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Does Colour Scale?

Image of TERRY SMITH.TERRY SMITH looks at how the size of something changes how colour is interpreted.


It is often said that real water does not scale very well when used on a model railway – A subject brought up by one of the episodes of the Great Model Railway Challenge. I think the same thing can apply to the subject of colour.

Colour, what is it? Possibly a slightly different thing to different people I guess, we all interpret light and colour through our eyes and brain, but can we then agree on what we see? I have recently had a cataract operation to my left eye, which has been a complete success I hasten to add, and it has restored my sight perfectly. Too perfectly in fact, because if I then cover that eye and use just my right, everything has a slightly yellowy tint to it. If the same person can have a slight difference in how they see colour, then imagine how differently other people will see the same things!

Gaugemaster Terrier Brighton Works.
The strangest green we have ever seen! – however the issue is not about the name of the colour, but the interpretation on how it looks on a model. Here in all its glory is our recently released O Scale version of Brighton Works.

This issue rears its head when we are commissioning locos and rolling stock from the various manufacturers that we work with, which sometimes leads to differences of opinion. Our recently released O Scale Brighton Works Terrier is a classic example of this. The model is finished in what is known as Stroudley’s "Improved Engine Green". Now if ever a colour was mis-described it is this one – it is certainly not green! However, up to now manufacturers haven't decided exactly what this colour should be on a model, and it varies from bright yellow to almost brown. Again, the interpretation of the colour will come down to the individual - although we spent ages researching photographs both in period and of restored locomotives to find a compromise and sending a Pantone sample to the manufacturer, some may still disagree.

Often, I personally feel that manufacturers make their models in colours that are too dark, who then justify this by saying that they got a sample of the paint actually used on the real thing. This may be okay on the prototype, but on a 1/76th scale model? This then comes back to my original question, colour scale?

Well I believe it does. Looking at a OO Scale model railway coach on your layout is as though you are looking at the real thing from some distance away. It would seem lighter in shade than if you had your face pressed up to it.

OO Scale model railway coach.
Viewed close up you can make out this as being green, a rather too dark green in many people's opinion.

Distant OO Scale model railway coach.
Moved to just 3 feet away and it is now difficult to see what colour the coach is. Had it had been painted a lighter shade, I am pretty sure you would have still made it out to be green. As it is, that could be a dark blue or even black!

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This effect is also seen if you look into the distance towards a horizon, things will seem a lot lighter than objects up close. This was something Gaugemaster incorporated into our backscenes. The foreground were sharpened while the mid sections were left alone and the distant areas were lightened to give a better feel of depth.

GM701 Valley Backscene.
Things look lighter the further away you are - graphically shown in our GM701 Valley Backscene.

Another example came to light when I was building the prototype of the Fordhampton Signal Box. I was using what was described as 'Southern Railways Green' to paint the woodwork surrounding the cream panelling. When dried the paint look far too dark to my eye, so I used a lighter shade of green and it contrasted so much better with the panelling.

What seems a slight issue in OO Scale is compounded in N Scale. If manufacturers choose to paint their smaller models with the same shade of colour as the bigger item, from a distance on your layout a dark maroon coach would not look that much different to a dark green one - not ideal! I guess only by magazine reviewers pointing out this issue will it be resolved. However, if it is something you are building and painting yourself, whether it be railway stock, building, or a road vehicle, just look to see if the paint you are using is not a shade too dark.

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