Bandai’s Decals Have Herpes

In reality, this post is just another WIP post for my HG Zaku, showing the work I’ve done applying decals to it. I have a whole collection of decal sheets from which I pick out markings that I want to use on a particular project. Often the decal sheet I’m using isn’t specific to the kit I’m building, so it’s just a matter of finding a sheet that has a marking I want.
However, when dealing with these decals there is an issue I can’t avoid: some of these Bandai decals have really terrible half-toning on them which makes the markings look terrible up-close, or even at a moderate distance. These images should give you an idea of what’s going on here:


I’ll talk more about the whole decal issue toward the end of the post. After the last update, I worked on finishing the basic paint coats and moving on to the gloss coats. I decided I wasn’t happy with my “dark green” color, although it was a pretty good match for the box art. I felt I’d rather have the color closer to the dark green from the anime, so I created a new mix that’s more of a black-green and repainted the dark-green parts in this color. A few other parts got recolored as well.
The bazooka was a late addition to this build: early on I hadn’t planned to include it at all, but the 08th MS Team-style Zaku Bazooka is a bit unique (mainly in the inclusion of an ammunition magazine) so I decided to include it after all. This meant that it lagged behind the other parts in painting. I also broke the scope part twice: the first time was prior to painting, and the repair process delayed painting of that part… By the time I was ready to paint the bazooka scope, the custom paint mixture I had made had dried up. (Since it’s enamel, I couldn’t “un-dry” it with thinner, I had to mix more) Then after painting, I broke it again while trying to install it – so I’ve had to repair it again, and the area around the repair will have to be repainted.

There were two choices I had to make for the decals which took some time: First, I wanted some kind of cheesecake nose-art for the shield. Second, I had to choose which version of the Zeon emblem to use.
I really only had a couple decent options for cheesecake on the shield: Gundam Decal 17 includes the Zaku Lady, which I used previously on my 1:100 scale non-grade Zaku, and “Fairy Heart”. Unfortunately, due to half-toning the definition on both of these is pretty poor:

I wound up using the Zaku Lady again, I like that it’s very distinctly Zeon. But I’m not sure that I’m satisfied with the look of this decal, due to the half-toning. I also decided to hand-letter the words “Zaku Lady”, with the intent of making it look like one of the crew had hand-lettered the words on the shield. It looks pretty bad up-close. I’ll probably retouch it, or I may just erase it and do something else.
The issue with the Zeon emblem is that there have been several variations over the years. The HG Zaku came out in 1996, when most kits were using the wide, “football-shaped” version that was introduced with the MG Zaku. Since this build is a bit of an homage to that era, I had considered using that version of the emblem. But I kind of hate that version of the emblem. The two most convenient alternatives for me would have been the version Bandai started using around 2002 – a very clean-looking emblem with a very circular profile – or the version from the 0080 kits, which long ago I convinced Pete of “Models4You” to include in his Alps-printed decal sheet – and since then seems to have made its way into a few other Alps-printed decal sheets. The 0080 one tends to be my favorite (go figure) – but I decided to go for a more classic version. I had some old MSV kits which included a 1980s-style emblem – which is a bit irregular-looking compared to the 2002 version. However, rather than deprive an MSV kit of its precious decal, I used a copy of the same design from a modern decal sheet. In the shield photos you can see the one I used (taken from Gundam Decal 29: “HGUC Zeon MS #2” which provides markings for the Zudah and other Zimmad MS) alongside the 2002 version on the decal sheet in the background. The 1980s style emblem is also the one that comes with the Real Grade Zaku, so that version may be making a comeback.

I’m going a bit minimalist with the markings on this build, at least by my standards. In the last few Zaku builds I’ve done, I’ve included decorative stripes either mimicking those in the old “Real Type” kits or just anywhere I could think to put them. This time I’m not doing any of that. On the rear skirt, the only markings I’ve included are a unit identification number and a small warning label near the bazooka rack.
I also used a rescue panel decal on the chest… Again, you can see the half-toning, as it’s from one of the bad sheets.
I didn’t put much on the backpack: just a couple “No Push” marks, and I plan to add “MS-06” above that, probably with stencil-style dry transfers as I have some that are appropriately small. Dry transfers work best on a matte surface, so I really should have done that prior to the gloss coats… But they’ll work just as well after the first matte coat.

Finally, there’s the arm markings: unit number on the front of the right should and the side of the left shoulder armor, and rank insignia on the left arm. This pilot’s a Corporal, which I think makes him the lowest-ranking of the Zakus I’ve built so far. (If you’re curious, the explanation of these rank stripes can be found in the RG Zaku manual. After looking at that guide, I discovered that my 1:100 Zaku build from a couple years back was actually rather high in rank: A full Colonel, in fact!)

That’s about it for the HG Zaku build update. Read on if you want to hear my rant about Bandai’s decals.
The first time this issue really caught my attention was when I bought the decal set for the Real Grade Gundam. The decal set reproduced the various white, gray, yellow, and metallic markings from the kit’s sticker sheet, but without reproducing the metallic effect. The decal sheet included all the kit’s little silver and bronze-colored markings, but not in metallic ink, and everything other than the white markings were half-toned.
To me, this made most of the decal sheet worthless. If I could have gotten a refund without sending the sheet back to Japan, I would have. What’s more, Gundam Decal sheets are packaged such that part of the sheet is obscured until you open the package – and sure enough, the worst half-toned markings, the ill-defined, speckled yellow/red or black/white markings were almost all in this “hidden” area. The real heartbreaker for me was that it didn’t have to be this way. If they’d left out the decals they weren’t going to do properly (especially the metallics), the rest of the markings (especially the white and gray markings) could have been done properly.
Basically, when mass-producing decals, you have the option of tailor-fitting your color selection to the decals you’re printing. This allows you to print almost any color with no half-toning. But there’s only so many different inks that you can include in a single decal sheet. So if you design a decal sheet with a limited color palette, you can print it without half-toning. Since most of these decals only have one or two colors, this is very much a viable option.
The main case in which half-toning is necessary is when the decal is meant to reproduce an image with subtle color variations, like a painting or photograph, anything with either a large number of colors or any kind of gradient. In that case the printer’s color set is likely to be a standard color set – primary colors plus black and white, or something similar to that. This means that if limited-color decals are on the same sheet as full-color decals, the limited-color decals will probably be half-toned as well.
In this project, a lot of the decals I found in my collection (and a couple that I actually used) suffered from this half-toning. I really feel this kind of quality issue is inexcusable. I am happy that Gundam Decals are at least available, but I hate buying a sheet or two only to receive it and find a bunch of markings I don’t want to use on anything.

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