Dry Transfer Decals vs. Waterslide Decals – Which Are Better?

The Precision of Dry Transfers vs Ordinary Water Slide Decals

a custom dry transfer on a microchip beside a dime to show how precise our rubdowns can be orderedIn precise and high-quality design applications, dry transfer decals are an excellent replacement for waterslide decals. Particularly in scenarios where prototypes and other objects are subjected to close scrutiny, they instantly improve results. Dry transfers are a better solution for the design community because they offer significant advantages over water slides in a number of key performance areas.


Dry Transfers


Water Slides

No damage to application surface Potential water damage to surface
Work without complications on white surfaces Yellowish carrier media shows on white
Ease of handling, more durable Messy, delicate, difficult to handle
Allow for true, pure white unlike inkjet printers Unable to print in true white on inkjet
Ability to follow curves without quality loss Difficult on curves, can wrinkle & lose shape
Side view detail of the replica WW2 scale model airplane using our custom dry transfer stickers.

Custom Dry Transfers

A water slide decal on a model airplane, the discolored edges are clearly visible

Water Slide Decals




Dry Transfers Have Visual Advantages Over Water Decals

For anyone accustomed to using water slide decals and considering switching to dry transfer decals instead, they have several application advantages.

a bad quality water slide decal on a guitar, there is some yellowing and the carrier is showing where the decal was cut out with scissors

Water Decal

A closeup videocap of a metallic transfer foil applied on a custom guitar in a video from Stewart-MacDonald guitars and string instruments

Dry Transfer

  1. First and most importantly, some inkjet printer ink is water-based which can cause the ink to run.
  2. The other complication with water slide decals is the yellowish tint of the carrier media. This is instantly visible on white surfaces and can diminish the clarity and sharpness of edges and lines.
  3. With water slides, some designers have even gone as far as concocting diluted vinegar treatments to overcome some visual disadvantages.  But the results can be iffy and far from reliable. With the better option of dry transfers in these same situations you no longer need to resort to improvised work-arounds.

Our custom dry transfer stickers (we prefer calling them decals because ours are not sticky) are easier to handle, easier to apply, do not turn yellow over time and do not damage the surface you are applying them to.

Dry Transfer Decals Provide Surface Protection Advantages

water damage on a wood guitar from waterslide decals

Water Damage

Applying rub down transfers on a scale model replica yacht by Classic Yacht Models

Easy to Apply

If you are sampling up a prototype, creating a custom display object or working on a hobby project, dry transfers provide surface protection not possible with products involving water.

Especially when there are tight deadlines, dry transfers reduce potential damage and complications on wood, plastic, paint and other smooth surfaces.

For custom lettering, logos, graphic elements and any other applied surface enhancements, our custom dry transfers are ideal design solutions.

With overnight delivery service, our dry transfers are now easily available in quick turnaround situations. Also because they are created directly from your digital files and color matched with Pantone palettes, you are assured of receiving back exactly what you designed with all of its needed detail and nuance.

Dry Transfers Have Advantages for Application and Ease of Use

water slide decals are affordable and easy to use

Water Decal

Axe product prototype model presentation with custom transfer decal applied to the plastic surface.

Dry Transfer

The application process for dry transfers is direct and straightforward.  Other than a steady hand and a focused approach, little else is needed. They are fast and easy to apply. Place where desired, rub down with the burnisher and they are immediately affixed and semi-permanent.  Just add a clear coat of lacquer to make them permanent.

Dry transfers can be applied to any smooth surface without damage or any other water-related complications. Better still, they are free from carrier media so there is no need to cut around the edges of the decal. The adhesive only exists under the image – where you need it.

Neither solvents nor treatments are needed and one of the greatest advantages is no drying time is required. Your piece is ready the moment you finish applying the dry transfer. For applications requiring greater durability, applying a coat of clear lacquer is an additional option.

Dry Transfers have a Precise Look with Perfect Results – Instantly

Photographers for Milwaukee Tools took this photo of our dry transfers being used for their product prototype photoshoot. This image shows different tools with the Milwaukee Tool logo applied on the surface of the prototype product using custom transfer decals

Dry Transfers produced for Milwaukee Tool

The final measure of success for any project is a visually precise and accurate appearance. With dry transfers, successful outcomes are more likely and the process for getting to a final piece is less left to chance.

If the piece will be in use for some time or is subject to handling, dry transfers are more durable than water slides. They are simply more stable and longer lasting.

Our dry transfers are available in a broader range of interesting appearance options including both metallic and foil.

Each color transfer decal is backed with white to ensure a consistent and uniform look.
a closup of a water slide decal with prominent edges that look bad

Water Decal

This is a closeup of a gallery wall in Miami that uses custom dry transfers for their museum labels and signage

Dry Transfer

In side-by-side comparisons with water slides, most designers agree the dry transfer achieves a more finished, permanent and precise look.

If you are planning a project or have one under way right now, it’s a great time to switch to using dry transfers.

They are available overnight, have fewer complications, ensure a more precise appearance and are much easier to use.

Deadlines and changing specs can add enough stress and complication to your workflow.  The advantage of dry transfers can remove one variable from your list and help you achieve better results right away.



Image Transfers are custom dry rub-on transfer specialists. We make only one thing: custom rub down transfers for graphic designers, artists and model-makers. A dry transfer (or rubdown) is an image printed on a translucent sheet. The image has a coating of adhesive on its back. The image is transferred from the translucent sheet onto another surface by applying light pressure in a rubbing motion. The dry transfer can be applied to any surface that is free of dust, grease or oil. Dry transfers are referred to as DRY because they are applied dry, without the use of water or solvents. A dry transfer is not a slip-off label or a water decal, instead the transferred image appears as if it was printed directly onto the item. Our dry transfers are opaque because we back the colors with white, so our rubdowns can be applied to a surface of any color without changing the color of the rub-on transfer. We consider dry transfers a semi-permanent application. Our production artists can match all Pantone Matching System (PMS) colors including Metallic. Standard transfers are semi-gloss but we also offer matte and uncoated finishes. We deliver within as little as 24 hours. -- Specialties: Custom Rub Down Dry Transfers, Art Gallery Signage & Museum Labels, Custom Transfers for Product Prototypes, Comps & Mockups, Dry Transfers for Scale Models.

Posted in Product Packaging, Prototypes, Quality and Color Matching, Scale Model Replicas Tagged with: , , , ,
26 comments on “Dry Transfer Decals vs. Waterslide Decals – Which Are Better?
  1. raju gupta says:

    hi i am looking for some decals to be made of my speaker logo and writing can i send you a picture to see if this is possible?

  2. Nick says:

    I am looking to have made custom police decals for a 1:24 scale die cast Ford Explorer. Do you make decal for these types of applications?

    • Luann says:

      Nick, We are probably not the right source for you for this project. Yes we can probably create these transfers but we don’t have any “off the shelf” product. Everything is custom so we would need to create that art, and I assume it will be multi-color? Our price structure usually fit the budgets of Industrial Designers creating prototypes. Usually most model makers don’t have these type of budgets. Please review our pricing published on our website. If these costs work for you please get back in touch. As an alternative may I recommend you specifically google exactly what you are looking for to get a source.

  3. Michael says:

    Do your dry transfer decals adhere to unglazed ceramic?

    • Luann says:

      Michael, I can’t say if any of our clients have tried to apply our transfers to unglazed ceramic but they have been applied to a lot of different substrates including “rocks.” The transfers are lacquer ink with lacquer adhesive. Since adhesive is only on the image area, there will not be any adhesive residue. I would “assume” they will work fine. If you want more info just email us at art@imagetransfers.com Thanks for your inquiry.

  4. Ian says:

    Can you produce dry transfers with a complex color pattern such as multiple shades of blue, red and black in an area the size of a dime?

    • Luann says:

      Our production artists are very talented but it would be difficult to determine if we can produce this with just a description. Is it possible to send a visual of the art to our email address at art@imagetransfers.com? We have created custom dry transfers from complex art and multi-color but need more information before we can say yes to this project.

  5. Can your decals be lacquered over with nitrocellulose?
    Thank you!

    • Luann says:

      Bill, Sorry for any delay in replying. Our transfers are lacquer ink with lacquer adhesive. Since adhesive is only on the image area after applied the artwork will look like it is printed right on your substrate. We are not sure if our transfers can be lacquered over with nitrocellulose. We would be happy to send you some samples of our transfers to test on your end if you want to email us your snail mail address. Please reply to art@imagetransfers.com if you are interested. Thanks!

  6. James G Blaine says:

    Hi I need decals made for some O scale trains. The decals would be yellow and applied to a medium blue plastic shell. They would just say the road name (Granite Gorge & Rockville) and numbers. I can send you exactly what I want. Thanx, James

    • Luann says:

      James, We would be happy to help you with this project. Our pricing for 1/color transfers is published on our website and goes by “size area” so we would gang-up/repeat your copy to fill a letter size since that is the smallest size we offer. Letter 1/color is $175.00. It seems your artwork would be simple so we can probably set that for you at no additional charge. If you would like to move forward just email us at art@imagetransfers.com with more information. We look forward to hearing back from you.

  7. Wm. T. Acland says:

    If I apply one of your dry transfers to my car, will it survive going through an automatic car wash

    • Luann says:

      Bill, Our transfers are lacquer ink with lacquer adhesive. They are not suitable to apply to a car. They are mostly used by Industrial Artists creating prototypes. You might want to check into vinyl lettering. Maybe “google” vinyl sign companies. Vinyl is used on indoor and outdoor signage and might be the right solution for you. Good luck.

  8. jim says:

    Can dry transfer decals be applied to a gloss black motorcycle fender

    • Luann says:

      Jim, Our transfers are lacquer ink with lacquer adhesive. They certainly can be put on a black fender, and since adhesive is only on the image area, after applied it will look like the art is printed right on the substrate. But if applied for a permanent solution you would have to coat the transfer w/clear lacquer spray. Our transfers are usually used for prototypes. If you want more information just get in touch. Thanks for your inquiry. Luann

  9. Tony says:

    Looking to av a dry letter transfer made to replace the originial 1 that as worn away on the side of a old locomotive
    The transfer says
    Any help or advice would be much appreciated
    Thank you

    • Luann says:

      Tony, We can certainly create a custom dry transfer for you but we would need “artwork” for the elemore colliery image. If you needed us to create artwork for you that would be an additional cost. Pricing is published right on our website. We have no off the shelf products so we are not sure our costs would fit your budget. A one color transfer is $175.00 and artwork would be additional. If you wanted to move forward please send us a visual of the logo you need and we can get back to you with a cost for artwork as well. Thanks for your inquiry.

  10. James says:

    Hi my name is James services 321 I am looking to possibly buy a decal it’s for the large Phoenix Dry Max dehumidifiers

    • Luann says:

      James, I don’t think we are the right source for you. Out transfers are usually used on prototypes. You might want to specifically google exactly what you need. There maybe some off the shelf decals available for you. Good luck.

  11. Vicki says:

    We sell hand poured candles in glass or ceramic jars. Would your product work to apply our label. Currently we use clear stickers and are wanting a more ‘screenprint’ look.

    • Luann says:

      Vicki, We have had a client use our transfers for this exact purpose in the past. Our transfers are lacquer ink with lacquer adhesive. Since adhesive is only on the image area, after applied it will look like your logo art is printed right on the glass or ceramic. We just want to detail that the transfer can get scratched if someone tries to do that but we have a transfer on our glass door for years with no issues. Best way to move forward is to gang-up your logo into one of our artboard size areas because that is how our pricing is structured. We need vector artwork. If you have further questions just email back or call the studio at (212) 928-7987. We hope to work with you on this project.

  12. Tina Mooney says:

    What kind of machine do you use to print on?

    That puts down white first

    • Luann says:

      Tina, We don’t use a machine. Our transfers are produced by production artists. All our transfers are custom with clients usually supplying the art but we can create artwork for you as well. Pricing is published right on our website and cost are by artboard size area. Get in touch if you have more questions.

  13. Tina Mooney says:

    Is it inkjet or silkscreen ink?
    If it’s not a printer of some sort then your artist are coloring by hand or painting by hand and that seems not to be very cost effective.

    • Luann says:

      Tina, We pride ourselves in very high quality custom dry transfers. In order to provide this product we have one production artist working on one transfer until it is completed and packed up for FedEx. We have no off the shelf product or do anything with a printer. Most of our clients are Industrial Designers creating prototypes. The final prototype has to look perfect for marketing purposes. Some projects have smaller budgets. We suggest those clients gang-up more art to make the transfers more cost efficient or search for an off the shelf solution. If you have more questions just get back in touch. We hope you find the perfect solution for your project.

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