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 orderedCustom dry transfers are an excellent replacement for waterslide decals on product prototypes, scale models, labels for electronics and even details on musical instruments such as guitars.

Particularly in settings where objects are subject to scrutiny, they instantly improve results. Dry transfers are a better solution for the design community because they offer significant advantages over water slides in key performance areas.

How custom dry transfer decals and waterslides differ:

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

Water Slide Decals

Water Slide Decals

  1. Potential water damage to the surface
  2. Yellowish carrier media shows on white
  3. Messy, delicate, difficult to handle
  4. Unable to print in true white on inkjet
  5. 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

Dry Transfers

  1. No damage to the application surface
  2. Work without complications on white surfaces
  3. Ease of handling, more durable
  4. Allows for true, pure white unlike inkjet printers
  5. Ability to follow curves without quality loss

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

Dry Transfers Have Visual Advantages Over Waterslides

No matter what your project, you’ll have better-looking results when you switch from water slide decals to dry transfer decals.

The improved appearance also comes with several application advantages:

    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 slide decals, 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 workarounds.
    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

    Ordinary Water Decal

    Our custom dry transfer stickers (we prefer calling them decals because ours are not sticky) are easier to handle, more convenient to apply, do not turn yellow over time and do not damage the surface you are applying them to. We create them from your digital files using a special ink backed with adhesive. They are delivered on transfer paper that allows you to rub them onto any surface without water or solvent.

    Custom Dry Transfer Decals Provide Surface Protection Advantages

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

    Dry Transfers are 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.

    Dry transfer decals also bring an appearance on par with professionally manufactured products.

    Especially valuable when there are tight deadlines, dry transfers reduce the variables connected to an application. These include fewer complications and no damage to wood, wall paint, metal, glass, plastic, and other labeled surfaces.

    water damage on a wood guitar from waterslide decals

    Water Damage

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

    Even fine print remains crisp and clear and we’re an excellent replacement for vinyl lettering, Letraset and ChartPak rub-on letters.

    With overnight delivery service, 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

    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 work equally well on models that are 3D printed or molded mock-ups and are fast and easy to apply.

    1. Place where desired
    2. Rub down with the burnisher (provided) and they are affixed and semi-permanent.
    3. Just add a clear coat of lacquer to make them permanent.

    Dry transfers can be applied successfully to any smooth surface without damage nor water-related complications.

    water slide decals are affordable and easy to use

    Water Decal

    Better still, they are free from carrier media and there is no need to cut around the edges of the decal.

    The adhesive only exists under the image – where you need it. This saves time and reduces the potential for mishaps when applying them.

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

    Dry Transfers Have a Precise Look and 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

    Dry transfers were custom-made for Milwaukee Tool’s product prototypes.

    The most essential measure of success for any project is a visually precise and accurate appearance. With dry transfers, successful outcomes are more likely than with water-slide decals and the process for getting to a final piece is more reliable and less left to chance.

    If the model or prototype you’re creating will be in use for an extended time or is subject to handling, dry transfers are more durable than water slides. They are simply more stable and longer-lasting. When your projects call for uniqueness and flair, our custom dry transfers are available in a broader range of interesting appearance options including both metallic and custom foil transfers.

    Each color is backed with white to ensure a consistent & uniform look.

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

    Dry Transfers for Walls

    In side-by-side comparisons with water slides, most industrial designers agree the dry transfer achieves a more permanent and precise look – with the quality and appearance of final manufactured products.

    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!

    If you are planning a project or have a new concept underway right now, it’s a great time to switch from water-slide decals to custom dry transfers. At Image Transfers, we’re ready to help you develop a successful final product that will win kudos and compliments when it is presented or displayed. We will enhance the appearance of your project providing a finished and tangible look and feel.

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. A top coat of clear lacquer can make them more permanent. 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 & Mock-ups, Dry Transfers for Scale Models. Decals for Glass and reversed transfer decals for inside glass cases.

Posted in Product Packaging, Prototypes, Quality and Color Matching, Scale Model Replicas Tagged with: , , , ,
42 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.

  14. I liked that you said that there are different kinds of decals that can be used on your vehicle to custom the auto body to promote business. I have been thinking about using my vehicle to advertise my business. I will be sure to go to a professional for this service, however, in order to achieve quality results.

    • Luann says:

      Ashley, Our transfers can certainly be used on a number of different substrates. They are really not suitable for automobiles. First because of the size needed to advertise on a vehicle. Second because we describe our lacquer transfers as semi-permanent unless coated with a clear lacquer spray after application. Vinyl sign cutting will probably be more suitable for you or even “google” vehicle wraps which have come down in price and can be quite vibrant when applied. If you have further questions please feel free to call the studio at (212) 928-7987. Thanks for your inquiry and best of luck with your project. Luann

  15. Tom Droessler- says:

    Nice Page

    Can you send a sample of dry and wet with this product name.

    Pet Sheet, using Papyrus 3/4 to 1″ height.
    and price per ea.
    AudioVac Mfg
    4026 Braelan Ln
    Hazel Green WI 53811

    • Luann says:

      Tom, We can certainly send you samples of our transfers but they would be of our logo art. If we did something specific, like you are asking, that would be a job. We have decided that in order to send samples we would need your UPS or FedEx Account to ship on. Putting samples into snail mail usually don’t make it into our potential client’s hands. Feel free to email us at art@imagetransfers.com or call studio number at (212) 928-7987 if you want to discuss further. Thanks for your inquiry. Luann

  16. Patrick Plutschow says:

    I have a white logo I’d like to apply on a black guitar headstock. Your dry decal application would thus be perfect. Do let me know how to proceed from here.

    • Luann says:

      Patrick, to proceed we just need a vector file of your logo art. An Adobe Illustrator file is perfect. You should scale your logo to the size you need and gang-up/repeat the logo nicely spaced on one of our artboard size layouts. The smallest size transfer we offer is letter. Pricing is published on our website. Letter in 1/color is $175.00. You can even order through the website if you can supply this type of file. Create an account, login, drag & drop, choose white, choose your FedEx and get an instant receipt.

      If you need help with creating a vector file that would be additional and we would need to see the type of file you currently have to give you a quote.

      You will be quite pleased with our transfers compared to a water slide. Our ink is opaque, application is easy – just rubbing through the clear slick with a burnisher we supply and there is no adhesive residue since adhesive is only on the image area.

      Let us know if you have further questions. We hope we can work on this project with you. Luann

  17. Minlin says:

    Hello Luann, I originally wanted to transfer a photo of a young child onto a rock to honor his memory. An Etsy rock artist suggested she makes water slides. But she now says her water slides become too delicate if they are more than two inches, as explained on your website!
    I am so disappointed after I bought rocks and varnish materials to smooth the rock surfaces.
    Should I look into your dry transfers?
    My photos are all about 4 – 4.5 inches tall.
    Thank you.

    • Luann says:

      Minlin, We can do custom dry transfers that can be applied to rocks. We had another client that did just this for a walkway, in a park, for directions. But we need vector artwork for our process. We don’t know what type of files you have for the young child. If you are asking for a 4/color process image (like a photo) we can’t help you. If this is just a silhouette in 1/color we can do that. After applied you will need to coat the applied dry transfer with a clear lacquer spray. Please reach out at (212) 928-7987 if you would like to discuss this project further. Thanks for your inquiry.

  18. Cyndi Wagenhauser says:

    Looking for direction on how I can print my own dry rub furniture transfers. Several companies make these in mass so I know its possible I just want to create my own. Any direction you might have would be appreciated.

    • Luann says:

      Cyndi, We realize you might want to try printing your own dry transfers but it is a very involved process, strict OSHA rules for studio, artist skills, inks, adhesive, etc. We really can’t give you any direction on helping you move forward with this. Our production is a propriety process that we perfected after many years of research. Maybe you should “google” off the shelf furniture transfers and possibly get a source that you can work with. We appreciate your inquiry and wish you success in your endeavors.

  19. Faith says:

    Can these be used on cups and coffee mugs that will go in the dishwasher?

    • Luann says:

      Faith, Thanks for your inquiry. No our transfers can’t be used for cups that go in a dishwasher. Our custom dry transfers are mostly used for prototypes – products that are not quite developed yet but clients want them to look realistic and review any issues with that development. We would recommend you look for a promotional product company that can create these for you. Best of luck with finding the right source.

  20. Joe Maude says:

    How hard is it to remove dry transfers?

    • Luann says:

      Joe, Thanks for your inquiry. Our transfers are lacquer ink with lacquer adhesive. We have had clients remove them in a few different ways. We would recommend testing any of these methods in an inconspicuous spot just incase. First if the transfer is not on the substrate too long you can probably tack it off with painter’s tape. Next option would be a Bestine Solution found in Home Improvement stores or Amazon. Last resort would be lacquer solvent since they are lacquer ink. Some clients have even painted over them if that is an option because they are only the thickness of the ink. If you want to give us more details about your actual project maybe we can advise you further. We hope to work with you on a future project. Thanks again, Luann

  21. Kevin Richardson says:

    Would like to speak to somebody about your dry transfer decals for my guitars that I am building I like they R In the circle that you have Would like to have serial numbers around perimeter A telephone number is 3216964576

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