Weathering Model Trains – Fading and Removing Lettering

Whether you’re creating a railroad scrapyard scene like ours or just weathering your in-service equipment, there are several easy-to-learn skills to add the look of age and service. The technique shown here is actually two handy modeling tricks in one. Whether you want to create the look of faded, aged lettering or remove pre-painted graphics completely (like to change a number) this simple approach works every time.

Fading Letters

fading letters

Faded letters, as seen on left, add a realistic look to equipment. The letters at right are in progress. The dirty solution can be wiped off and the process repeated as needed.

As railroad equipment ages from years in service, it is not uncommon to see lettering that has faded or nearly vanished. To recreate this effect on a model, all you’ll need is a clean pencil eraser and a little decal setting solution. This clear liquid is also used to soften decals when applying them over rough surfaces and can be found at most hobby shops.

To fade the letters, put a drop of solution over top of what you’d like to fade. Begin gently rubbing the letter with the eraser. Not every model will react the same way. Some will begin to fade very quickly and with little pressure. With others, you may need to let the solution set for a few minutes and apply a little more force. To be safe, start lightly and continue working until you start to see results.

In most cases, once you begin seeing results, the process will continue rather quickly. Continue rubbing until you’ve faded just what you want. If remnants from the lettering make it hard to see your progress, wipe off the solution and apply more clean liquid. Be careful not to rub too hard or you’ll begin to remove the paint underneath the lettering as well.

Removing Letters

Removed letter

The “X” from this Scout Set gondola is nearly gone. A little care with a hobby knife and solution and the last of the tips will be gone. Silver is one of the more challenging paint colors to work with.

If you want to change the lettering or numbers on a car, simply apply the same steps only continue until you’ve removed all traces of the original letters.

Using this technique, you could reletter a car for your own freelanced railroad without having to do all of the paint and decaling yourself. You could also use this to remove a road number and apply a new one with decals to create multiple car numbers for your identical fleets.

Like all new modeling skills, it is best to practice a little before starting on a prized model. If you don’t have an old car lying around already, you can usually pick up a good test subject very cheaply at a train show or auction. You can use it to practice this and the other weathering techniques presented here.

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