How to Use Drybrushing to Weather Your Model Trains

Make Your Model Trains Look Real By Drybrushing Them

Rust spots
Acrylic paints applied in light, drybrushed stippling strokes create rust patches on the roof of this covered hopper. Varying paint colors and adding chalks completes the effect one little layer at a time. ®2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Why Weather Your Model Trains?

Serious model train layouts are all about realism. Real trains run through rain and snow, along dusty plains and sandy shores. They may haul coal or gravel. As a result, even brand new trains are rarely shiny and flaw free. If you want a layout that looks realistic, you'll want your trains to look as if they've actually been used on a real railroad.

Weathering is used to make model trains, tracks, sheds, and buildings look as if they exist in a real world.

Signs of rust, dust, and dirt can make a simple layout come to life. Some modelers go even further to add faux mold, and graffiti for additional realism. 

Drybrush Weathering Techniques

There are many different ways to weather a train and its surroundings. Some involve the use of wet paints and washes. Some modelers use decals and other premade materials to indicate age and use. One of the most popular methods for weathering, however, is called dry brushing.

Model railroaders often use the term "dry brushing" to describe one method of weathering model trains. When you dry brush, you apply only a very small amount of paint is applied to the model to simulate thin and light streaks of rust, grime or other signs of age and use. This allows you to build the effect gradually and in layers and avoid thick blobs or smears.

Before you begin, have a vision of the outcome you're looking for. If you live near a train yard, take photos to refer to as you work.

Another good option is to find a similar look in a magazine or online, and have that image available to you as you get started.

What You Need:

  • Acrylic paints 
  • Brushes - assorted sizes
  • Spray fixative such as Dullcote (avoid shiny finishes)
  • Paper towels
  • Dust or grime if desired

Drybrushing Steps:

  1. Apply a tiny amount of paint to the tip of a brush. You can use any size brush, depending on the area you need to cover and the effect you want to achieve. The paint does not need to be thinned.
  1. Wipe off as much of the paint as possible on a clean, dry paper towel. Use a white paper towel for any color paint other than white to monitor how much paint is gone.
  2. When you can wipe the brush on the towel with moderate pressure and no color comes off, begin applying paint to the model.
  3. Begin with light pressure and increase until you get the desired results. For rust streaks and grime, paint in a vertical pattern.
  4. When the brush is clean, repeat as necessary until the car is complete.
  5. Add dust or grime as desired
  6. Finish by spraying the model with fixative

Tips:

  1. Less is more. This technique works on the principle that it is easier to add paint than removing it. If you wipe off too much, simply reload and try again.
  2. Vary colors. Use a mixture of browns and oranges to create a layered effect of old and new rust.
  3. Clean the brush completely when finished.