How to Apply Vintage 1959 Letraset Waterslide Lettering

We strongly recommend that, if you haven't already, you read our page on the Letraset Type Lettering system BEFORE you read the following instructions. It will make it easier to see what we're dealing with, & there is a link at the bottom of that page to return you here once you've read it.

• The Letraset Type Lettering System →

STEP ONE: Pre-score.


Waterslide Letraset is printed on a laminated sheet whose base holds a strip-off layer of gummed tissue upon which the letter is printed.

Using a sharp blade & a metal ruler, score under each line of letters. This is to cut through the top tissue layer holding the transfers, but not through the underlying sheet as well. The aim of pre-scoring is not only to make it easy to remove letters when needed, but also to prevent the whole sheet from curling up under "unfavourable atmospheric conditions".

STEP TWO: Lift the tissue layer.


Running your blade along the score with the tip under the tissue layer will lift up the bottom portion of the transfers.

STEP THREE: Cut the sides.


This will mean the letters are ready to peel off & place on the Carrier Frame.

STEP FOUR: Wet the Carrier Frame.


This helps to keep the letters from flapping about.

STEP FIVE: Wait — this is wrong….


Letraset do not recommend putting letters from their sheet anywhere other than on the Carrier Frame, but we were impatient.

Note that the Carrier Frame is upside-down (as it should be).

STEP SIX: Place the letters face down on the frame.


Again, Letraset suggest you peel each letter off with the blade & place it on the frame in one fell swoop, but we felt more confident removing the letters before transferring them to the Carrier Frame.

STEP SEVEN: One at a time, it says here!


I can see Letraset's point that working on one letter at a time helps with accuracy in letter spacing, but we couldn't resist putting the whole word on the frame at once. Although quicker, with hindsight this was probably a mistake…

Here, we are adjusting the letter spacing actually on the frame. Normally, the adjustment would take place as each letter is placed in turn on the artwork.

STEP EIGHT: Wet the backs.


Splish splash splosh with the brush. The letters need to soak for about a minute.

STEP NINE: Slide off the backing tissue.


They should slide off really easily, leaving the transfers behind on the frame.

STEP TEN: Place the letters.


Turn the Carrier Frame the right way up, & place the lettering over the artwork in the required position. You can see why, at this stage, it would be advantageous to work on letters one at a time; you get more control over individual placement. It makes sense, since you can see the letters that have already been placed through the screen, & so adjustments can be made in the air before splashdown. Our way is more photogenic — but don't let that influence you!

STEP ELEVEN: Smooth the letters into place.


A gentle push with the fingers will help the letters transfer from the frame to the recipient surface.

STEP TWELVE: Lift away the frame.


Obviously you need to be quite gentle when removing the frame from the artwork, & keep an eye out for any letter (or portions of letter) that may have decided not to leave home without a struggle. If that should happen, carefully replace the Carrier Frame in exactly the same place & try persuading the recalcitrant letters once again.

STEP THIRTEEN: Last chance.


This is the point at which any final adjustments can be made, using a wet brush or a blunt instrument. Hopefully, if you try this you won't get your artwork quite as damp as we did…

STEP FOURTEEN: Blotting off.


When drying the artwork, use dabbing rather than brushing movements, so as not to disturb the positioning or damage the lettering. If there is any gum residue, you should be able to remove it with damp blotting paper.

STEP FIFTEEN: The final artwork.


Here it is, in all its chaotic glory. As a footnote, Letraset say:

"In cases where water will seriously affect artwork blot through the silk from opposite side of letter."

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Here are the links to those "What are Transfers?" article pages again in full:

Picture Credit: The SPLAT Scan Archives — Photography by Tom Vinelott at
Model: Lisa Cole.