Techniques for Painting Model Trains

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

    Once everything has been set up, airbrushing a model is relatively easy. Keep the basics in mind, practice, and you'll be surprised at the results. ©2014 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
    The Master Airbrush paint booth provides all the essentials for airbrushing model trains safely and comfortably practically anywhere. ©2014

    A good paint booth is essential for safe airbrushing.​ This portable model will work well for most needs and budgets.

  • 03 of 12

    Stripping Paint

    You don't always have to use harsh chemicals to remove model paints. Often simple alcohol will do the trick. ©2013 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
    Inexpensive watercolors are brushed all across the model. Paint will collect in seams and around details. ©2011 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 the recesses of these radiator air intakes and other details will add depth to the model. Begin by working flat black paint into the recesses. ©2013 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
    The reporting marks, road number and weight data are all applied with separate decals. This model features a double-paint-out with its third owner simply patching over the reporting marks. © 2014 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

    Applying the paint with an airbrush produces an even finish. Note the paint color in the bottle vs. on the model. ©2011 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 the car inside and out is a must for an old gondola like this. ©2014 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

    completed car
    With the mask removed, the completed effect is convincing. Every car you do will be unique. ©2011 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 Track

    painting track
    Floquil paint pens are an easy way to paint rails and ties—even after ballasting. This is Floquil Rail Brown. ©2010 Ryan C Kunkle

    No matter how good the paint is on your model train, it loses realism quickly when placed on the shiny track.

  • 11 of 12


    decal position
    Slide the decal into the final position with a hobby knife or pin. ©2011 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

    After application, burnishing sets the transfer. ©2013 Ryan C Kunkle

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