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How To Model Roads – Part 1

How To Model Roads – Part 1

This article comes from fellow club member Tim who walks us through the process of modelling tarmac roads.

Hi fellow members,

After publishing a few pictures from around my layout, I was asked by several people how did I get the road surface. In particular how did I get the texture and colour?

Then Justin asked if I could do a “proper” tutorial for our members. Well good or bad and very unlikely to be “proper” here it is my attempt. I hope it’s of some use to someone.

Firstly, as per the title, this is how I do it, it’s not meant to be the ultimate guide or even an exact method,

like so many things we do in our great hobby it is a mixture of method and art. Most of it learnt from failures, experiments, accidents, seemingly bright ideas and sage advice of others.

Everyone’s layouts are different, era, location etc but, also colour and tone. Most of the great layouts (in my opinion) I’ve seen have one major thing in common, they use complimentary tones to blend the scene. Please bear this in mind when using this method. It’s your layout and needs only to please you but maybe keeping some of these factors in mind will help you impress yourself even more? The best thing about this observation is it not a budget buster, that must be good news in our hobby as prices continue to spiral away upwards.

The challenge for me was I wanted a texture to my roads, I actually quite liked the colour of some of the printed materials  but not the flat lack of texture or the alternative being that unrealistic scale 6inch rocks all over the top layer.

Even though in real life, roads can look smooth they do convey a texture. This brings up my first main point, you can make a texture from just using colour, however, it is inconsistent as the viewing angle moves. A perfect brick wall with shadow lines and a highly realistic textured look, fails when the light catches it and you see a clear sheen across the flat surface. Matt finishes are often used to minimise this but is still no match for a ray of sunlight striking through the window.

There is in my opinion no substitute for true textures in highly visible areas of your layout. I do use flat sheet products but try to be at a distance or I even engrave some lightly with fine tip dental tool.

Colour of course is highly subjective, as is tone. Despite the colour itself being very well defined  in pantone books and carefully recreated by scientific brains the effect of those colours is not quite as defined, you can use colour wheels and warm or cold tones but the emotion and memory of colour is still a matter of very individual thoughts. All of this before we consider the effects of light that is shining on it and can change it massively.

It’s great to see realistic scenes photographed outside as the natural light adds such realism that paint alone can not achieve under indoor conditions.

I use LEDs which I am still playing with, my current thinking is one blue hue and the second strip with a warmer white, almost yellow. The two strip system allows me to attempt light at different times of the day but it does also effect the colours as I thought I had painted them. I find the ubiquitous yellow BR van looks like nuclear orange waste if the balance of my lights is even slightly out.

All of the photos in this article however, are shot under traditional warm white bulbs as I assumed that would suit more people.

Let’s turn now to the age old problem, how do you make anything look realistic?

Well the first step for me was following some great advice from my late Mother, she was a very accomplished artists and said to me “learn to paint what you actually see, not what you think you see!” I have past this wisdom on to many of my friends and doubtless bored many with its repetition and my evangelistic approach!

For those brave enough to indulge me, I asked them to tell me what colour roads are? Top of the head answers were all around grey or black. The second thought added brown, roads are dirty aren’t they?

So I asked them to sit and look, holding a simple A4 piece of white paper covering a section of the road view and surroundings at a time. When you isolate the item from its natural environment you can see the true colours. Try it……

For me, whites, browns, beige, blue, green, red and yellow. Let’s say this is our ingredients list for “road grey” grey is made by using white and black, ok it is but, it also retains its reflected light for the separate colours of white and black, this where the realism is. Our blue, white sky reflects on it, our green and brown environment reflects on it, light bounces off it as most of the rainbow is in there. We know you can see a rainbow when the sunlight shines through the water and refracts into its component parts. So most things outside are not just one colour. It can’t be.

They may well be based on one umbrella colour, grey in our case, but it’s grey with everything in.

Sometimes it goes further, but then we end up in the arguments of scale colours or reactive effects such as light pink makes blue pale……. Anyway, enough of my nerdy side for now…..

I hope you will be relieved to know my method simplifies all of this and just makes a nice textured and coloured road with only a few steps…..

Let’s start with the ingredients:

Surface, absolutely any, I have used this method on MDF, foam board, card, masking tape and both painted and unpainted surfaces.

I have and use my airbrush extensively however, for the sake of this article I am only using spray cans with common weathering powders and few acrylic paints.

I used 3mm foam board but also include at the end of this article is a photo montage of using this exact same method on my layout across multiple surfaces and on site.

Tip, when your cutting foam board, do many light cuts with a new blade and cut at as flatter angle as the scalpel handle allows, this ensures the maximum blade area is doing the work and will avoid ragged edges.

Glue, I use UHU as it grips and sets better although pva can be used and at a lot less cost. Standard masking tape, quite high tac so it makes a strong joint.

  • Cheap grey primer, poundland.
  • Black Matt finish, Halfords
  • Stone texture paint (grey), Homebase
  • Beige army paint, Poundland
  • Worn Tarmac, Railmatch (used on the on site road to avoid too much overspray)
  • Rust dye, Modelmates
  • Track oil, Dapol
  • Powders, Earth, yellow, blue, green, soot, black, white, rust, Humbrol
  • Masking tape, Halfords (good strong tape)
  • UHU glue
  • Matt acrylic varnish, Humbrol
  • Manholes, curb stones, road marking stencils all from Justin.
Tool list:

  •  Scalpel with fresh blade
  • Newspaper to spray on
  • Weights
  • Pencil
  • Straight rule
  • Tape measure
  • Wall paper edge roller
  • Face mask
  • Make up brush selection for powders
  • Clamps
  • Dry pair of trousers (will become clear soon)
  • Tea, lots of tea……
Cut road base boards and join on one side only (underside) with masking tape. This makes it easier to move as you can fold the strip. Once ready for primer, tape around the whole joint to secure as one piece.

I go with about five inches as a width for a main road.

Prime very lightly, I use this coat just to get some grip for the stone paint and to add an uneven tone. Allow to dry for an hour or so. (Inside temperature room)

Meantime prepare the stone coating by shaking really well and I warm it through in the sink with warm water, this helps any spray can coat far more evenly. Ps the can lids are NOT water tight so expect a wet leg before you’ve finished the final shake!

Using short (about six inches at each pass) strokes, apply a good covering, use this time to go heavier on joins to cover the masking tape. On your final pass, angle the can so it is spraying over the road surface at an angle of approximately 30 degrees, this adds more texture which we will knock back a little later on.

This coat needs at least 24 hours to dry.

Stay tuned for Part 2 this weekend!

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About The Author


Favourite Scale: OO / 1:76 Likes: Making small stuff on the laser cutter Dislikes: Counting rivets Other info: Starting to dabble with the world of 3D printing a bit to enhance the products we create on the laser. Layout: Whitwick Grove


  1. Gary_Beard

    Thanks so much for writing this articles. Roads are something I just can’t get a handle on but what you’ve said is encouraging me to have another go. Only, can I have part II now 😉

    • Tim@brblues

      I’m really pleased to hear that. Although I have gone into some background a detail here the process is very straight forward. Message me if you have a questions and best of luck buddy.

  2. PACtrain

    Great – up to your usual high standard and informative.

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