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Thread: Tank Decals

  1. #1
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    Default Tank Decals

    I recently applied a decal to my '64 XLCH oil tank. It took a couple of tries and two decals, but I got it on and after much finessing, my painter got the clear coats applied and it looks great.

    I then applied the gas tank decals (Foxgrips), which are significantly larger than the oil tank decal. After much effort, and with the use of a commercial water-slide decal setting solution I got the both decals locked in at the correct locations, squeegeed them and let them dry for 4 days. After this drying cycle my painter then set up to apply a very light initial coat of urethane clear over the decals, after which the plan was to apply a couple of medium top coats. In preparation, he wiped one side very lightly and the decal lifted up and cannot be re-set. Given this I have a couple of questions:

    1. I used the same commercially available setting solution as with the oil tank decal to help slide the decal around. I’m thinking that it may have caused a lack of adhesion?
    2. These decals are difficult to slide around during application. Therefore, I’m thinking that the next time I might try the old water/alcohol/dish soap combination. Have any of you guys had luck with that?
    3. Have you had problems in applying urethane clear coats over your water-slide decals? I’m concerned about;
    a. The decal lifting when interacting with the clear coat.
    b. Will the urethane clear coat adhere to the decal surface?

    Thanks,
    Bill Pedalino
    Last edited by Bill Pedalino; 02-17-2018 at 10:04 AM.
    Bill Pedalino
    Huntington, New York
    AMCA 6755

  2. #2
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    Default

    on my Henderson, I applied urethane clear coat - very thin and careful. Let it set up and then applied heavy coat. Looked great, felt great about it - but the next day. When I checked them again, my decals had bubbled - the urethane kind of ate them up. Had to try it twice, second time - still had issues, but much better. It seems to be very tricky, atleast it was for me. On machines where I can get decales easily, I just don't clear coat them. If they get damaged, I just put on new ones. I think it well attack the decal where it has lifted, Good luck
    Last edited by Tom Lovejoy; 02-18-2018 at 11:14 PM. Reason: add more

  3. #3
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    Default

    I'm not at all knowledgeable about 60s vintage Sportsters, and particularly how H-D applied and protected decals on that vintage. Did H-D completely clear over the decal, and entire tank? On earlier motorcycles; generally, only the decal, and striping were protected with varnish.

    My own experience with decals has been good overall, with just a few failures. I apply the decal, and then gently work out wrinkles, and bubbles while it's still wet. Also, I try to wipe away any residue, or decal glue that may be on the decal from when it was made. I work it with very gentle materials like cotton balls, and soft cloths and will use denatured alcohol to cut any oils, or contamination. Then let the decal dry for 2 or 3 days. When I'm ready for the clear, I put on mist coats and let them thoroughly dry before I put on heavy coats. Like Tom said, I've had minor lifting issues that I wasn't happy about, but minor enough to live with. The problem many of us are having is, decals are not of the quality they used to be; and I'm not blaming decal makers. They have to work with the materials that are available today. If you have ever seen early Harley decals, they are very different than what is commonly used today. Also, the printing quality of early decals is vastly superior, and the decal itself was very thin.
    Eric Smith
    AMCA #886

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by exeric View Post
    I'm not at all knowledgeable about 60s vintage Sportsters, and particularly how H-D applied and protected decals on that vintage. Did H-D completely clear over the decal, and entire tank? On earlier motorcycles; generally, only the decal, and striping were protected with varnish.

    My own experience with decals has been good overall, with just a few failures. I apply the decal, and then gently work out wrinkles, and bubbles while it's still wet. Also, I try to wipe away any residue, or decal glue that may be on the decal from when it was made. I work it with very gentle materials like cotton balls, and soft cloths and will use denatured alcohol to cut any oils, or contamination. Then let the decal dry for 2 or 3 days. When I'm ready for the clear, I put on mist coats and let them thoroughly dry before I put on heavy coats. Like Tom said, I've had minor lifting issues that I wasn't happy about, but minor enough to live with. The problem many of us are having is, decals are not of the quality they used to be; and I'm not blaming decal makers. They have to work with the materials that are available today. If you have ever seen early Harley decals, they are very different than what is commonly used today. Also, the printing quality of early decals is vastly superior, and the decal itself was very thin.
    Eric/Tom,

    I just sent this as a PM to another member and then read your posting - it seemed to apply here too.


    According to information that I found on the web, the 1950's and 1960's were the heydays for water -slide decal manufacturing. Unlike the micro-thin decals that are available today, they were made in the U.S.A., were of a manageable thickness, and had an ample amount of glue to ensure adhesion.

    When I was young in the late 1950's and early 1960's I assembled many model cars and even as a clumsy, inpatient kid, I had no problem placing the decals. No coating over them whatsoever. These decals stayed on to withstand a 10-year old's abuse (I wasn't a very delicate child) and they lasted for years until I was older and discovered the cherry bomb.

    When I bought my first Sportster in 1968 (a '64 CH), the first thing I did was remove the paint job along with the decal. I specifically remember that the decal was not cleared-over and from what I recall, it took some doing to get it off.

    Unfortunately, decals are quite different today and I would be very leery of not over-coating them. I tried this with the oil tank decal on my '47 knucklehead. Eventually it gets wet and comes off. I eventually used copal varnish over this decal as the factory did and became resigned to the yellowing that eventually occurs, as they all did. But copal varnish was never used on Sportsters - only the high quality decals.

    Bottom line, my painter and I think we've figured out how to get the clear coat on, as we successfully did with the oil tank decal. The use of a fast-setting clear dusted over the decal and allowed to dry prior to heavier coating is our intent, as you guys described above. Luckily, I've got an excellent, well-experienced painter (although not with old bikes) who has been working with me. The only question is ..How many of these decals will I have to buy ??!!?? I bought 3 for the oil tank and got it in two tries. Hopefully I'll be as lucky this time.
    Bill Pedalino
    Huntington, New York
    AMCA 6755

  5. #5

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    I have used the same procedure of light dusting, thoroughly letting the coats dry before applying heavier coats with success. A few bubbles have popped up occasionally during the process of initial application. A stick with a straight pin in the bubble will release the air/water so it can be smoothed flat again.

  6. #6

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    Hi Bill ,
    I posted a thread on this a while back . Check it out," water slide decals " maybe it will help . Mike

  7. #7
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    Despite our research, experience, proper planning and meticulous installation of the tank decals, the clear coating was unsuccessful. TWICE.

    We applied the clear coat as discussed above and both decals bubbled up at different interior locations away from the edges. This tells me that the meandering of the wet clear beneath the decals from the edges was not the problem. This also indicates that there was an interaction between the clear coat (or its constituents) and the decal material.
    At this juncture, I see two options; clear-coat and polish the tank and apply the water-slide decals over the finished coat (as was done by the factory in '64) and hope for the best, or find the correct vinyl decal and clear over it.

    Thus far, I haven't found a '64 Sportster tank decal in vinyl, so if anyone knows of a source, I would appreciate that information. In absence of that, the decal goes on top.
    Bill Pedalino
    Huntington, New York
    AMCA 6755

  8. #8
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    SPRINGFIELD,OH
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    look for a good vinyl sign shop in your area. someone who does police and fire equipment. they may be able to scan the water slide decal ( if you have an extra ) and print it on vinyl. i had the same issue a few years ago and gave up and put an emblem on sportster. had too many cotes of clear after several attempts to continue.

  9. #9
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    Sep 2010
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    Bill.... a friend of mine just had a 77 Sportster tank painted and used a set of decals like the originals. They were cleared over, he will get back with me tomorrow with where they came from. I know the supplier made a lot of different decals for various Harley models.
    Jim D

  10. #10
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    Well folks, here is the status to-date.

    I removed the blistered decals, wet-sanded the clear coat and my painter re-cleared and polished the tank. I then applied ANOTHER pair of decals. Mike at Foxgrips was kind enough to send a written procedure for clearing the decals, all of which I had already tired. However, he did enclose a recommendation by John Pierce from Pierce Colorwrite (whose paint I used) stating the use of One-Shot sign painter's enamel, brush-applied over the fully-dried decal.

    Trusting John's talent and experience, I spoke with my painter who agreed, stating that the enamel would sit on top of, and not react in any way with the urethane clear coats or the cellulose decal material. So I purchased a can of One-Shot 4003 clear along with a soft bristle ox hair brush. I applied the enamel without any catalyst and and waited 24 hours for it to set, thereby allowing it to flatten out and loose any brush marks.

    When the enamel dried, it looked pretty good. It was very clear but had developed an array of 'pimples'; probably the result of solvent escaping from the bottom of the wet layer and getting trapped at the drier upper skin as the enamel set and dried (solvent pop).

    This morning I wet sanded both decal areas with 2,000 paper until smooth and successfully avoided sanding through to the decal. I then brush-applied another coat of One-Shot clear and noticed the solvent-pop starting to appear again. My plan is to wet-sand again tomorrow and polish with Tri-Cut II using a white foam pad.

    It appears that the final result will look fine and the decals will be properly clear-coated and well protected. I will post photos of the final result if successful.

    Many thanks to Mike at Foxgrips and to John Pierce. Hopefully my clear-over-waterslide decals issue is resolved...
    Last edited by Bill Pedalino; 04-14-2018 at 06:30 AM.
    Bill Pedalino
    Huntington, New York
    AMCA 6755

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