I received an interesting suggestion recently, that because I had been applying graffiti as both paper overlays and from several sources of decals, that I could write a review of how I evaluate the various decal brands. That is the topic of the present post. (Previous posts in this series were about applying graffiti to post-1980 freight cars. They are most easily found by using “freight car graffiti” as a search term in the search box at right.)
In applying this type of decal, the first issue that may come to mind is that many are quite large, and applying them over ribs on car sides, for example, may be a worry. All of the decals I will review here perform acceptably in this aspect, but a sharp-edged rib is a challenge for any decal.
A second point that may not seem obvious is opacity. Here is where decal makers differ considerably, and I will mention my experiences below.
A further criterion may be the type of graffiti portrayed in the decals. These naturally range greatly in size, both in the prototype and in decal form. Many prototype graffiti are what I might call “flat bottom” style, meaning that they completely fit along the bottom of a car side. Others could be called “free standing” since they do not have a pronounced bottom edge. Both types are common on freight cars.
I will begin with a very large range, from an early maker of model railroad graffiti decals, Blair Line. They have a good range of both flat-bottom and free-standing images, though they tend to be smaller. Their opacity is pretty good. Their line can be seen at this link: http://www.blairline.com/graffiti/ . If you browse through my past posts on this topic, you will see a fair number of Blair Line decals used.
Rapidly gaining in size of offerings is Microscale. They now have five sets in stock, and all of them are large sheets. These pieces are a wide range of sizes, including quite large, and thus pretty versatile, and they mix flat-bottom and free-standing styles. They are quite opaque and can be applied over anything. Here again, if you browse my previous graffiti posts, you will see lots of Microscale decals in use. I will show two examples below. First, one of their “modern graffiti” sets, 87-1533:
Another of their sets which might not at first seem usable is 87-1536, entitled “Irish and Scottish Graffiti.” But of course graffiti art styles have been international for some years. I would maintain that none of these graffiti pieces look out of place in North America; for confirmation, I would recommend the excellent book, Freight Train Graffiti, by Roger Gastman,
Darin Rowland, and Ian Sattler (Abrams Books, 2006).
I especially like this set because of all the free-standing pieces and tags.
I also used a few decals from two other sources. One is Dave’s Decals (their site is at: https://www.davart.net/?cat=46&v=7516fd43adaa ). The range of graffiti styles is decent and there is a good balance of flat-bottom and free-standing images. But even with the “white” background (you can buy them with background either “white” or transparent), they are pretty transparent. That is no problem on white or light gray cars, but on any other color, the background color dominates whatever colors are in the decal. Moreover they cannot cover any lettering, and that lettering will show through strongly. I like the available art and certainly have used most of the ones I bought, but only in situations within the limitations just listed.
The other source I have used is T2 decals (you can view their offerings at: T2Decals.ecrater.com ). These have a nice variety but are nearly as transparent as Dave’s Decals. Their best advantage, for me, is that they are mostly small, free-standing graffiti and can readily be used on cars where multiple graffiti are applied.
One other source of HO scale graffiti decals used to be Weathering Solutions, but their website is down and I don’t find their products for sale at the moment anywhere. I was told last year that they are “temporarily” shut down, but I don’t know any more than that. Their rust, oil and dirt decal sets are excellent, and I will look forward to using their graffiti decals — if they come back to life.
Lastly, I should mention again my paper overlay technique, beginning with photographs I have taken myself. This technique was described in my Model Railroad Hobbyist article (January 2020) and summarized in a blog post (see it at: https://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2020/01/my-latest-column-in-mrh.html ). This permits one to extend graffiti beyond whatever is provided by the decal makers.
So what are my preferences? I like and use Microscale, though their sets lack smaller pieces and sometimes have shaded colors pixilated. I also have used a lot of Blair Line, nice smaller pieces though heavy on flat-bottom images. I like the images provided by T2 and Dave’s Decals, but their near transparency can be a limitation. You can see all of these, along with paper overlays, if you browse the images of the cars to which I’ve applied graffiti.
I have heard the comment from modelers that there just aren’t enough decals available to apply graffiti to a fleet of modern freight cars. Of course it would be nice to have even more variety, but the sources I have listed above certainly provide a very large number of graffiti images, with a wide variety of styles and sizes. And of course paper overlays or homemade decals can extend the range even further. Today one can definitely add a huge range of graffiti to one’s freight cars if one chooses to do so.