How to make model railroad signs

“Hello Al

This is in response to Dave M’s query associated with my last post – CLIMBING PLANTS. Thanks for the kind comment, Dave – and thanks to everyone who wrote in.

He asked about the signs on my little garage – and the interior detail. Those who have seem my previous posts have probably noticed that I like to spend virtually nothing on modelling so that I can bankrupt myself buying locos and rolling stock. What follows is cost free.


There are some out there who would like to sell us these. Yet all we have to do is search the web for them. Try googling the following: –


On the left of the screen, click IMAGES. Pages of little reproductions will appear.

Print off a page or two. Put them on the scanner and shrink or enlarge – depending on your scale and intended use. In OO/HO reduce by 50-75% according to taste – for display on buildings, that is.

For advertising hoardings (and there are those who would sell us these too) increase size a little on the scanner and cut them out. Make the hoardings from pieces of plastic food packaging (see photo). This material will bend, crease and hold the fold. So you can bend to form a base. I stuck the posters on them with ordinary UHU general purpose glue.

After something specific? Google it and bring up IMAGES.

You’ll notice when you glue that (depending on the paper you print with and the type of glue) they fade a little. Fantastic. In fact I like to distress mine further by wiping over a little dilute matt black with a bit of sponge.

The Shell Tankers (see photo) were bought for a few pounds each – new. I think they were cheap because, though red and yellow, they were not signed. The Shell emblem was found on a site called SWEET AND NOSTALGIC! There are plenty of trucks and vans available in OO unsigned – pretty cheaply – so you can personalise them with a little internet investigation.


I guess these are important when you have large open doors on a building – garages, petrol stations, fire stations, bus stations and factory doors. I reckon these look more interesting with the doors open. This is my approach.

– Paint the interior matt black. Viewed from a standard distance – or even close up – this will make the contents stand out.

– Make up shelf units with strips of our old friend – food packaging (see photo). Glue with superglue. Add tiny objects to the shelves. These can be modelled in plasticine and dipped in glue to harden. Or little chips of plastic – tiny offcuts do equally well (see photo).

– Never chuck away used ballpoints. Take them to bits and keep the pieces. I used some in the demo-photo. The interior ink tube is perfect for lots of things – loads, piping – also the metal writing section – and particularly the plug to the outer tube.

– The shelf items are very small and will be inside the building so vague shapes will suffice. Paint in suitable colours to represent stacks of cans, oil containers, batteries, exhausts – whatever is suitable. Invest in tinlets of silver and gold paint. You’ll get good use out of them for this and for all sorts of things in the future.

– Attach to an interior wall. Easier to do this before you assemble the walls of the kit.

– Add some signs and posters. Mounted inside, detail will not be seen – so content is relatively unimportant unless they’re hung near the door.

– The use of mini-cams, mounted on trucks, travelling the line make work on interiors well worth while. Folks will marvel at your attention to detail – when in fact you have spent very little time and not a penny on it!

– If you light your buildings this could look amazing – all the detail picked out. Shadows too.

– The oil can is simply a tiny blob of plasticine – little piece of wire pushed through – curled for the handle – smeared in glue to harden – painted red.

Hope this is of interest, Dave.

Best wishes and Happy Jubilations to all.


Just brilliant! Thanks Roger. Any questions? Leave one at the bottom of the page.

Hope you like the new ebay cheat sheet too.



41 Responses to How to make model railroad signs

  1. John says:

    Great ideas for signs! Thank you.

  2. Dave says:

    That can save us all money , and a very good idea from Roger

  3. Br john says:

    Thank you Roger. Grfeat ideas and websites. I cut ads from ceral boxes and such to make my signs. Works godd but your suggestions are great. thanks a million.

  4. Kelly says:

    Thank you for another great idea and find. Ever since reading the very first hint I read the first time I joined the club. I have started using all kinds of things around the house. Like using a metal clothes hanger to make a pipe fence to a top rail and polls for a chain link fence. Ever since my manditory retirement. I didn’t use my brain much anymore so that made me feel not very human. Now. I can’t get it to stop working. When I go to sleep. All I can do is think and or dream of different ways to come up with stuff.
    Keep up the great work.
    Hope everyone reads these money saver tips.
    Have a great day
    Kelly d

  5. Rob96th says:

    Great – you can also google pub signs for any country – so simple to add authentic stuff to your layout for free.

  6. T Crump says:

    Great stuff!!!
    Too funny, too….even my wife is doing it now…The other day, in the bargain store, I picked a package of extra long drinking straws…the wifes says…”Oh, are those for your trains?”…
    I explained to her that they were for when I come home with a large drink cup from a fast food place…..and forget to get a long straw…

    But, they may serve in some capacity, after all….

  7. Robert says:

    Gloss “enamel” signs can be reproduced on gloss photographic paper. For other signage also look at “Auctions – Railway signs” on Google. This will bring up auction houses and pictures of what they have on auction.Simply right click, copy & paste into your photographic software (eg Paintshop Pro etc). Crop and print as much as you want!
    Great site, Thanks Al.

  8. Richard Maxwell says:

    I have also made a few signs for my layout. I have a graphics program in my computer called “Corel Draw” there is a section in it with all kinds of signs. I just call up the signs I need on the screen, size them to my needs and then print them with the color printer. Now here’s a great tip. Go to your local UPS or Fedex depot and ask for some Peel and Stick labels used to pre-print shipping labels. They will gladly give you a few free, just for using their service. Use the labels to print your signs. Then cut them out and “PEEL & STICK”. I use small bits of plastic as a backing when making my traffic signs. However, poster board would work as well.

  9. paul Otway says:

    I like your signs.

  10. TOM says:


  11. DaveM says:

    The signs and interior are just what I believed. Imaginative and not cluttered. Great touches. Thanks for the tips and pointing the rest of us in good directions.

  12. Richard Greenhalgh says:

    In addition to this excellent approach it is now possible to buy sheets of water-slide transfer paper that are compatible with everyday computer printers. This means it is possible to create custom logos and lettering (in any colour, font and point size you need) for rolling stock and suchlike. The sheets do cost but is far cheaper, quicker and less fiddly than using using ready-bought sheets of letters. There is less waste too.

  13. Berrnard(one of the Smiths) says:

    You are to be congratulated on the website with all those ideas, and so on .
    I really can,t wait for the chance to put them to use on my layout. I am sur that signs MAKE the lay out
    Well done from us all

  14. Barry says:

    Fantastic ideas. Keep them coming.
    You could make a great book from the brilliant ideas that your readers send in. It would be a big help not only for beginners but also the more experienced modellers as well.
    All ready looking forward for the next batch.
    Many thanks.

  15. tony says:

    funtastic tips roger as a canny/mean scot i to spend virtually nil on model material throw nothing out if it fits the scale or can be adapted to fit thank you once again and i do mean funtastic

  16. Neil says:

    Where did you find the figures that are standing next to and near your signs?

  17. Peter says:

    Another cracking idea.. So simple to do. Why didn’t I think of it?
    Yours aye
    Peter Feiler

  18. Danny Henderson says:

    I use an other method. I don’t have to use (or pay a copying agency) a copy machine to enlarge or reduce them to the size I need. I just right click on them, save them into a specific folder on my hard drive and then insert them into a Microsoft Word Document (Part of “Microsoft Office”) – Then I enlarge or reduce them to the size I need, and then I simply print them off on my home printer. If you don’t have “Microsoft Office then you can do the same thing with a FREE word program called “Open Office” which can be downloaded from the internet.

  19. John says:

    Fantastic idea with the signs and reducing them!

  20. Keith Miller says:

    Thank you Roger – very inspiring. And thanks to Al for running this site – Every day I look forward to midnight when the latest instalment appears! Really enjoyed Dave’s train ride too – such a change to see a steady hand on amateur video.

  21. Paul e Bolton 2 says:

    Any one have a great idea for fence and post for n scale. Thanks paul

  22. Gerell McCann says:

    I’m new to model railroading but I’m determined to put a large layout in place for my 6 grandchildren, 3 are boys ages 6 and under. The room is 12′ x 11′ where I want it built. I have tons of trains that I’ve collected over the years and I’m ready to now do something with them now that I’m retired. The boys are excited but I’m over my head. Is there anyone in or near Forney, Texas that would be willing to stop by and give me some pointers. Thanks, Gerell

  23. ken says:

    thanks a million. will be sure to use this.

  24. denny says:

    If you want to create signs appropriate to a layout of a particular city, go to eBay and type in match books followed by the name of the city. It it is a large city, literally hundreds of old and new match book covers will appear for lots of old businesses you haven’t seen for decades. Capture the image you want at maximum resolution and resize later as billboards and wall signs. If you want to find really old brick wall signs, there are many sites devoted to ghost signs and they are also useful. Hope this helps! Denny


  26. Bob says:

    For n scale try unbending paper clips.

  27. Barry Rowe says:

    I love the ideas about signs. But you don’t need to print out the signs you get off the internet and scan them. You already have a picture of them. Just import them to your photo program, then resize do whatever you need to do to make them look more real. You can also take pictures of signs with your phone and then email those pictures to yourself and import them to your photo program. I suspect you will find the signs look better than when you print them and then rescan them into your computer.

    I always find good ideas on this daily email. Thanks to everyone.

  28. Dan Marso says:

    Great ideas for inexpensive signs ! Thank you !

  29. Craig Burton says:

    Great to learn MORE Roger!! Thank you,Craig. I need to figure that out on the printer,have to ask one of the grand children.thanx again

  30. Craig Burton says:

    Great to learn

  31. mr.MIKE says:

    I copy pix from travel brochures onto clear sheets, cut them out to the size of building windows,and install into my models. When lit from inside, you see for example; a motel bedroom layout.Also kitchens can be found among other scenes.

  32. Brad says:

    I have a small tip.When you are out and have a drink(or 3) save the cocktail straws!! These can be carefully glued together and used as downspouts for various buildings depending on your scale.Cocktail straws come in different sizes.i save the smaller ones for mt friend who is into N scale.They can also be used as a pipe load or glued and stacked as a pile waiting for pick-up

  33. GREAT IDEA . Thanks for sharing.
    Don’t need them now, but you can bet your life that, I WILL

  34. Bill says:

    I am currently getting back into rail modeling after many years. My experience was with my children and grandchildren in an HO environment purely for fun. All previous experience was with DC and just a circular track.
    I now have more time for myself and am very excited about the DCC erap.
    My first step is to follow the advise on your page for beginners. I am spending s lot of time planning and collecting track, switches, buildings and advice before I lay any track. As advised I will be building in sections or modules. While DCC offers huge advantages it is a challenge compared to the older DC systems especially at 75 years young.
    I will be sending in an initial track plan and look forward to the criticism as being positive and helpful.

  35. Chip Aderholdt says:

    Thank you. Now I have ideas for new structures I can use these in.

  36. Ken Harbaugh says:

    Show the email of how to make a train trussel out of used razor blades . You showed to us once before . I would appreciate it very much . Thank you. I’ am going to do my very first lay out .I enjoy all of your tips. Keep them coming.

  37. Frank says:

    I like the idea of printing images that one finds online or in catalogues, ads and so on. They can be protected with Mod podge, white glue or any glue that dries crystal clear, clear paint, varnish, or a little section of plastic cut from some packaging or even the plastic from a box of some baked goods.

    Again, I like the idea of using bits and pieces of common things and transforming them with glue and paint. It occurred to me that wire fences could be made with discarded guitar strings or other strings from musical instruments. It’s really all what is called “piano wire”. An instrument builder told me this.
    And for making small items, there is green putty used by people who are into table top role playing games and play with miniature figures. Polymer clay is another option, but requires baking to cure and harden up. And even epoxy or foam can be shaped. We have so many options nowadays when it comes to crafting things.

  38. C.H. Specht says:

    For posts, rods, pipe, and anything else round and straight try using piano wire. It comes in sizes to fit any scale and can be cut to length. It also can be bent or twisted to make almost anything. I like it because it is very rigid. You can also use copper wire the same way and it can be almost free! Not quite as rigid, but that can be a plus in many areas. Tinned copper is also available for less painting.


  39. C.H. Specht says:

    For thin, flat strips of almost anything, try running a sheet of thin material through a common (not crosscut) shredder. A piece of brown paper or thin tan cardboard will give you enough lumber to build a house from scratch, fill a flatcar, or lay a deck for your summer cabin.


  40. GaryM from Long Island says:

    Great ideas Roger……good stuff. Keep it coming

  41. Kevin says:

    For n scale finding I have used tooth pick .Leave one end sharp to fit in the hole that I have drilled in the bass board .Then cut to hight.I then use fly screen wire for a chain mesh fence . For a wife fence I used some cotton from my wife sowing box And ran it through a puddle of culver paint and let dry by hanging it up to dry .silver paint for new fence wire or Browne for old fence wire .Bye running it throw the paint stiffens it to look like wire

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