Weathering Washes

There are several ways to add age and grime to your trains. Each different method will yield different results and they can be combined to recreate just about any weathering effect you’d find in real life. When looking at a finished model, the process can be intimidating. But taken step-by-step you’ll see that weathering is much easier than it looks. In this page, we’ll look at one of the easiest techniques – the weathering wash.

weathering wash

Apply the thin wash to the entire side of the car. This model has already had the lettering faded as covered last week. Note that the wash is beginning to collect around the rivets.

A weathering wash is just like what it says – thin washes of paint brushed over parts of or even the entire model. There are a few ways to complete the process, but here are a few general tips that you should keep in mind.

  1. Acrylic paints work best. While you can use oil based paints, acrylics will thin easier and dry much faster – both useful for this technique.
  2. Use thin washes – about 10 parts water to 1 part paint.
  3. Build colors gradually. It is always easier to add paint than take it off.
  4. Mix colors. There are a lot of suitable paint colors out there. Choose and mix a variety to compliment the colors of the car you’re weathering. You can even use that dirty water you’ve been using to clean your brushes!
  5. Mix a little gray with black. Especially when washing a black model, a little bit of gray paint will help provide a better accent than just black-on-black.
  6. If possible, remove the shells from locomotives or cars with electronics inside prior to washing. If you can’t remove the shell, be careful to keep the water and paint away from circuit boards, contacts, etc.


You can apply the washes in a variety of ways. These washes generally give an overall effect, it is hard to pinpoint the weathering but you can do a few things the create some variations.



Simply letting the water evaporate on its own can yield great results on flat surfaces like this tender deck.

Perhaps the easiest way to apply the weathering is to simply let the air do most of the work. Brush the thin wash over the entire model. Obviously, this works best when the model is laying flat, so you’ll have to rotate the model several times while applying. This technique works best on the tops of models where water would normally pool.

As the water evaporates, the paint is left behind. You may notice that the capillary action of the water attracts it to details like side posts, rivets, etc. This usually yields good results so let it go. On the sides of cars, tipping the car at a slight angle will also help pull the wash towards the bottom of the car, simulating a more natural pattern.

Wash On, Wipe Off

To hasten the process, or just to avoid the “puddle” look, you can wipe off the wash before it sets with a paper towel. As before, apply the wash to the entire area you want to weather. Allow the wash to set for a few minutes before wiping off most of it with a paper towel. Wipe in a downward motion and concentrate on large flat areas. This will keep any streaks vertical and still allow the paint to highlight the details.


Washes aren’t just for trains. A little paint really improved the look of these workers whose clothes don’t look so freshly washed anymore.

The best part of keeping the washes thin is that you can apply as many as you want to build up the effects. If your first attempt shows no signs of sticking, don’t be alarmed. Especially on a high-gloss surface it can take a while. Apply another wash and keep going, perhaps giving it more time to set before wiping it off. It is always easier to add more washes than take one off.

These weathering washes can be used for more than just freight cars and locomotives. Apply to buildings to pick up details like brick mortar lines or highlight siding. Give a wash to figures and other small scenic details to provide a dull finish and highlight all the fine details. Just about everything on this display was hit with at least one coat of a black / gray wash and the difference was amazing.

Because this method works so well for broad, overall effects, you can combine other techniques like the ones we’ve presented throughout these pages to further weather the car and highlight more details. Until then, mix up a little paint, grab an old car and try it out!

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