Weathering Techniques for Model Trains

Real trains spend years out in the elements and many show the signs of this long and hard service life. Weathering can take many forms; rust, grime, patched and peeling paint, and faded letters. There are almost as many ways to recreate the ravages of time and nature. Weathering a pristine model can be intimidating, but it is not impossible. With practice, you'll be adding years to your roster in no time.

The techniques described here can be used individually or combined to create an endless variety of weathering patterns. They will work on models in any scale and made of different materials.

It's always a good idea to practice new techniques on an old model or a scrap of plastic or wood prior to starting your first serious model. Good reference photographs of the prototype, whether it is the specific rail car or just the general look you're trying to capture, are the best tools to help your weathering achieve a realistic appearance.

  • 01 of 08

    Weathering With Chalks

    chalk weathering on trains.

    ®2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    This simple technique is great for beginners as the entire process can be easily reversed with a wet cloth.

  • 02 of 08

    Drybrushing

    Chalk sticks rubbed directly on car sides can help create rust spots and streaks.
    ®2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    This simple technique uses a minimal amount of paint to create realistic streaks and scratches.

  • 03 of 08

    Acrylic Wash

    weather wash
    ©2011 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    A simple watercolor wash can tone down the paint and make the details pop. Washes are also a great technique to highlight recessed areas and lines on trains, buildings, and scenery.

  • 04 of 08

    Fading Paint With an Airbrush

    Miniature train with drybrushing.
    ©2011 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    You can make a car look like it's been out in the sun for a few years by weathering. This basic airbrush technique is an easy introduction to weathering with this important tool.

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Paint-Outs

    paint-out decals on a model train

    ©2011 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    Railroads often paint-out certain sections of a car as opposed to repainting the entire thing. These patches may be the result of new owners, maintenance, or just to counter excessive weathering.

  • 06 of 08

    Weathering Decals

    faded decals to put on a model train
    ©2011 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    You can age your decals prior to putting them on a model. This creates faded signs and lettering.

  • 07 of 08

    Weathering Diesels With an Airbrush

    weathering decals on a model train.
    ©2014 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    An airbrush is the best tool for recreating the often subtle effects of weathering. Learn the basic steps with diesel locomotives.

  • 08 of 08

    Weathering Structures

    Miniature model building, with electric toy train whizzing by in the foreground.

    Jonathan Austin Daniels/Getty Images

    Weathering isn't limited to just trains. To really pull a scene together, everything should show the effects of time. These simple tips will help you add some age to your structures—even those you've already painted.