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, 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...MORE variety of weathering patterns. They will work on models in any scale and made of different materials.

It is 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
    chalk weathering
    Fifteen minutes of work with some chalks can make a dramatic difference in a model's appearance. ®2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

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

  • 02 of 08
    Chalk sticks rubbed directly on car sides can help create rust spots and streaks. ®2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

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

  • 03 of 08
    weather wash
    When nearly dry, the wash is wiped off the car with a paper towel. The finished wash highlights details and provides an overall tone to the car. ©2011 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, 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
    CR 21267
    Weathered model of CR 21267. ©2011 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

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

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08


    paint-out decals
    The reporting marks, road number and weight data are all applied with seperate decals. This model features a double-paint-out with its third owner simply patching over the reporting marks. ©2011 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, 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
    faded decals
    The faded decals are applied to the walls and carefully worked into the contours of the siding. This makes them appear to have been painted on the walls and weathered over the years. ©2011 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

    Age your decals prior to putting them on a model to create faded signs and lettering.

  • 07 of 08
    Proper weathering doesn't obscure details, it enhances them. An airbrush is the easiest way to reproduce the often-subtle weathering effects found on the prototype. ©2014 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, 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
    Walthers Feed Supply
    The completed walls show the combined weathering effects of sanding, a wash, faded decals and chalks. An interior will complete the model. ©2011 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

    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.