Applying machine transfers

There are two types of transfer in stock, water slide and varnish fix. Varnish fix are the original transfers and are not easy to apply well and often present problems for the novice. As the stocks of these have become exhausted they have been replaced with the more user friendly water slide items which are very much easier to apply. Information and instructions are given below for both types.

Water Slide Transfers

1. The surface to which the transfer is to be fixed must be clean and free from grease.

2. Immerse transfer in cold water (not ice cold) for about 20 seconds and allow transfer to curl. The addition of one drop of washing up liquid in the water is helpful.

3. Remove from water and allow a little time for water to soften the gum to release from backing. At this stage the transfer and backing will flatten out again.

4. Slide the transfer so that the design just overlaps the backing paper. Then apply by sliding out the backing from between the transfer and the work-piece.

5. Position and eliminate bubbles by gently stroking transfer with the moistened side of a little finger or a soft brush, then mop up excess moisture and gum with kitchen paper.

6. Allow 24 hours to thoroughly dry, then clean off any dried gum on the transfer and surrounding work-piece with a clean wet rag.

7. Protect the transfer with clear brushed varnish. See notes below.

Varnish Fix Transfers

These, as their name implies, were traditionally affixed by varnish and the recommended instructions for these was as follows:-

1. The surface to which the transfer is to be fixed must be clean and free from grease.

2. Remove protective backing from the transfer.

3. Coat the front of the transfer thinly with transfer varnish (not cellulose).

4. Allow this to become ‘tacky’ before applying.

5. After placing the transfer in position, rub lightly with a soft dry rag to remove all air from beneath the transfer. Allow the transfer to dry.

6. By means of soaking with a water filled sponge or clean rag, the tissue paper mounting of the transfer can then be gently lifted or slid off leaving the transfer attached.

7. A further protective coat of varnish should then be applied over the transfer.  See notes below.

An alternative means of affixing varnish fix transfers has been developed in recent years and has been found by many to be quicker and more successful.

1. The surface to which the transfer is to be fixed must be clean and free from grease.

2. Prepare a mixture of 75% methylated spirits and 25% water.

3. Separate the Duplex paper at the corner and strip off the thick backing paper.

4. Wipe over the back of the transfer with the mixture, place in position and press down.

5. After 10 minutes, damp off the tissue with clean water wet rag and wipe over the transfer to remove gum.

6. The design will be quite firm at this stage but will become even harder when it is thoroughly dry.

7. When completely dry, cover the transfer with a coat of clear varnish.  See notes below.

A further explanation may be helpful here. Varnish fix transfers are made up of several layers. From the outside face you have the thick backing paper – this is attached to the tissue, on the other side of which is a layer of dried glue, then the whole is protected by another separating sheet which protects the surface of the transfer. In applying a transfer start by discarding the protecting sheet then carefully separate the tissue complete with the transfer from the backing paper. What you are left with is then better trimmed to the rough outline of the finished transfer. At this stage you then have the transfer with a coating of dried glue on the face that goes to the paintwork and another gum (water soluble) attaching the transfer to the tissue. The meths/water mixture softens the dried glue for attachment of the transfer. The later damping off dissolves the gum and releases the tissue.


Most modern paints and varnishes will be badly affected by petrol. Water slide transfers will also wrinkle if coated with cellulose varnish.

The most effective means of protecting petrol tanks against the ravages of fuel is to seal the paintwork, lining and transfers with Two Pack clear lacquer. However, this will also cause problems with waterslide transfers if applied too liberally initially. The recommended procedure is to apply a light misting coat followed by a full coat some 30 minutes later. Warning. It should be noted that Two Pack clear lacquer is carcinogenic and should not be sprayed without full clean air breathing apparatus.