How Do You Paint Model Railroad Structures?

The careful use of color is really a big part of what separates convincing, beautiful model railroad sets from the ones that are clearly amateur. Still, getting all the right colors, using the right paint, and applying it in a way that looks natural can be a tricky task. So, how do you paint model railroad structures? Is there a certain method and type of paint or are there options?

You can paint your model railroad structures with either acrylic modeling paint or with latex paint. Generally, you should paint each of the larger parts separately before assembling them into a whole. Start by putting down the base colors, then add further detail. 

If you’re looking to bring your model railroad to life with a splash of color but you’re not sure how to start, we’ve got you covered. In our guide below we will walk you through the different types of paint you can use as well as techniques that can really distinguish your model set. So if you’re ready for your model railroad to wow guests with its colorful majesty, keep on reading!

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What is the Best Paint for Model Railroads?

There are about as many different types of paint as there are types of trains. How do you know which types are best for a model railroad?

We answer this below by presenting you with a couple of types of paint and how they can be applied to your model railroad: 


  • Latex paint: Latex paint is often used for painting the actual landscape of model railroads as well as structures on its surface. This is what can give that grassy look to some rolling hills while still looking good on objects as well. This is the most commonly used paint on model railroads for a reason. 
  • Acrylic paint: This is one of the go-to’s for models in general. Not only does acrylic paint allow you to really add all the color you want to a model train itself, but it also adds a bit of texture as well. 
  • Spray paint: If you want to keep it simple, you may find like many others that spray paint works really well for making simple backdrops. That said, you should veer away from glossy spray paints and go with a matte finish. 

Technically, you could use any kind of paint you want but if you want the best results, we recommend that you use one or more of those we’ve listed.

How Do You Paint Model Railroad Structures? 

Painting model railroad structures can be daunting. You really want to get every detail right so your set is as life-like as possible. So, how exactly do you paint model railroad structures?

Below we’ve outlined some basic steps you can take to paint your model railroad structures:


  • Prepare the pieces: First, you want to take out all of the pieces and sand them down so they’re ready to use. You can assemble some of the smaller pieces that make up walls, windows, and whatever other parts of the structure you have. Still, at this point, you don’t really need to put the larger pieces together yet. You can do that once it’s painted. 
  • Apply your base colors: Whether you’re using standard modeling paint or matte spray paint, you first need to add those base colors. It’s recommended that you hold the pieces in place by using modeling tape. 
  • Add the fine detail: Now you can come in with a smaller brush and really add in those fine details. In our section on weathering, we will discuss how you can really make your structures look lived in. 

Once the paint dries, you can begin to assemble your larger pieces and apply them to your set! Next, let’s talk about what to do with the landscape. 

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David B. Photo

What About Painting the Landscape of a Model Railroad?

You can use a short latex paintbrush and dab greenish-brown latex paint onto the textured surface of your landscape. Whether you used low-loft padding or something else to create that texture of grass, the paint will cling to it. 

One of the cool things about painting a textured surface is that there are already all kinds of little shadows and gradations in color from the light bouncing off them. This means even with one solid color, your surface can look more complex and realistic. Of course, you can add other colors too if you really want to take things over the edge. 

How Do You Weather a Model Railway Building? 

If you pass a real railroad station, you’ll notice that the buildings likely aren’t just the flat colors they were when they were originally made. Instead, they have a little more character than that in that they have signs of exposure to the weather. Whether it’s a little rust or places where the colors fade from rain, how do you weather a model railway building? 

Below we’ve listed some great options to weather your model railway structures:


  • Colored chalk: You can apply some ground-up black, gray, or even brown chalk and use a stiff-bristled brush to apply it on the surface of your building. Then just use a cosmetic sponge to smear it around a little bit so it looks something like rain damage. This method is best for beginners as it is forgiving and easy to do. 
  • Airbrushes: Airbrushes can be used to cause weathering effects on your structures surfaces, however, to do this well does take some experience. 
  • Paint: Of course, you can always come in with paint and manually create the weathering. Though this, like airbrushing, is recommended more for those with experience. 

Whatever method you use, adding a little weathering will go a long way towards making your model railroad feel real. 

So How Do You Paint Model Railroad Structures?

Painting model railroad structures doesn’t have to be a pain in the neck if you know what kind of paint you want to use and you take things step-by-step. You can use anything from standard modeling paint to spray paint, depending on how detailed you want to get. 

Once your pieces are ready you just need to first add your base colors, then come in with the fine detail. If you really want to bring things to life you can weather the structure


Lifelong Rail Enthusiast and Owner of Worldwide Rails

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