A model railroad layout needs a few buildings, if only to create a station or railyard. If you want to add a denser urban area to your layout, however, the cost of model buildings can add up quickly. Downloadable, printable paper models are an affordable way to build up your scenery collection quickly. These models require a little preparation, but when used well they can look highly realistic.
Finding Paper Models
The last decade has seen a huge boom in the paper model field, fueled by broadband connections and inexpensive color printers. There are now vast numbers of sites offering downloadable models; simply search the web for printable model railway buildings in your chosen scale or ask for pointers on any model railway forum. Many manufacturers offer free sample buildings for you to evaluate; you can use these models to practice your model-building skills. There are also many sites offering free downloadable models. Like all free products, these can vary in quality, but will still help you get an idea of what's available. See the Resources section for some examples.
Printing and Paper
Experiment with different types of paper for your printable buildings. Most home printers will be able to print on 110 lb (199 gsm) cardstock, which should be sturdy enough for most buildings but flexible enough to make small details. Avoid card with a glossy finish, which will make it harder to see the model's detail. If you want a more robust building and have a little more model-building experience, print the model out on paper and stick the main parts of the building -- excluding details like chimneys or windowsills -- to heavy card or foamboard using a spray mounting adhesive.
Building the Model
Printable terrain usually comes with an instruction sheet showing you how to cut out and assemble the pieces. You'll need a flat cutting surface, a good straight edge, scissors, a hobby knife and glue. You may also find binder clips or clothespins useful for holding the parts of the model together while the glue dries.
Add detail to your card building by adding signs, lamp posts, waste bins or other scenic detail to the area around it. Some card buildings actually come with editable signs so that you can give the building a name of your choice. You can even add lighting effects to your card buildings: cut out the paper windows in the area you want lit; add a simple cardboard mask to the interior to keep the light shining only in the room you want lit. Remember to keep bulbs well clear of the card walls; they're more vulnerable to heat than heavier model buildings.
Dr James Holloway has been writing about games, geek culture and whisky since 1995. A former editor of "Archaeological Review from Cambridge," he has also written for Fortean Times, Fantasy Flight Games and The Unspeakable Oath. A graduate of Cambridge University, Holloway runs the blog Gonzo History Gaming.