by: Mario Krajinovic [ ]
With the year 2003/2004 the US Army adopted a new type of uniform and a new camouflage pattern. The Army Combat Uniform (ACU) is the current combat uniform worn by the US Army. It replaced the old Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) and Desert Camouflage Uniform (DCU) and it consists of a jacket, trousers, t-shirt and tan combat boots. ACU features number of design changes as well as a different camouflage pattern from its predecessors. The design changes included:
- Mandarin collar (can be worn up or down),
- Rank insignia above right chest pocket
- Velcro for wearing unit patch, skill tabs and recognition devices
- Zippered front closure
- Elbow pouch for internal elbow pad inserts
- Knee pouch for internal knee pad inserts
- Elastic leg cuff
- Tilted chest pockets with Velcro closure
- Three-slot pen pocket on bottom of sleeve
- Velcro sleeve cuff closure
- Shoulder pockets with Velcro
- Forward tilted cargo pockets
- Integrated blouse bellows for increased upper body mobility
- Integrated Friend or Foe ID Square on both shoulder pocket flaps
- Bellowed calf storage pocket on left and right leg
- Moisture wicking desert tan t-shirt
- Patrol Cap with double thick bill and internal pocket
- Improved hot-weather desert boot or temperate-weather desert boot
The pattern used on this type of uniform is the Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP), also referred to as ACUPAT (Army Combat Uniform PATtern) and some refer to it as Digital Camouflage (Digicam). The pattern was chosen after several laboratory and field tests that occurred from 2003 to 2004. Its digital pattern is a modification of the USMC MARPAT.
The color scheme of the Army Combat Uniform is composed of the colors gray (officially named Urban Gray 501 in the pattern or Urban Gray 505 solid shade fabric), tan (Desert Sand 500 in the pattern or Sand 503 solid shade fabric) and sage green (Foliage Green 502 in the pattern or Foliage Green 504 solid shade fabric) in a digital pixel pattern. The pattern is noticeable for its elimination of the color black. Justification for the omission of black was that black is a color not commonly found in nature. Pure black, when viewed through night vision goggles, appears excessively dark and creates an undesirable high-contrast image. The pattern was designed to be effective in all environments, however, soldiers in the field have complained about the ineffectiveness of the new pattern since it was first issued.
Painting figures in this type of modern camouflage requires a decent brush, steady hand, knowing how your paint works, some references and a bit of luck for most of us. Unless you’re Calvin Tan or few other modelers that can paint modern US camouflage patterns then hard work is in front of you.
Now there is another way. Alliance Modelworks provides an alternative solution by using decals. Yup, that’s right – decals. It may sound kind of strange to use large parts of decals and cover entire figures with it instead of using traditional painting techniques, but with the advent of the pixelated pattern camouflage this seems like a viable solution to the average modeler.
Alliance Modelworks camouflage decals are printed on a 5.5x2.5 inch sheet and according to the information on the manufacturer’s web-page are accurately scaled to 1:35 scale, enough for 5 figures. When positioned, the decals should have a matte finish and after the application, the figure should be sealed in matte clear (acrylic or lacquer) coat before subsequent detailing. Unfortunately any kind of tangible instructions are not included with the decal sheet, but as I was provided with an early release sample, this may have been already rectified.
The decals feature unrepeated pattern form, meaning you shouldn’t be able to see the same shape pattern twice. This is especially hard to do when dealing with the minute size of the pixel forms.
Now for the bad part. Finding figures in ACU is now pretty easy and I have just the figures for this review. I bought Alpine Miniatures set of 2 figures in ACU and they are one of the best out there. The detail is amazing and probably everyone saw Calvin Tan's superb paint job on these guys.
The figures were cleaned up and degreased in soap water, thoroughly dried and awaited the decals. I started with a small piece. I cut a rectangular piece to see if a small piece of decal could conform to a pretty flat armor piece on the back. With just water the decal didn't do anything. I thought maybe it's because I didn't paint it or coated it. So Gunze's acrylic gloss cote went on the figure. A nice smooth coat was applied but even that didn't help.
Next up was the same procedure but this time using solvents. I figured that perhaps the decals needed some coercing into position so I chose a leg piece that has nicely molded creases and pockets to try this. I used Micoset and Microsol to no effect. A nice layer was applied but there seemed to be no reaction to the decals what so ever. I think of my modeling skills to be average and I've placed a fair share of decals and saw what solvents can do to them so this was a surprise. After a while I tried something with more bite - Gunze's Mr. Mark Softer. This thing when not paying attention can eat up your decals. Unfortunately the pictures I provided with the review tell that minimum conforming occured during 3 hours of testing. Even with pressure from Q-tips and toothpicks there is almost no reaction. Eventually I tried using a hair dryer which didn't help at all.
I figured I somehow made a mistake, so I asked a friend who's a great figure modeler (Mario Matijasic) to give it a try and he got the same results.
The decals appear to be very in-flexible. They don't conform to creases by using solvents and with pressure tend to break. They don't appear to be very thick, but are also not as thin as I've seen decals can be. What went wrong I honestly can't tell but my sample doesn't work. The minute details on the figure would surely be obscured (especially the pouches and clothing seams) even if the decals conformed. The pattern is great, the colors work on the figure but it seems that the paper itself is flawed. My grade therefore is only low due to the fact I couldn't get the decals to do what they are supposed to.