Decal Making

Decal Making
In this tutorial, I will be showing you how I do all my rod decals. To be honest, the decal usually is
the first thing noticed by the customer because it has their name or custom saying or image right on
the rod. There are great custom decal companies that do great work but having the ability to
produce a custom label and have it on the rod in 20 minutes can’t be beat.
Things you will need:
- Paper towels
- Denatured alcohol
- Clear water transfer inkjet paper (
- Krylon Crystal Clear or similar clear fast dry acrylic spray paint
- Photo editing software…anything will do but better the program, better the results
- Hair dryer
- Standard rod wrapping materials, thread, epoxy, CP, etc.
Start by wrapping your bottom color or colors of choice in the location that you want the decal on
the rod.
Here I am adding a second color just to show what it looks like. You can get some very interesting
effects but I typically stick to a single color, mostly silver or gold depending on the rod.
Here are the three colors I used as an example. If you use a light color thread, it will tend to tint the
silver or gold instead of being a contrasting color.
Under wrap done. Again, the three colors are only to show what it looks like. I normally stick to a
single color.
Next, if you haven’t measured the length of the wrap, you need to do that now. You will need the
width and circumference of the wrap.
If you don’t have calipers, you can of course use a ruler. To get the circumference you can measure
the diameter with your caliper then use the formula C=π(r)² or you can just use the no calculator
method of wrapping a small piece of paper around the blank then marking it with a pencil where it
begins to overlap. Then you just measure from the edge of the paper to the pencil line. You don’t
have to be accurate to .0001 of an inch here. At this point, I put a thin coat of CP on the thread
and let it dry while I make the label.
Now you want to begin to make the label using your paint program. I use Adobe Photoshop but
other paint programs will have similar screens and abilities.
Start by making a new image with the dimensions you got from the rod. Always add at least 1-2mm
to the width and 1mm to the height. This way the decal will be longer than the thread and will cover
the edges. I like to use a resolution of at least 300dpi as it makes the text look substantially better
than 72dpi.
Make a black background and use white text. I have used a grid line feature of Photoshop to help
center the text. It won’t be there in the final decal.
The finished demo label:
Once you have designed your label, you want to print a test image on plain paper and check the fit
on the rod. I just put a couple of things on the label so you can see the various results. I just quickly
cut the label out and wrap it around the rod to insure my measurements were accurate.
You MUST clean the decal paper with denatured alcohol before printing! If you don’t, any
small contamination on the paper will repel the ink and you will have to reprint. I just wipe the area
where I will be printing. You don’t need to scrub it. Just a few quick swipes will do.
Now, print the label using your printers “Photo” settings with “Glossy Photo Paper” as the media
type. I also suggest you turn off high speed printing if it is an option.
Using these options concentrates the ink and that’s what you want. You need to be very careful
once the image is printed as it will be wet for a bit when it comes out of the printer.
Once you have the label printed, you can let it air dry or using a low speed on a hair dryer,
accelerate it a bit. Then cut it out using a straight edge and a razor blade or in this instance I used a
sharp pair of scissors. I prefer the razorblade and straightedge as I have perfect cuts with them but
my ruler was in the garage and I was too lazy to go look for it. As you can see, there is a big color
difference between the paper and decal paper version of the same label.
Now that the label is cut out, you need to coat it with something to keep the water used to loosen the
paper from its backing from running the ink from your printer. This is where the clear acrylic spray
comes in. Krylon’s product is by far the best I have ever used. It’s so pure there isn’t even a rattle
ball in the can to mix it. I spray the label with a quick fairly heavy coat. The entire surface needs to
be covered. Light misting here won’t work.
Here I have just sprayed the label. See all the stuff that looks like dust, contamination, hair etc in the
paint? That is EXACTLY what it is…relax, it doesn’t matter! Now, I did this a bit on the extreme
side by intentionally stirring up some dust before I sprayed the label. Anything the size of a period
on this page or smaller will make no difference in the final outcome but will easily be seen if you
look at the decal before you put it on the rod. Note the piece of hair above the “s” in
“”. I WON’T remove it so that you can see that it will not affect the quality
of the final product. I try to be clean and prevent anything from getting on the label but it’s basically
impossible. If you do get something on the label that cuts across the text or an image/design you
have, work quickly with a dental pick or needle and you can most times remove it without
damaging the label. That is exactly what I would normally do for that hair.
Now, soak your decal in water for 60-75 seconds. I use plain old room temperature tap water.
Some people use filtered or de-ionized water but I just don’t have the need for it.
Then carefully slide the decal from its backing on to the rod. You won’t have a lot of working time
here to position the decal. If you wet the surface of the thread slightly before you slide the decal
over, it will help this and also enable you to more easily slide the decal into its correct position. This
also will lengthen its drying time so I try to do it as little as possible. Use a paper towel to squeegee
the water/air out from under the decal from the center out to the edges. Be careful here. You can
very easily wrinkle the decal. If you have some bubbles that you can’t work out with the paper
towel, that’s OK. Just take a needle and pierce the bubble and using the paper towel flatten the
bubble. If the label doesn’t want to stick even though you pierced the bubble, and worked the
air/water out, you can fix that too. Use a hairdryer on a low setting and while rotating the rod, heat
the label. This will shrink it slightly and cause it to stick back to the thread. This will also cause the
edges that you were worried about to shrink down and stick to the rod. As far as total drying time,
that will depend on how much water you used when you slid the label on the rod. I use flexcoat CP
and since I coated the thread with it, if it’s too wet, the text will appear milky. Once it’s completely
clear, it’s safe to epoxy. The use of a hairdryer will significantly speed up this process.
Here is the fresh label on the rod. You can see the texture of the thread below and the edges on the
far side have yet to adhere to the rod.
After some heat from the hairdryer, everything is tightening up.
Flexcoat Highbuild applied:
Close up:
Note no hair visible above the “s”
Start to finish, I can normally have a label made and on the rod in under 20 minutes. It’s a great
addition and a great money maker as I have added custom labels to many factory rods, gaffs, fish
holders, push poles, even a set of oars.
Feel free to distribute this tutorial but please make no changes without consulting me first. I will be
more than happy to answer any questions you may have. You can contact me at:
[email protected]
[email protected]
Dave Rogers