Sample Demonstration- Vallejo Paints

Weathering using Vallejo Products (Demonstration given to NMRA James River Division on 11/11/2017)

Painting versus weathering powders:

I prefer to use paint on my rolling stock because they get handled a lot and the paint stays put and resists all manner of abuse. I can also scrub my weathered trains if I do something stupid like get Sculptamold residue on them…  Weathering powers of all kinds can be fixed in place in a number of ways and weathering powders definitely can do a very good job but the fixing changes how the powder looks and unfixed powders either come off on their own or can rub off with handling. The powders are also difficult to get into the recesses and seams of some models. I prefer painting my weathering on for these reasons and also because I really like painting…


Brush versus Airbrush:

These are not mutually exclusive. I usually airbrush the bottoms of the cars and maybe put some dust on the edges and I always airbrush a matt finish over the model but for most of the weathering, I find a brush does a better job of weathering because it is not as consistent.


Vallejo Products:

Vallejo manufactures a wide variety of paint, scenery, and detailing products specifically intended for the plastic model builder but most of them apply very well to the model railroading world as well. They use an advanced resin binder that allows a little more working time than conventional acrylic paint and they use a very finely ground pigment to allow a variety of subtle effects previously restricted to oils. When airbrushed, Vallejo can be applied directly to clean metal without a primer.

Vallejo makes an exceptional introduction book for their products and for airbrushing in general (Airbrushing and Weathering Techniques)  but all the examples are for military modeling. The examples generally apply to model railroading as well and it is an excellent reference but very few model railroaders will go into the detail shown (including me!).

For purposes of this demonstration, we will be using Vallejo Inks, Washes, and Air-Color paints.

Before we begin, we need to define our terms as Vallejo uses them. Some of this information is unofficial and taken from third party sources. Vallejo does not disclose their exact formulation.


An Ink is a paint to which additional binder and drying inhibitor has been added to allow it to flow smoothly and remain wet for longer than normal paint. It also is more translucent so that the underneath colors show clearly. Inks CANNOT be made by adding water to regular paint. If you want to make your own inks, you need to add Thinner Medium (70-524) and Glaze Medium (70-596) (which inhibits drying). The ratio varies with the color but is approximately 1/3 paint, 1/3 Thinner, 1/3 Glaze. The ratio can be varied for different effects.

Vallejo Inks are what some other companies and many painting references refer to as a ‘wash’. Inks are often used to add shadow lines in recesses but we also use them to add all manner of weather results as well.

It is difficult to make ‘inks’ that perform like the Vallejo product from older paint lines (Pollyscale, Testors, etc) but newer paint lines such as AK Interactive work much the same.

Note that Vallejo makes a paint called ‘Smokey Ink’ (72-068) which is very useful color but not an ink- it is regular paint that I often convert into an ink using the above process. The actual Inks are labeled clearly as Ink and are numbered 72-085 thru 72-094.


A wash is a paint to which a lot of extra binder and (possibly) some drying inhibitor has been added. Washes are meant to be applied to an entire model or at least to all ares of a given base color. A little more will go into the recesses so it provides some shadowing but it is primarily intended to change the tone or color value of a model without changing the actual color. In conventional painting terms, these are sometimes called Glazes but Vallejo uses the term glaze for something else. Again, you cannot make a Wash by adding simply water to Vallejo paint. If you want to use Flow Improver and Thinner Medium, the ratio is about 10 parts FI and TM (in varying combinations) to 1 part paint.

Consistency is vital with washes, so while I do sometimes make my own Inks, I find it much more reliable to just use the Vallejo Washes. There are plenty to choose from. The original small bottle washes are numbered 73-200 thru 207; the larger special wash range colors are 76-501 thru 524; they have recently introduced a new line of paints which have their own washes 69-505 thru 522 (but not all numbers are represented yet).

If you are using other brands of acrylic paint, making washes is fairly straightforward but many do not have the finely ground pigment necessary to work well. Newer formula acrylic paints and all solvent based paints work well.


I am going to assume most modelers know what drybrushing is or at least have heard of it and not go into too much detail. As a recap, ‘drybrushing’ is the technique of using a soft brush from which most of the paint has been removed and lightly stroking the surface of a  model. The little bit of paint residue will transfer to the high points and to random other locations on the model surface, creating highlights and a dusty look. Vallejo paints drybrush better than most if not all other acrylic paints because of the longer drying time and finer pigmentation.


AIR COLOR vs Older Vallejo paints

Vallejo Air Colors are designed to airbrush out of the bottle but they also brush paint very well. In fact they self-level and avoid leaving any brush marks if the correct technique is used. Vallejo is gradually converting all their old colors into the Air formula: Game Color is giving rise to Game Air and the new Mecha Colors are all Air formula.

The old Panzer Aces color range, Game Color range, and Model Color range are still produced. These can be airbrushed by adding airbrush thinner as one would do with most conventional paints. They are thicker and do not self level quite as well but with a little airbrush thinner added, they are still easy to use. They also do better with primer.

Water and Acrylic Paints:

Water is used to clean up acrylic paints. Water is used to thin some Acrylic paints (old Polyscale/Polly S, modern Badger Model Flex, Citadel, and others) but water is NOT used to thin Vallejo paints except for a few specific exceptions. It will leave water rings. Thin using the thinner medium or airbrush thinner or both.

Using Vallejo:

Vallejo paints come with eyedropper bottles so you will need some sort of waterproof palette to drop the paints and inks onto. Once the paints have been used at least once, they can be mixed by shaking. New paint and paint which has been sitting a while may have to be stirred. The eyedropper tops remove for this operation.

Vallejo on models made of wood:

Vallejo paint does have water in it and so will cause wood to warp if brush painted onto bare wood. Bare wood should be primed if the model is to be brush painted.

Vallejo can be airbrushed without causing warping so long as both sides are painted and the Vallejo primers make very good base coats.


Preliminary Steps for Weathering Railcars (or any other painting task):

First, clean the model with liquid dishwashing soap (simple degreasers such as Dawn or Ajax- don’t use Palmolive or anything with hand softener in it). This step is vital; you will not get a good result if you do not get the mold release agent and packing residue off the model! Let the model dry thoroughly. Handle the model with clean hands or gloves after this (or use some sort of holding device).

I weather the shell of the model and the wheels and undercarriage as separate steps, so I hold the model by the trucks when doing the shell and by the shell when doing the trucks, allowing plenty of drying time in between of course.

Second, If you need to paint and decal the model, this must be done and allowed to dry thoroughly for at least a couple days before weathering using these techniques. It is not necessary to seal Vallejo paints before weathering but they do need plenty of drying time.


Weathering Bare (plastic) Wood (flatcar decks, gondola decks, interior floors if visible).

The base coat should be some sort of tan color but the exact color is not important. Choose an Ink and a mixing color depending on your desired final look. For new or fresh wood, it is best to use a red-ish ink and brown-ish tan. For worn intact wood, it is best to use brown ink and grey-ish tan. For really worn and rotten wood, it is best to use black ink and pale gray tan. Apply both colors to the palette.

Examples (all are Vallejo colors):

New Wood: Brown Ink (72092) and Light Brown (71027)

Used Wood: Sepia Ink (72091) and Sand (71075)

Old Wood: Black Ink (72094) and White Grey (71119)


With a moderately sized flat brush, apply the Ink to the wood surface (brush size varies with work size). When you are first trying this technique, or if you want a more varied appearance, you can apply it to sections of boards separated by unpainted or previously painted sections. Let the board seams separate the work areas. With speed and practice you can do larger areas at once.

Immediately after applying the ink, use a fine brush appropriate to hitting half a board at once, apply the paint color in thin irregular strips and blend it slightly with the ink. The important part of this operation is a light touch and very gentle blending. The ink and paint will combine on their own somewhat to create a mottled appearance.

Optionally, you may apply more paint with a drybrush light stroke on the board ends back towards the center or with ink coats back towards the center or vice versa, depending on whether you want the ends darker or lighter than the center.

Repeat light ink coats and paint coats if necessary but let previous coats dry as the paints and inks will blend on their own.

Once the base work is done, drybrush the base color back over the work if you want a more subtle result.


Weathering Wood Train Cars

Painted wood cars deteriorate a lot over time: the paintwork fades and peels, the wood itself roughens up and flakes, and dirt gets into the wood recesses and stays there. Most models of wood cars (reefers, stockcars, etc) come from the factory with very little grain on the boards (if any) and therefore look very uniform. If you want a REALLY aged look, you will have to score and scar the boards but for a moderately used look, one does not have to go to that time and trouble.

You will need a Wash that is a darker version of the base color and 2-3 lighter and darker paints variations of the base color: 2 lighter and 1 darker for faded look and 2 darker and  1 lighter for a more rotted look. The lighter and darker colors can be mixed using the color wheel but that is outside the scope of this demonstration. I usually just use what I have on hand. Alternately, you can use 3-4 different washes of similar color but the generally only works well with brown cars.

Cover the entire area with the wash. Make sure to always apply the strokes in the direction of the grain in the boards.

While the wash is wet, use a fine brush to pick out individual boards with alternating lighter and darker colors. Brush in the direction of the wood grain. Only apply a slight amount of paint and blend with the wash. Don’t brush over the lettering with the paint, only with the wash. (If you do get some paint on the lettering, immediately wipe it off).

Once the board picking is dry, apply the wash a second time to blend if necessary. You might also apply a black wash for additional aging.

Once this is dry, drybrush with an off white or very light version of the base color for a more subtle result.


Weathering Metal Train Cars

Metal cars tend to develop surface rust that collects in the seams and creases but otherwise the paint tends to fade more than it peels. For really heavily abused or rusted cars, especially ones with peeling paint, an extensive amount of work is needed but for normal use and age, we can do a credible job in a few minutes.

Apply a wash to the entire model which is a darker version of the base color. This time let it dry for a few minutes. This step is to fade the lettering and to apply some bite for the next step.

Next apply a reddish brown ink (either Vallejo 72-093 or 72-092). It is very important to run this down the sides as the rain would pull it and to apply plenty in the recesses. Before this dries, use a cloth or q-tip to wipe the model down, following the rain lines again. Don’t try to reach into the recesses; you want the ink concentrated there and the regular wiping will pull some of the excess out. The wiping will leave distinct rust streaks on the model. You can use more than one color at the same time for a varied rust pattern (72-091 or 72-094 can be mixed/blended with the rust color).

In smaller quantities, this rusting technique can be used for metal fixtures on wood (prototype) models. It is also a great technique for metal roofs.

Once the rusting coat is cured, drybrush the model with a light dusting of off-white or dirt.


All Cars

Once the basic treatment is done, all cars are ready for a dirt coat if desired. Adding a dirt or dust coat will make the other effects more subtle, so if you like a more stark look, especially if your layout lighting is really bright, you might want to leave it alone. The dirt coat represents dirt (local dirt color) or dust (local ballast color) or industrial (local industrial product such as coal or cement) that accumulates on cars. It is concentrated where material would be thrown up on the train or come down from the loading points, typically on the ends over the wheels and along the bottom edge (and top edges for hoppers). This is best done with an airbrush but with patience, can be done with washes or inks or drybrushing or a combination of all three.

Washes of the appropriate color can be run up the sides for track sourced dirt and down the sides for top sourced dirt. Inks using the wipe technique described under metal cars can also be used but restrict the areas affected.

Drybrushing of the full strength color works very well but takes some practice to avoid overdoing it. In the words of the modeler Shep Paine: “you don’t want the model to look like it had an accident in a flour factory”.

Once all steps have been completed, it is advised to apply a matt finish coat to the entire model. If you painted the model itself, this is not usually necessary but with factory finish cars, you need to do this to avoid shiny spots from the factory paint. This is best applied with an airbrush or spray can but it can be brush painted.

The trucks and undercarriage are a different subject. If it is not for a competition, you really don’t need to do the underside at all- nobody will see it! The trucks usually benefit from a rust coat followed by a good dirt drybrushing and that is usually sufficient.

The coupler should NOT be given a wash or ink coat! It will freeze the mechanism! Drybrush the coupler with a little rust color and a little dirt for highlights.


These techniques are fast and give good results for almost everyone but they do take a little practice and benefit from appropriate brushes and a light touch.

Rail Tales demonstrates these techniques and more on the second Saturday of the month from 2 pm until 4 pm. This demonstration is free and open to the public. Table space is available for people to work along and critique will be provided if asked.





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