How can fine details be added to a model without relying on moulded, cut-in features or precision painting with fine brushes? In the case of the Wedding Minifigures the aim was to keep the cell shaded and clean look of regular sized Lego Minifigures without it adding tremendous amounts of time to the project. The solution was to use custom water slide transfers, a simple and quick method that produces great results. There is however some nuance to the process, read more below on how you can include these into your own creative workflow.
Traditionally water slide transfers are little sheets of paper that are included in Tamiya kits to help add branding or insignia to your 1/35 scale model. They work very effectively, you cut out the decal you want from the sheet, soaking it in warm water to soften the glue. Then using a paint brush and tweezers you slide the loose decal from the paper backing onto your model. The decals are very detailed and usually specific to the model you are building.
What you may not know is that you can purchase blank A4 sheets of water slide transfer paper that can be printed on using a laser photocopier. They work the same way as those included in scale model kits but with the added feature of simply using a photocopier to get your custom artwork from computer to object.
With this process comes a few tricks, and your mileage may vary depending on the device you use to print. The glue is heat reactive and passing several sheets of transfer paper through a copier in succession, or running a transfer sheet through after a long print run can make it react with the internal rollers and become sticky. The toner may not adhere properly or the paper may jam. Laser copiers will also need time for the toner to set as it passes the sheet through itself, you need to set your copier to a thick paper setting and slow down the speed, this helps prevent the ink on the transfer paper from scraping off before it passes through the copier. Going slow and steady when setting out to print your sheets helps resolve both these issues.
When the transfer paper does come out it is still fragile, and ink can still easily scratch off. Be sure to catch the transfer paper or have it slide onto a sheet of clean regular paper so it does not lose its print while sliding across the plastic output tray. Also, by running a regular sheet of paper through the machine between each transfer page it will help pick up any toner residue and prevent it from ruining the next transfer print. To be safe we had several copies of the same design on each sheet of transfer paper, to not have to repeat the print in case of a small error scratch, but also to have a backup if we broke or folded the decal while trying to apply it.
With all this in hand, and enough successful prints we were able to apply the transfers to the extra-large minifigure models using some tweezers a paint brush and some careful hand-eye coordination. The end results look fantastic and after drying there wasn't any visible seam lines where the water transfer ends on the models parts. Water slide transfers are a very simple and effective way to add a complex amount if detail, even at small scales, to a model without spending excessive time masking, cutting, and painting.