How to Make It a Model (Train) Holiday

CNSM 741 – 776 Silverliner Series Coach by Box Car Models

The holidays always evoke nostalgia for family traditions. For my family, one of these traditions was to put a model train set around the base of the Christmas tree. It was that finishing touch that said the holidays were really here. This week, we’re offering gift ideas from all the Tiny Worlds our designers create, and I hope you’ll be inspired to make model trains a part of your family’s holiday traditions.

Shapeways offers an enormous variety of model trains that are as detailed as those you’d see on tracks around the world. But, 3D printed models do require a few finishing touches. Model trains are printed in a number of scales and sizes, and generally produced in Frosted Detail Plastic. The post-processing of these trains in Frosted Detail requires a few tools:

  • Acetone or Simple Green

  • Primer

  • Synthetic Paint Brush Set or Airbrush Kit

  • Acrylic or Enamel Paint

  • Matte or Satin Varnish

Once the tools are assembled, you are well on your way to getting your perfect model train ready.

1. Model Prep

If there is any residual oil or wax support material left over from the production process, this can easily be removed using acetone or Simple Green solvent. You can simply dip and air dry the model. Or, using a paint brush, you can lightly spread the solvent on the train and air dry.

**TIP** If you notice an excess amount of residual support material or details are distorted, this may call for a reprint. Please send an image and order number to service@shapeways.com.

2. First Coat – Prime

Primer is added as a first coat in order to provide a uniform surface and offer a stronger hold for your paints. Recommended primer colors include black, grey, or white. Your primer color selection will depend on the colors you decide for your top coat.

In order to keep the finest details visible, it is best to use a thin primer. For example, Krylon Color Master Primer will do the job.

3. Paint

Models can be painted in a variety of ways. The most common methods for painting a high-detail finish include airbrushing and hand-painting.

Airbrush painting is a great method for coating large areas of your design more quickly. This will require a fine-tip sprayer kit and masking to cover the areas that are not intended to be painted.

Hand-painting might be a bit more accessible to those who don’t want to invest in an airbrush kit. For this method, a range of small-sized synthetic brushes are recommended. The synthetic hairs do not fray, have a longer life span, and allow for finer points due to their stiffer structure.

With hand-painting, we suggest using acrylic or enamel model paints. First, add your larger base details using a larger brush. Then, with a smaller brush, use the lighter colors to make your details pop. Once painted, let the material dry completely before moving on to the next step.

4. Clear Coat

The final step to finishing your model train is to add a varnish. This will seal the paints and offer the appropriate sheen. Choose a matte or satin finish depending on your glossiness preference.

The varnish should be thinly applied and set to dry. Once dried, the model is ready to be displayed.

HO scale 1:87 CSX SD40-3 Wabtec Cab by Boxcar Models

This year, we hope you’ll make model trains a part of your holiday tradition, whether you make and give them as gifts or set them up for all to see. Who knows? Maybe hand-finishing model trains can be your new favorite family holiday pastime.

And, for everyone on your list, make sure to check out our Holiday Gift Guide. It’s also full of ways to bring all kinds of Tiny Worlds to life.

Do you have any tips or tricks to finishing your model trains? We would love to hear them, so please share them with the community on our forum or in the comments below.

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2 comments

  1. Michaelk42

    I’m going to suggest Tamiya Fine White Surface Primer as a much nicer alternative to any Krylon indoor/outdoor stuff. It’s made for plastic models specifically. And then some Mr. Hobby Topcoats if you can find them at your friendly local hobby store.

    And if you’re into weathering, there’s much to be learned from the people who make tiny giant robots – http://majorwilliams.blogspot.com/2011/10/gundam-building-201-weathering.html

  2. Conrad Struckman

    I read the post on cleaning prior to painting and its different than the advice I was given by Shapeways when I started making my own N scale models-which was to clean the residual wax with Bestine (which does have some acetone in it, but is hard to find) or isopropyl alcohol. I typically clean by putting the parts in alcohol in an ultrasonic cleaner for 8 minutes, which turns the parts white, but seems to have no other affect other than doing a good job of cleaning. Have you used alcohol and find acetone better (I try to avoid acetone since it is more dangerous than alcohol to work with)? I’ve also found that parts that are long and thin (e.g., rafters in a roof) and have bent can by heated with a hair dryer they often naturally straighten (cleaning cause the bending to worsen).

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