Paint ing wheelsets and trucks

The stock shiny black plastic wheelsets on inexpensive train set cars do not appear realistic at all, as seen below. This article describes an easy way to paint wheelsets and trucks a realistic matte rust color. No airbrush is required, and no disassembly of the car is needed. It works on both metal and plastic wheelsets.

Stock black plastic wheelsets and trucks

prototype wheelsets and trucks

Items required:

  1. A primer coat of paint is required. Mix primer from 50% white and 50% brown acrylic paint. This will become a light tan. Acrylic paint is a bit too thick to use as is, so add in a few drops of 50% isopropyl alcohol. This will thin the paint slightly, and also serve as a wetting agent so the paint will flow smoothly over the plastic and not bead up.

  2. Apply the primer to wheels first. Just hold the brush tip in place still on the wheel surface, and use your other hand to rotate the axle in place by turning the opposite wheel. You may find it easiest to turn the entire car upside down for this. Try to keep the paint off the the tread (the portion that touches the rails) and the flange, although a little bit will not hurt anything.

    Apply primer coat

  3. Apply the primer to the truck.
    Paint trucks

  4. Mix the rust color from 50% brown and 50% orange acrylic paint. Again, add a few drops of isopropyl alcohol. Once the primer is dry, paint in the same manner using the rust color.

    Apply rust color

  5. Once dry, rotate the axles by hand to make sure nothing got painted shut, and that the axles turn freely.

    Finished car

  6. If you are doing a large quantity assembly-line style, do all the priming first; then make a second pass with the rust color.

Photo credit: Prototype wheelset photo is a crop from the full size photo of ABOX 50425, as posted on and is © Thomas Stelby. The full size photo can be seen here.

Home • Revised June 15 2015