Today, the vast majority of companies who manufacture locomotives, railcars, and also model train layout structures offer them as ready to use. However, for many of these products the modeler is still faced with the task of assembling most of these products. Because realism is such an important element for any model train layout the hobbyist must also paint and add whatever decals are necessary as well.
Where it may be true that you can hand paint or use some type of aerosol spray paint these methods frequently produce less than desirable results. Typically, both of these approaches to painting will result in unsightly paint runs or results that lack uniformity. To add to the challenge of hand painting is the fact that it is next to impossible to conceal the finely molded details.
With that said, the most effective and desirable way to paint your models is by airbrushing. Certainly the cost of airbrushing equipment isn’t cheap, but the final results will justify the expense.
Why airbrush? This method of painting is so effective that you’ll produce a handful of desired results beginning with the ability to paint small areas with total control of color, and the type of intensity and patterns your trying to achieve. Moreover, you’ll have a wider selection of colors to select from, and you’ll also be able to mix colors which may not be available at your local hobby shop. When listing the benefits of airbrushing, ease of control as compared to painting with an aerosol spray paint should actually be at the top of the list. Also, over time, painting your models by airbrushing will cost you less money when compared to other alternatives. Finally, airbrushing is safer, more environmentally friendly, and the only effective way to paint when using water based paints.
When you make the trip to your local model train hobby shop you’ll discover that there are basically three different types of airbrushes: external mix, internal mix with paint flow adjustment, and internal mix with paint flow and air flow adjustment. Pricing can vary from one store to another based on a variety of factors, but the modeler can expect to pay anywhere from thirty to three hundred dollars for these type of air brushes on average.
As for paints, you’ll also discover that there are two choices: lacquer and acrylic (water) based paints. Between the two, lacquer based paints are easier to work with, and when used over extended periods of time may cause damage to your health if the appropriate protective gear is not used. It is always recommended to work outdoors if possible, and ideally by doing your painting in a spray paint booth. Water based acrylics, therefore, may become your first choice. However, this is still a matter of personal choice and will require some experimenting to determine which paint type is most preferable.
The final component which has to be purchased to be able to airbrush your model train products is the compressor. There really isn’t any way to soften the blow when it comes to the price of compressors as they are more than the cost of an airbrush. However, it’s worth repeating that the final result will more than justify the expense. Figure costs to be approximately twice that of a good airbrush. When you select your compressor make sure that it includes some type of tank or regulator to maintain the air pressure at the level you’ve selected. Less expensive compressors normally do not have this type of feature. Also the lower priced compressors are pretty noisy, and if you want something which is quiet that will also increase the price.
In part two of this article I’ll be covering the following:
Masking for two-color painting
How to mask and paint a steam locomotive
Two color masking for a steam locomotive