing yourself.

ALPS Printing
ALPS colours are apparently opaque and light-fast, and an ALPS printer can print white, pure black, gold and silver, but all other colours are a combination of CMYK. ALPS printers suffer from the same limitation as laser when it comes to reproducing greys, pastels, warm yellows, oranges, creams, sands, & browns; in that these colours are dithered, or a combination of dots, not solid colour. Mid to dark blues, greens, & purples, pure reds and lemons tend to be OK though, in that they print solid with no dots or lines. The ink is more delicate than that used with screen printing, so greater care is required when handling to prevent scratching. The low cost of this process facilitates unsual subjects in very small runs, and odd scales, even custom one-offs. With this form of printing, the clear varnish also covers the entire sheet. Rumours are around that the ALPS range of printers are no longer in production, and even though the impression is that these printers will be supported with servicing, spare parts, and consumables for some time to come, that time will be finite. If you are seriously considering getting a custom decal sheet made by someone using the ALPS system, we suggest you contact them soon while the service is still available.

Lithographic Printing
Plate machine printing as used by commercial printers of paper literature. Two types of this process exist: CMYK and spot colour printing. The dot-pitch of lithography is extremely fine, the finest of all the processes, as inspection of any photographic image in a magazine will reveal.

The stochastic version of this process produces dots even finer again. Lithography has a very high cost due the high tech machinery involved, but because of the very fine dot pitch and the ability to print spot colours if required, it produces the highest quality result of all the processes. When spot colours are printed, there are no dots whatsoever, as with screen printing. Metallic colours print with a much finer patina than screen-printed metallic colours; much closer to scale. Squadron badges can be produced with great clarity and precision. The only problem for the modeller is that in most cases where the process has been employed to make decals, incorrect colours were chosen, as in the case of the overwhelming majority of Japanese kit producers who have the infuriating tendency to substitute cream for what should be pure white.

Screen Printing
The traditional, oldest, and overall the best and most practical method of decal printing, due to the ability to reproduce a given colour exactly, and for that colour to be laid down in a completely solid fashion, with no dots or 'dithering'. Thick, paste-like ink is pressed or 'squeegeed' through a fine silk mesh onto the decal paper. Each colour is custom mixed in turn, not built up from a series of primary colours like the CMYK process. If the decal sheet has 12 colours on it, it means that 12 individual printing passes have been made to produce that sheet. This form of printing features separate varnish panels for each image. The process is labour-intensive and so has the greatest cost of any printing process, but offers the ability to reproduce literally any colour you can think of, with great precision. The dot-pitch or 'fineness' of the silk itself is not as fine as laser or ALPS dots, so half-tones are impractical for scale model applications.

The only real advantage of CMYK printing techniques (as opposed to spot colour printing) is that a design with a gradual gradation of colour, now often seen in airline liveries for example, can be reproduced. It is impossible to reproduce such an effect accurately with screen printing, due to the pitch of the holes in the silk screen, and the fact that individually-mixed spot colours are used. The decal sheet produced by Revell for their 1/144 scale A321 Airbus with the Austrian Airlines Millenium scheme has the mural artwork done using CMYK lithography, and is one of the finest examples of decal production you will ever see.

since 31/10/02.
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