MINICARS: How to make custom decals for your Hot Wheels hakosuka Skyline

Many readers have asked JNC contributor Mark “ScaleMaster” Jones exactly how he adds his amazing detail to the custom Hot Wheels he’s shown you how to build. In Today’s article he’ll explain exactly how to do just that by turning the Hot Wheels hakosuka into Kunimitsu Takahashi’s 1971 works racer. —Ricky

This is another “how to” article using a Hot Wheels C10 Skyline to create a tribute to Nissan’s 1971 Japan Grand Prix winning Skyline GT-R. It will contain mostly information about the decals and how to make your own using commonly available tools, materials and computer hardware/software.

The base for this custom is a car I’m sure all of you are familiar with already, the Hot Wheels x JNC Nissan Skyline H/T 2000GT-X. For specific info on disassembly of the Hot Wheels itself and stripping the paint, please refer to the previous article about the BRE Datsun cars.

Once disassembled and stripped, the casting was sprayed with Krylon Gray Primer. Since the real car is a warm white, white primer wasn’t required (the addition of the cream color to white makes it more opaque than straight bright white). I mixed the color using Testors Hi Gloss White (#52712) and Cream (#1116) and airbrushed the body. If you prefer a ready mixed color, Tamiya Racing White comes in a spray and is a good match too (stock number TS-7).

Before I get too far ahead of myself, I want to point out that all the decal graphics should be created before painting the body if you don’t have an extra body to test fit them to. This comes in handy since it can take several days for enamel paints to fully dry, and you’ll want to keep handling of the painted body to a minimum so as not to damage the paint work, even if you use the lacquer Racing White.

I had an extra, so while the body was drying I made the decals. Even though the car is white, the roundels and sponsors are a different and brighter (or cooler) shade of white. I’ll show how to make these white graphics to add some contrast and authenticity to the car.

If you want to make one for yourself the same way as this one will be done, you will need a few items other than the basic tools and chemicals discussed in the previous BRE Datsun article. Here’s that list:

  • A color printer. I’ll be using a Samsung CLP-315 laser printer, but inkjet printers can do the job just fine. In fact, many can do it better than most entry level lasers like mine, but not all inkjets have inks that dry on decal paper. Test and experimentation as necessary.
  • A graphics program. I use Adobe Illustrator, but there are other options. Some people like Adobe Photoshop; others even use Microsoft Word with acceptable results. There’s not enough room/time to explain all the specifics of how to create the art in different programs, but I’ll try to outline a general process than can be applied in whatever program you choose to work in.
  • Clear waterslide decal paper. There are different decal papers depending on whether you have an inkjet or laser printer. You may have to experiment with your printer settings, but I’ve found that a good place to start is by telling the printer to print to Glossy Paper or Transparency when using decal paper with inkjet printers (as it is not as porous as regular bond type paper). In my case, using this laser printer, the best output was obtained by setting the paper type to bond paper. Also set it to the highest quality output you can no matter what printer you are using. You can get the paper from places like here and here.
  • White waterslide decal paper. While it makes this project a little easier, if you don’t have any you can make your own by spraying some clear decal paper with cool white paint. You won’t need a lot, just a few square inches. I’ve found enamels work better than lacquers for this as they tend to stay more pliable; lacquers can chip (I recommend Testors Hi Gloss White).
  • Brass tubing. K&S brand is commonly stocked at hobby shops and some hardware stores, but any kind will work as long as it’s thin-walled. Get three pieces, one each in 1/8, 11/32 and 13/32 inches in diameter. They only have to be a few inches long, but you’ll want to have the tubing before starting on the graphics.
  • Digital or Dial Calipers. You can find cheap digital ones for $20.00 at tool supply houses. A good machinists’ rule can be substituted too.

The first step is to make the brass tubing into three punches for the white door roundel decals (11/32), the hood roundel (13/32) and the bases for the NGK logos. The reason this must be done first is due to the variables of carving the cutting edge. The size the tool ends up being will dictate other sizes of the artwork.

I used a not-so-new X-Acto knife since the act of shaving a bevel into the edge of the tubing tends to kill the knife’s edge, but a dead dull one won’t do the job either.  You’ll also need some 600 and 1200 grit sandpaper.

Carefully shave the inside edge of the tubing. It might be easier to get the technique down by working with the larger diameter first. It’ll take several times around the rim to thin it down to a blade edge. Don’t try to take too much material off at one time as it can “chatter” and make rough or uneven edges.

Once you have a smooth sharp edge cut into the inside of the tubing, hone the outside with some 600 grit sandpaper. It likely will have flared out slightly from the shaving. Don’t sand the cutting edge/end or the inside; only hone the outside.

Then do the same with the 1200 grit.

Inspect the edge. If you need to clean up the inside edge, carefully do it with the knife.  Repeat with the 1200 grit sandpaper on the outside only if necessary. Now repeat the process for the two other pieces of tubing.

Punch through the decal material, optimally going all the way through to make perfect circles.  It helps to have a hard, smooth surface to punch on, but not a good table, as the punch will likely damage whatever surface you use. An old piece of glass works great.

Even if you don’t go clean all the way through, that’s okay as long as you go all the way through pigmented/ink layer. Once you get it wet it will float free. As you can see only one of mine went clear through, but all are usable.

Now the discs need to be measured accurately. Depending on the actual size of the punch, your discs may or may not be the same as mine. This is one of the door roundels.

Now you have the measured diameters of the three roundels. These measurements will be used to determine the sizes of the stripes, number, and so on. Let’s start with the hood. You could just apply the punched white decal over the red stripe, but to really make the white pop it’s better to create a dropout (a blank “hole”) in the art that allows the body to show through. It’ll also make it easier to position the roundel perfectly in the middle.

When you draw your stripes, use the diameter of your disc to make a matching dropout in the proper location within the hood stripe. The black “6” should be sized at the same time, but it won’t be printed in the “hole” of the red stripe. It’ll be printed as a separate image.

Repeat the process for the door stripes and draw two smaller numeral 6’s. Note that on the real car the roof and rear deck stripes are the same style as the hood, but they are narrower. The pinstripes and their distance from the main stripe are the same as on the hood though. Also make NGK, Skyline heart and PMC-S block graphics. I made taillight and front side marker light graphics as well.

It’s advisable to test print your artwork on regular paper and test fit to the model before committing to decal, since it’s much cheaper than decal paper.

Before cutting out the images, the decals need to be clear coated. I used Tamiya X-22 Clear Gloss acrylic (airbrushed on), because it’s very mild and stays pliable when dry. All you need is a good, even sealer coat so water doesn’t affect the inks. Once the decals are applied, it’s recommended that the car body be clear coated so the shine and overall look is enhanced.

You may have to experiment depending on the ink your printer uses, especially if you’re using an ink jet, to find a suitable clear. I’ve also used Krylon Crystal Clear acrylic spray and automotive urethanes to seal decals, but those tend to be a bit thick especially for these smaller models. Tamiya TS-13 spray lacquer is another good choice, but it’s getting difficult to find these days.

One thing that’s very important when clear coating inkjet decals is to apply the clear in light, dry coats. Build up a few coats, letting each earlier application dry. This lessens the chances of the ink blurring or running. This isn’t much of an issue with laser printed images.

When the decal clearcoat and paint on the car body are both fully dry you can begin decaling (I painted the window trim and other details by hand before beginning to decal the car). Using sharp scissors cut out the decals, try to trim cleanly and uniformly right to the edge of the image. It’s OK to leave a couple thousandths of an inch of clear material around the edge. It’s better than getting too close and compromising the image or leaving a wavy edge.

Before applying the hood stripe to the car, I applied the largest punched white roundel. Once that dried I applied stripe decal, centering the dropout over the roundel. Then the number 6 decal was applied to the center of the roundel.

The same process was repeated for the doors. Now that it’s dried, you can see how the hood stripe has snuggled down, even into the cowl vents. To help facilitate this (after the decal was dry), I used a hairdryer to heat and soften the decal and then carefully nuanced it into the depressions with a damp clean paint brush.

Now there’s the issue of the white for the PMC-S and Skyline heart graphics. You could apply the decals and let the warm white show through, but if you want to be more accurate and have the lettering show though as cool white, all you have to do is cut some rectangles out of the white decal paper. I used a sharp X-Acto knife and a steel rule to make these.

Apply them in the desired locations and allow them to fully dry before applying the red graphics over them.

Here the red decals have been applied over the white rectangular “backgrounds.” Also, you can see the smallest white punched roundel has been applied prior to the application of the NGK decal on the lower rear quarter panel.

The NGK decals were sized to be a little smaller than the punched roundels in order to leave a bright white outer ring, just like on the real sticker, when they’ve been applied over the white blanks.

I also touched up the window frames where the red stripes went over them and I painted the rear spoiler and headlight covers red. I used Testors Italian Red, but you’ll need to try to match what color red your printer generates.

Once I finished applying the decals and doing all the touch up and final detail painting, like the door handles, front parking lights, oil cooler line as well as a light wash to accentuate the rivets around the flares, I airbrushed a final clearcoat onto the body using a two part automotive urethane.

If you’re unsure what clear to use, you can always try the same clear you used to seal the decals. Just be sure to test it for compatibility over the same paint you used for the body if you haven’t used it before. I prefer a clearcoat for protection and to enhance the shine, and it also makes the edges of the decals visually go away, but there are builders who skip this step.

Two part urethanes are usually safe in regards to not reacting with paints and decals, but you need to take proper health precautions when using these potentially dangerous chemicals, they can be extremely detrimental to your health if you are careless. Read the labels.

The clear on the body was allowed to dry for a few days and the windows reinstalled. The interior was painted with the same warm white as the exterior, and the dash and seat were detail painted by brush. A seatbelt was used from the same decal sheet I used with the BRE Datsuns.

The front spoiler was also brush painted the same red as the rear spoiler and the molded in chassis details were picked out with various shades of black, metallic grays and silver.  The exhaust pipes were done in a light flat tan.

Reassembly was straightforward (see the BRE Datsun article for details if you have any questions).

The wheels were donated from a Hot Wheels Racing Mustang Cobra, a five-dollar car in one of Mattel’s premium lines. It comes with rubber tires and look remarkably like Watanabe 8-spokes.

The tires were turned around to be black walls and the chrome lip was removed with 1000 grit sand paper.

The front axle centers were painted zinc (pale gold) to mimic the hub’s grease cap, while the rears were painted black. A coat of flat clear was sprayed to knock down the shine.

In case you’re wondering why I didn’t add the livery like the Okamoto Condoms decal, it’s because in 1971 Okamoto hadn’t yet come aboard as an event sponsor. The cars ran that year in very basic works livery with only NGK as the non-Nissan or Prince logo.

Of course, I had to deviate from history for one detail — the JNC inkan in the rear window.

I also built a second car, a silver and gray tribute, using the same techniques as described in the article. It shows the contrast of the white roundels better than the warm white replica version. You can see more of this car at the Lamley Group blog.

Wheels on the silver car are the stock ones that came with the Hot Wheels. A little detail painting helps bring them to life and shows that it’s not always required to invest five bucks in an extra donor car for its wheels.

Photos by Mark Jones. You can see more of Mark’s work on his Scale-Master blog.

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8 Responses to MINICARS: How to make custom decals for your Hot Wheels hakosuka Skyline

  1. Skorj said:

    Simply ten times awesome. Do you do commissions?

  2. Bonzi Lon said:

    The watchmaker in me says, “job well done.”

  3. Ben said:

    Incredible work, Mark. Looks just like the real thing!

  4. cesariojpn said:

    As a Model Railroader (HO Scale, modeling Burlington Northern circa the “Merger” years) I commend this article for showing how “difficult” it can be to make custom accurate models.

  5. I scooped up 4 of the HW Racing olds auroras on ebay for the wheels :) If I get some time tomorrow I’m taking out all 4 sets and painting them gunmetal in preparation for placement on a few cars. Celica, Hachi, 510 and likely the Hako Skyline.

  6. LTDScott said:

    Good lord, I can’t imagine putting that much detail work into my real car let alone scale models. Major kudos!

  7. Lotus51a said:

    John,
    I own an old Datsun 510 that was raced in the Chicago area with SCCA in the early to mid ’70’s. I found your 510 project and started working up a minature (OK, several, in different collors,) of my own. Problem is, I will never be able to make mine look anywhere near as good as yours without the decals. Would you be willing to sell a few sets? Or maybe explain how the white is done?

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