A few general words about repainting cycle frames

Lloyd's cycle decals should give you a fantastic result "in the right hands".  Really you should entrust your respray to a professional cycle painter, although many professional vehicle sprayers will also do an excellent job.  Do bear in mind though that a flat car panel is not the same as a complicated arrangement of tubes!  

Nearly all decals need to be lacquered over to protect them from abrasion and/or solvent attack.  Professional painters used to cycle painting will usually apply decals for you and over-lacquer as part of the painting process.  If they seem unsure you may be better looking elsewhere!

If you are "doing-it-yourself" you will still need to provide a lacquer layer as the final process after decal application.  I get MANY requests as to what might be the best product for this.  I usually suggest either Humbrol spray polyeurethane (from model shops) or Plasticote spray varnish (B&Q or hardware store).  A new product (to me) is two-pack in a can (!) which a number of my customers have given good feedback on.  You can get this on ebay, or direct from the manufacturer,
If you ARE doing it yourself and need samples to test or "get your eye in" these can be provided free IF REQUESTED WITH ORDER. 

A word about powder coating

My first advice is "don't", although I do now list a recommended powder coater in my Links page!  It is cheap because most powder coaters only do half the job ie they don't fit decals and they don't over lacquer.  Bear in mind that SOME powder coats act like teflon and NOTHING will stick to them!  You will still need to over lacquer your decals and what paints will stick to the underlying powder coat?  No idea.  If you do go down the powder coat route you will be paddling your own canoe in terms of whether decals will stick to it and what lacquer you will need to apply over the decals for protection.  This is a general note and sums up the situation well BUT there are definitely some guys out there who DO do a good powder coat job, and some will even apply decals and over-lacquer.  Armourtex DO know what they are doing and will fit decals and clearcoat over the top for you.  It's up to YOU to decide, but if you don't get the right answers when talking to your potential powder coater I would suggest you go elsewhere!

Decal types

Waterslide (code W on the list)
Very similar to the decals that you used on your Airfix/Revell models when you were (a little) younger.  Fitted by immersing the decal in water and then sliding off onto the item to be decorated.  This type of decal MUST be clearcoated/lacquered.

Varnish (code V on the list)
See "History" below, but these decals are fixed by painting the back with goldsize (or varnish), allowing the goldsize to go tacky and then sticking on.  Once dry the sheet that the decal was printed on can be peeled away, leaving the decal behind.  Better if clearcoated, but not absolutely necessary.

Vinyl cut (code L on the list)
Often called "laser" cut, but actually cut by a computer controlled knife.  Be aware that "vinyl" can be thick, lumpy and cheap, which has poor UV and temperature stability (giving you lovely dirty, sticky marks around the edge) or it can be thin, silky smooth and expensive.  We use the latter.  It is literally ten times the price of the cheap stuff.  Very good for one-colour logos.  Basically a peel and stick solution.  If logo is composed of separate letters they are "pre-spaced" and held together on a wide version of masking tape that is jettisoned once decal is applied.

Vinyl print/cut (code C on list)
Substrate material and application method as vinyl cut BUT vinyl is pre-printed with CMYK colours plus gold and silver as required.  Again we only use expensive vinyl.  Application method as vinyl cut, but these decals MUST be clearcoated as the inks are prone to degradation by solvents and abrasion.   As with the cost of vinyl the machine we use is MUCH more expensive than a basic cutter and is therefore NOT the sort of thing you find in the average van-lettering shop.  A machine of this type costs about the same as two family saloon cars.

Special waterslides (code H on list)
These are produced on papers that have been specially made for H Lloyds.  Printing technique is similar to that of printed vinyls.  Quite easy to apply, but can be difficult to clearcoat which MUST be done!  Always shipped with free samples for testing.

Dryfix (code D on list)
A very popular method of application from the early sixties through to late '90's probably.  Still available as a production method for new decals, but not very popular as they tend to dry out and have a short shelf-life.  Must be clearcoated.  The dryfix decals that H Lloyds ship ARE still useable as they have been very carefully stored.  Shipped with special instructions that give "emergency procedures" to be followed if application difficulties are encountered.

Decal history
Throughout this section I will refer to "decals" as this seems to be the word that most people now use to describe what you want to decorate your cycle with.  When we started over 30 years ago decals were more commonly known as "transfers" - you "transferred" the design off the paper and onto the cycle frame.  The old Brown Brothers catalogues showed quite a large selection of stock designs that small manufacturers and shops could use with their name/brand inserted into the "transfer", so the description of "transfer" has been around a long time.  Now it's mostly "decal" and it's that word that I will use here.  
Where does "decal" come from???  I believe it is a shortened form of "decalomania", which I understand is Italian and I have seen it as part of the printed makers mark of very old Italian and French decals.


Early decals were reverse printed onto "duplex paper" for varnish fixing.  The designs were often very intricate and artistic.  I'm told that many would have used engraved stone plates and been litho printed but I wouldn't like to lecture on how that works in practice!

The Duplex paper required for this process has not been made for about 20 years now, and most old stock has been used.  Although varnish-fix can give a spectacular result they are not easy to use and are generally not much liked in the finishing trade as a result.

A slight variation on the varnish-fix theme is spirit fix.  These were also printed on duplex but had an integral spirit-activated glue so no varnish was required.  I've seen these being used in a production environment and also at Bob Jacksons.  Watching BJ's painter, Mick, (now retired) fix spirit decals was a joy - very quick, very accurate and ready for stoving almost immediately.

H Lloyd cycles started making decals over 30 years ago and all production was waterslide.  These also give good results and are easier to use but the screen-print process relied on spot colour printing which is very expensive as each colour has to have it's own screen and was only really viable if runs of 200+ were undertaken.  Although a lot of waterslides are still available the print run-size and the expense mean that printed vinyls have the edge as they are more flexible in colour, stock holding and one-offs.

Current vinyl decal printing grew as an off-shoot of simple "laser cutting" (which actually never was lasered, it's a very sharp knife) when it was realised that CMYK computer print could be combined with the knife to produce a peel-and-stick decal in full colour.  The early machines that did this were eye-wateringly expensive, had a low resolution of print and were not that accurate on print-cut registration.  Those machines are still made (!) although the design is now about 20-years old.  They have improved the quality of output on later versions.  I know of at least two other decal printers who use these machines - sometimes to good effect, sometimes not!  An off-shoot of those early machines was a printer that combined the print head and cutter into one machine and changed all the print cartridges automatically.  Although much more expensive to run the results could be astonishingly good and Lloyds ran various versions of this type of machine for nearly 15 years.  Our current printer still has echoes back to those early types.

Although many cyclists restoring their machines question whether vinyls can give really give a good finish a lot of this is prejudice based on product output onto cheap, thick vinyl with poor print resolution and registration and questionable quality control.  Needless to say Lloyds use thin vinyl which is much more expensive but gives a far superior result.

A little apocryphal tale:-
At a jumble in Lancashire I came across two cycle frames on adjacent tables.  A Mercian in original finish with varnish fix decals.  Very nice.  Next door was a Hill Special with some vinyls that I had made specially for Robin Hatherall.  Beautifully refinished (by Chris Marshall as I remember).  The varnish fix decals on the Mercian felt MORE proud of the paint finish than those on the Hill Special.  You could feel the "edge" of them a lot more and they looked that way to the eye as well.  Conclusion - vinyls can be nigh on as good as old varnish fix provided they are well-made and carefully used.

So there you have it.  A race through some of the decal developments since early varnish fix decals started to appear in the late 1800's.  If there's anything that YOU might like to add to the story do get in touch.

Nick, H Lloyd Cycles, 2013