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Creating the Drawings

The drawings on this site are now well into their second decade, with the first 1:880 "tiny trains" completed in 1998. But what actually goes on behind the scenes in their creation? After five computers and four operating systems, the methods I use to create the drawings are exactly the same now as when I started, with the only difference being an increase in the size and detail of the drawings.

Formats and Software

Beginning with the 1:110 series in early 2000, the undecorated locomotives I've drawn have all been simple black lines on a white background, saved as GIF files. I initially saved painted drawings as high-quality JPG files, but the format was ill-suited to line drawings so I switched early on (sometime in 2000) to GIF files with a custom palette. I used those until changing to full-colour PNG files starting with painted 1:18 drawings in 2012. I added two successive blue background colours in 2005 (cyan) and 2007 (sky blue), and added date and image use information under the drawings starting in 2008.

I have always used MS Paint to create both the undecorated and painted drawings. I currently use the Windows XP version of Paint, which can be downloaded online (search for "Paint XP") and installed in newer versions of Windows. The undecorated drawings require no additional software. For scaling logos for use in painted drawings, I use the new version of Paint as the Paint XP scaling feature is weak. I use Irfanview to compress the finished painted drawing PNG files initially created by Paint.

I've tried on four occasions to create vector images with the same ease and efficiency as the current raster images—without success.


I use the Windows XP version of Paint because newer versions have crippled some of the features I use the most. I rely heavily on the original 16-color palette, the "invert colors" function, and the rasterized lines and shapes of older versions of Paint. A few features of this program render it surprisingly powerful for all its simplicity, and I make extensive use of all of the following:

Transparent (background) colour: Perhaps the most useful feature in Paint is the transparent background colour. This can be used to isolate a single colour in the image; to convert a large section of the drawing to a different colour; and to create basic image layers.

Inverting colours: The simplest method of converting part of an undecorated drawing to represent black paint (which requires gray lines) is to invert the colours of the drawing over a gray background.

painting steps

Above: Using transparent colours and inverting the colours account for most of the basic colour shading for all the painted drawings (animated GIF). For smaller areas, a similar effect can be achieved using the magic eraser (described below).

Image layering: A different background or component colour (I often use yellow) in combination with different line colours (I use red, followed by blue) allows for primitive image layering, where a recently added component can be isolated from the rest of the drawing. For each new locomotive or car, I save step-by-step images (not online) in which I keep many layered parts, which I often end up isolating for use in later drawings.

drawing steps

Above: A downsized version of one of the steps I saved in creating the 1:18 Dash 9-44CW series, illustrating many "layered" components. This drawing was derived from earlier ES44DC drawings and therefore had fewer steps than many other models; this was the fourth and final step before the completed drawing. (Click to enlarge to 50% of actual drawing size).

16-colour palette: In a similar fashion to component layering in the drawings, I often trace photos of logos (and sometimes locomotive components) using a contrasting colour, then save the image as a 16-colour Bitmap. Eliminating all but the contrasting colour quickly leaves a clean-lined rendition to use in the drawings.

Perfect lines and shapes: Holding Shift while using the line, rectangle or ellipse tool will make a line at an exact 45-degree increment or a perfect square or circle.

Instant copies: Holding CTRL and dragging a selection will make a copy of the selection.

Magic eraser: Right-clicking the eraser tool does a colour swap from the primary to the secondary colour. For instance, using white as the background colour and black as the primary colour, right-clicking the eraser will "erase" only the black portions of the image, changing them to white.

Unlimited brush size: Pressing CTRL and the + or - keys on the number pad will increase or decrease the size of any of the line, eraser or brush tools.

Drawing Steps

I save all the steps I take in making the drawings. For most locomotives, I start first with the trucks and major dimensions. I mark off straight lines denoting edges such as the pilot faces, underframe height (top and bottom), cab roof height, axle center lines and coupler pulling faces (which are actually about 3.5 inches in from the outside edge of the coupler knuckle). Even for models that share many components, I often start with these basic lines before copying over shared parts.

drawing steps

Above: The first steps I took in drawing the MLW M-636 in 1:18. Previously, I often needed to make slight corrections to smaller dimensions as the drawings progressed, but since I was basing this unit on many direct measurements I had taken, the final drawings retained all the same proportions as the early steps. (Click to enlarge to 50% of actual drawing size).

Since the trucks are often shared among many models, I draw them in separate images and copy them into the locomotive drawings.

drawing steps

Above: The steps I took in drawing one side of the EMD HTCR-4 truck with AC motors. I draw most trucks using two main layers—one for the wheels and traction motors, and one for the truck frame and brakes—but in this case I added a third layer for the radial-steering links. After combining the layers I added outside details such as the brake lines and cylinders.

Once I have the main dimensions established, I move to the hood. This is often the fastest and most rewarding part of the drawing, as hood doors and intakes follow regular patterns and are clearly visible in photos. In the M-636 image above I already had half of the hood completed by the time I saved the file as a second step.

Usually the last part to be completed is the underframe: cables, pipes, brake chains and fuel fittings. This is the most tedious part of the drawings, and I often end up with a half-dozen 70% complete drawings at any one time, all waiting for underframe detail.


Unless extra height is needed, all my drawings are the same height, and all drawings of a particular locomotive series have the locomotive in exactly the same place within the image. I do this for a specific reason: Revisions.

When a bunch of drawings all require the same revisions, I can modify them very quickly by simply copying a template with the revised details into the drawing. With all the drawings positioned the same way, I don't have to worry about manually lining the details up. The affected details are surrounded by a transparent area (another use of the transparent colour in Paint). By using templates, I can preserve all the railroad-specific details in the drawings - unless they overlap with the details being changed, in which case it takes a bit more work.

Once I copy the template into the drawing, I make sure that no other details have been incorrectly affected by it. I then add the revision date into the image - using another template. I generally keep a one-week "debugging" period for new drawings during which I don't mark the date of revisions (since I often make many revisions during the initial days after a drawing has been completed).

One of the biggest cases of template revisions came in early 2019, when I started making minor changes to the hood proportions of EMD GP30 through SD60 drawings - which accounted for some 900 drawings. Thanks to the use of templates, within only the first two days of revisions I was able to update almost 400 drawings.

template revision sample

Above: This was one of the templates I used to update GP40 drawings when I revised the hood proportions. This template applied to earlier GP40's with dynamic brakes and chickenwire intakes; I had a few other templates for other phases and variations. In this case, because so much of the hood was revised, a larger proportion of the drawing was retained than in most other templates I've used.

Scaling Methods

Since I edit all the drawings directly as raster images, the drawings are all scaled based on a pixel-per-inch ratio, rather than being scaled to a particular print size: 16.2 pixels per scale foot for 1:55 drawings (a result of them being resized from smaller drawings) and exactly 24 and 48 pixels per foot for the 1:36 and 1:18 scales, respectively.

I try to use as many exact dimensions as possible. In some cases, I've been able to use mechanical drawings or direct measurements that cover just about every dimension imaginable. In other cases, there are only a few basic dimensions available, in which case I have to derive the rest of the measurements from similar models or from photos. Dimensions are commonly shared across many locomotive models, and I make sure that these common components line up exactly across different models (for instance, the EMD standard cab follows the same basic design from the GP35 to the SD60, so the cab outline and dimensions are shared across all my drawings of these models). You'll find more information about the accuracy of the drawings in the Drawing Accuracy section.

Measuring Photos

If you visit the Trainiax photo section, you'll find that many of my photos are direct side views taken through a telephoto zoom lens from as far back from the track as possible. I take photos like these specifically as reference for the drawings, since they provide the closest perspective possible to a direct side view. Once I have a few key dimensions from diagrams or data sheets—at a bare minimum, truck centers, wheelbase, wheel diameter, overall height and length—I can isolate the rest of the dimensions using simple ratios between the photos and drawings. This only works if a) the photo is without lens or perspective distortion and b) the listed dimensions are actually correct.

I also intentionally slightly overexpose many photos so that the underframe detail is more visible.

thumbnail1 thumbnail2 thumbnail3 thumbnail4 thumbnail5

Above: A typical series of photos I've taken of one locomotive (a CN Dash 9-44CWL) that I use as reference for the drawings.

Here is a 50% crop of the first Dash 9-44CWL photo above, showing how I might measure something such as the walkway height. CN diagrams list the Dash 9-44CWL walkway height as 67.625", which is lower than other Dash-8 and Dash-9 locomotives. Measurements from the top of the rail will often vary considerably as wheels wear - on this unit, the wheels (normally 42") are very worn. I therefore always measure the walkway height from the axle centers, which tends to be pretty consistent.

Based on the truck wheelbase (13' 2", or 158") and the pixel measurements from the photo (758 px wheelbase, 223 px axle-to-walkway height), the axle-to-walkway measurement works out to about 46.5". Adding 21" (the radius of a new wheel) gives a walkway height measurement of 67.5", which closely matches the nominal dimension of 67.625".


Above: Measuring the walkway height based on the truck wheelbase

Once a few major dimensions are established, all the rest of the hood details can be scaled against known dimensions using this method. However, one tricky part about measuring photos is that, even with a zoom shot such as the ones above, the varying depth of the hood, trucks and walkway side frame can be enough to through off measurements if perspective distortion is not accounted for.

Dimension Convergence

Simple photo measurements work for smaller dimensions, such as hood doors and air intakes. However, for unpublished key dimensions, I often rely on several different sources converging to the same figure. This is especially true when a series of models has a gradual progression of different dimensions, which can result in very complicated scaling issues.

As an example, almost every GE unit from the early Universal series to the present-day GEVO units has something in common with both the previous and subsequent models. Therefore, before beginning work on any 1:18 GE locomotives, I wanted to establish the progression of dimensions (especially height) as the models evolved, since they all shared common components. However, I had only few solid height dimensions to work from, including the six-axle Dash-7/Dash-8 walkway height (75"); the Dash-7 cab height (105" above the walkway); the Dash 8-40CW walkway height (69.75"); and the wide-nose cab height for Dash-8 and later units (114.375" above the walkway—which, using 4 pixels per scale inch in 1:18, I needed to round to 114.25"). The central hood height for GE units is not listed in railroad diagrams, likely because it is lower than the cab, so I had to find a way of determining the hood height while matching all these dimensions up between different models. These measurements were made more difficult by the hood being rounded instead of square.

Based on the Dash-7 cab height of 105", I used photos to derive a central hood height of 102", which I thought was common to all GE units prior to the AC6000CW and Evolution series. But when I tried to combine a 102" hood with a Dash-9 cab (drawn at 114.25") and Dash-9 radiators (scaled from photos), they did not line up: the hood was too high. However, as it happened, I had just taken photos of a C30-7 and C39-8 from the same angle at the same location, so I tried measuring them—and discovered that the hood was 1 inch lower on the Dash-8 (101") than on the Dash-7. Using the 1-inch lower hood height solved the problem in the Dash-9 drawings I was working on.

Finally, I tried bridging the gap between the Dash-7 and Dash-9 series by comparing these dimensions to later standard-cab Dash-8 units (the C39-8 and other early Dash-8s still retained some Dash-7 dimensions). The figures I had found suggested the six-axle Dash-8 walkway was lowered by 5.25" between the Dash 8-40C and Dash 8-40CW (75" to 69.75") to account for the taller wide-nosed cab. Subtracting 5.25" from the wide-nosed cab height (114.375") suggested a standard cab height of about 109". When I used a few B39-8 photos to extrapolate the standard cab height based on a hood height of 101", I arrived at a cab height of 109". The figures matched.

All these figures (outside the four initial dimensions) are estimates from photos, but with the dimensions converging exactly I've settled on using them in my GE locomotive drawings.

 Copyright © Michael Eby - Last updated 2019-01-18