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Weathering Pre-Painted and Assembled Model Buildings

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weathered walls

After sanding and a light acrylic wash, the pre-painted walls of this kit are already beginning to look more like wood and less like plastic.

©2011 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Model building kits offer many opportunities for customizing. In kit form, you can usually repaint easily or even move walls around and combine parts with other kits - called "kitbashing." But what if the model is already painted - or worse yet, already assembled?

Indeed, pre-assembled structures are becoming as popular as ready-to-run freight cars and locomotives. Beginners can also often pick up older models already assembled for bargain prices at railroad swap meets. Most of us who have been in the hobby awhile already have a box of those old buildings we assembled when we were just getting started.

Maybe these models aren't quite up to your current standards. Or maybe that new preassembled model is great, you just don't want it to look exactly like the one on every other layout. Although a complete rebuild or repainting may not be practical, there are some simple weathering techniques you can use to enhance what you've already got.

Potential Problems

Before we start weathering, here are a few things you'll want to look out for when deciding how to modify a pre-assembled model. In other words, if you're scanning the tables at a sale, these are some things you may want to avoid.

  • Window Glass: If your building has clear plastic "glass" in the windows, you will have to mask or remove this in order to paint and weather the walls or window frames. Also, if the glass is crazed or smeared with glue, there's not much you're going to do with that either. When assembling from new, it is best to use a glue designed for clear plastic parts.
  • Glue: Heavy glue marks, spills and blobs are going to be very hard to hide. Not only is their shape unsightly, often the glue will not hold paints, weathering washes or chalks. Again, there is no easy way to remove or fix these mistakes.
  • Misaligned walls: Walls, roofs and other details that are not properly aligned can be difficult to fix. Small gaps can sometimes be filled with putty and if glue was not heavily applied, you may be able to split the parts and try again. Most of the time however, there is little you can do.
  • Paint: A sloppy paint job is often something you can correct - within reason. You may be reduced to painting with a small brush or be prepared for some extensive masking if you want to spray. Paint strippers may also work, but many of these can attack some plastics and you'll want to test this on a small area first.

Weathering Pre-assembled Walls

Now that you know what you can't do, let's look at some big improvements you can. A Walthers Feed Store kit was used for this demonstration. Although still in "kit" form, this beginner's kit features many pre-assembled parts including attached window glass.

Since this is a wood-sided building, we need to get rid of the plastic look. Begin by sanding the entire wall with a moderately coarse sandpaper. This will add a "grain" to the plastic as well as marring the finish and acceptable to the weathering to come.

Next, apply a light weathering wash to the walls. Use a very thin wash (70-80% water) of acrylic paint, mostly black with a drop of tan or gray. This will settle into the seams between boards to add depth and shadow. It will also leave just a little color across the boards themselves.

Already you should start to see a difference. If you want to go further, allow the paint to dry fully and get out the weathering chalks.

Apply a fine dusting of light gray chalk across the walls. Secure the chalks with a spray of clear flat finish. If you cannot remove the windows for this step, you'll want to mask them off for this or the glass will be coated. You can lightly apply a little chalk to the window frames themselves with a small brush after the mask is removed. These parts don't get handled so the chalk should hold fine without being sealed.

By now, your building will look much more realistic than it did before. These same steps can be applied to the roof, foundations and details. If you want more changes, you can add new signs or even additional details. You are well on your way to making the most out of that model!

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