Zip Texturing Resurrected

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Zip Texturing Resurrected - MRH Issue 9 - Sep/Oct 2010






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kleaverjr's picture

Why did Zip Texturing "die"?

I'm puzzled as to why Zip Texturing died.  Especially since Ground Foam is the wrong material to use for things like dirt and even most kind of grasses.  Sure the water soluble method and ground foam was a welcomed addition to scenery materials, but I would have thoguht it would supplement, not replace a technique that seems to better replicate the real outdoors.  Any thoughts as to why this happened?

Ken L

joef's picture

Zip texturing done wrong can be a mess


My theory is because zip texturing done wrong can give you a crumbly filthy mess. Ground foam and glue is more predicable. With zip texturing, you do need to not overdo the thickness of the dirt layer or the plaster won't set up all the way through and then look out.

Joe Fugate
Publisher, Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine

Joe Fugate's HO Siskiyou Line

jbaakko's picture

Great article! I just

Great article! I just reviewed and "archived" that issue of Model Railroader to my digital library index.

This one is great, it really brings zip texturing into the modern era.

Death to Plaster?

Dear Ken,

I suspect the "Zip Texturing" methods as described died because many modellers are trying everything they can to get away from using heavy, fragile plaster.

Happy Modelling,
Aim to Improve,
Prof Klyzlr

Bindlestiff's picture

When is the funeral?

About the only good thing that I can say about building land forms from plaster is that subjectively it has an elemental feel to it.  Viscous material turns into rock.  You are vulcan, the creator of the land.  Other than that, it's heavy, it cracks, it chaulks, it gets destroyed when modified, it's hard to plant trees in and therefore I just don't like it.

But if you want a zip type texture, try tile grout.  It is pre colored in dry form, available in at least thirty earth tones (dependant on the manufacturer) and either sanded or unsanded.  Paint your land forms with latex paint and sift dry grout into the wet paint.  After the paint dries, mist it with water to set any remaining grout.

Most tile stores will give you free grout samples for the asking.  These are little plastic strips that are color matched to the grout.  I use to keep a set in my truck to compare with the real world.


Aran Sendan

Regardless of what materials

Regardless of what materials you use, protecting your backdrop is a necessary step.  Rather than fuss with using your fingers to remove some of the adhesive from your tape you might look at using drafting tape.  This tape is less tacky but can make a good enough seal for a variety of uses; I've even used it for loco painting.


Proper mixing of pigments with plaster


I started using this technique a couple years ago after you recommended it on another forum.  One problem I have had is with the dry pigment not mixing properly with the plaster, giving me a mottled brown/black/white color when the dry texturing is closely examined.  My method of mixing has been to place the plaster/pigment in an empty plastic food container, close the lid, then shake vigorously.  I'm guessing that this method just doesn't break the plaster/pigment into their individual grains which prevents them from blending smoothly.  Any handy tips to get a better mixture?


Tom Hillebrant

bear creek's picture

You might try running the

You might try running the plaster/pigment mixture through a kitchen flour sifter - the kind with a crank on the side. Run it through several times and everything should be well 'atomized'.  Or get an old Cuisinart food processor at a garage sale for a few $$ and use that - DON'T use the one your wife uses in the kitchen (for obvious reasons).


 Contributing Editor, Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine

Rio Grande Dan's picture

Charlie that's right Nobody likes a Dirty Margareta w/real Dirt!

Personally I use Zip texture, Real Dirt, Real Rocks, Home made Rock molds, Foam, Dry brushing with Latex paint, Joe's Dry plaster with "Rich Art Fresco Power Tempera Paints, and a number of other processes so depending on where or what type of terrain and what I have on hand or think will work is what I use.

My main base coat on everything is 1part Indian Ink to 10 parts water as a spray, a wash, or applied with an Eye droper and allowed to run down the cevises of Plaster formed Rocks to deepen the shadows and help give depth to the rock structures.

I also use an old food processor I got at a yard sale for $5.00 to make ground cover out of small dryed sticks, bark and grasses. Best $5.00 I've spent in the past 20 years.

My advice is try all the types and styles of Mountain and terrain covering out there and use what you find to work best.


Rio Grande Dan

Rio Grande Dan's picture

Vertical Texturing

A couple of things I want to mention about Joes Vertical Texture method.

First: This works quit well But make sure your wearing safety glasses when doing the blow procedure as the Tempera will blow back into your face if you blow too hard so use caution.

Second: I found if you spray the water at a 45 degree angle from above the vertical surface because most dust and dirt doesn't stick to the bottom of vertical surfaces and rocks but there are instances where it does as in a totally dirt face or on the bottom of what will have some grass texture added from above.

Everyone should read this article!! This article is one that you will come back to time after time and for both the Beginner and pro is a great read and something every Model Railroader should learn. It is definitely the New and improved ZIP Texturing method and I believe will be a new standard in model Railroading scenery basics taking Linn Wescotts Zip Texturing from 45 years ago one giant step forward.


Rio Grande Dan

I seem to recall that Lynn

I seem to recall that Lynn Wescott was an advocate of coloring his plaster base before texturing, even to the point to tossing the remains of his tea onto the plaster when It got too cold to drink.

Jeff Fry  

EivindPT's picture

Great article

Great article Joe.

As a student with little money, inexpensive ways to do things helps a lot to my budget. I will for sure dry this method out when I start the scenery.

EivindPT ATSF in the late 1950's and early 1960's in O-scale

Joe Brugger's picture

Suits me to a tea!

Wonder what the various effects would be of Tetley's British Blend, red-bush tea, camomile, and the various mint teas?  Might need a sage tea tint for my long-planned eastern Idaho railroad.

Using tea to color plaster

All of this talk abhout Lynn Westcott's pouring cold tea into plaster while mixing it gaved me the thought that I night try doin that with left over Snapple or Nestea bottle contents. Anyone ever try this before either by intent or by accident?

Now I've got this crazy idea of putting  Snapple labels (of reduced in size) on some unmarked tank cars.


Beware the tea

I've never tried tea, but I once used coffee as a scenery colorant. It looked nice, and even smelled nice, until one day I discovered it had grown moldy! And the mold looked nothing like fuzzy grass, in case you're wondering. I'd probably mix it with something to make it "dead" if I tried it again.

Joe Brugger's picture

Coffee grounds and tea leaves

Coffee grounds and tea leaves go in the composter; but the tea itself (or coffee, I guess) would simply be a weak dye. I've also heard old tales of dyed sawdust attracting hungry critters to model railroads.

joef's picture

The less organic the better

Yes, the less organic the better.

I'm having these visions of B-grade science-fictions ... I see someone using organic materials on their scenery plus doing real water to boot - and then opening up the door to the train room later and seeing a virtual jungle that's sprouted while they slept ... (VBG)

Joe Fugate
Publisher, Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine

Joe Fugate's HO Siskiyou Line

Rio Grande Dan's picture

Lynn Wescott used day old plain hot Tea left in the train room!

What I remember is The first time he used un sweetened tea that had been setting on the counter in the train room over night. He looked at the plaster and wondered what would happen. He at the time had been trying stains and paint powders to darken his plaster so if it was chipped at a later date it would remain brown and not the bright white of normal plaster.

Snapple Tea has Sugar, lemon and who knows what's in it that will help grow mold, but if you brew your own tea or coffee it should work because Coffee & tea that has been brewed and has no milk, cream, sugar, or honey in it is basically just a stain once it's dry. I just wouldn't use it hot as it will super speed the hardening time.

I remember reading the Lynn Wescott article years ago. I also remember putting to many scoops of ground coffee in my Moms percolator and too much water, I also remember getting grounded for two weeks for making the big mess in the kitchen. For all the time and trouble I never was able to try the mix myself as I believed my life depended on not trying it again and forgot about it until reading this. But plain tea or coffee should make a good lite colored stain for plaster and until you try you just won't know. When you do try it be sure to let us know how it works.


Rio Grande Dan

UPWilly's picture

Homogenous color ...

When I was making an earlier layout (my 1972 attempt - no, not the era, the year I did it), I used brown RIT dye (the kind used for fabric) mixed in with the PoP. That worked pretty well to avoid the stark white resulting from chips and also allowed for sculpturing while dry. The powdered RIT dye can be mixed pretty much like the powdered Tempura dyes. A little bit of purple dye, I'm thinking, might enhance that haze for the mountains to give the distance illusion.

(Gotta git my 2 cents worth in!)


Bill D.

N Scale (1:160), not N Gauge. DC (analog), Stapleton PWM Throttle.

Proto-freelance Southwest U.S. 2nd half 20th Century.

Keep on trackin'



Rio Grande Dan's picture

Bill I remember the Rit Dye Days very well

I had purple, Forest Green and yellow fingers for weeks. I'm sure glad the that the coloring techniques have improved over the years and the invention and availability of latex gloves.


Rio Grande Dan

weathering powders mentioned in article

I was reading over the article and wanted to be sure I was clear on what you are using when you say you mixed weathering powders with zip texturing.  Do you mix the zip texturing mixes you made with the tempera pigments with weathering powders such as those sold by AIM or when you mentioned weathering powders are you referring to the plaster mixes you are discussing in the article?

joef's picture

Weathering powders are zip texturing as well

The weathering powder mixes are zip texturing as well, they are just more intense as to color versus plaster - and they tend to be used in very small quantities on structures, rolling stock, locos, etc.

No "commercial" weathering powders in sight - these are highly economical for that reason, since you're using plaster as the binder - and you can get a lot of plaster for $5.

Joe Fugate
Publisher, Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine

Joe Fugate's HO Siskiyou Line

zip texturing

I've been using zip texturing since the early 1970s -- with limited success.  Yes, it looks good and is simple to use --provided you mask things you don't want coated with plaster, such as trackage.  However, I've always found the results prone to one serious problem -- a soft surface that is easily marred by being touched -- regardless of the amount of water used in efforts to bind the plaster.  If anyone has alternate techniques for fixing the texturing, I'd love to hear them.

Minimum thickness for zip texture

I've been messing around with making a dirt surface using different techniques because I have a ton of it to do. I decided to try zip texturing and it seems that there are more problems with putting it on too thin than too thick?

If I wet the area then sift on just enough to cover the area and then mist it again to make sure it is wet throughout it seems that a lot of the time (most of the time) I get a powdery surface that will rub off. If I keep sifting it on until the powder is basically dry then rewetting thoroughly and sifting more, building up a surface maybe 1/8" thick I get a much more consistent result. Does anyone else experience this? It makes sense in that it is a chemical reaction with water that hardens the plaster and if you don’t have enough plaster it wont generate enough heat to start/maintain the reaction where as long as you keep it thoroughly wet as you sift it on it would make sense that you can put it on quite thick?

I'm really interested in this but I'm having trouble getting consistent results and I'd like to hear if others have the same issue.

Phil Keppers

Zip Texturing

I found that is I have any area that did not cure correctly ( still can rub and make powder). That if I spray it with the Scenic Cement and let it dry it will fix the problem...

Anyone looking for  good muddy brown ( i have a large logging layout) I experimented and made one from scratch.

to measure I used the 2 tablespoon measuring cup found at most drug stores.

28 table spoons (224 drams)  plaster

14 drams of of black  

10 drams  brown

17 drams yellow ocher   Gambin colored pigments                   

5 Drams red senna         Gambin colored pigments 

1.5 drams burnt umber    Gambin colored pigments 

 I used the cheap black and brown powders from Benfranklin crafts.

The Gambin I got from art supply store. ( )


nolatron's picture

EDIT:  I found my answer :)

EDIT:  I found my answer :)


video missing

I just tried to watch the video and got a note on that it had been removed.

joef's picture

Blip shut down all our videos

Blip shut down all our videos and didn't warn us. We're not pleased but with everything else going on it will probably take us several months to go find everything and get it all rerendered and uploaded to YouTube.

Blip has a big black mark with us now for treating us this way.

Joe Fugate
Publisher, Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine

Joe Fugate's HO Siskiyou Line

Tempera or poster paint

A little more information about "tempera" paint. Modern "tempera" or poster paint already contains a binder. It's a water soluble glue. So, in general it's compatible with the plaster, and is a cheap source of pigment. Some of the pigments are made with low-toxicity organic compounds and may not be colorfast over time. As with cheap sources of anything, this will vary by brand, so you may want to do a little testing and research before committing it to your layout.

Art supply stores are another source of artists pigments, though they can be a lot more expensive than a bottle of school paint. These are high-quality, intense pigments and most will last a long time. Some are also somewhat toxic, but should age more gracefully than the cheap stuff. Of course, if you expect to deconstruct and rebuild your layout, the good pigments may be overkill, but they are another option, if your wallet can afford it.

joef's picture

Easier to find pigments today

Dry powdered tempera paint is getting ever harder to find these days.

You can get powdered concrete color pigments on Amazon, and although they cost more, they are permanent colors since they're designed to go into concrete which is generally used outside. Here's the links to the colors on Amazon. The blue is spendy, but it's a necessary color for some things like moss or mildew, and it adds a steely tint to grays. A little blue goes a long way.

Black powdered pigment for concrete  ... $10

Blue powdered pigment for concrete  ... $30

Yellow powdered pigment for concrete  ... $8

Brown powdered pigment for concrete  ... $8

This blue is more turqoise than what I typically use, so I'd add 1 part black to any formulas to counter-act some of the turquoise coloring.

Joe Fugate
Publisher, Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine

Joe Fugate's HO Siskiyou Line

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