Custom Printed Lettering
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Home > Articles & Tips Index > Construction > Custom Printed Lettering

[Courtesy of Ron Fikes, srfikes "at", October 2000]


Did you just finish a new plane? Ready to take it out the field and show off your work and maybe put in a couple of trim flights? One thing is missing - you need a name or numbers on it!

Here is an inexpensive and quick way to get that “Custom” name on your plane at home, with your own hands. The materials used are not fuelproof, so they can only be used on electric models, gliders, boats, cars and make great window signs for your van. These names or numbers can be made any size, the smallest I have made is 3/8” tall. They can be removed later without leaving that awful sticky mess (use Rubber Cement thinner to remove any residue). These names and such don’t stick to things like foam, etc. They must be applied to a NON-POROUS surface. Seal the surface with foam-friendly CA, thinned white glue or apply a strip of low temp iron-on covering across a wing. Test on a scrap first.


  • Self adhesive “Contact” paper (by Rubbermaid) which you can buy at any hardware store. Buy white, yellow or tan Contact paper - you will need to see through the Contact paper and the pattern paper. (a note on putting this light colored name on a light surface follows). You will also need some “transparent” Contact paper for a carrier sheet.
  • Xacto #11 blade and handle
  • Lightbox (a piece of glass with a light under it will suffice)
  • Pattern. I use my computer and the “PrintShop” program by Broderbund (I love “Mariah” lettering). After you have decided on a name or pattern, lay it out on the computer, shape or reshape until it is as you like it, then print out a copy on thin, white paper. If you like a pattern from a magazine, use a copy machine, enlarging or reducing it as needed. Try to use lettering and number styles that have rounded ends, not sharp serifs or points. Sharp points on the names tend to catch everything and peel up after they are on the plane.

Turn on the lightbox.

Place your pattern on the lightbox and cut out a piece on Contact paper just a little larger than the outline of the name. Place this piece of Contact paper, backing side down, over the pattern and hold in place with pieces of Scotch tape (not over the lettering that shows through).

Now get out the Exacto knife and some patience. Cut lightly, not cutting through the backing sheet on the Contact paper. Cut the insides of the closed numbers and letters first. Take your time. Then start the outline - turn the pattern and cut lightly and slowly.

When you have cut around all the edges, start removing the insides of O’s and other enclosed letters and numbers. Use the point of the Exacto blade to lift them out. If any stick, recut that part. Now remove the outside - cut from the letter edge to the outside in numerous places, then using the Exacto point, start to peel from one end, around the edge. Cut the excess whenever needed to keep the letters from lifting. Go Slowly! What you are left with is the “name” on the backing paper.

Cut a piece of the “transparent” Contact paper (it’s not clear but frosty) just large enough to cover the name portion. Peel the backing off the “transparent” Contact paper and smooth it down on top of the name.

Clean the plane surface before you apply the name. Use rubbing alcohol or rubber cement thinner (any cleaner that leaves no residue).

Now you can lift the name sheet and slowly peel off the backing sheet from the name. You are now holding the name, on a clear carrier sheet (the “transparent” Contact paper), go to the plane and postion it where you want it. Slowly lower the sheet onto the plane, putting down one end first then smoothing it to the other end. Burnish it down with the clear carrier sheet still in place.

Peel the clear carrier sheet off slowly while pulling it back on itself at 180 degrees. It may pull up small parts as you do this. If this happens, STOP and press the name back down and continue.

When the carrier sheet is off, burnish the name down. Over open framework, burnish carefully, you can press harder on solid wood.

Note: You can’t use dark colors of Contact paper for names because you must be able to see the pattern through the material, but if you want to put a name on a light colored wing, try the following: after you have cut out your “name”, peel off the backing sheet and instead of applying it to the plane, apply it to a dark colored sheet (Contact paper or Monokote trim sheet ). Cut around the lettering in a shadow pattern, leaving as much of the dark as you want and apply this double-layered “shadow” lettering to the light colored plane.

This sounds complicated, but it gets easier after you have done a few!


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