Model railroad poster backdrop printing

Bill’s been in touch with is model railrod backdrop tip:

“Backdrop. If you have a favorite scenic spot, or actual location that you are trying to model to, take a disposable or other camera with a panoramic capability, (most cell phone cameras have it today), and take a series of pictures from the perspective you want to use. Print the pictures from the camera on any printer.

Crop them using the standard viewer software to incorporate the backdrop you want to create. Take that image to KINKO’S and have them print a banner on any type of medium that you want to use. Canvas, paper, vinyl etc. in any finish you want. I think matte works well. They can produce a sample in an 11″X17″ format so you can see how it will look. Make any changes for where your corners will be on the layout, and then have them print it. This gives you flexibility to change the Backdrop in the future without thinking that you hate to get rid of something you paid a lot of money for.

This method is easy. It can customize your layout with individuality, perspective, crispness and a great deal of detailed color while creating an inexpensive and one-off backdrop that you will be proud of.

S Gaugers – Bill, Josh, and Justin Ferguson”

There are quite a few posts on model railroad backdrops on the blog. Here are a few of them:

Rob’s Model railroad backdrop.

Frank adds his backdop.

Frank’s amazing backdrop.

Keith’s model railroad backdrop.

Kevin’s backdrop.

Brian’s hills and grass backdrop ‘how to’.

How to create a sky backdrop for your model railroad

And here’s some more of the collective wisdom:


A few weeks ago, someone suggested using real rust for modeling rust. He suggested scrapping it off of some rust metal he had found laying around.

A better way is to take some fine steelwool and soak it in plain vinegar for a few minutes than remove it, apread it out and let it sit for 12 – 48 hours. All of the steel wool will turn into rust which easily crumbles into rust dust. This works well in the desert in Phoenix, Arizona. I assume that it will work even better for people who have relative humidities in the high two digit range.


“Coffee stirring sticks when used on wagon floors, look like planking not the brown paint they come as.

Glued together the make excellent bolsters for round loads. Also I model a military train with tanks that are slightly wider than the flat car, planks laid across the truck gives extra width just like the reel thing



“Hi Al

I have found very cheap hedges by using old floor scrubbing machine pads. They are about 2 feet round and come in different colours, I think the colours denote the grade of scrubbing material.

Cut into suitable widths then stuck down with PVA, they look brilliant, coloured with car spray paint and dipped in flock.

The cleaners at my works think im mad but are happy that they are finding a new life after work!!!



All good stuff. Keep ’em coming. Latest ‘ebay cheat sheet‘ is here.



51 Responses to Model railroad poster backdrop printing

  1. Dan says:

    I am intrigued with the back drop idea.
    My concern is the blur or lack of detail when the pics are enlarged.
    Does anyone have any feed back on this?

    I have always felt that something is only expensive if you buy it twice.

  2. Roger says:

    Brilliant tips. I shall use the lot of them. Thanks. Roger.

  3. John Fuller says:

    You must use a digital camera that has a very high mega-pixel rating. Perhaps a friend has one or you know a professional photographer that will do you a favour. Cameras with 15 to 20 mega-pixel ratings are excellent for banner size enlargements. The other alternative is to go back to standard film grade of 35mm or find an old large format camera and take your own pics. Use as fine a grain film as you can get this century, take the pic as slow as the light allows and shoot away. The enlargements from film should be outstanding. The old stuff still has its advantages. Good luck with the backdrops.

  4. Mike Street says:

    In response to Dan’s post, get a better camera! No joking aside, most small digital cameras with upwards of 8 megapixels should produce pictures clear enough to be enlarged to A4 size. They don’t need to be crystal clear anyway, they are in the background, usually in the distance. Being in the UK, presume KINKO’S is a print shop not a sex aid emporium. Why bother with a print shop just print them out and join them up.
    Good tips as usual, Thanks for continuing good work. Cheers Mike S

  5. Don says:

    I make my own backdrops using a Canon sure shot digital camera using the method sugested above. I then edit and “glue” them together in Paint Shop Pro, (a great program) to creat a panarama. Living in Massachusetts there are beautiful foliage possibilities year round for backdrop scenes. You can also search the internet for photos and edit them in Paint Shop for scenes not available locally.

  6. Tommy pelley says:

    If you can find larger paper most modern printers are capable of printing larger scenes for backdrops

  7. Dave says:

    Some good idea`s there from your members Al

  8. Toni says:

    Here is a thought. Years ago, when I was much younger. I used to experiment while creating my art. I would try different ideas of layering materials to create a somewhat three dimensional effect.

    One effect that worked fairly well was to take multiple pictures of a scene and have multiple prints made of the best shots that I wanted to use. I would then take them, and cut them into specific details that I wanted to emphasized, then glued them together to create the 3-D idea I had in mind.

    Back then, my art work was not well appreciated. But with today’s cameras and printers, this idea should be workable for backdrops. This way you would have a changing view of the background as you move around your layout.

    This is the basic and simplified idea of how to do it. There is another set of steps to this idea that makes it more interesting for close-up views, but it is really too time consuming, and it is what made my some of my art different from others at that time.

  9. Steve, Downunder. says:

    Kodak make a disposable camera for around $15.00 AUD that has the capability to take panoramic pictures in sequance and then if you have photoshop you can join them together so there is no seem and the end product is about Panoramic view about 3 feet long, they look really great once you have them blown up at Kikos or a similar type shop as there are a lot of digital print options around these days.

  10. paul starr says:

    Some great ideas,well worth taking a note of.Anything that do,s the job without spending lots of money has got to be good.

  11. paul Otway says:

    I might try this out, better than buying them.

  12. Ian says:

    thanks for the tips i store them and go back to them when i am at that stage on my layout. keep them coming please. thanks again.

  13. TOM says:


  14. Finnie says:

    I have been using this for a while and its great. I have a couple of variations: I photograph from a suitable vehicle (a train moving slowly on a scenic line with open windows and the sun in the right direction. This usually means heritage railways but I have got lucky in Switzerland with old stock). Photograph manually noting the limits in the viewfinder – exposing again when the field of view has moved to the appropriate spot. Panorama them up in Photoshop – this gives v long backdrops. Then I compress into a relatively small jpg. The printer upsacles it and I have it printed onto vinyl. The advantage of the compression and subsequent upscaling I discovered by accident – it (of course) loses sharpness when printed, but just enough to drop the background slightly out of focus, thus making it recede. I find a photo-realistic background can take over – I want the eye drawn to the layout, not the background. I have one of these v clever Day And Night backgrounds that I bought commercially but its too sharp, too “in your face” IMHO.

    Cheers all

  15. Tony Boyer says:

    There’s an awful amount of bumf about megapixels etc. The main difference is the size of the sensor and not the Mp figure. At the end of the day, the most important thing is to keep the camera still – use a tripod or if not a wall or similar. Then you’ll be surprised how much you can expand thye picture

  16. Roy F says:

    Good idea, I’ll try it. Going back to coffee stiring sticks : they are just about the right size to cut up and use as loose sleepers painted mucky brown.

  17. Bill says:

    Finnie made a point here I wanted to stress as well. As long as you don’t have pixelization, you want your image a bit out of focus to get a realistic look. I’ve done a huge amount of landscape photography and was an art major also. If you have a panoramic photo you’re fond of, try loading it into your photo software and put a light blur and very gradually lighten the farthest part. You can save it if you wish, but the point is ‘depth of field’ that happens naturally. That’s what you’ll want. Farthest away you get, the foggier/less contrast/more faded the color. Try it on a single sheet yourself against a small section of your layout.

  18. Toni, The method you are using to create your back drops in 3D, has a name. It is called “Paper Toll” and is a very old of form of craft. Anyone wishing to use the method for their back drops, just google “Paper Toll” and you will find all you need to know. Be aware that to do it properly though, one needs a heap of patience. But with most model rail people that should not be a problem.

  19. Dan Massetti says:

    the modle railroad club i belong to when i was in navada we had a back drop done on sheets we were set up in the local rail road mus,

  20. Tom Pollock says:

    With any camera, U S E A T R I P O D. With a digital camera, set the exposure for large images. – Tom Pollock

  21. David Horton says:

    Need to create a hinged access on my layout any good tips

  22. Arnold Pfenninger says:

    Regarding Bruce’s suggestion about rust.
    As a warning, use of fine steel wool to create rust would probably work as long as your locomotives don’t use Magnatraction (as do many of Lionel’s) or something similar……you’ll have a heck of a time cleaning it out of and off of the engine wheels, axles, etc. T
    here will always be magnetic material in the rust created and not all of it will be stuck to something with glue unless you’re real careful. Worst case scenario is an engine that becomes a piece of static scenery if any of the “rust” material ends up on or near the track….

  23. Dale says:

    Don’s comment raises the idea of exchangeable backdrops for any given scene on your model RR. Change the season of the backdrop, make a few adjustments on the model RR, and everything becomes ‘new’.

  24. Ben says:

    great ideas got to try them , ihave severl pic. of my table and would like to know how to get them on this site . it design out of my mind it rep. no particler place at all

  25. Phil says:

    Great idea about the back drop, would like to try it, but no one mentioned about the how to scale it down.

  26. Mike Wilson says:

    Great ideas and tips, I’m glad I can now save all these tips and will be able to use them when I start to build my own layout.

  27. M Parson says:

    you gave me a great idea for my metal scrap yard. Thanx!!!!

  28. Rod Mackay says:

    A mate with access to a digital plotter produced a backscene for me from hand held 35mm summer snapshots of the hills across the bay – perfect result! There are two problems – one is that it’s starting to fade where the sun falls on it, the second is that I fitted a permanent hardboard backscene and spray-adhesed the print to it, so it would now be very hard to change the print, which runs behind scenery, trees etc. I’m thinking of trying to overpaint it with oil paints which I hope wouldn’t cause much shrinkage of the paper.

  29. Morrical says:

    I made my backdrop by using a digital camera with tripod and taking a series of pictures I then stitched together with Photoshop. I found a website that will print a wallpaper mural for a reasonable (to me) price. The mural comes with a matte finish and a peel-off sticky back. I put a thin sheet of wood up behind the layout and attached the wallpaper. The detail is not super sharp, but I agree with the prior comments that you don’t want the background to be super crisp. It looks great to me. To provide easier access, I built a frame for the backdrop and put it on casters so I can roll it away from the layout. It is completely adaptable in the sense that I can create a different picture in the future, flip the board back to front or top to bottom, install the new picture and not only have a change but be able to change back at will.

    One tricky part is getting the perspective right for the pictures. Because my backdrop is a wide sweep all taken from one location, it somewhat distorts the placement, but it gave me a very acceptable backdrop of the actual location I am modeling, which is a port with commercial activity on rail lines in the foreground, boats in port in the midground, and water stretching to the horizon. Would have been really hard to do any other way.

  30. Peter Macdonald says:

    Hi all
    I take high res photos and use an app program known as “PosteRazor” which converts the photo into a layout comprised of A4 sized sheets. I am then able to scale appropriately by choosing the size of the layout – eg: 16×3 10×2 etc. I then print onto adhesive print paper and stick them to thick background card. each a4 sheet overlaps another. This method is cheap but obviously with the wrong lighting the overlaps in the paper will show. But overall it is effective.

  31. Ernie Stammers says:

    My Father was a photographer during the war and specialised in Bombing raid photos, he always taught me that with photography is to set your exposure for the darkest part of the scene and then the highlights would sort themselves out. but now we have digital cameras that are supposed to sort this out, but the basics are still required. On that subject how do I put photos on here? as I have just made a simple rail crossing for my Lionel fastrack and I want to share it as the method is the same for any scale track.

  32. Everything is very open with a clear explanation of the issues.
    It was definitely informative. Your website is useful.
    Many thanks for sharing!

  33. Ron says:

    I’ve had prints made at Walmart and Staplkes

  34. Joe says:

    When building my layout which runs around a room in my basement with the center open I actually painted mountains, trees, bushes and bluffs on the wall itself. This was a lot of fun to do. It actually gave the railroad depth. I will send along some pics to Al so he can see the outcome.

  35. Lee Barry, CEO LZPMRR says:

    All excellent ideas. Now if only I could find a Kinkos here in Bristol,Va./Tn. I don’t know about Kinkos but there are a lot of Kinky people here. What would you expect from people who straddle a state line.

  36. tom says:

    Hi for the rust idea I like it I use this for staining wood to make it look old. I use a dark ted liquid first let it dry then brush on the vinagar rust mixture. Looks like old barn wood. Great train tip, thanks Tom in Payson AZ

  37. don says:

    CVS can make banners. This can be used for building backgrounds. Take picture, adjust the size, print, cut it out and paste to a background.

  38. Rick D says:

    RE The 326pm posting (no name) If folks don’t like it tell them you have 2 words for them and they aren’t happy motoring.


  39. cfraig short says:

    Print extra pictures of Buildings, trees, hills, and mountains. cut out and attach to Foam Board. then glue them over the backdrop pictures. In many cases this will give you a 3D effect. Make sure you color the sides of the foam so the white doesn’t show.


  40. Tom Lawton says:

    If you print out the backdrop yourself, be sure to use paper and ink that match. I tested prints with Mis-matched brands for sun-fastness and found that some combinations faded too much with the year. Not direct sun,either.

  41. Brad says:

    First,I am tech stupid.But was wondering since we have the tech for 3D printers,is there any tech out there that will print a continuous video? My thoughts are,get on a slow moving train and make a video of say changing color foilage. Use a ROLL or paper and have the printer print out the video???? Far beyond my expertise to be sure,but with all the tech is this possible? A continous paper roll such as they do with home decor wallpaper.I would be interested in a response if anyone can figure this out

  42. Bill Frank says:

    For the gentleman inquiring about how to hinge a drop down in your layout—I have been successful with the following:
    Draw the pattern you want the drop down to represent on the plywood or other board—the location of the hinge will need to be straight. Using a skill saw, hold back the guard and carefully set the blade on the line and slowly saw thru completely through the board the entire length of the hinge. Attach the hinge on the bottom across the cut. Turn the board over and repeat the cut around the rest of the board and the drop down hinge is in place without a problem

  43. Jim Adams says:

    Can you somehow print your downloads in n scale???

  44. Jim Pickup says:

    For the person in Bristol, Va/Tn who was looking for a Kinkos store. I just looked up Kinkos on my computer and found that Kinkos is now FedEx Office. Check with your local Fed Ex Office for more information.

  45. Mike Ilkenhons says:

    Brilliant idea… I was going after whatever was available… Your idea offers the opportunity to put up my old home town area thatthr CB&Q was home to… cherrs

  46. Robert (Bob) Wayne Slusser says:

    Please, Please, Please, do not use steel wool on your layout. In the 50’s when I was a new RR modeler I had a brand new HO locomotive which ran about six feet before destroying it’s self. Problem was the motor sucked up the steel fragments and shorted out the winding’s and commutator. Might not affect today’s sealed can motors but will play the devil with bearing, and gears used as gear trains in power wheel sets. I had just cleaned my track of plaster after scenery work with a Brillo pad. In the 50’s there was a track plan which called for setting your track on sleepers and pouring dry plaster between the ties to form embankments and establish grades, etc., then spraying “wet” water to harden the plaster and attach the track to the layout. Works great, just DON’T DO IT!!!
    Photo ideas appear great.

  47. maghi cat says:

    I am a photographer. I am going to create a backdrop made of continuous panoramic image I took of Monument Valley. The printer I have is a Canon 2000. It can print on paper rolls. My backdrop will be 24 inches tall by 240 inches long. It will surround my 48’x120x48 layout that I am building. I am going to use foam board as the structure. I will provide images when done. The layout is unusual. It is not flat. It is all elevated, mountainous overlapping track features with many many cross-overs. I have used very few pieces of straight track. Everything is curved, many s’ curves. Trains hug the sides of cliffs that should make your heart skip a beat. There are 14 switches giving me almost an unlimited number of options, running multiple trains on DCC with sound including a paragon 3 system with a huge subwoofer, where you can not just see it but feel it. I will provide pics and videos, coming to a theater near you this summer 2020.

  48. Bill Luxford says:

    Hobby Lobby and Michael’s in the US both sell Coffee stix, popcycle stix and another shorter stix in packs of 1000 +/- in what is called “The Lumber Store. They make great road crossings, road guard posts with thread used for wire between or just painted white with magic marker black stripes. or any other color used in different places to keep cars out on the roads and lanes and not in the fields.
    And I double the statement. KEEP THE STEEL WOOL and metal shaving FAR AWAY FROM THE LAYOUT! You will not love yourself or your work if you don’t! You will pay for it the rest of your waking days.

  49. Paul Bejger says:

    This is a great text book of ideas. Thanks for sharing.

  50. C.H. Specht says:

    Lots of good ideas! I’m lucky..My wife let me buy a 24″ printer for my photography. I have a very good digital camera and have created and printed a few backdrops for friends. One trick I’ve learned is when using Photoshop (and probably other packages) you can use Transparency settings to “fade” your print a little so it doesn’t overpower the layout. You can also overlap two pictures and fade one so it looks farther away.

  51. C.H.Specht says:

    To Jim Adams:
    N scale is .544 (54.4%) of HO. Anything in HO scale can be set to N by printing it at 54%.
    For small items, like Al’s buildings, I use an EPSON WF-2750 printer. One of the parameters you can set is custom scale. Most any modern printer should have a similar setting.


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