My Alaska Model Trains .com


My Modeling Tips


In this section of the website I will be sharing some of the tips and tricks I have learned about painting masking and decaling rolling stock. Before you begin you must first determine what you want to do. Paint cars from scratch or modify existing cars. I have done both with mixed success. Yet I am not at loss for the experience. As a beginning custom modeler I have had my share of missteps, mistakes and successes. One can only learn from failures. Your the next project will be better for the knowledge you have gained. Therefore it is always best to start with something simple. Still I do not know your level of knowledge so I will just share with you my discoveries. I have divided my tips into two groups Modifying Existing cars and Totally Remaking.


  Modifying Existing cars

This is the simplest way to make ARR rolling stock.


  • Choosing the right car for the project. The car you decide on should be one with very little Road markings on it. This will make the removal process easier. Examples of cars I have changed in this way are the three Walthers flat cars with Norscot loads and the Athearn boat flat which are on my Rolling Stock page. The Walthers cars were marked for Conrail and the Athearn car was SP&S. There are some manufactures that make “data only cars” I have not worked with any of these cars yet but they would make the process much quicker. 


  • The next steep is to find the right decal to use. For the flats I used Microscale’s ARR general freight car set #87256. When acquiring your decals I would recommend picking some decal “SET” and maybe some decal “SOL” Microscale makes both of these but you may find some from another vender. SET is used to secure the decal securely to the car. SOL is a decal solvent used to soften old decals or to allow the decal to contour to an irregular surfaces.   

I have recently tried a new technique that I have found on YouTube it seems to work well. That is the Micro-Sol and tissue method.

I will be using this method anytime I want to remove the whole number or data feild. Often I will replace just one number in that case I will still use the burnishins stick method.


  • Removing the existing nomenclature. (If you are using a data only car you can skip this step.) At first I used the standard method of removing the nomenclature by rubbing it off with a q-tip and rubbing alcohol this worked fine on the Walthers flats, but when I tried it on another car it removed the paint as well. (note: Some cars are not painted. The manufacture uses ink for the entire car that is why alcohol will not only remove the lettering it will also remove the ink below. Or worse blend the two.) Now I just use a burnishing stick to flake off the nomenclature. This method works fine and I don’t risk removing the subsurface or any surrounding nomenclature I wish to keep. For a burnishing stick I just use a small piece of hardwood shaped like a chisel with a blade tip no wider the nomenclature. Then I slowly scrape away the text with a forward motion holding the burnishing stick at about a 15o angle. After I remove the nomenclature I then wipe down the area with a lightly damp rag of diluted alcohol. This will take the shine off of the burnished area and remove the dislodged micro flacks left on the car form burnishing. You may fine or already have another method to remove the nomenclature but this method works great for me.


  • Next is to replace the road name with the new decals. There are instructions on the package of the Microscale decals that tell you to first spray the car with a gloss finish before adding the decals. Then spraying it after with a flat finish. This method is to allow the glossy edges of the decal to blend better with the car. I find that if I just cut the decal as close to the text as possible then I can skip the first step of spraying it with a gloss. It does take a steady hand, good eyesight and a lot of patients, but the end result looks better. I still fix it at the end with a flat finish though. I use artist’s mat flat fixer it works very well and is easy to apply. It is also cheaper then flat finishers sold at hobby shops. Be careful not to spray it to tick or it will give the car an egg shell look. As for actually applying the decal I follow the Microscale directions. First applying a small amount of Micro-SET then I place the decal with a pair of fine tipped tweezers. After the decal is where I want it I use the end of a brush or tweezers to hold the decal in place then use a dry brush to draw off the extra liquid and smooth out the bumps. Then I use Micro-Sol to soften the decal so it will lay flat on razed areas. Remember to wait 24hrs before fixing the decal with the flat finish.


  Total Refinishing of a Car

This technique requires a skill in painting and some tools that most beginning modelers may not have. So I will just outline the basics.


  • The first thing you must have is a means to paint your car. An air-brush works best for this, but a rattle can will work as a substitute. Caned paints come in a limited verity of colors. So if you are going to use a rattle can remember what Henry Ford said you can have your car in any color you want as long as it is black. I would not recommend brush painting it never looks right.


  • Second you will need an area to paint the car. You should only paint your car in a clean well-ventilated area. Preferably in a paint booth that vents to the out side. Proper caution should be made when using paint even water based paints.


  • Next you will need to choose the type of car You want to model. Johns Combs Website has an abundant number of pictures of ARR rolling stock, which will aide you in selecting the right car type for the ARR.  Two other great sites are Curt Fortenberry’s website. and CircusCityDecals These sites sell great decals for the cars you may choose to model. One o the best websites or ARR related decals was Roundouse Hobbies but sadly they are no longer in business.


  • Getting started. Now for the model car itself. It is always best to begain with a car that is Undecorated. That is a car with no painting at all. Sometimes though it is not always easy to find the particular car in an un-decked version of the car you want to model. If you have the right car type laying around the fits your need or you picked one up for a bargain but it is all ready painted. In that case you will have to deal with removing the paint.


  • Preparing the car for paint. If the car is already painted and lettered you may choose to just paint over it. This may work fine for your needs in fact that is what the Big Boys do. The trouble is that all of the nomenclature will telegraph through. If this is not a problem then start painting. If it is a problem then you will have to remove the paint. There are a number of methods to do this and I can't say which is the best. I myself have tried a couple and found one that works best for me. I used to work in a shop that does finishing and had access to different solvents and I spent some time experimenting with a number of chemicals to come up with I call “The Dip.” The two ingredient are IPA (Isopropyl Alcohol) and Acetone. The exact mix depends on the type of plastic the car is made of. IPA by itself does a fine job at removing most paints and inks from the car bodies but it takes a lot of scrubbing and socking to remove everything. A small amount of acetone helps the IPA to remove the paint. About 3to1. (Warning Acetone can deform of melt most plastics.) I suggest that you exponent on a junk car that you don't care about to find the mix that works best for you before working on your project car. Even IPA can be to Hot for some plastics. Remember to work in a well-ventilated area with the proper precautions. I have also used brake cleaner with equal mixed results. (Some Chemicals don’t mix well so don’t just pour thing together if you don’t know what you are doing.)


  •  Whether you chose an un-decked car, a painted or striped car. Is it always best to wash your car in meld soapy water prior to painting. Do not try to clean the car in the dishwasher. I know you want to but it may have an unfortunate affect on the car and your spouse.


  • After you have cleaned your car it is now time to paint it. Some paints require a barrier to protect the plastic form the paint. If that is the case it is best to use the paint manufactures recommended barrier. If you are not sure if you need a barrier then paint a little on the inside of the car before painting the outside. Wait for it to dry and see if it affects the plastic. Most water based paints do not require a barrier. If the car you are painting is two-toned, using more then one color. Always paint the lighter color first. Paint the whole car in the lighter color even if the lighter color is for the stripes. Then mask and paint the car with the darker color. You might think that it is a waist of paint to do it this way especially if the lighter color is just a stripe. But believe me I tried it the other way. I painted a passenger car first blue then masked and painting the yellow stripe. Do you know that blue and yellow makes green. I had to paint the stripe three times and when I was done I ended up striping the car all over again because the stripe was so thick it stood out from the car. If the base plastic of the car is too dark you may want to paint the lighter color twice or use a gray primer first. Wait until the car is fully dry before each painting step.


  • After the final coat of paint has fully dried, best to wait about 2 to 3 days. Now it is time to add the decals. Use the tips I described in the first section Modifying Existing cars to add your decals with one exception. Here it is important to have a glossy surface before adding the decals you will be adding a lot of decals and it does make them blend better. If you used a glossy paint you are good to go, if not spray the car with a clear gloss.    


For examples of cars I painted from scratch. Look on my HO Scale Rollingstock page. Some of my ARR passenger cars and the Usibelli Coal Mines cars where custom painted and decaled by me. Hoppers 5951, 6018 and 6047 are data only cars that I decaled.