Enhanced card kits for model railway, railroad or diorama

Picture of Enhanced card kits for model railway, railroad or diorama

Card as a model making material has been around for a very long time. However, since the introduction of plastic kits in the 1950’s it has gained something of a reputation as the ‘poor relation’ for some modellers. This article will attempt to show that, with some care and attention card can produce a model that is as convincing as one made from other materials. Furthermore card and printed papers can produce models and structures cheaply and quickly. A large viaduct constructed of plasticard and embossed plastic sheets will cost around 10 times as much as one constructed from card and printed papers. This is especially true if you can ‘recycle’ old card, or find somewhere that will supply you for free!


You need to arm yourself with some tools, glue and obviously card! The main tools required are a very sharp knife. I personally swear by my trusty Swan & Morton Number 3 handle, equipped with 10a, 11 and 15 blades, but an X-Acto, snap off or other similar craft knife will do. Be prepared to change the blades frequently. A steel rule is required, for small scales you will probably manage with a 6”/150mm one but I keep a range of rules and straight edges in my toolbox. I find that scissors are too unwieldy and tend to bend card as it’s being cut, so these are only used for long rough cuts. A pair of tweezers often come in handy. Glues, keep a range handy, UHU, Bostik All Purpose, Pritt Stick, Cyanoacrylate (Super-Glue), Impact Adhesive (Evo-Stick) along with some double sided adhesive tape and some PVA. After trying many glues on different materials, I now use B&Q own brand ‘General Purpose Glue’ in a tube for all my card assemblies. It has no odour, it is a fairly thick paste that won’t dribble out of the tube, it dries quickly, gives a strong bond with high ‘grab’ and is transparent when set.


Card is your primary construction material, you could use plasticard, but that defeats the object of cost reduction. You should keep a range of A4 sized sheets in various thickness and possible colours. The basic ones to start with are some 200gsm white card. This is available at almost all stationery stores in packs of 500 sheets. It will pass through most desktop printers (more of this later) and is about the same thickness as good quality ‘birthday’ cards. It is available in many colours but white is cheapest. It does not have much structural strength unless laminated but it is easy to fold. Most card kits are reproduced on something of this weight.

The next thickness required is dense package board, about 1mm thick – you’ve guessed it, the proverbial cereal packet! This board is everywhere, and it’s free! Don’t chuck out your empty cereal packets cut them into A4 sized sheets and keep them in a folder. The ‘grey’ sides also make excellent reproductions of concrete in almost all scales!

Finally you will need a thicker dense board for heavy structural work. I use two types for my models. The first is ‘Border Matte’ it’s the stuff used to frame watercolours and is available from most good art shops. It’s not cheap but is available in many colours, is of excellent density and quality and is supplied in various sizes and thickness. You could use ‘show-card’ or art ‘line board’ instead. The board is between 1.5mm and 2.5mm thick (or more) with a good smooth surface. I use it where it will be seen.

For all structural work that will not be seen I use a board of similar structure called ‘layer pad’. This is effectively the same density and colour as cereal packaging but is much sturdier, available in varying thickness from 1mm up to 3mm. It is used (as it’s name suggests) to separate layers of packed products. Most packaging companies hold large stocks of the stuff. In comes in a truly vast variety of sizes, and if you can find a friendly local business you can usually scrounge some. I got 3 sheets from a local aerosol manufacturer. Each sheet was 2 meters by 2 meters (4sq M) and of 1mm, 2mm and 3mm thick, it has lasted me 5 years so far!


Finally you will need to get some artists or modellers watercolours, acrylics, oils or enamels and some pastel chalks. These are not as expensive as you may imagine and will last a very long time. I would start with a small watercolour pan set (Windsor & Newton field box £7.00) and a set of Daler-Rowney 24 oil colour pastels (£4.00). Plus some good quality brushes of various sizes.


The techniques described here are only my methods and there are many others. They are primarily aimed at N Gauge structures, but should be applicable in most scales. They are also related to pre-printed card kits and the various printed ‘papers’ used for scratch building.


In my opinion all kits should be viewed as the basis for a model, not the final article in itself. I regard card kits as being the reverse of plastic or brass construction kits. Let me explain what I mean. In a plastic construction kit, the manufacturer has done 90% of the construction work for you but supplied none of the decorative finishes. In a card kit (or with printed papers) the graphic designer has done 90% of the decorative finish for you but little or none of the construction work. In both cases detailing and final execution are left to the modeller.


With a plastic construction kit, the structural strength is inherent in the design. With card it isn’t. Most card kits are produced using around 200gsm card. Roughly the thickness of a birthday card. Anyone who has constructed one of these straight from the packet will know how flimsy this can be. Furthermore there is little relief detail, the kit trying to rely on the printing to give the visual illusion of raised (or recessed) detail. For me this is not altogether convincing. In ‘N’ Gauge or 2mm Fine-scale a recess depth of 6” in real life equates to about 1mm in scale. This is easily within the eyes level of detection. Since many types of door and window recess by 6” in real life, card kits that do not allow for this tend to look ‘flat’. The level at which the eye can continue to be deceived by the printing will depend on the size, location and surroundings of the model.


In order to correct this and enhance pre-printed card models I use some simple lamination techniques to get around the problem. Even minimal relief seems to help convince the eye that the model has more realism. And the laminating process adds greatly to the structural strength.


Starting with something simple such as a line-side plate layers hut with only a door. Just recessing the door by as little as half a millimetre and giving the model some weathering will enhance the effect. I have chosen to do a ‘step by step’ example for this article.


I am using a Metcalf ‘N’ Gauge / 2mm Kit here, for no other reason than it was in my box waiting to be built. Metcalf produce good quality card kits on approx 600 micron board. They also supply windows printed onto clear acetate film rather than simply printed onto card. Similar kits are available from Super-Quick, Bilt-Eezi and others. There is also a growing trend for downloading kits and building papers from the Internet then printing them onto your own card stock. The advantage of this method is that once you have paid and downloaded your file(s) you can print off as many as you like. This would save a small fortune if you were constructing a large viaduct for example. I recommend taking a look at scalescene.com who offer a small but high quality range of kits and ‘brick papers’ at reasonable prices. I have downloaded and used their construction papers with very pleasing results.

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MarkML7 months ago
Excellent! Thank you. Can't wait to give your techniques a try.
kkved2 years ago
Very, very nice! Your crafting skill and your writing style are both first rate!
clint1142 years ago
It's scalescenes.com, with an s at the end. They make beautiful kits. The PDFs you download can be printed at different percentages (which he thoughtfully provides) to use at different scales. They even blow up to G scale convincingly.
Hiroak5 years ago
 Here are some great sites for paper craft.  



I prefer papermodelers.com but zealot is a fairly good site as well.

I would also state that 65lb and 90lb card stock or cover stock are good weights to use, and can be found fairly inexpensively at office supply stores.

I recommend Aleen's Tacky Glue in the gold bottle, and strongly recommend a self-healing cutting mat, as well as a piece of tempered safety glass.

Testor and X-Acto aren't worth the powder to blow them up, as far as paper modeling goes, in my personal experience. If you're going to use a hobby knife with replaceable blades, I cannot recommend Excel Pro Series blades strongly enough. They'll last 50 to 70 times longer than the lesser quality blades.

Paper modeling is a very addictive hobby.
kcls Hiroak5 years ago
Papercraft.com actually isn't a site.
Hiroak kcls5 years ago
oops sorry paperkraft.blogspot.com
Ooo, I need to figure out how to do this with my Homeworld papercrafts!
JoeStrout3 years ago
You use the term "laminating" a lot — it seems to be the key thing you're doing to make your model so sturdy and solid. But I'm a little vague on what exactly you mean by it. It seems to mean, gluing some sturdier cardboard to the back of the kit card (or in between front and back layers). Is that all there is to it, or do you mean something else?

(In my previous experience, "laminating" normally means using hot rollers to coat paper in a plastic sheet... or maybe painting on a product like Mod Podge that plasticizes the paper. But I think you mean neither of these.)

Thanks, and thank you for the great tips! Can't wait to try it myself.
Oh, and excellent work by the way!
In the US the matboard is also called chipboard. It can be found at paper supply stores and is used for the back of notepads. Check your phone book, almost all larger urban areas have a paper store like JC Paper that supplies local print shops.
jimofoz5 years ago
Well done.

I've done a couple of the paper bird models in years past and was amazed at just how realistic they can look.

One thing I do instead of a paint wash is to keep some colored pencils and/or markers around to color the white edges of the paper after cutting.
Mojo_JoJo5 years ago
This is awesome, I used to do this when I was a kid, complete with the bulb inside, some batteries and a paperclip switch. My only suggestion would be to put an incense stick inside, that way you can have smoke coming out of the chimneys. Ofcourse as with real houses you need to be careful with fire so as not to burn down the house. Now you can start adding trees, cars and build up a whole neighbourhood, perhaps white LED's for streetlights.
Servelan5 years ago
This is very cool...my only suggestion would be to 'translate' all the card-related terms and measurements for an American audience.  Our cardstock is the same as your card, I think, but to be sure, it would be very useful to know that we are getting the same material to work on.
marshon (author)  Servelan5 years ago
Gawd, it's been a VERY long time since I worked in imperial but I will give it a go!

For 200gsm card, the imp equivalent is 90lb smooth surface. Or the same as greetings cards.
For cereal packets, erm (Kelloggs Corn Flakes?) just under 1/16" thick (I think the same both side of the pond).
Layer pad and Watercolor Matte are both just under 1/8" thick. Matte was quoted as 1/8" 30 years ago when we still used imp over here.
I think in the States it's called 'Matboard'. This one seems a little thin to me, but should still do the job:


Layer pads are the same material as cereal packets but thicker. Here's a reference to the UK type I used. I don't know what you call them over there, but I know they are available because I worked for a US firm for 25 years and we had them shipped over from Philly. They are used to separate layers of product on pallets

Layer Pads

For A4 simply use letter.
lemonie5 years ago
Yes, that really takes a basic kit and makes it something more, it's good.

Bongmaster5 years ago
awesome enhancement :)