How Do You Make a Model Railroad Backdrop?

No model train set is complete without a good backdrop to really bring it to life. Still, the perfect backdrop can be hard to find. Sometimes it’s better just to make one yourself so you get exactly what you want. Still, that leaves the question, how do you make a model railroad backdrop? 

You can make a model railroad backdrop by using little more than some masonite and a handful of paint. Depending on how elaborate you want to get, you can use wood to create rounded corners and make your railroad look more lifelike. Additionally, you can use photographs instead of paint. 

If you’re planning on making a backdrop for your model railroad but you’re not sure where to start, we’ve got you covered. In our guide below we will give you our tips for creating the perfect backdrop as well as a number of different things you can do to make one. You can pick and choose which ideas you like most and have your own, handmade backdrop in no time! 

model railroad backdrop

Why Have a Model Railroad Backdrop Anyway? 

Before we dive into our tips for making a model railroad backdrop, let’s first ask the question why have a backdrop in the first place? Isn’t the set already fine the way it is? 

Below we’ve listed some of the main reasons why every model train lover should make a backdrop for their set: 


  • A backdrop brings the set to life
  • A backdrop makes your set look bigger
  • A backdrop can be a joy to craft 

The bottom line is that a backdrop can really elevate your model train set and allow it to have a greater sense of distance and life. A beautifully made backdrop will immediately catch the eye of your guests whether they are normally into trains or not. 

Ways to Make a Model Railroad Backdrop 

The truth is there are many different techniques to make backdrops. Depending on how intensive you want the process to be, how big your budget is, and what kind of style appeals to you most, some of the options will be better than others. 

Below we’ve outlined many different ways of making model railroad backdrops so you can combine the ones you like best: 

Use Masonite for Your Backdrop 

Generally, it is recommended that you use long pieces of masonite hardboard for your backdrop. This material is sturdy and has the smooth surface you need for your perfect design. 

The length and width of your masonite hardboard will be determined by where your model train set is situated, how big it is, and how high you want the backdrop to go. Additionally, the number of pieces of masonite hardboard you need to either buy or cut will be determined by the number of walls that make contact with your model railroad. 

model train backdrop

Round the Corners of Your Backdrop

 Using thin pieces of hardwood, you can create rounded corners on the backdrop where your walls meet. 

The reason you should consider doing this is that it gives the backdrop a much more natural look. Instead of the images suddenly hitting an invisible barrier, they just curve and continue as if you were truly looking into the distance. 

Use Paint for Your Backdrop

Painting your backdrop instead of using photos can actually give it a more natural appeal, in the sense that the painted backdrops blend better with the model set. Sometimes photographs, on the other hand, can look a little jarring when compared to the rest of the set. 

Spray paint is great for simple designs or just laying down the base colors for your backdrop. It’s best to use paint with a matte or satin finish, as the glossy will be too reflective and distracting. 

 You can also use anything from acrylic paints to watercolor to construct the exact type of landscape you want. This is recommended if you have a lot of experience painting and are confident you can create a convincing landscape. 

Use Photographs for Your Backdrop 

Photos are a great option for your backdrop as they look the most realistic and don’t require the tedious effort that goes into crafting a long painting.  

There are really only two main options when it comes to the photos you choose to use for your backdrop:

  • Your own images: You can create a backdrop by taking panoramic photos of an area you would like to emulate or you can carefully edit existing photos together into something convincing. 
  • Premade backdrop photos: You can buy premade photography specifically for model railroad backdrops. The only caveat here is that these can be a little pricey. It’s far more cost-effective to make it yourself. 

When you’re trying to decide what photos to use, really think about the lighting in the room and what contrasts well with the color of your model railroad set.

So Really, How Do You Make a Model Railroad Backdrop?

There are many ways to make a model railroad backdrop. Still, whichever path you take–photographs, a simple painting, or complex landscape–it’s best that you do it on sturdy materials. Most experts recommend that you use a long sheet of masonite hardboard. 

Once you’ve got your backdrop constructed, it’s time to kick back and enjoy the magic that only model train lovers truly understand!


Lifelong Rail Enthusiast and Owner of Worldwide Rails

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