Model Train Express - Articles & advice for model train enthusiasts

How to create realistic model water

Many people shy away from adding water to their layout because they think it’s too difficult. Fortunately there are many products available for creating realistic water making it easier than ever, even if you are a novice modeller. The thing to remember when creating water is you are trying to create a single moment in time like a photograph, so before you begin collect some photos to use as both a reference and for inspiration.


There are 3 popular commercial products that are easy to use and create great looking water.

Prepare the surface

Before adding water to your layout you should complete the surrounding scenery, adding texture and objects to the banks as required. You should also check that the base where the water will be poured doesn’t have any holes, if there are any holes they can be filled using spackle to avoid leakage.

water-pondTo give the illusion of depth you should paint the water bed using a black acrylic paint. Paint should be applied thinker in areas that you want to look deeper and faded out in areas that are shallower. Areas near banks can be painted in a similar color to the surrounding terrain and blended into the darker areas. Once the paint has dried you can start adding gravel, rocks and driftwood to the water bed.

Adding the water

If you are adding water to a flat area you can prevent it from escaping by applying a bead of glue around the perimeter and allowing to dry. Prepare the water following the manufacturer’s instructions and then you’re ready to start pouring. Apply one thin layer at a time and leave for 24 hours to dry before adding additional layers. Water can be pushed into any small crevices using a brush or toothpick. Water will appear cloudy when first applied but will dry clear and glossy.

Water can be difficult to remove from a layout without creating a mess so it’s important that you take your time and do it right the first time. You can create a small pond to practice on first before adding water to any important areas of your layout.

Adding details to water

Once you’re happy with how your water looks you’ll want to add some extra detail for added realism.


Creating ripples – realistic ripples can be created by applying water to a non-stick baking tray. Start by creating a small thin circle, once that has dried create a smaller circle on top of the previous layer repeating as many times as necessary. Once dry the ripple can be lifted from the baking tray and placed on top of your water.


Creating waterfalls and rapids – Woodland Scenic has a product called Water Effects that can be applied directly on top of water to create waterfalls or rapids. Apply Water Effects straight from the bottle onto the required areas then stiffle with a brush to create texture. Like other water products Water Effects will dry clear.