Nov 28 2009

Modeling Tips

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HO scale Modeling Tips for making Alaska rolling stock.

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 and mistakes. But one can only learn from them and the next project will be better. There for it is 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 Total Remaking.

Modifying an existing cars:

I find this to be the simplest way to make Alaska Railroad rolling stock.

  1. 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 you will find on my ARR Misc. Freight 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.
  2. The next steep is to find the right decal to use. For the flats I used Microscale’s ARR general freight car set #87-256. You can also find ARR decals at Roundhouse Hobbies and Curt Fortenberry. I also aquired decals from  The Tanana Valley Model Railroad Club but at this time they no longer off any. 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 prep the surface which helps to secure the decal to the car. SOL is a decal solvent used to soften old decals or to allow the decal to contour to an irregular surfaces.
  3. 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 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.
  4. 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 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. Remember to wait 24hrs before fixing the decal with the flat finish.

A total makeover:

This requires a skill in painting and some tools most beginner modelers may not have. But I will out line the basics.

  1. 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 do not recommend brush painting it never looks right.
  2. 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 taken when using paint even water based paints.
  3. Next you will need to choose the type of car. 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 Roundhouse Hobbies and Curt Fortenberry’s. I have also found inspiration at John Combs – AlaskaRails.org. The last three sites also sell great decals for the cars you may choose to model.
  4. Now for the model car itself. It is always best to use 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 form the manufacture of the car. Or you may just have the right car type laying around the fits your need or you picked one up for a bargain. In that case you will have to deal with a pre-painted car.
  5. 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 with this method is that the nomenclature (the printing) will telegraph through the new paint job. If this is not a problem then by all means start painting. If it is, 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. because not all of the manufactures use the same kind of paint in fact some don’t even use paint they use ink. I myself have tried a couple and found one that works best for me, only because I have a lot of time and access to the chemicals. I work in a shop that does finishing. We uses a number of chemicals that I experimented with to come up with I call “The Dip.” The main ingredient is IPA Isopropyl Alcohol. The others are not available to the general public. 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. Their are some people that swear by brake fluid and others that like oven cleaners. These are just to strong for me and I have a sensitivity to some strong chemicals. I suggest that you find the method that works best for you. Experiment on a junk cars before working on your project car. Even IPA can be to Hot for some plastics. And remember to work in a well-ventilated area with the proper precautions. Some Chemicals don’t mix well so don’t just pour thing together if you don’t know what you are doing.
  6. Whether you chose an un-decked, a painted or striped car is it always best to wash your car in meld soapy water. Do not try to clean it in the dishwasher. I know you want to… but it may have an ill affect on the car and your spouse.
  7. 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 re-striping the car 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.
  8. After the final coat of paint has fully dried about 2 to 3 days 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 home free if not spray the car with a clear gloss.

You can see examples of cars I custom painted on my Yard pages under ARR passenger cars and the Usibelli Hoppers on the ARR Hopper page.

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