Illuminating a Model
(using masks to achieve a realistic effect)
Article by Pete M
So you’ve fixed down all your track, covered every last inch with scatter, now
it’s time to erect your buildings, be they stations, goods sheds, or shacks in a
yard; and for that extra je ne sais quoi illuminating them.
A number of options are available, from small filament bulbs, grain of rice
bulbs, or LEDs. Personally I prefer the grain of rice bulb, because it’s nice
and small, and come on nice tails of wire already to wire up.
The ones I use are 12v DC although other
voltages are available. They also come in a range of colours from white to red,
for buildings I prefer an orange bulb.
So to work! Illuminating a building. The simplest way is to stick the bulb
inside and wire it up. Switch the bulb on and your whole building glows, issuing
light from every window, crack, and in the case of many plastic buildings
turning the plastic translucent. You also get to see all the insides, where you
haven’t painted, and worst of all you see the bulb.
Here’s an example of a Faller Station building (only partially completed).
Note how it glows, particularly the window frames, the light issues out from
every window and you can see inside.
To solve this you can make a mask from black cardboard. Faller actually provide
them, but it’s easy enough to fabricate your own. Just form the card to the
inside shape of your model, or at least the portion to be illuminated.
This one is held together with masking tape.
Then insert it into your model and illuminate as previously.
Note the glow has gone but you can still see inside. By not cutting out all the
windows you can make it look like only sections are occupied.
To further improve the effect put masking tale over the open windows, this
causes the light to diffuse, and you can’t see inside.
an end view:
Note you now just get a nice diffused glow, no shadows cast outside, and no
interior detail. By varying the cut-outs in the mask you can make it look like
only certain rooms are occupied rather than a crystal palace approach, even
model buildings should appear as if someone puts the lights out when they are
finished. You could add curtains to the masking tape, but I model N-gauge and
such details are lost.
One note of caution: grain of rice bulbs get as hot as the centre of the sun,
you will need to insulate them from your model, I just tape the wires to the
building with the bulb hanging away from the plastic, it’s quick and simple.
With normal bulbs or LEDs it’s not such a problem.
(Should you want to show off room details, of course the masking tape can be
omitted from the windows, but retaining the mask will prevent the light
straying. On the whole LEDs won’t be very bright, but can be used to add a bit
of extra lighting detail to a room, perhaps an open fire or a hearth in a
factory, best to experiment, using choco-block type connectors allow you to
switch and change bulbs at your leisure to achieve the exact lighting