There are a number of different ways to light your model railroad scenes, from black spotlights to incandescent runners. You can get pretty creative with the kind of lighting you use in your layout, but most modelers opt to go the inexpensive route and utilize basic fluorescent tubes. Fluorescent model train lights are cheap, reliable and readily available at any hardware store, but they’re not generally the best when it comes to being toned down.
You could invest in expensive dimmers that allow you to change the level of lighting cast on your scene with a turn of the dial, but we have a simple alternative that we think works just as well. In this lesson, we teach you a quick trick you can use to dim fluorescent model train lights so you’re able to simulate a range of lighting conditions on your layouts, from sunrise to sunset and any time in between.
Using spray paint to dim model train lights
If you don’t want to fork out the cash for a dimmer system for your model train lights, we have a smart solution that will achieve the same effect without the pinch on the wallet. NMRA Master Modeler Gerry Leone demonstrates his expert dimming technique to help you take the brightness down on those fluorescent model train lights.
All you’ll need for this simple trick are your regular model train lights, a can of black spray paint, some masking tape and a clear fluorescent tube guard. These plastic guards are typically utilized in stores and industrial buildings to avoid shattered bulb glass ending up on the floor, but in this case Gerry likes to repurpose them as makeshift dimmers for model train lights.
Gerry teaches you how to properly apply cheap black spray paint to the guards so you can mount them on your model train lights and swivel them according to your lighting preference. If you want soft morning light, Gerry shows you how to angle the painted portion of the model train lights toward your scene, or if you want harsh midday light, you’ll do the same just in the opposite direction. With this simple little trick, you get to control the light!
I believe this tutorial is obsolete. Four foot dimmable LED shop lights can now be purchased for the same price as 4′ fluorescent lights, or about $15 each. For a little more, you can get changeable color temperatures as well, allowing a very wide range of lighting possibilities. I would much rather move a single dimmer switch to change all the lighting on my layout at once than go bulb by bulb through every fluorescent light, spinning the tube guard to get the desired light level. The LED lights are more energy efficient as well.