Eric Lalonde

Basics of Weathering Rolling Stock - wheels and trucks (video)

Time stamps for stills in the wheels and trucks video

Basics of Weathering Rolling Stock - car body (video)

Time stamps for stills in the car body video

Examples of Weathered Rolling Stock (stills)


Any special treatment applied to the surface of a models basic paint coat is referred to as ' weathering'. Basically, weathering is the enhancement of the paint finish to produce a heightened illusion of reality. In other words, the model is given that last "special treatment" to make it look used, worn, damaged, faded, or "in service". As many of the no-weather camp will point out, weathering is out of scale and is excessive- they will say that you can't see most panel lines on rolling stock from most distances, so why enhance them on a model with weathering techniques? The point is that all modeling is "out of scale" if we really get down to nitpicking- the job of the modeler is to represent reality, not duplicate it on a smaller scale (impossible). Like any illusion, the overall effect of the model's parts and enhancements are what tricks the mind into seeing the model as being accurate. The perception of the model is the important part- we all know the model is not real- but our minds can perceive the model as being real. There are numerous debates as to whether or not a model should be weathered at all, but generally speaking, most modelers employ weathering to some degree.
We'll look at the basics of weathering from a modeler's perspective.  Covering Painting Effects, Washes, Dry brushing, and Natural Metal Techniques. I've tried to arrange these techniques in as much the order as they should be applied, but as always, there are exceptions to the rule. Usually, a modeler will use many different techniques to achieve the desired effects.

Painting Effects
The basis of any good weathering job is the paint job. A good paint job can make a mediocre model look great, and an average model look fantastic. I won't go into all the millions of ways to paint a kit, but it is necessary to seal the paint with a sealer after decals and paint have dried. Use a gloss or matte based on your preference and the final sheen, but a matte or semi-gloss works best for weathering techniques. Luckily, most of the off the shelf “ready to roll” models are already painted and decaled with the correct sheen for the first step in the weathering process.

Uneven/Faded paint
After the model is painted, decaled, and top-coated, it is ready for the first step of weathering. Use the base color lightened with 10% white and paint individual panels of the model randomly (airbrushes work best as they allow the painter to control a very fine and transparent layer of paint). Mask off various panels with Post-it notes or low tack tape and paint them with the lighter color. Airbrush the light mixture to replicate uneven fading, bleaching, or old paint. The possibilities are limited only by resourcefulness.

Pastel Chalks
Another way to render uneven paint is to use pastel chalks. These are available at art supply stores, but make sure you get the chalky ones, not the oil based ones.
Pastels add depth to a color. Monochrome models (models with only one color) can be boring and dull, but they don't have to be. Look at a photo of a real piece of rolling stock- the large areas of solid color never appear to be solid- there are slight variations in tone and hue that break up the monotony. Our mind sees it as one color, but if you look closely it is many shades of the same color. If we replicate this on our models, the end result will be a very convincing. Select pastels that are similar in color to your base color. They don't have to be perfect matches, in fact a bit of variation is best. For example, if you have a green box car, use a light olive green, a brownish dark green, and maybe a yellow.
Grind three or four different colors into a powder on a piece of sandpaper or use an Xacto knife to scrap the chalk into a fine powder. Using a short, stiff brush, pick up some of the pastel chalk powder and "scrub" it into the surface of the model in irregular patterns. Subtlety is critical, but keep in mind that the final topcoat applied after weathering is done will make almost all of your pastel work disappear. This causes a dilemma- all models need a final clear-coat of varnish (dull or gloss) to protect the finish, and especially to protect the pastels from fingerprints, but the final clear coat reduces the pastel's effectiveness. There is no easy answer except to experiment. A heavy application of pastels may reduce down to the proper subtle shades, but they may also disappear completely. If so, keep scrubbing and over coating (light subsequent coats) until you build up a nice tonal variance. Some modelers apply the pastels last and then simply never handle the model. Finally, a modeler can scrub various shades and hues of paint into the model's surface with oil paint. The principal is the same used for pastels, but the oil paints will not change or disappear under the final top-coat. They do, however, require that the model be protected by a well cured varnish or acrylic clear coat before you work. The scrubbing action combined with the oil paint's thinner and petroleum based components will eat your model's paint job if you are not careful.
Use chalk pastels, not oil-based pastels. Most people use pastels for weathering and highlighting areas on models. I would recommend obtaining a set of shades of gray, and a set of earth tones. I obtained a set of 12 of each ranging from very light to very dark at a craft store for about $10.00 for each set. You can also obtain many individual colors. There are several ways to apply pastels. Here are some tips:

  • Make sure the model has a matte finish. This can either be the bare matte paint, or if the paint is gloss, a matte overcoat.
  • Use fine sandpaper or emery boards. Even a Xacto knife to make some chalk dust. At this point different colored pastels can be mixed.
  • To apply the pastel, use a paintbrush, preferably with somewhat firm, yet soft bristles. Alternately, there are cardboard pencil like applicators that can be obtained at craft stores. Q-tips also make a good applicator, as well as pieces of felt.
  • Don't worry if you apply too much, a damp cloth will clean it right off.
  • Use of a sealer coat is optional. Unless you will be handling the model much, one is not necessary, and looks better.


Rust Effects
Rust can be applied to a model a few different ways. Acrylic paints, Oil based paints, Chalks; and Enamels will all produce great results. Just keep in mind the drying times all differ, and the steps in which color is applied will greatly improve the end result. Depending on the look you are trying for will depend on which paint you choose. For old paint, Burnt Umber works really well, were as newer rust would be more of a Raw or Burnt Sienna. Just keep in mind that rust has a lot of different variations of color, and that is what will produce the most realist results. Oil based paints work best for streaking rust down the sides of your car do to the much slower drying time.

Chipped Paint
Rolling stock gets chipped up with normal wear. Some lose large amounts of paint due to poor adhesion. There are several methods that enable chipped paint to be replicated. The easiest is to use grey or silver paint to "pick out" small chips and dings with a tiny brush. Use odd shapes, irregular and random so they don't appear like they came off the same brush. Some folks say that silver is too bright for small scales- maybe tone it down with Grey.
Another method is to use a colored pencil (silver, Grey, graphite, etc) and pick out the chips. This method works well for small, almost unnoticeable chips.

Smears and Smudges
Railcars almost always bear the marks of their crews.  Even the best kept will show signs of human activity. Look at photographs of prototype railcars- there's almost always a tell-tale sign that someone has been crawling around on it; boot scuffs, mud, greasy hand prints, scratches, chalk marks, worn metal patches along walkways, etc. You may want to add just a small touch of this kind of effect, as it can easily be overdone. Too many times a modeler will swath far too much mud. When it comes to smears and smudges, a little is usually better than a lot.

Operational Wear & General Grunge
We've all seen the nasty black and brown exhaust stains on the average locomotive? Oil leaks from nearly every orifice on many engines, and expansion vents on modern locomotives drizzle fuel on extremely hot days. So if they are there on the real thing, why not add a touch of this type of realism to a model?
Exhaust stains are easy- airbrush a sooty blackish brown or deep rusty brown from the exhaust stacks in the direction of airflow. Keep it light at first-just a little can go a long way in convincing the eye. Add more as needed and work in layers. Study pictures of the prototype for best results.

If you don't have an airbrush, use a bit of ground pastel chalk in the same manner as we did our paint discoloration. Just remember to clear-coat the model beforehand so that you can easily wash off the chalk if you mess up.
Other types of operational grunge include oil, fuel and fluid leaks and spills, scratches and worn paint, finger/footprints, and field repairs/touch-ups. These can be replicated with a little creativity and experiment.

Fluid leaks are more common than one would imagine- just visit a local rail yard for proof. Look to your reference photos to find the appropriate location for oil leaks. A conservative application of gloss or semi-gloss lacquer tinted with a bit of blackish brown (just slightly) should do it; the goal is to get definite streaks while at the same time staining the general area. I must stress to look at photos of the real thing- too many models look like they ran through a lube shop rather than simply leaking. Other fluids can also be treated the same way. Use a different tint or none at all for various kinds of excretions. A faint reddish amber colored or honey colored lacquer could replicate brake fluid, hydraulic fluid, or even certain fuels. Clear, untainted lacquer is fine for gasoline and jet fuel- but these are not viscous- be sure thin them to the consistency of water to let them freely "absorb" into the surface and discolor the pastels that might be in the area. Fuel evaporates quickly and usually leaves only traces of it presence. Go easy on the fuel. This works great for tank cars carrying gas or Ethanol products.
Of course, there are many other ways to replicate fuel and oil leaks; it seems that every modeler has his own favorite method. As with all types of skills, use your imagination and try out any technique that seems logical.

Patches and touch ups
Usually rolling stock and locomotives will at some point receive paint touch ups and damage is repaired. Check your references on how they look. The idea here is to replicate a patch or repair without being cheesy- so always use the subtlety rule- go light with the patches. Simply paint a square patch of fresh, unfaded paint on top of the weathered paint just before you seal it with a final coat of clear. Some railroads used a different color altogether. Primers almost always work. Use small rectangular patches- paint by hand or mask- some patches were crudely done in poor conditions.

The Wash
Basically, a wash is an application of highly thinned paint that is allowed to flow into panel lines, corners, joins, and around detail. The point of the wash is to give the illusion of depth and shadow. The key to a successful wash is the preparation. Always, and I say always again, make sure to have a base coat of clear varnish on your model before washing it. Use a varnish that is the opposite of the paint you'll be using for the wash- In other words, if you plan on using an oil-based wash thinned with odorless thinner, spray on a protective coat of acrylic clear sealer before beginning the wash. This insures that the paint underneath will not be softened or rubbed off when your wash hits it.

Detail wash
Most model kits today have lots of detail. Using a wash to add some shadows will help to show off all that detail. I like to use oil paint as the basis of my washes as I can get very fine pigments. Use odorless thinner as your thinning agent as it is less aggressive in damaging the underlying paint. Mix some oil paint into a small amount of thinner (one cola bottle cap full is all I ever need). Go easy on the paint, just a small dab on the tip of your brush to start with. Mix it up and keep adding oil paint until the wash resembles wood stain in clarity. If it looks like dirty motor oil you have too much paint. Use a color that represents shadow- I never use black for shadows as it is not a color found in natural shadows, but instead I use a darker shade of the base color. Load a brush with the wash and just wet down the entire surface of the model. Don't allow too much liquid to pool up in tight areas- the thinner will eat away the paint beneath. Let the wash dry thoroughly. If it is not pronounced enough do the wash again, repeating the process as many times as necessary to get the desired shadows. Once finished, a dry brushing of the model with a light tint of the models color will bring out the detail by adding highlights.

Panel lines and exterior detail
A kit that has had its lines treated with a wash just seems to look better, this works well with locomotives. Some argue that you can't see the panel lines so why accent them on a model? Again, it all goes back to illusion. We are creating an illusion of scale, not true scale. Since we already know the panel lines are on the real thing, and that they appear dark and sometimes dirty when examined, we add them to our models to support the overall realism. Models without panel lines appear toy-like and unfinished.

To use a wash in the panel lines use dark grungy colors-  mix up a dark brown, but some modelers use a dark version of the base color. You choose whatever works best for your taste. Using a small pointed tip brush, touch the tip into a panel line. The thinned paint should wick into the line and travel along inside for a short distance. Repeat this until you have a manageable amount of your model's panel lines filled with wash. Some will get onto the model surface, but that's fine. If you coated your model with a matte or dull varnish you'll notice the wash wicks out of the panel line and absorbs onto the surface area of the model along the line. This is a nice effect that if done properly produces great results.

Once the wash has had time to set up a little by thickening (not completely dry), get a rag (a piece of old T-shirt works well) and just slightly moisten it with fresh odorless thinner. The amount of thinner should be so little that you almost don't realize the rag is moist, and wipe off the excess wash. Use a clean rag, periodically changing to a clean section or new rag as needed. The effect will be that some of the wash has remained in the panel lines, some has stained the paint around the panel line to varying degrees, and excess has been totally wiped off. That's all there is to it! Washes around exterior raised detail (bumps, rivets, etc.) are treated exactly the same.

Dry brushing
Dry brushing is simple once you understand the reason it is done. Most modelers use dry brushing to highlight raised detail and to bring out the edges and corners of kit parts. The idea is to give the illusion of dimension. But dry brushing can be much more as many modelers can attest to.
All of the raised detail, corners and angles of your model etc., cry out to be noticed.

The basic procedure in dry brushing calls for a good quality soft flat brush. Pick a size appropriate for the job. You will also need a supply of paper or cloth to work the brush down to minimal paint content. Load the paint on the brush, don't thin it. Any paint will do, but paints with a slower drying time work best. Once the brush is loaded (not overloaded, just a dab of color), "paint" the brush back and forth on the paper or cloth to remove most of the paint. The brush should leave very little trace of paint on the clean paper or cloth. Then, lightly brush the part to be dry brushed. Paint will adhere to the raised detail on the kit but not the rest of the kit. Subtle dry brushing can be built up slowly with repeated application until the desired effect is reached. If you see individual brush strokes, you have far too much paint in the brush- rub it some more on the paper. As with all techniques, practice makes perfect, but there really isn't anything difficult about dry brushing. Just keep it light and use multiple applications to build up the effect.

What to Dry brush
Everything should be highlighted by dry brushing. Using dry brushing, you can also "scrub" faded or worn paint areas. This is especially handy in larger scales, on the floor of a flatbed car where scuffing and wear is common. Look for any raised detail- anything with raised detail can be highlighted. The impression is convincing if the dry brushing is subtle. Make sure you dry brush AFTER the wash is applied, or you will remove all of you dry brushing effort with the excess wash.

Bare Metal
It takes little effort to get a bare metal look on your model; it’s not hard to do at all. Using a graphite pencil is one of the easiest and most convincing ways to add bare metal to your model. Flat cars, gondolas, box car door hinges, etc. Apply spots to your model and seal, or you can highlight some raised portions with bare medal like door hinges, boxcar door slides, gondolas, flat cars. The possibilities are endless. Just remember that a little weathering is in my opinion, is better than no weathering at, and a little goes a long way in enhancing the enjoyment of Model railroading.

Have fun, and weather those models!