Paints: There are available several types of paint commonly used to paint model railroad equipment.
These are: enamels, lacquers and acrylics. All of these can be used on most railroad models. The exception is some lacquer based paints will attack certain plastics. Rather than engage in a no-win contest concerning paints I recommend you follow the manufacturers recommendations as to the use of their paints.

If you are using Scalecoat paints go to WEAVER MODELS for instructions on how to apply.
For more information on Modelflex go to BADGER MODELFLEX PAINTS .
For more information on Pollyscale go to TESTORS PAINTS .

Airbrushes:There are basically two types of airbrushes used to paint model railroad equipment, these are external mix and internal mix.
External mix brushes are generally less expensive and can be used effectively. You set the pattern(area of coverage)by the position of the needle to the nozzle. Once set the pattern remains the same when the air button is pushed. You can only control the amount of paint not the pattern.
Internal mix airbrushes come in two versions, single action and double action. The single action performs the same as an external mix. The double action has the ability to vary the pattern by pushing down the air button and pulling back at the same time. The further the air button is pulled back the greater the pattern will be.

My recommendation is to pick a paint type you prefer and the type airbrush you prefer. Why do I say this? Well great paint jobs have been accomplished with all the above. If you can find a person to demonstrate to you their methods and you like that approach chances you will have the best results using that method. I would say keep an open mind as to the type airbrush and type paint to be used.


Basic guidelines for mixing paint, regardless of the type, apply to all. Learning what primary and secondary colors are, then how to make shades(darker) and tints(lighter) will assist one in mixing their own custom colors.

Model Railroad paint is available from several manufacturers. Each has it's own coloring agents(pigments)and vehicles (solvents that carries the pigment and then evaporates as the paint drys) so the colors vary slightly from each other.

The most success will be obtained from standardizing on one type that you prefer. I have standardized on Pollyscale Acrylics, therefore cannot give exact mixes for all the different types. I have also found that same brand paint sometimes varies from batch to batch. Exact formulation is also impossible for this reason. The mixing formulas I give later have proven consistent enough for my custom painting business. The same name colors in other brands should mix about the same.


The PRIMARY colors.




SECONDARY colors result in mixing EQUAL parts of the PRIMARY colors
Variations of these colors are made by using more of one color than the other.




SHADES result by adding black to the primary or secondary color.
The more black the darker will be the shade .




TINTS result by adding white to the primary or secondary color
The more white the lighter will be the tint




There are a couple other color paints that should be mentioned here. These are gold or bronze and silver. These can be mixed with the others but are generally used alone as accents. One exception is the "Imitation Aluminum" used by several roads. This can be mixed with white and a drop or two of silver. A good substitute is a very light tint of gray.

This brings us to a discussion of black and white. When these are mixed gray results. I'll bet everyone already knew that!, but I thought I would mention it.

Mixing colors

With this simple background lets mix some paint(Acrylics) and see the results. Get a bottle of caboose red, ATSF blue, Railbox yellow, white and black. These should be available in most brands of paint. You will also need a good brush say a #4 with squirrel hair and some thinner for the brand of paint chosen. An old cotton "T" shirt is handy for wiping brush between colors, no need to clean each time with thinner. Clean the brush well with thinner when you are through for the session.

Something should be said here about brushes. Some excellent painting and weathering can be done with brush work. Acrylics lend themselves to brushing as they tend to dry flat with no brush marks showing. One secret is to use only Artist quality brushes. Some of my favorites are Polly S #0, #1, #4 and 1/4" sizes. The #0 and #1 use golden fox hair. The #4 and 1/4' use camel hair.

On a piece of white paper put a brush full of red and a brush full of yellow about an inch apart. Just dip the brush into the red and let it drop onto paper, clean brush with "T" shirt and do same for the yellow. Now rub the red toward the yellow until you reach the yellow. Do same for the yellow toward the red. You should now have most of the colors that can be made from these two colors except for adding white or black. Using a clean area repeat for red-blue and blue-yellow. You should begin to see where we are going now. After the paint dries you will see how to approach various colors.

Next, as above, using red, blue and yellow, mix these with white to obtain tints and black to obtain shades. Repeat for mixes of the secondary colors. Practice here can eliminate errors later. Paint and paper are much less expensive than paint, airbrushing and stripping if there is a "Boo-Boo".

One thing bears mentioning here, when two or more paints are mixed and the resulting color is too light or dark, it is almost impossible to lighten or darken the color successfully. A better approach is to start over and approach the tint or shade desired. Remember when you add black to a color to darken it you are actually adding gray! There is already some white in the paint!! Anytime white is added to red the result will be some unusable tint of PINK! "Caboose Red" is already the lightest you will need. Yellow can be lightened with white until there is more white than yellow. Blue can also be lightened with white. When black is added to red it turns a somewhat brown color. This is where the freight car brown, etc. stem from.


If these exercises appeal to you, try them on different color papers and see how the colors change. Also note how some colors change as the paint dries. Some will dry darker and some will dry lighter. You can read this post a hundred times but the only way to learn mixing colors is to do these exercises as much as you can......Practice may not make perfect but you will remember your mistakes and successes. As a benefit you might find out how to mix some color that appeal to you such as blacks that aren't quite black or whites that aren't quite white. A drop of red in a bottle of black gives a nice Steam engine black. A drop of white in a bottle of black gives a nice weathered black.

If you have a paint chip or color card this can be taken to a paint store and they can mix the color for you. I'm not sure what you would do with a gallon of one color and the pigments might be a bit too large to spray in an airbrush. I did try buying a pint of white acrylic at Sherwin-Williams to see if it would work in my airbrush. Had to thin the acrylic about half and half which resulted in a quart of white. Poured up in small(1 ounce) bottles looked good. In a couple weeks when I got around to needing some more the pigment had separated from the thinner and refused to remix. So much for that.

I would recommend getting a color wheel from a paint store and studying the interaction of colors. For those with access to the internet this web site Color Wheel has a lot of information

When you feel comfortable with this page lets move on to part 2. PREPARATION of the model.

S.A. McCall