Creating the Drawings - Hardware and Software
Formats and Software
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.
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 either another ancient image-editing program (Corel Photo House) or 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.
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. One of the main reasons I save step-by-step images of every locomotive and car is to keep a record of layered parts, which I often end up isolating for use in later drawings.
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.
Hardware and Operating Systems
For all the programming and image-editing I do, the hardware I've used has always been quite basic. I tend to purchase specific higher-spec devices only when needed and use more basic hardware elsewhere when it's sufficient.
From 2008 to 2016, my computer was an IBM M50 with a Pentium 4 that I had purchased from a local used-computer store. After going through three various old family computers that had reliability problems and eventually failed, I wanted something reliable, and this computer mostly delivered. By around 2014 it occasionally started freezing in graphics-intensive situations, which I later discovered was due to bad capacitors on the motherboard. It originally came with a French version of Windows XP (as I live in Quebec) but I replaced it with an English version after a couple of years. With this computer I began using two internal hard drives (one for booting and software, one for files).
In 2017 (with the computer stored by this point and nothing to lose) I de-soldered and replaced the bad capacitors I had discovered on the motherboard. It ended up successfully solving the freezing problem. I kept this computer in a corner for any cases where Windows XP software would be necessary, such as for my old film scanner, until finally parting it out and retiring it in 2022 (by which point the scanner was also replaced).
The M50 was replaced in 2016, when I ended up inheriting a 2009-era generic PC with an Asrock N68-S motherboard and Athlon X2 processor. After a few gradual changes and upgrades (replacing a faulty fan in the power supply, under-clocking to reduce temperature and power consumption, a separate graphics card to run two monitors, and a new SSD boot drive) it has become my most consistently reliable computer.
As of 2023, this ancient PC still has the original operating system from 2009 - yes, Windows 7. When Windows 10 first came out, it auto-installed without permission on several older machines in the physics lab where I work as a part-time research and tech assistant, as well as on my father's computer - in Japanese - when he was on a trip to Japan. After running into hardware and drives not recognized, unwanted apps and games auto-installing, program defaults changed, and computers rebooting to update in the middle of important tasks, I spent more time trying to undo the damage caused by Windows 10 than my entire history over 2 decades of dealing with malware and viruses (to which Windows 10's behaviour was disturbingly similar).
It hasn't stopped in the years since with computers belonging to friends and family. I have no patience for that kind of nonsense, especially if it gets in the way of my work - so when Windows 7 kicks the bucket, my plan is to move to Linux.
Similar to my purchase of the IBM M50 in 2008, I purchased a new LG 19" LCD monitor in 2006 after three failed monitors from previous family computers (a fuzzy CRT, a dark CRT, and a faulty early-generation LCD). It was solid for its time, but by the mid 2010's was starting to show its age in terms of the viewing angle, colour accuracy and resolution (1440 x 900).
In 2015, after extensive research, I purchased a Dell U2412M with the goal of high colour accuracy and enough vertical resolution (1200 px) to eliminate vertical scrolling with the 1:18 drawings. In 2017, with the newer computer and a separate graphics card, the older LG monitor came back as a second screen. In 2021, the second screen became an Asus VC239, which offered the same horizontal resolution as my primary Dell screen but slightly less vertical resolution (and marginally inferior colours). This setup allowed most 1:18 drawings to be visible in their entirety, which facilitated revisions.
After a hard drive failure in 2006, I've always kept all files on at least two (and often three) hard drives. Despite thousands of drawings and photos and tens of thousands of reference images (along with many non-train related files) my space requirements aren't very high. My current data drive is a 500 GB 2.5" Toshiba salvaged from a not-so-old dead laptop.
The SSD I used to replace my boot drive in 2019 is a 256 GB Toshiba that came from a new laptop that itself had received a drive swap. My experience has been that going from an older hard disk to an SSD is the single biggest performance booster for a computer of any age, and in my case it more than doubled the computer's speed in booting and loading programs. The newer drives are also significantly quieter than the two 3.5" drives I had been using previously.
In 2017 I purchased a UPS with a battery backup (after a brief power outage). While a laptop computer would allow me to continue working for much longer during any power outages, my hardware requirements (two monitors, several drives and a half-dozen various USB devices) still require a desktop computer.