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Beginners Guide To Weathering & Detailed Model Trains - Applying Paint

Our resident weathering expert Trev Hurley takes us through the final steps of weathering and detailing a loco… Applying the paint! If you missed any of the previous instalments you can find them in our Weathering Guides section here.

Step  four:   Application of paint.

Before using the airbrush, paint the necessary colours onto the relevant air pipes.

  • White for Controlling Air
  • Yellow for Main Res
  • Red for train brake.

I also tend to add a splodge of matt black paint mixed with talc to simulate grease on the buffer heads, wheel/tyre alignment stripes (where required) and blue stripes on vac bags.



The subject loco, with pipework painted and buffers greased!

Now to the spray work. For locos, I usually work in the following sequence:

  1. Below the solebar
  2. Loco ends (having masked off the windscreens first) – Pete Harvey of PH designs makes excellent overlays to simulate windscreen wiper swathes. – I also use Humbrol Maskol on lights to prevent the lights from becoming fogged over with too much dirt)
  3. Loco sides
  4. Roof, exhaust, fans and any fibreglass panels
  5. Effects – paint brushes, stippling, removal, stains, dents, marks and any other feature that’s not directly sprayed on dirt.

Top tip: Always start the airbrush before passing over the model. This will ensure there are no splats, spurts or blobs that will ruin a good model.

Place the vehicle onto a suitable surface. I use an Ikea cake turntable which cost me ten squid (£10). Bargain!

A turntable is not essential, but it does allow you to rotate your work without the need to touch it. Using your reference picture as guidance, spray the paint to emulate the dirt. I tend to start with a medium dark brown for the solebar and running gear.


Showing one bogie with a gentle pass of the airbrush. Note how the moulded detail comes to life!




Solebar done, with radial coverage for dirt flicked up by the wheels in motion.

I then add some more matt black and treat the fuel fill area/tanks as diesel spills are very dark brown and verge onto matt black.

I do advocate the use of matt black – which goes against the grain of the vast majority of weathering bods out there.

I’ve worked with preserved locomotives for ten years now, and fully understand colours of oil spills, fuel spills leaks and streaks and the like. Believe me; I’ve prepped, maintained and cleaned enough locos to know!)

I like matt black, and at 4mm scale, the difference between matt black and very dark brown is illegible. Right, rant over!

Having applied a nice matt finish to the running gear, fuel tanks etc, and now is time to give the airbrush a quick blow through with thinners and clean the needle and cup.

Purge the moisture filter of condensate.

Mix up another batch of paint, this time aiming for a lighter shade of brown. Sometimes I add a rust colour to the mix, which gives orangey hues.

Moving on to the loco sides, try and replicate the spray patterns of dirt that wheelsets throw out, pattersn of stressed skins over monocoque bodyshells and general areas of coverage.

I am often amazed by so called “professional” weathering bods who indiscriminately plaster muck over the loco body sides, obliterating detail as they go.

Take a good look – most locos are not like this, and the bodysides are sometimes the cleanest parts of the vehicle.

You do always get exceptions, with locos that haven’t been cleaned for an age or have been coated with oil or muck as a result of mechanical failure. – Do check your reference photo as you go.

Also use this colour for going back over bogies to simulate brake dust. Work into brake rigging, cylinders and suspension. Apply a little to bufferbeam areas, but not too heavily.

I now move onto my favourite part – the roof.

Add more matt black to your mixture. You want a very dark colour for the roof.

Depending on the power unit and the exhaust configuration, different locos throw out exhaust in different ways and therefore create different roof effects. Check your loco type as to how the exhaust deposits look.

I liberally coat the exhaust ports and create areas in front and behind the exhaust port to simulate the spread of grime through movement.


Move your way along the roof panels, adding and taking away dirt as appropriate and to your requirements.


Always worthy of note is the front of the cab roof, which is usually dirty because of its location. Pay special attention to the pattern of dirt and how it is spread across the roof.

Grilles and louvres are a great attractor for dirt due to air passing across them. Take time with these as usually to get into these areas takes fairly close quarters work, and generally a good quality airbrush will offer this functionality.

Having assessed your work, now is the time to add or take away dirt in various places, using cotton wool buds dipped in thinners, more sprayed on dirt etc.

Create dribbles, runs and streaks by dipping brushes into thinners, drying off until virtually dry and applying downwards motions.



Think about how rain falls down the body and which route it would take, paying special attention to curves and corners.

I’ve included a monochrome version as it shows the streaking well.



Step 5: allow to dry.

I usually leave a model for a week for the paint to go off before handling it, with a period in the airing cupboard for good measure if still tacky.

Step 6: clean the tyres.

Taking great care, turn the loco over and clean the tyres and current collection pick ups/points to ensure that the weathering process does not interfere with the running of your pride and joy!

Step 7:

Enjoy the fruits of your labour! Stand back, crack open a beer or have a cup of tea! Get the loco on the layout and enjoy – remember don’t take things too seriously, it’s only a hobby – the main aim is to have some fun!

A job well done - The weathered & detailed Hornby Class 47 is now ready for active service on the layout...

A job well done – The weathered & detailed Hornby Class 56 is now ready for active service on the layout…

If you have any questions for Trev about weathering & detailing, please do feel free to post the via the comments form below.

About Trev: Trev is a lifelong Railway Modelling enthusiast who among other things offers a bespoke weathering & detailing service from his workshop in Tamworth. His work can be seen on layouts throughout the UK and is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after weathering  experts. If you’d like to get in touch with Trev regarding his quick turnaround weathering service you can drop him a line through his Facebook page at


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