Painting Model Trains

For all of the various topics experienced model railroaders have written about model trains, painting model trains has clearly received the least amount of attention.  Although this is a topic which hasn’t been completely neglected, a quick search online will certainly end in disappointment.

In fact, any writing about this topic should include information about painting locomotives, railcars, structures, and other scenery elements.  With that said, the intent of this article is to provide generalized information about the painting processes for each of the previously mentioned model railroad components.

Let’s first begin with aerosols versus air brushing.  In general, better results are produced through airbrushing.  However, to be able to apply paint to hard to get places, and in particular those which involve curvatures, painting with a small brush may be necessary to achieve the desired results.  When spray painting with aerosol paints, there are more benefits which are offered by airbrushing when the two are compared.

For example, an airbrush is much easier to work with, and airbrushing produces a more professional looking finish.  Additionally, airbrushing is ultimately a more economical way to paint, and is the only efficient way to spray water based paints.  Finally, airbrushing is environmentally friendly.

There are three basic types of airbrushes and they are as follows:

  1. Single action airbrush……the drawback with this type of airbrush is that you really can’t control the flow of paint being sprayed with any degree of accuracy. You literally have to stop and adjust a small nut which is located at the tip.
  2. Double action airbrush……this type of brush is much easier to use because it allows you to vary the paint flow by pulling back on an air button while spraying.
  3. Internal mix airbrush…..mixes air and paint inside the airbrush body.

Airbrushes can be purchased either online or at your local model train hobby shop.  Keep in mind that all of the standard safety practices come in to play when using an airbrush.  Wear the proper safety equipment and make sure that the area you are working in is well ventilated.

Before you try painting any component of your model railroad whether it be a locomotive or structure, you may want to do some practice painting on a piece of styrene until you get the hang of or feel for how your airbrush works.  In fact, it might be a good idea to try by first spraying water so that you’ll be able to get a feel for what is required to manage the control button which adjusts the paint flow.  After experimenting for a bit, then switch to paint.

Things To Be Aware Of:

  1. Remember your results are effected by how much paint you spray.
  2. The distance you hold the airbrush away from the object you’re painting will effect the final result as will the amount of air pressure used.

Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with how your airbrush works and feel confident that you can begin painting, it’s now time to try your hand at airbrushing some of the things on your layout.

If you decide that you would like to start with the scenery you may want to begin by painting rocks or possibly rails.  Just start airbrushing and if everything goes as planned you’ll produce the results you were hoping for.  However, if the results are less than desirable….not to worry, because you really haven’t hurt anything.  All you have to do is start again and the next painting should turn out just fine.

When you paint the buildings on your layout make sure you hold the airbrush nozzle approximately 3 to 6 inches away from the object.  Spray using even strokes and from side to side.  Try to apply light strokes and also try to make them overlap.  The paint your applying should appear wet, shiny, and dry quickly.

Painting locomotives and railcars is done in much the same way, but you will find that it is necessary to use something to hold the cars so that they may be rotated during the painting process.  Also, you probably will not get paint into small crevices.  This can be done by hand painting with a toothbrush or small paintbrush.  Also, before you start painting make sure you apply masking tape to any areas you would prefer not to paint, and also if you intend on creating two tones of paint.  

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