Martin Tärnrot

Creating Water Surface Effects

Martin Tärnrot
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Duration:   8  mins

Martin Tärnrot shows how to create model railroad water surface effects, focusing on surface effects typically seen after motorboats, such as swells and turbulence.


When creating model railroad water surface effects, a transparent gel is the base material. Martin uses a medium-strength gloss gel from Liquitex. It’s white when it comes out of the jar, but becomes transparent as it dries.

Another component often used is filter wool, which is used to filter aquarium water. It can be purchased online or at local aquarium supply shops. The last needed piece for this is a boat, which the effects will be created around.

The model railroad water surface has already been created using toilet paper and glue. This blog post has more about incorporating water in your layout. Martin finds a natural position in the water to place the boat, puts some gel down first, then puts the boat on top, so there is gel under the boat and surrounding it.


With a small flat brush, Martin applies the gel all around the boat, then creates swells at a 15-degree angle on each side of the boat. This gel shrinks about 30% when it’s curing, so keep that in mind when creating swells.


For turbulence behind the boat, apply gel and stipple it with a small round paintbrush. It takes an hour or more to cure and you will see it turn transparent. Create whitecaps at the front of each side of the boat using the filter wool. Add more gel to the front sides of the boat and work the filter wool into them. Fibers that stick out can later be trimmed.

Create the wake of the swells by mixing one drop of acrylic white paint with the transparent gel. Apply it with a flat brush along the edges of the boat, top of the swells, and in the turbulent water behind the boat. Use dragging motions with the brush for the swells and stippling for the turbulence.

For more on creating model railroad water effects, we have a Class: Essential Techniques for Great Water Effects.

Creating Water Surface Effects Join Model Railroad Academy to continue watching for $10.00 per month / $102.00 per year