How to Model Water on Your Model Railroad Layout

How to Model Water on Your Model Railroad LayoutThere are many ways and materials with which to model water, either still or moving, on your model railroad layout.  Understanding the nature of this water, (be it river, stream, pond, ocean, etc.) is essential to getting a grasp on just how you want to go about  modeling it, and the material you’ll want to use.

Here we’ll look at not only some of the materials, but their relative ease of use, and lifelikeness.

There are quite a few ways to create water for your model train layout (here you find our tutorial). Here are some, and something about each:

  • Real Water – Not really an option; as it is extremely high-maintenance and does this thing called evaporate! Plus, water and the electricity used to run your model railroad don’t mix well.
  • Envirotex – A little bulky to mix, but makes some great looking waves!
  • Casting Resin – Undoubtedly the best-looking finish, but toxic fumes and laborious coats make it only for the most patient craftsmen among us.
  • Acrylic Gloss – Also good-looking, but also labor intensive.
  • Plaster H2O – Good for unclear bodies of water, but hard to see any depth.
  • E-Z Water – Looks good, but a little difficult to work with.
  • Acrylic Ceiling Tile – Inexpensive and easy, only it doesn’t show any depth or “wetness”.
  • Acrylic Shower Door – Ditto above, though simple, not very real.
  • Gloss Paints – While cheap and very photo-friendly, in real-life it doesn’t look very much like water!

I’m assuming here that your eventual aim in modeling this water is to create as lifelike a scene as possible on your model railway, so as to capture some of the natural drama that real bodies of water relate. A raging river, crashing ocean or waterfalls make for some memorable scenery, and are worth the challenge involved. Actually, modeling water itself isn’t necessarily the hard part here: it’s the planning and preparation that will make the difference in the end. Take or acquire as many reference pictures as you can. These will be invaluable.

Once you’ve settled on the exact picture in your mind, begin by preparing the base of the water by making sure the surface is leak-proof, clean, and filled with whatever you’d like to model on the water’s bottom. (rocks, fish logs, etc.)

Give special attention to the shores and banks of your bodies of water. Make sure to look at your photos to note the color differences, as well as the changes in color from near the shore to the middle of the stream, lake, river or whatever you’re trying to depict. If it’s deeper, it’s darker!

You can create effects like waves and falls and ripples with gels and other commercial products, and a little paint.

Modeling water effectively can make for a stunning model railway layout that will draw raves from all who see it!

About the author

Bill Murphy

Bill Murphy

Bill Murphy is an avid model railroader, offering advice for model enthusiasts on the YourDiorama website. For more helpful tips and information, visit

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