For most boys their first exposure to decals came through plastic model kits. Girls often first saw decals with novelty nail kits, or toy dolls, though these days a few girls also make plastic model kits. But initially decals were applied to pottery, and called decalcomania. They date back to at least 1865.
There was a craze for ceramics in the 1870s that help popularize the decals, even as other methods of decoration were also used. The direct descendants of these are the decorated fine china and tableware so ubiquitous today.
Even as porcelain and ceramics continued there was a decal craze in the late 19th century. This extended into personal décor but also high art. A few surrealists used decals to create famous works of art, though there is some confusion here as decalcomania can refer to several different artistic techniques.
Today decals have remained a steady background trend. They are so versatile they can be used to apply fine designs to almost anything. A few examples are:
- Guitar decals, for customizing.
- Plastic models, for realistic recreations.
- Wall designs, especially for modern looks.
- Front panels
- Hard cases for instruments or other important equipment
- Cars, particularity sports cars
- Personalized mugs
- Computer cases
The advent of waterslide decal paper make waterslide decals easy to realize. Inkjet decal paper means any computer design image achievable in software can be turned into a physical image on a physical object.
The advent of modern 3D Printing will probably open up more areas for decals. 3D printing can provide virtually any shape; the decals can provide all the fine detail.