How to download and print model railway buildings

Written by tom chmielewski
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Buildings and railway structures are key parts of any model railroad layout, but even a small urban area can feature numerous buildings. You may spend many days, and a good amount of money piecing together the craftsman kit that will be a showpiece near the front of your layout. To fill in the rest of the town, you can use card-stock buildings you print out from your computer as a cheap and easy way to add buildings as a backdrop, and prevent your railroad from operating in isolation.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • Photo-quality inkjet printer
  • Matt photo paper or cardstock
  • Hobby knife
  • Straightedge
  • Foam core
  • Craft-quality white glue

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  1. 1

    Select your source for online printable buildings. On the high end of the price scale is Model Builder, a program offered by Model Train Train Software that allows you to design and print out photorealistic buildings in any scale. The Illinois Historical Society, on the other hand, offers free downloads and instructions on how to piece together buildable HO scale images of historical buildings that could fit on any main street. There are many other online sources.

  2. 2

    Download the image files per the instructions on the website. Most provide the images as a PDF, readable by the free Adobe Reader.

  3. 3

    Scale down the printout as necessary for the scale you’re using. Common scales and their ratios are: G, 1:22.5, often used for garden railroads; O, 1:48, the scale run by Lionel and MTH trains; HO, 1:87.1, the most popular scale at roughly half of O scale; and N, 1:160, a small size that allows grand layouts in tight spaces. Paul Race at Big Indoor Trains provides photo-edited images of building fronts in O scale. To make them fit for HO, print out the images at 55 per cent. You can also further reduce images to create a forced perspective with backdrop buildings looking farther away than they are. Enlarging the original image, however, will usually not work because of a drop in resolution. High resolution images are set at 300 dpi for its size. To enlarge an HO image to O scale, an increase of 182 per cent, the original would need nearly 600 dpi for the resolution to withstand the enlargement.

  4. 4

    Print the images onto card stock. Model Train Software recommends Matte photo paper for the highest quality. Make additional copies to create depth by layering the images, trimming out spaces for windows, doorways and cornices to eliminate the flat 2-D look of paper cut-out buildings. If the printout comes with notes, print an extra copy just to use as reference.

  5. 5

    Use a hobby knife with a straightedge to score the inside of any folds to make a crisp corner.

  6. 6

    Glue the card stock to cut pieces of foam core, a lightweight but very strong foam board used for mounting photos. Do not use too much glue or the paper will warp. Craft white glue works better than “school” glue, according to the Illinois Historical Society. Add the roof last.

  7. 7

    Weather the building by applying grey and coloured chalk dust with a brush. You can also add physical details such as chimneys and lights to give your buildings even more depth.

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