Sunday, October 15, 2017

This old dog learns a new trick...

Things have been busy this weekend - I have the Centuri Groove Tube painted and ready for decals, my scratch-built Probe-18 is repaired and has a new payload section, the Gyroc clone and eBay rescue Sky Hook are in primer, and I have gathered the parts for the last build on my list, the Centuri Mach 10. I also took a look ahead to the next rocket after that one, a clone of the Estes Marauder cold power convertible. I realized it would need decals, so I spent a few hours today putting together a set for this model, along with the Gyroc. In so doing, I learned a new thing.

Scan of the Marauder decal downloaded from Ye Olde Rocket Plans (Click to enlarge).
One of the great things going for today's rocketeers is that the Internet makes it easy to locate plans, patterns, and decals for old models. However, some of the decal scans are of sets in poor condition - water/liquid stains, scratches, and dirt/gunk being common defects. As a result, a fair amount of time must be spent "cleaning them up" in a graphics program. I use Pixelmator on the Mac - it's simple, with a great easy-to-use tool set; Photoshop and its free equivalent Gimp are way too complicated for my old brain. But today, a question came to me as I was cleaning up the Marauder decal - could I generate the equivalent from scratch in less time?

The roll pattern and stripe was no problem; I could also swipe the Estes logo from another decal in a better condition. However, the common bugaboo is with the letters and numbers - trying to figure out which fonts match those in the original can be quite an undertaking. I spent about an hour scrounging through online collections like dafonts and 1001fonts looking for a match to the UNITED STATES with no luck. Somewhat frustrated, I figured there had to be a better way and googled font matching. This pointed me to a nifty website - Font Squirrel - which had a nifty font matching utility. All you have to do is upload a graphic containing your text, and the site will search through commercial and free fonts seeking a match. Much better than manually searching thousands of fonts font by font! I uploaded the UNITED STATES part of the decal image and Font Squirrel directed me to the free Grammara font. Sure enough, it was a close match. The site did even better with the Marauder name -  the free News of the World Wide Italic produces letters virtually indistinguishable from those in the decal. Finally, I tried the number 5 (had to feed it both 5's as the site choked on just a single letter), and it pointed me to the Days Sans Black font, which is similar - but visibly different from - the decal 5. I could have gotten a nearly exact match by buying one of the commercial fonts for $32, but that price is way too steep for something I will probably use once or twice. Clones are supposed to be cheap, you know.
My reproduction (Click to enlarge).
Anyway, now that I know what to do, I can probably replicate a close facsimile of a decal set fairly quickly. Whether this is faster than cleaning up the decal depends on the condition of the original, but at least I have the option should I feel it is needed. The old dog is now ready to call it an evening, content that he has learned a new skill this weekend.

But first I must watch the latest episode of Star Trek: Discovery...


  1. That's pretty cool. I've done some of my own, but generally using the trial and error method, which generally produces a "close enough" result. My current laptop is a $300 Dell that has proven to be worth tens of dollars. I really need to get that desktop fixed.

  2. Bill, I've been using Power Point to make my decals for years now. Yes, I use GIMP for cleanup, but for font manipulation, PPT is pretty darn good. See how nice and tight inter-character spacing is in the UNITED and how the A stands alone in STATES, you can fix that in PPT in a jiffy by using the character spacing tool. If that doesn't get you close enough you can break the word into letters and space them manually until you get it the way you want, then put PPT's alignment tools to work for you. PPT is great for re-creating roll patterns too. Import the unsuitable graphic and then create your new roll pattern with PPT objects over it (then delete the underlying graphic). No more pixel editing by the hour! Hope this helps. BTW, great work!

  3. P.S. The United States font is Microgramma (Bold) Extended. Estes used it a lot, usually in bold face.

  4. Great info! You just made my life even easier - thanks!