Confusing "how to" track painting

Discussion in 'FAQs' started by ezdays, May 19, 2003.

  1. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way

    Yes, I've finally got track down that I can run trains on.:) My next step is to do the wiring and blocking before I go and weather the ties and rails. I've done a search on this here, and read a lot of techniques, some contradictory to the others. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

    • Use a spray can, don't use a spray can. :confused:

      Use an air brush, just brush on manually. :confused:

      Spray the rails and brush the ties, spray the ties and brush the rails, spray everything, brush everything. :confused:

      Use primer, use acrylic, use pastel chalks, use Floquil :confused:

      Mask the railheads, oil them, just go ahead and paint then clean them afterwards. :confused:

      Do the tracks first, do the ties first, do everything at once :confused:....
    Even some of the “how to” books are very vague. They tell you what to do, but not how to do it. The one pieces of advice that is consistent is: always paint if you want realism, and always do it before you ballast.

    I am aware that there are many ways to do the same thing, all of which work for the individual doing it. But, it would be neat if someone with experience does a step-by-step of a track and tie painting technique that works and looks as realistic as a lot that I've seen here. This would be worthy of being placed in The Academy. How do I get a really aged, rusted and scuzzy looking track and old worn ties for my rapidly ageing N scale railroad?:rolleyes:

    Many of the pictures on this forum dazzle and inspire me, and the track work is no exception to this. It is all excellent and worthy of emulation. :D

  2. Tyson Rayles

    Tyson Rayles Active Member

    And don't forget there are 3 types and each needs to be treated different. Mainline, short/branchline, and yard/industrial. ;)
  3. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    Don, You've already said it, all those methods work. It is up to the individual to decide which method he preferes. Some are more time consuming than others. Some work better prior to tracklaying. Here's what I do with flextrack (I won't go into handlaid). I prefer to solder prior to painting so I don't paint prior to laying. When all is running well I start by painting the ties. I use a brush, an airbrush would work as well. I think spray cans are too uncontrollable and too heavy. BTW, depending on brand of track, some have black ties, need to be painted, some have brown ties that are too shiny, need to be painted. some look pretty decent but paint still helps their appearance. Having several colors on a pallete helps to get differing tie colors. Select a base color ( I use one that looks close to creosote) and have white, black and some red handy. Paint the base color on a stretch of ties, then use the others in small bits on the brush still loaded with the base color and you will get subtle variations. Then paint the rails. I use a small brush. I use roof brown mostly, vary it by mixing a bit of rust in. If you are using a finely detailed track with nice tie plate and spike detail, you can use a small brush to put a metallic color here and after dry wash with a very thin rust, allow to run onto the tie. This is a bit picky, but nice for a section you may want to use to photograph equipment, for instance.
  4. billk

    billk Active Member

    I think the most important thing, for appearances anyway, is to get the sides of the rails colored, by whatever means. This helps to hide the out-of-scale (in most cases) height of the rails and adds to the "steel ribbon" effect.

    Also just as important, only for operational reasons, is to NOT get any paint where you don't want it - this being the top of the rails, and on any surfaces of rails in turnouts where it could ess up conductivity.
  5. jwmurrayjr

    jwmurrayjr Member


    I don't have the experience that most of these other guys have, but I recently painted my track.

    All track was down, wired and tested. I used Floquil spray cans. Rail Brown and Grimy Black.

    Using an 18" by 20" piece of flexible card stock to keep the over-spray off of things I didn't want to paint, I carefully sprayed all of the track and ties Rail Brown. I didn't worry about the side of the rails that no one can see from any normal viewing angle (This makes it easier to spray a light coat...and saves paint).

    Then I sprayed the Grimy Black in places where the locos would tend to sit for a while, like the engine service areas and some sidings (and here and there, from above, to keep the brown from looking too uniform, especially on the ties).

    I was extra careful around the switches. I did not oil the railheads and really did not have any trouble cleaning the paint off. I used the unsharpened edge of a utility knife to "peel" the paint off the railhead. Then I discovered that a 4" X 1-1/2" piece of masonite makes a very good substitute for a "brite boy" cleaner. Holding the piece of masonite like a putty knife it cleaned and polished the track very effectively.

    Then I ran a "sensitive" loco and went back and cleaned the spots that I missed the first time.

    I intend to touch up with "rust" and "grease" as I complete the preliminary ground cover on sections of scenery and before I ballast (I hope that's right).:)
  6. RailRon

    RailRon Active Member

    Hey Don - three advices, and already we're back at your question again: Which method is the right one??? :confused:

    I'm in the same position like you - after my long model RR hiatus I restarted and soon I'll have to paint and ballast my first track. As the pictures here on The Gauge show - there are lots of layouts with very realistic track!

    I used to... No, I won't tell you here, because there are so many methods wich give GOOD to EXCELLENT results (and mine were mediocre at best, compared to todays standards :( ).

    My advice (that is what I did and what I'll do): I have a 'modeling scrapbook' and among others I took many notes about track building methods. From them I distilled about three how-to methods to paint track, which look plausible to me and which cover my needs: Worn ties, not uniformly colored, painted rail sides...
    And now I'll take the time and lay three flextrack lengths side by side (6" apart) on a plank. Then I'll paint each one with a different procedure. The method used on the track which pleases me most will be the way to go for me... :) :) :)

    Maybe the result will not be the track color which is optimal for some other modeler. But remember: It's YOUR layout, and it's YOU who should enjoy it. Happy track painting, Don!

  7. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way

    Thanks guys for some addtional insight. I remember the old joke: "how do I get to Carnegie Hall?" "Practice man, practice." So I guess I gotta ask, "How do I find the best way to paint track?" I suppose I need to practice. I have enough chunks of scrap track that I can try different techniques and find what works best for me.

    I just think that some of the trackwork I've seen here is so realistic that I find it hard to tell that it isn't pictures of prototype stuff.:) That's my goal, I hope I can come close.:D

    Let's see, first I spray the track, now I spray the ties. Uh Oh, got paint of the tracks,:eek: not to worry, I'll just spray them again. What! overspray all over the ties again, :eek:well we can fix that....:rolleyes::rolleyes: Hey, I'm runnin' out of spray paint.....:eek:

  8. Woodie

    Woodie Active Member


    I just used the "slop" method. Got any old elcheapo paints with colours that sound earthy, umbers, sienna, oxides etc, and some brushes and "slopped" dirt/timber like ones for the sleepers, and the oxide like ones for the rails. mixed a bit here, mixed a bit there, and "slop". On it went. Be careful of the contact parts of the turnouts. Don't get any down in between and on the rails. It's very difficult to clean out.

    Then on went the ballast. :)

    Attached Files:

  9. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way


    I'm heading down to Wal-Mart and Michael's (I have a coupon for 40% off one item of my choice) in a bit and am going to pick up some tubes of paint. I'm tending towards the brush method because I think that spraying will give me too consistent a cover and a lot less probems masking or blocking off other things. I don't know for sure, that's why I asked in the first place.:) :)

    D:D N
  10. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    Just pick the method that you feel comfortable with. I just paint the sides with rust or brown paint, let a bit slop onto the fastenings or spikes, and ignore the ties unless they're PC board or really unrealistic. I use acrylics or Floquil, depending on what's handy. Since it shouldn't get a lot of handling, adherence isn't a problem. (Paint AFTER laying the track; it's tempting to do it at the workbench, but then your flex track won't flex or leaves large white spots.)
    Now about when you take up the layout and re-use the track...
  11. Woodie

    Woodie Active Member

    I have a coupon for 40% off one item of my choice

    Then don't use it on the $1.99 tube of paint. Use it on the $400 tele!!:eek: :D
  12. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way

    Well, the only thing they had over $1.99 that I was interested in was a can of casting resin. I saved over $7 on it. I also bought a bunch of other stuff to try out all these different approaches to doing the tracks. I'm experimenting on my workbench, but I will do the track while it's in place. I've got to do some wireing first besides figuring out what will work for me.

    Some things I've learned already are: paint pens attack blue foam with a vigor :eek:and I can make a real mess of things without even trying. :rolleyes: :rolleyes:

    D:cool: N
  13. rsn48

    rsn48 Member

    Air brushing is great if you have a lot of area and track to do. Air brushing is the only method I have used. The chap I have copied is an excellent modeller and it works well for him. He tapes the points with masking tape; spray paints everything, then takes off the top with a bright boy cleaner. Looks great. But I agree most other methods will work well.
  14. spitfire

    spitfire Active Member

    Although I have yet to lay track, I did experiment with some track for a little display. First I ballasted it, and then I airbrushed the sides of the rails from pretty close in (and from the side) with a rusty colour concocted out of engine black and daylight red (kind of an orange really).

    Some of the overspray got onto the ballast but this produced a very realistic effect - as though run-off from the the rusted rails was staining the ballast closest to the tracks. Then I ran a very light spray of pure engine black down the middle. I left the ties alone as they were black already which looked fine to me.

    The final results were exactly what I was looking for - and industrial siding was my goal. And airbrushing is way faster than brushing!

  15. Matthyro

    Matthyro Will always be re-membered

    I have posted these photos elsewhere in a thread started by Jim Cullen but this is of interest so here goes.
    I paint all my track with acrylic burnt umber that I brush on. It looks a bit dark but ince ballasted it looks fine.
    First photo brush painted track.

    Attached Files:

    • tp2.jpg
      File size:
      34.6 KB
  16. Matthyro

    Matthyro Will always be re-membered

    Track painted first then ballasted.

    Attached Files:

    • tp1.jpg
      File size:
      50.1 KB
  17. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way


    Thanks for the pictures. The ties in this area seem to be darker as well, but the rails are kinda a rusty red. I've been playing around a bit on some samples, and I still haven't gotten anything that I am satisfied with, so I think I'm going to try a few different techniques in different parts of my layout. I have a feeling that balasting makes a big difference in how things look so I have to get past that step to see what the final results are anyway. I am just now finishing the wiring on my track and once I've had a successful test run, I'm ready for some track painting.

  18. sapacif

    sapacif Member

    As an additional technique, if you dry brush the ties from above, very little of that color gets on the sides of the rails. I spray paint the flex track a rust color (for sidings) and then dry brush an off white on the ties to make them have a very aged appearance. I pretty much bury the ties in a siding, so only the top need to be highlighted.
  19. brakie

    brakie Active Member

    Also remember not to go over board with the rust on your rails unless your modeling a little use branch line or a abandon track..For the best results go and look at the real track and copy that..Don't forget the oil streak running down the center of the track from leaky locomotives..:D

Share This Page