Techniques for Painting Model Trains

Model trains going around a track

onfilm/Getty Images 

Whether you are starting with an undecorated model, or just enhancing one already painted, there are many techniques for painting model trains, track, structures and more. With the proper tools and techniques, you can turn any model into a unique masterpiece.

From big jobs to small, these tips will help with many projects.

  • 01 of 12

    Airbrush Basics

    airbrushing a model train

    Ryan C Kunkle

    An airbrush is one of the best ways to paint models and create an amazing variety of effects. With practice and proper techniques, you can master this tool for use all around your layout.

  • 02 of 12

    Paint Booth

    paint booth

    Ryan C Kunkle

    A good paint booth is essential for safe airbrushing.​ We recommend a portable model for ease of cleanup and storage. Portable options also tend to be budget-friendly.

  • 03 of 12

    Stripping Paint

    A model train being stripped in alcohol

    Ryan C Kunkle

    Often the first step to painting a model is removing the existing paint. Stripping paint is an essential part of refinishing models—and a good skill to know for those mistakes you'll make yourself.

  • 04 of 12

    Paint Washes

    weather wash

    Ryan C Kunkle

    Whether you are weathering a train or dying plaster scenery, washes are an effective way to build up color and vary tones gradually.

    Continue to 5 of 12 below.
  • 05 of 12

    Painting Locomotive Grills and Vents

    Painting train grills and vents black

    Ryan C Kunkle

    An easy way to enhance the look of any diesel locomotive is to blacken the grills and vents to provide more depth.

  • 06 of 12

    Modeling Paint-Outs and Patches

    Paint-out decals

    Ryan C Kunkle

    When trains change hands through sale or merger, or sometimes just to counter the effects of the elements, railroads often apply a small patch job instead of a complete repaint. This is an easy way to add character to a model or replace duplicates.

  • 07 of 12

    Fading Paint With an Airbrush

    Air brushing train for a weathered look

    Ryan C Kunkle

    This easy technique will help add age and sun-bleaching to any model. It is also a useful technique for blending touch-ups on pre-painted models.

  • 08 of 12


    weathering a model train

    Ryan C Kunkle

    There are so many ways to recreate the effects of weather on models, they need their own set of pages!

    Continue to 9 of 12 below.
  • 09 of 12

    Modeling Paint Overspray

    Overspray on a model train car

    Ryan C Kunkle

    Normally this is something we'd try to control, but there are lots of examples of overspray on the prototype. Here's an easy technique to add this effect to pre-painted model railcar roofs.

  • 10 of 12

    Painting the Track

    Painting model train tracks

    Ryan C Kunkle

    No matter how good the paint is on your model train, it loses realism quickly when placed on the shiny track. It's best to know how to paint and ballast a track so realism is uniform throughout the model.

  • 11 of 12

    Add Decals

    Positioning a decal on a model train

    Ryan C Kunkle

    After you've painted a model, decals are the most common way to add lettering and other complex graphics.

  • 12 of 12

    Dry Transfers

    Burnishing a decal

    Ryan C Kunkle

    Dry Transfers offer an alternative to decals. Each has its own application technique and advantages for modelers.